March 10, 2016–I appeared before a judge at the Limbe Magistrate’s Court Wednesday, March 9 following a March 4 summons in relation to a claim of defamation which had been fully heard at the same court from July 2014 to December 2016 and dismissed. The quarreled story, about accountability for 2014 World Press Freedom Day donations, whose prosecution yielded no fruits, was not written by me.
After charges had been read at the March 9 appearance and a date taken (March 30), the judge voluntarily granted bail set at 50,000fcfa, much less than 500,000fcfa upon which I was bailed when the matter was first brought to court in 2014.
My lawyer won’t hear anything from me about my intention to decline bail
A couple of days to the appearance, I had spoken with my lawyer but he won’t hear anything from me about my intention to decline bail and go into pre-trial custody. Naturally. That is the business of lawyers – to defend their clients against abuse. But I had made up my mind. I’m the litigant – the one feeling the pinch. I had also informed my family, just in case.
On 8 March, the eve of the appearance, I had posted a short message on my Facebook wall, hinting on the action I planned to take, if it would give them something to celebrate. Many who read it might have missed the hint. I said this:
“so, they are dragging me back to court tomorrow in limbe. i got notified last friday, march 4. this time, looks like THIS IS IT! they may clink glasses. guess what?” (I hope they did clink glasses.)
What is freedom when “powerful” people line up nuisance suits against you?
From my short experience with courts of law (I’m a freshman in courts, with only this to show; I had never been a litigant before this matter), I have come to understand that on the first appearance, the accused like me are remanded, ie held in custody or released on bail. I was aware. I had five days since receiving the summons to make up my mind. I had.
Not with pleasure though. I’m not suicidal. I love life, but what do you do with freedom when a band of desperate individuals, fellow journalists for that matter at various institutions, claiming to be well connected and with a capacity to influence people in high places, openly declare their diabolic intentions against you and, to show for it, take delight in opening nuisance suits against you after a matter has been thrashed? (And they are prodded on by their “allies”. In all of that, they are bent on demonizing you across the board.)
And what do you do with freedom when people claiming to be mediating are urging you to tender an apology (apology for what?) to an individual to pamper his ego, give him a trophy to brandish around, and which apology he may use against you in a court of law as a confession of guilt?
Perhaps with my detention their dream has come true
I was aware that going into police custody meant I would be transferred to the Buea prison a couple of days after to await trial. That was disturbing, but what if that is the fate designed against me by the “powerful” individuals? Not as if I’m letting up and giving them a ride over me. For 17 months, I fought in court to preserve my freedom. I succeeded. No, I’m not suicidal.
In the March 9 appearance, the judge gave us time to comply with bail conditions. When the court Orderly (a policeman) checked if I was ready for self-bail, I told him I would forfeit my right to bail and go into custody.
I had only managed to send a couple of texts to my lawyer who was absent for obvious reasons explained above, before running out of phone airtime. I was updating my lawyer on the outcome of the opening hearing and the new date. We couldn’t communicate further as the young girl I sent to purchase more airtime had not returned when I was taken away.
The custody papers had been processed in front of me and taken to the judge to sign. Thereafter, the Orderly drove me over to the police station where I was ushered in for detention.
Apology to pamper someone’s ego and which they could use against you in court as a confession?
The story of my encounter with the other dozen inmates or co-tenants, including issues over “new man tax” will be for another day. But in a short time, I had integrated the community of young men, most of who spoke like miscreants. My welcome pack was a pair of brand new flip-flops from a concerned, more elderly fellow inmate; I can’t tell why.
When I noticed them buying fried pastries brought into the station across the metal door, I offered them a 500fcfa note still in my hand. They bought more and offered them to me thinking I meant to eat. When I said, “No”, one of them whispered to the other, “Ee dey like say dis grand want do na hunger strike for here.” (Looks like this big brother wants to engage hunger strike here.) Not at all. Or not yet.
I lay on the bare floor reading a newspaper offered to an inmate by a visitor, and dosed off. The older inmates had advised me to avoid direct contact with the floor, which, they said, would leave me with body rashes. So, with my back on the floor (I had a polo shirt on), my behind on the slippers, my head on a plastic bottle (Supermont) containing tap water (which inmates use as pillows) and my left elbow resting on the page of a newspaper, I was snoozing (I couldn’t afford deep sleep under such conditions, could I?) when a voice pierced into my miserable sleep.
They might have been calling my name for a while because I heard in a tone of impatience, “He no want comot?” (Is it like he wants to remain there?) The man might have been told I had waved my right to bail. His statement sounded to me like he had concluded I was acting suicidal.
Once I had torn my way through the human wall of detainees crowded at the iron door, a man in mufti whom I hadn’t seen when I was taken in said, “Come pass comot”. (You step out here.) It was an instruction. His tone gave no room for dialogue or the questions I would have loved to ask. The iron door was opened. I walked out.
Behind the counter where the backpack and suit bag I took along were kept, I was ordered to get dressed. I had, on my own, removed my suit trousers and white shirt and changed into more convenient clothes before stepping into jail.
I might have taken longer than normal to get dressed because a policeman said, “Ee dey like say dis guy no really want comot for here.” (Looks like this fellow really doesn’t want to leave this place.)
I was way out of the walls of the police station when I noticed family waiting for me outside. Then it dawned on me I might have been “duped” out of voluntary “suicide” detention. Normally, anxious family would have been right at the jail door, curious to see me walk free. Not the case here. Someone might have thought I would refuse to obtain freedom if I saw family. Just maybe. Someone might have contacted my bail surety during my Gendarmerie interrogation last December (they have his phone number) and set in motion the plan for my release. I can’t be too sure of that too.
I was not led by suicide instincts to decide to forfeit my right to bail. My tormentors have been saying how frustrated they are that I came out unscathed from the previous 17-month trial without spending even an hour in detention. Apparently to console themselves, one of them even lied in his newspaper that I was evading justice before I first appeared in court. His headline read: “WANTED: Franklin Sone Bayen on the run”. I have not yet sued him and his paper.
Perhaps with my detention on March 9, their dream has come true. If not…
I narrate this story simply to clear the air and set the facts straight because I have read many stories and comments, some of which have gone in all directions. I will not comment any further on this matter.
PS: People get so used to oppression or dislike the cries of the oppressed that they begin to blame the oppressed for standing where the oppressor would pass. If the oppressor hates the sound of the footsteps of the oppressed, such people may even blame the oppressed for walking at all.