Following his promotion last December as Advocate-General at the Supreme Court of Cameroon, which came shortly after his alleged election as the new National Chairman of the Southern Cameroons National Council(SCNC), Hon.Ayah, was not immediately available for inquisitive reporters to get his reaction about his new status. Last Friday January 2, Recorder Editor Christopher Ambe Christoper Ambe caught up with the Magistrate of Exceptional Class in Buea for an exclusive interview. Hon. Ayah, who just returned from his native village of Akwaya, did not hesitate to speak out. Below are excerpts of our conversation:
RECORDER: Hon. Ayah, happy New Year.
Hon Ayah Paul: Thank you .Thank you for coming .Happy New Year to you in return.
Honorable, how would you as a politician describe the just-ended year 2014?
2014 was more of a fake year than otherwise in terms of politics. We have often said that there is no legality in what we call reunification in Cameroon. So the big event titled “The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Reunification of Cameroon” was really fake. As I have often said, our parliament has ceased to play the role of a parliament-because we don’t see a situation where Parliament is in session to enact the finance law and while they are still in session, the President of the Republic -after a cabinet meeting, comes out with they call Plan d’Urgence-that is, revenue outside the control of Parliament. The much I know is that the Cameroon Constitution provides that the President can, by ordinance, make use of revenue outside the budget; and subsequently, Parliament would meet and either endorse the ordinance or reject it. But I know no law anywhere where we can have two parallel budgets in a country: the one adopted by Parliament and the one adopted by the President of the country. This is violation of the Constitution. And when we put into practical terms, the investment budget of 2014 was executed at less than 35%, now if we have adopted a budget which is even higher in amount and the President has superimposed what they call Plan d’Urgence up to a thousand billion FCFA, I doubt where the President is going to get the people who will execute the budget and the Plan d’Urgence.The very people who could not execute the budget of 2014? So to me, it is a paradox .In terms of political events, I would say nothing really happened in 2014.
What is your reaction to President Biya’s New Year Message?
I know the President has just made an end-of -year speech but everything in that speech is just routine. Countries around have gone to war over the years, yet they are developing. If Boko Haram-what they call a terrorist organization, is causing havoc, I don’t see how anyone can invoke it as a cause for our country not to develop. Indeed, 2014 was simply a year of contradictions.
A few days before the end of 2014, your name, I understand, was a subject of discussion in various newsrooms of the national media, because you were allegedly elected in absentia as National Chairman of the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC); then shortly, in a answer to your cry, to be re-integrated into the Ministry of Justice after your 11 years in Parliament, President Paul Biya appointed or promoted you to the rank of Advocate-General at the Supreme Court. What is your reaction?
My reaction, first, is that I have decided not to say anything about SCNC in the time being. I may give you another opportunity to come for an interview on the SCNC on a subsequent date. So, I would not say anything in that regard now
As regards my going back to Ministry of Justice, I read a few write-ups which have no meaning. I think that, modesty demands that if somebody does not know, they should seek expert opinion. What I know is that the law of this country makes it possible to leave your department as a civil servant and work in another department; and the law provides for detachment. (I have heard the word secodment, but I have not seen it in an English dictionary. So I prefer detachment) When you are so detached,at the end of your period of detachment, the law provides that you come back to your former department as of right; the law on the election of Members of Parliament equally provides that for all the time you are in Parliament if you are a member of the judiciary, you are on detachment; which is to say what? For my eleven years in Parliament I was on detachment and as a matter of law and at the end of my mandate, I had to go back to my ministry of origin as of right. This is a matter of law as I have said and I, as a man of law should not be the first man to go against that law.
I would have been re-absorbed in the Ministry of Justice as soon as my mandate came to an end in September 2013 in accordance with the law, but for one reason or the other that was not the case and I had to wait for fifteen months.
Probably as some people have indicated it was because the Judicial Council had to meet to re-absorb me. I entered Parliament as Vice-President of the Court of Appeal here in Buea and therefore a magistrate of the bench, and I could not be absorbed until the Judicial Council had to say something about it. So is the law and I have simply complied with it.
Honourable Justice Ayah, conscious of some landmark judgments that you have passed, many people would have preferred that you be appointed as a judge at the Supreme Court. Are you happy with your appointment as Advocate-General?
In the Cameroon judiciary things are not as they are in the Anglophone system. The position of Advocate-General may be translated simply as Deputy Attorney-General in the Anglo-Saxon system. With the English system-Common Law, everybody is a lawyer. They practice the law (and the judges sitting up there) and when you shine, you are now raised from down there to the bench, and once you are raised to the bench you remain there until retirement or death or whatever. In the Cameroonian system, you can be on the bench this year and next year you go to the Legal Department. Or, you are in the Legal Department and the next time you are on the bench. I don’t know what criteria they use but so it is!
