WASHINGTON - Cameroon’s President Paul Biya has created a commission to investigate why a train derailed last week, leaving at least 80 people dead and about 600 injured. But John Fru Ndi, leader of the Social Democratic Front, the biggest opposition party, says the commission is unlikely to determine the cause.
In an interview with VOA, Ndi called for an independent panel to investigate the train crash in addition to a parliamentary inquiry to ascertain what happened. He disputed government casualty figures, saying they were underreported.
He accused Biya of leaving out opposition members from commissions he builds to investigate national issues, including tragedies such as the recent train derailment.
“We had written and called for an independent commission to be set up both at the civil service side and also to have the parliamentary group come up with some investigation. [But] Mr. Biya, as usual, went ahead single-handedly to choose his own members of the group of the team investigating the cause of the derailment and the somersault of coaches that killed so many people,” Ndi said.
“When it was announced that the road between Douala and Yaounde had collapsed, so many people went to the train station and they added coaches and just told people to get on board and they would be issuing tickets and collecting money from them as the train moved up,” Ndi said. “So when they say 80 people [were killed], I think Cameroonians feel that more than 80 people died. … And Mr. Biya, typically, never let the opposition or any other person who has an objective opinion into any commission that he sets [up].”
Supporters of the administration in Yaounde say the opposition leader’s accusations are without merit. They contend that Biya has the sole responsibility to govern and ensure the protection and safety of citizens as enshrined in the constitution. They also said members of any commission that he establishes serve at his pleasure as part of his duty to carry out his constitutional mandate.
The supporters also said the ruling party enjoys an overwhelming majority in parliament, which they argue could mean that legislators supporting Biya would still do the work.
They also questioned why Ndi would play politics with a national tragedy.
“My problem is that in all the commissions [the president] sets [up], he has always put people down who have never told him the truth,” Ndi responded. “He believes that because he has the false majority in parliament he can do whatever he wants. ... All these investigations they have set up in Cameroon, he keeps choosing his people, who do not come up with the truth.”
“I think for once if he has Cameroon at heart, he would say please hold on a bit. He would try to [ask] me to give him two or three people for this commission. Or [say], ‘Fru Ndi, I want you to handle this investigation and let Cameroonians know what actually happened.’”