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UN Secures Release of Jailed Cameroonian Mayor 

By Joe Dinga Pefok

The former Mayor of Njombe-Penja Council in Mungo Division in the Littoral Region, Paul Eric Kingue, who has been serving a 10-year jail term at the New Bell Prison in Douala on controversial charges of alleged embezzlement of public funds, was, on Thursday, July 16, discharged and acquitted by the Supreme Court in Yaounde.

The Supreme Court ruling came after Kingue had already spent a little over seven years in detention. Kingue’s liberation is seen by many observers as coming from the intervention of many local and international human rights groups, especially the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations.

Genesis Of Kingue’s Problems

Kingue lived and worked for some years in South Africa, where was seemingly ‘contaminated’ by the spirit of the fight against exploitation of the black man by the whiteman.

When he returned home, he found appalling and disgusting the exploitative attitudes of the management of three French companies, namely; PHP, SPM and CAPLAIN, which own large banana plantations in the Mungo Division. He openly criticised the French Companies for their malpractices.

Kingue thus became very popular and highly acclaimed elite in his Njombe-Penja Municipality, where the majority of the population are plantation workers and other dependants on the French plantations; most of them people who had been suffering due to exploitation but were too scared to speak out.

The Njombe-Penja Municipality, with an impoverished population, was an opposition stronghold. But Kingue rather joined the CPDM and at the July 2007 Municipal Elections, he, with his popularity, led the CPDM to win the Njombe-Penja Council and became Mayor.

French Plantation Companies Bitterness

Immediately Kingue took office as Mayor of the Njombe-Penja Council, he wrote a strongly-worded letter to the managements of the French plantation companies denouncing their exploitative practices towards, Cameroonian labourers.

Kingue also wrote to the Director of Taxes denouncing a mafia that was going on, whereby, the French plantation companies had, for a number of years, been unjustly benefitting from tax exoneration, depriving both the State treasury and the local Council of direly needed revenue.

The Director General of Taxes investigated the matter and found that Kingue was right and the tax exoneration was lifted.

The management of the French plantation companies became bitter with him classifying him as an enemy. Also, the then DO of Njombe-Penja and the then SDO of Mungo, as well as some local CPDM elite who were allegedly benefitting from the French plantation companies’ mafia, and who were scared to see a Cameroonian causing the ‘abomination’ of daring Frenchmen, in Cameroon, reportedly took sides with the French companies against the Mayor.

February 2008 Unrest: Kingue/Lapiro Duo

Barely a few months after Kingue took office as Mayor of Njombe-Penja, the social unrest of February 25-29, 2008 that rocked some parts of the country erupted.

Frustrated, hungry and angry youths went on the rampage protesting against galloping unemployment and high costs of living.

In Njombe-Penja, a group of youths stormed the plantation of one of the French companies, and caused some destruction. On the day of that incident, Kingue was reportedly in Nkongsamba, but that did not stop his detractors from exploiting the situation to link him to the destruction and he was accused of masterminding it.

On February 29, 2009, Kingue was arrested in front of his residence by a joint squad of Gendarmerie and BIR elements and whisked off to Nkongsamba where he was detained. In March, 2009, he was transferred to the Nkongsamba Prison, on pre-trial detention.

Kingue was soon joined by another combatant for freedom and justice, Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo aka Lapiro de Mbanga (now of blessed memory). Lapiro was also falsely accused of having masterminded the unrest and the destruction at a French company, SPM plantation in his native Mbanga. Kingue and Lapiro quickly became great friends in jail. Interestingly, both Kingue and Lapiro had as legal Counsel, a young and courageous human rights lawyer, René Manfo.

The two were separately tried at the Mungo High Court in Nkongsamba and they both denied the charges levelled against them. However, in separate rulings, the court declared both Kingue and Lapiro guilty of having masterminded the unrest and destruction of private and public properties in Njombe-Penja and Mbanga, respectively.