The fact, however, remains that in my career I was essentially on the bench. For my twenty-four years before entering Parliament, I was on the bench for twenty years and in the Legal Department for just four years. So whatever they used to keep me on the bench I wouldn’t know and whatever they have used now to put me in the Legal Department I wouldn’t know either; but the point is that wherever you are you do justice!
I have done my best I think many people might have seen what I tried to do.So, wherever I am I would render justice to everybody without fear or favor. The public can count on me.
Conscious of the courage and dynamism in your leadership some people feel that you should have turned down your appointment as Advocate-General, and continue as a politician and Secretary-General of Peoples Action Party(PAP).As Advocate-General ,could you still practice politics?
Let me say something. We do a lot of talking in the country with little action and people draw conclusions with very little knowledge of the real situation on the field. I was member of the judiciary; my people cried out and I got into politics. Now I have gone back to the judiciary-because I have a choice either not to go or to go.I applied to go on early retirement and my application was turned down .But just sitting down and saying I will continue in politics does not make sense.
These are the first people to cry that you cannot do politics without money. And If I have stayed for 15 months without a franc I don’t know what politics I would have done without a source of income. So, the choice is entirely mine and I think that it is better for me to build my career. Those who heard the appointment and those who are reading me would understand that, I was raised to the highest point in the Judiciary; I was raised to Index 1300, backdated to July 1, 2012, which means that by now in accordance with the law-the statute on the Judiciary I have clocked Index 1400.I don’t see how I opted for a career and all of a sudden I would turn away in favor of politics and lose what may help me in the end. What may help me in the end in the sense that, my pension would be calculated on my index level. So, I have to prepare my future. You cannot work for the society without being alive, without having the means to work.
So working for the society is one thing, but you have to work for yourself as another thing. And, without working for yourself, you cannot work for society. My Priest recently told me that the only useful person is the person who is alive.
I don’t see how I can do politics without a means of livelihood.
For all the time I have been in politics I have received very little support from Cameroonians in terms of material support. For the whole presidential election, all the money anybody gave me here in Cameroon amounted to almost one hundred thousand Francs-as presidential candidate. So when people say you have the dynamics to lead in politics, they are paying lip-service; If they give you the means to do that ,of course you would do it but they do all the talking, but very little ,practically.
Now, Can I do politics as an advocate –general of the Supreme Court?
I am well aware that I have two impediments: One is the issue of neutrality. In fact, I prefer impartiality. And then, you must be reserved. Reserved in the sense that if a matter crops up and you have expressed an opinion about the matter and if it eventually comes before you, you must decline jurisdiction. So there you have those two impediments. But as much as I have read in the law in this country, only people in uniform and who carry guns, and administrators are barred from practicing politics while they are civil servants. I have not seen anything that precludes a magistrate from doing politics.
Again, as a member of the Legal Department, as a legal officer, you don’t take final decisions. You submit, the person who takes the final decision is the person presiding. Again, you have the possibility of self-recusal (a legal jargon), that is you say that ‘I have an interest and so I cannot hear it, I cannot prosecute it or I cannot represent the state with regards of the matter’. So, those possibilities are there.Everyhting put together as I have explained, there is nothing that bars a magistrate of the Legal Department from practicing politics.
Would you not consider giving up the position of Secretary-General of People’s Action Party (PAP) so that you concentrate better on your career for now?
I will think about that. But for the time being I cannot give an outright answer .People at times look at political parties in Cameroon in terms of individuals. A political party is a group of people; so one person, perhaps, not leading does not mean that it is the end of the party. I agree entirely that in respect of PAP a good many people came forward and joined because they knew me and bought my ideas. But now that I have reduced the ideas into writing, they are there to guide the rest of the people just in case I decide to step aside
I was forced to step into politics and perhaps I have some satisfaction that, I answered my people’s call. I have just come back form Akwaya.Today I can drive to Akwaya, without passing through Nigeria; today,Akwaya is connected to the rest of the world by telephone network; they are working on the water supply which we built ourselves between 1969 and 1971.I think what Akwaya town lacks at the moment is just electricity. So I left Akwaya high up there from the ground. At that time I was alone, but today Akwaya has a senator and an MP.Together, they should be able to carry on from where I left.
Let me take you back to your salary situation. For some 15 months ago you went without your monthly salary and the people who want you to lead in the political domain, I mean your supporters (apart from your family) did not come to your assistance. What is your salary situation now?
In fact, this is the sixteenth month without a salary; It is true that I received nothing from anybody except from my family relations. The situation now may change because as I said my promotion was backdated to 2012, which is to say that I should be expecting some arrears. So we are looking forward to a better tomorrow. At the moment, the situation has not changed where I was in the last 15 months.
( First Published in The RECORDER Newspaper, Cameroon, of January 8, 2015 )