Simon Bissong Bawaki, A former Kumba – based gang leader, popularly known as Grand Kumba, has said he has turned over a new leaf, and has become a completely repented person.
He spoke to CRTV’s witty Princewill Mukwelle Aduma, on his coveted weekday micro radio slot, ‘A moment of Recognition for Patriotism,’ which profiles individuals who are deemed to have made enormous contributions to local and national development lately.
‘I have turned from Saul to Paul,’ Grand Kumba told CRTV’s reporter, using the biblical allusion recorded in Acts chapter 8, wherein a man called Saul initially persecuted Christian converts, until he later became a chief convert himself.
For those who knew Grand Kumba, he was a dreaded person–a persona non grata–who would stir terror and cut a scythe of fear wherever he stepped foot. Many people who didn’t know him personally would have at least heard blood-curdling stories (some true, some exaggerated) about him. For instance, grapevine held that he wore the biggest shoes in the whole of Kumba City.
44-year-old Grand Kumba, whose real name is Simon Bisong, now looks at himself as probably the most changed person in recent times. He now works as an auxiliary staff of the Kumba City Council, now urging denizens to work towards the preservation of the very security that he himself once jeopardised. He has now been advising young people not to take after him.Asked whether he didn’t fear for his life now that as a repentant person he poses a potential threat to his former gang members, Grand Kumba simply said, ‘I am not afraid of my life.’ He said he would work with the police and the populace to ‘defeat them.’
Grand Kumba, who speaks English pretty fluently said he had been to school quite a little bit, but later ceased attending school due to obstinacy. He said he had also been a pugilist.
You are a worker with the Kumba Urban Council, are you satisfied with the job?
I am very satisfied with the job because I am well paid which sustains my family. The job at the council marked a turning point in my life because it is as a result of this that I resigned from banditry completely and started a comfortable life.
How did you find yourself in banditry?
The truth is that I inherited the germ from one of my forefathers because I cannot tell what took me into it. It is such a risky and dangerous occupation. It all started when I was a small boy; I was brutal and beat anyone who clowned with me. As I grew up, everybody was afraid of me and wherever I passed people ran away and I enjoyed that.
How did the name Grand Kumba come about?
I cannot tell why the people decided to call me Grand Kumba, but I am sure it was because of my life at the time. Whenever my gang appeared to operate, we were always victorious, and as their leader staying in Kumba, I guess it was enough reason for people to give me the title. But I have refused that name since I began a new life. Thoughts of my past always irk me so I don’t even want to reflect on anything in my past.
What are some of the intriguing moments of your past life?
I enjoyed a lot being a leader of a gang that was almost above the law. I enjoyed power and hurting people who had no means to retaliate. It was exciting moving with friends nationally. I had so many girlfriends because of my popularity which made me to have nine children with just three from the same mother. I had money from the occupation at that time to keep girls.
What are some of the painful moments you encountered as a bandit?
Actually, I am just living by the special grace of God, else I would have died long ago. Brutality and banditry are very bad. I suffered lots of injuries and wounds from police attack. I remember when the police fired bullets at my armpit in Limbe, my legs in Douala and my buttocks in Yaounde but I did not die. I suffered in detention and at hospitals yet God had a plan for me. Besides, I was sentenced to firing squad twice and I still came out of it.
A group of women in Kumba were praying for me and I was released from detention. The worst situation I encountered in my old life was when I was detained several times innocently. Where I was guilty, I would be free but the ones where I was innocent I would be arrested. It wasn’t an easy life at all. I was leaving in total regret yet I could not quit my gang because of solidarity.
Did any incident cause you to leave brutality before your employment?
Well, the last straw that broke the camel’s back was when I was arrested on the orders of the Paramount Ruler of the Bafaws, Nfon V.E Mukete, when bandits broke into his estate and made away with a huge sum of money, and office and household items. I was practically out of town that day but I was arrested as the first suspect and I was sent to await trial at the Kumba Prison where I stayed there for one year.
How horrible it was to carry another person’s cross. When I was later freed, I decided to carry out personal investigation to discover the real thieves, which I did. They were all arrested and I started gaining favour from the public. I then realised that life out of brutality could be the best and I made up my mind to repent.
How did your gang friends end?
Most of my colleagues died in detention and some innocently. Others were killed by bullets from the forces of law and order meanwhile mob justice killed several others. I was close to the grave for ten years but God still rescued me.
What lessons have you drawn from your past life so far?
As a matter of fact, I feel bad for anybody who is a bandit because it is a profession of regrets, suffering and sin to God. I now realise how bad it is to hurt another person’s feelings, to trample on someone’s toes, to reap where you did not sow, it is bad and I will never return to it. I now help the police and gendarmes to track bandits in Kumba and we have caught so many with guns.
Do you have any advice for the youths?
My humble advice is for youths to desist from banditry and brutality. They should be self-employed or attach themselves to organisations for a source of living.
Any last Word?
Kumba is an easy going town. The population should join the administration to crack down banditry.
Reports from Che Eugene, 2016
Interview conducted by Olive Ejang Tebug Ngoh, 2007