Zacheus Forjindam Mungwe, an engineer, who used to be a trusted ally of Cameroon’s Dictator, Paul Biya and godfather to one of the President’s sons has now clocked 14 years in prison.
The engineer, who in the 2007 general elections singlehandedly bankrolled the North West region’s campaigns of the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) is serving a life jail term.
Mr. Forjindam was on May 7, 2008, found guilty of misappropriation and embezzlement of funds from the Shipyard company in Douala. Five months before his arrest on December 31, 2007, President Biya had personally congratulated Mr. Forjindam as an exemplary manager in a country where managers excel in budgetary malpractices.
Mr. Forjindam was at the time still a darling in the ruling party echelons thanks to his investments in elections, which saw the CPDM claim nine seats in Parliament and 17 councils in the North West, a well-known opposition stronghold.
Following this exploit in turning some opposition politicians in the region to the ruling party’s columns, Mr. Forjindam stood at his Santa residence to declare Mr. Biya, Cameroon’s President for life.
That declaration ignited the debate that led to a revision of the constitution to remove term limits for the post of president. The constitution previously provided that a head of state could only serve two seven-year terms. The constitution was amended following Mr. Forjindam’s pronouncement and now Cameroon does not have term limits for the president on its lawbooks.
Aristide Bounah, an engineer, hired into the Shipyard Company under Mr. Forjindam says the man who he claims is his mentor was framed by regime cronies. Mr. Bounah is one of those advocating Mr. Forjindam’s release.
“Mr. Zacheus Mungwe Forjindam was my first boss in 2007 at the Chantier Naval et Industriel du Cameroun (CNIC). He is a known and recognized naval engineer who contributed to the creation of the CNIC and directed it for 20 years,” says Mr. Bounah.
Until his dismissal and arrest in 2008, Mr. Bounah says the management of CNIC under the stewardship of Mr. Forjindam posted a figure of CFA F 40 billion ($64 million) in annual turnover.
Mr. Bounah views Mr. Forjindam as his mentor highlighting a case in 2007 when students at a Cameroonian technical high school got the opportunity to work at CNIC.
“It was during a prospecting visit in 2007 to Canada-constructed technical high schools that 400 Cameroonian students were pre-selected for tests that resulted in the recruitment of 215 of the best for pre-employment training,” he says.
Mr. Bounah adds that these kinds of recruitment drives had been ongoing for decades and this allowed students from different backgrounds in Cameroon to get a shot at making it in life.
“History tells us that it was this way that for two decades that Mr. Forjindam recruited thousands of Cameroonians from all regions of the country, a strategy that was bearing fruit and allowed CNIC to foresee a bright future thanks above all to an order book well filled by highly qualified personnel,” he emphasizes.
Mr. Bounah adds that he was fortunate to be part of the vintage of 215 selected in 2007 and the pleasure of participating in the only naval barge produced entirely in Cameroon thanks to Mr. Forjindam’s initiative.
Despite Mr. Forjindam’s attempts at providing opportunities for young people in Cameroon, Mr. Bounah points out that his benefactor remains in prison to this day. The young engineer also mourns the thousands of dismissals, the deterioration in the quality of services and the drastic drop in turnover that followed Mr. Forjindam’s sacking from CNIC.
“We can say that Mr. Zachëus Mungwe Forjindam was the victim of a real witch-hunt that certain members of the government engaged against him. If not, how can we understand the poor performance caused by his departure?” says Mr. Bounah.
According to several sources, Mr. Forjindam refused to validate the purchase of a dilapidated ship, and this was the cause of the reprisals by predators and the cabal that infiltrated the Cameroonian administration, notably championed by Justice Minister, Laurent Eso.
“He is therefore paying the price for having curbed the unacknowledged ambitions of these followers of unfair competition who have thus succeeded in stopping the rise of shipbuilding in Cameroon,” says Mr. Bounah.
In an online petition petitionenligne.net, Mr. Forjindam’s supporters say he was refused an opportunity to defend himself by the Shipyard company’s Board of Directors, who colluded with the auditor general in their cause.
Mr. Forjindam was also judged and declared guilty behind closed doors by a group of people who allegedly had an interest in his eviction from the CNIC.
“The reports of the audit firms which served as the basis for the conviction in 2010 of the former director-general of the Chantier naval et Industrielle du Cameroun speak of expenses without supporting documents,” writes Mr. Bounah in a newspaper article.
According to Mr. Forjindam, the documents to support the expenses referenced were indeed available within the company. One such document proving Mr. Forjindam’s innocence is a report that the minister in charge of Supreme State Audit, Siegfried David Etame Massoma sent on October 15, 2007, to the Presidency.
“It did not reveal any trace of bad management,” says Mr. Bounah who also decries the decision by Mr. Forjindam’s successor to fire the student recruits.
Mr. Forjindam was replaced by his deputy, Antoine Bikoro Alo’o who immediately initiated the unfair dismissals of all 215 new recruits, as well as several other employees of the company.