The Mungo High Court sentenced Kingue to six years in prison and ordered him to pay the sum of FCFA 800 million to the French plantation company for the damages the company suffered.
Lapiro, on his part, was slammed a three-year jail term and ordered to pay to the SPM the sum of FCFA 280 million for damages.

Both Kingue and Lapiro separately filed appeals against the ruling of the Mungo High Court at the Littoral Court of Appeal in Douala, and were eventually transferred to the New Bell Prison in Douala. The Littoral Court of Appeal, in a ruling on the appeal filed by Kingue, reduced the six-year imprisonment term by the Mungo High Court, to a three–year jail term.

Life Jail Term For Kingue

Meanwhile, back in the Mungo Division, panic gripped Kingue’s detractors due to the fact that he would soon leave prison. Another case was quickly filed against him at the Mungo High Court, accusing him of embezzling FCFA 1.4 million.

The money was said to be the funds allocated by the Njombe-Penja Council for the installation of Kingue’s team, following the CPDM victory at the July 2007 Municipal Elections.
Kingue dismissed the accusation, stating that he was not even part of the Organising Committee of the event. However, the Mungo High Court, in a judgment handed down in January 2011, declared him guilty and slammed a 10-year jail term on him.

Kingue again filed an appeal at the Littoral Court of Appeal in Douala. While the appeal was still going on, Kingue’s detractors filed yet another case of alleged embezzlement of FCFA 10.2 million at the Mungo High Court.

Kingue, who declared that his detractors, including the Mungo High Court, had gone too far in their victimisation, refused to appear before the Mungo High Court.

The Mungo High Court, in a rapid ruling on February 29, 2012, slammed a life-jail sentence on Kingue. Once again, Kingue and his Counsel, Barrister Manfo, filed an appeal against the court ruling at the Littoral Court of Appeal.

The Littoral Court of Appeal, in a ruling on the Mungo High Court’s 10 year-sentence slammed on Kingue for alleged embezzlement of FCFA 1.4 million, dismissed the charge and acquitted him.

But for the other appeal case against the ruling of the Mungo High Court that sentenced Kingue to life-jail for alleged embezzlement of FCFA 10.2 million, the Littoral Court of Appeal reduced the sentence to 10 years.

Still insisting on his innocence, Kingue and his Defence Counsel, filed an appeal at the Supreme Court against the ruling of the Littoral Court of Appeal.

Kingue Writes To UN

In 2013, Kingue resolved to take his complaint of victimisation to the international community by filing complaints at the UN Human Rights Commission. After diligently examining Kingue’s file and also carrying out findings on the ground, the UN Human Rights Commission came to the conclusion that Kingue was being deprived of fair trials by the courts in Cameroon.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the UN Commission wrote to the Cameroon Government, denouncing the way cases were being handled against the Former Mayor of the Njombe-Penja Council by the courts in Cameroon, as well as his prison conditions.

The UN Human Rights Commission started mounting pressure on the Cameroon Government to ensure that Kingue got a fair trial. The Supreme Court, from all indications, gave Kingue a fair trial, thanks certainly to the UN intervention.

Meantime, in the concluding part of their presentation on May 21, 2015, the prosecution bench at the Supreme Court, declared in favour of an acquittal for Kingue. The Thursday, July 16 ruling declaring Kingue acquitted, is thus the logical conclusion.

Celebrations In Njombe/Penja

Kingue’s acquittal was received with great joy by the population of Njombe-Penja, where he remains very popular.

In many areas of the municipality, people went into the streets in open celebration.
Nevertheless, the judgment was a nightmare to Kingue’s detractors in Mungo Division. It would be recalled that at the 2013 Municipal Elections, Kingue wrote an open letter from prison in Douala to the population of Njombe-Penja, calling for a sanction vote against the CPDM for the gross injustice to which he had been subjected. The population heeded his call and the CPDM lost the Njombe-Penja Council to the opposition SDF party .

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