YAOUNDE - Hundreds of trucks plying the Trans National Highway from Bamenda, Cameroon to Enugu, Nigeria are parked in Cameroon by drivers protesting what they call illegal harassment and extortion by Cameroon authorities. The drivers say several of their leaders have been arrested.
Tambe Enow, an official of the truck drivers' union, said some of their members were arrested while protesting what he called regular harassment by Cameroon's military. He said soldiers ask drivers to pay up to $500 per truck as overloading charges when they do not have any weighing instruments. He said his organization’s trucks have been grounded because of this.
"We are here for one week standing here, stressed. 18 people are locked in the cell. Because when this thing happened on Wednesday last week, we were here till Friday. On Monday, our union president and all of us gathered here in Mamfe. We went to the D.O's office. We were singing songs, ‘we need peace, we need peace, release our trucks, release our trucks.’ The gendarmes came and took our president and all of us. They carried everybody to the cell," said Enow.
But Peter Tieh Nde, the most senior government official in Manyu, in southwestern Cameroon, said the drivers were arrested because they tried to seize his office.
"They actually invaded the office with the intention of taking over the office. In fact they blocked all the ways into the office when I was out for a meeting. That is why some of them were arrested. We had about 50 persons and we asked them to go away. Those who went away were not arrested. Those who remained had the intention of actually obstructing this office from functioning and that is why they were arrested," said Nde.
Business activity has been slowed in the area through which Cameroon supplies Nigeria with food and farm produce and Nigeria supplies Cameroon with basic commodities and dresses.
The $423 million African Development Bank funded road is 95 percent complete.
Officials in Cameroon authorized its use before it is fully complete because the area was difficult and at times impossible to access without the new road.
But drivers, in the absence of weighing stations, overloaded their trucks and some Cameroon road protection officials collect bribes.
Mbaga Kome, Cameroon's official in charge of roads in the area, acknowledged that they do not have weighing stations yet, but insists officials are capable of determining which vehicles are overloaded by simply looking at them. He said they intend to save the new road from degrading.
"When you see the trucks, engine parts are under. Those are the things which are too heavy. Up is only biscuits, mattresses and so on. When you pay, you must remove the load that is above the carriage before they allow you to continue," he said.
The road is part of the Trans African Highway, conceived 30 years ago as a trans-continental link from Lagos, Nigeria on the Atlantic Ocean to Mombasa, Kenya on the Indian Ocean. The highway will eventually stretch 6,300 kilometers.