Francis Ngwa in Sasse, Buea
It was as unexpected as it was tragic. The over 900 students of St Joseph’s College Sasse in Buea, South Western Cameroon will on Friday November 29, 2013, pay their last respects to their deceased friend and classmate Ebenson Brian – a former lower sixth student – when his mortal remains are taken to the school campus for the last time. Brian died suddenly after what began as a small dormitory scuffle with form five student Ojong Marciano and ended up as the most tragic incident in living memory in Cameroon’s oldest all boys school created some 74 years ago.
“He was my very close friend and I sometimes get up at night and still see his face,” Yebi Gordon, Sasse base band player tells me. Gordon is the main base band player in the college this academic year and the sense of shock he feels following the sudden and tragic death of Ebenson Brian cuts across the student population. The timely intervention of school authorities in arranging counselling sessions for the students has helped them cope with the incident.
College life still goes on and on Sunday November 24, 2013, the students joined Catholic faithful across Cameroon to celebrate Corpus Christi. There was singing, dancing and the college band provided some much needed relief as the students marched around the central school compound as part of the Corpus Christi celebrations.
Sasse College Senior prefect, Egbechung Egbe, 17, was rather introspective when talking about the tragic events of Sunday November 17, 2013. “It was sad that this happened but some students will also learn from the incident,” he said.
Sasse College Principal Rev Peter Nouck, a 1984 class SOBAN himself, told Iroko Magazine that little else could have been done to avoid the tragedy because a lot was actually done to prevent it on the day it happened. “I could have been watching the football match (Cameroon Vs Tunisia world cup qualifier) but I wasn’t. I was in school. The dormitory captain had stopped an earlier fight between the two students and even warned the lower sixth student when he moved up to apologise to the form five student who later knifed him”.
Rev Nouck is right in some ways. But to a large extent the incident could have been avoided. There is another side to the tragedy that was said to be completely man-made. The deceased Brian needed extra sports shorts to cushion the effects of physical punishment (strokes on the buttocks). He had been part of Basketball and Volleyball teams that lost friendly matches against visiting teams from the nearby Bishop Rogan College (BIROCOL). For some strange reason, Sasse college authorities thought it was right to physically beat up both teams because they had lost friendly matches at home. If Brian did not need to “borrow” extra shorts to cushion the effects of the beating he had to bear, the incident might never have happened. As it happened, he secretly “borrowed” the other’s shorts and this led to initial altercation.
Sasse College proprietor and Buea Bishop, Immanuel Bushu, was evidently unaware of the beating up of both teams and promised to make sure things like that never happened again. “When you take part in a competition, you either win or lose. You don’t get punished for losing”, Bishop Bushu told me.
As students struggle to come to terms with the incident, a lot of changes are already happening in the school as a result of it. College authorities immediately withdrew all knives from students. Some students acknowledged the rate at which discipline masters, the only people now permitted to discipline students through beatings, has reduced significantly. A Sasse college parent later told Iroko Magazine that all forms of physical punishment should be banned in the college because there were many other more suitable ways to punish students.
Student on student violence had already been banned and expulsion is now automatic for any student who beats up another for any reason. Student on student violence, especially by senior students, used to be rife on campus and Principal Rev Nouck says he still suffers from back pains he endured as a junior student almost 30 years earlier when he was in Sasse college.
When the remains of Brian are taken to the college for the students, teachers and some parents to pay their last respects, the grieving process will help the students, some as young as ten, to understand some of life’s lessons the hard way.
As the college prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary next year, an accidental stabbing and death might have set in motion, events that will change the course and history of the college. The school authorities will now be making long lasting changes that will drastically affect school life in what is incidentally, Cameroon’s oldest boy’s school. Apparently, because of the quick response and public relations offensive carried out by Sasse college authorities and new SOBAN President Prof Ehpraim Ngwafor, no parent withdrew their children from the school as a result of the stabbing. A less rigorous reaction might have caused an onrush of parents queuing to take their children home.
Talking About Admission Ages
The events in Sasse have a particular significance because they affect children as young as ten, the average age at which boys are now admitted into Sasse and most other colleges across Cameroon. This became the norm after education authorities in Cameroon reduced the number of years in primary school from seven to six and has been worrying to college authorities across the country, including Sasse.
Bishop Bushu told Iroko Magazine the school authorities had, on a number of occasions, been forced to tell parents to withdraw their children from school after they could not face boarding school life because of their relatively young ages. He admitted that as parents have more and more commitments, they want a safe place to keep their children. Most students now graduate from college when they are only 17, an age considered too young for some to face the rigours of university life or the job market.
The deceased student Brian was only sixteen and in lower sixth. His alleged killer Ojong was only fifteen and in form five. Ojong Marciano is now detained at the Buea police station and is helping police with their investigations into the tragedy.
Though four police officers spent hours looking for the knife used in the attack, it has still not been recovered adding some mystery and what some are calling mysticism to an already complicated story.