An incident between a branch of the police and the infantry last Friday in Douala has come to fuel greater concern over the ability of our armed forces to be relied upon as the veritable protectors of ordinary citizens and their property or the defenders of the territorial integrity of the fatherland that they are supposed to be.
Lately, the phenomenon of turning on their physical might on helpless and hapless citizens has become commonplace, especially as every imaginable misunderstanding between a civilian and a uniformed citizen always invariably turns sour as violence, rather than any form of negotiation, is used as a solution. Of course the obvious, in such circumstances, the argument of force prevails over the force of argument and the civilians always lose, very often ending up on physical and psychological emasculation. What many see as impunity on the part of this class of citizens, has encouraged them to take up the peg, to the extent that they turn their physical strength and even their arms at each other to the utter bewilderment of civilians and in public places, as was the case on Friday.
It took a minor incident like a displaced remark on the part of a filling station assistant for the abused customer to call in "reinforcements" from near-by. Apparently the customer, referred to as an "okada" rider did not take this tag kindly and immediately summoned his police colleagues, who were certainly not far from the scene, to the rescue. Within minutes, his colleagues were there. The filling station attendant, obviously knowledgeable of what was in the offing, also called in his own team and within minutes, here were two reputed branches of the armed forces engaged in a senseless battle over a banal problem of change. Even if acts such as these are becoming regular, they are far from depicting the veritable image of the Cameroonian armed forces which have generally posited an image of seriousness and competence.
Those at least recognise the fact that they are maintained with hard-earned tax-payer francs and owe the population a duty to protect them and ensure that their personal security and that of their property are well taken care of. The behaviour of these renegades, who turn their arms on citizens and regularly fight between themselves, can no longer be accepted. Not when the armed forces are resolutely teaming up with the civilian population in what the armed forces high command wants to see as a synergy of forces, seeing greater involvement of the civilian population in military activities as well as a greater involvement of the military in areas which, in the past, were considered exclusively of the civil administration. This posture is today exemplified through the participation of the military in such areas as emergency relief, road construction, education and health. Actions such as those in Douala last Friday only come to compromise such noble initiatives and cast an undeserving spell on the nation's armed forces.
The High Command, be it of the defence forces or the police, is watching very closely and recent sanctions meted out to erring officers and rank and file are a clear pointer that any breaches of the military code will no longer be condoned. Moreover, the fact that the governor of the Littoral Region has instructed an immediate enquiry into the incident, with results expected today, February 5, tells of the expediency with which such matters will henceforth be handled.