YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Although questions are still being asked about the murder of a Catholic priest in Cameroon last month, Church officials in the county appear clearly dissatisfied with some of the answers being given — suggesting the killing was no accident, but deliberate.
Father Alexander Sob Nougi was gunned down July 20 on the Buea-Muyuka highway in Cameroon’s Southwest Province. Sob was the former Catholic Education Secretary and serving as the parish priest of Sacred Heart Church in Bomaka in the Diocese of Buea.
Although early reports suggested the priest was hit in the crossfire between government troops and separatist rebels, Catholic authorities say Sob may have been directly targeted.
“Father Sob was with two other people in his car when he was shot at close range with a silencer gun,” said Bishop Immanuel Bushu at the priest’s Aug. 11 funeral.
“His killers are here with us…and their consciences won’t let them rest,” the bishop said.
“We don’t yet know who killed the reverend father,” said Michael Mbide, the parish chairperson told Crux.
“What we know is that at the time the priest was killed, there was heavy gun fighting between Ambazonian fighters and government forces,” Mbide said.
Ambazonia is the name of the self-declared independent country the rebels are trying to establish in the Cameroon’s Southwest and Northwest Provinces, which make up the anglophone portions of the majority French-speaking nation.
Since 2016, the population has been protesting what it sees as the imposition of French in the English-speaking areas of the country.
Government troops have been accused of human rights abuses as they tackle the insurgency, leading to complaints by Cameroon’s bishops. The bishops of the English-speaking provinces have been especially outspoken in the defense of the rights of Anglophone Cameroonians.
An autopsy carried out by Church authorities concluded that the priest was shot by a professional.
“The reverend was shot at close range – less than one meter from the shooter; the shot was carried out by a professional; the gun used was a semi-automatic rifle; the first bullet shot at the left side of his chest divided his heart and he died instantly and a second bullet shot at the right side of Father’s chest was retrieved and an expert is needed to determine if it was the same bullet which killed the priest, or there were two different shooters,” said Father Asek Bernard, the diocesan vicar general.
The bishops’ conference of Cameroon has condemned the killing, noting it came a year after the death of Bishop Jean Marie Benoit Balla, who was found drowned in the Sanaga River.
“We strongly condemn this despicable and cowardly act and express our dismay and deep sorrow for this heinous crime committed against an anointed man of God, that has come just a little more than one year after the assassination of Bishop Jean Marie Benoit Balla, adding to the long list of assassinated bishops and priests,” the bishops said in an Aug. 7 statement.
“We call on the competent authorities to carry out investigations so that the perpetuators of this abominable crime may be made to answer for their action before the legal competent authority,” it continues.
Although experts from Interpol have said the evidence points to Balla committing suicide, the bishops of the country insist he was assassinated.
The bishops also noted the ongoing Anglophone emergency, although they didn’t directly link the priest’s murder to the crisis.
“We also express unflinching solidarity with and compassion for all the bereaved or displaced families and to all victims of violence related to the crisis in the North West and South West Regions,” the bishops said.
They noted that the crisis continues to intensify as the days go by, leading to loss of human life, the destruction of property and the crippling of the economy.
The bishops called on the warring parties to lay down their arms and give peace a chance, underscoring the need for dialogue as a way out of violent conflict.
Already, Cardinal Christian Tumi, the former archbishop of Douala, has taken the lead, bringing together religious leaders for an Anglophone General Conference scheduled for Aug. 29-30.