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Monday, October 7, 2019

BEN MUNA: A TRIBUTE TO A COLOSSUS GONE HOME IN DIRE TIME OF NEED


The phone call from my dear sister and friend Bibiana Taku once more announced the sad news of the death of Ben Muna. This phone call announcing the death of Ben Muna, replicated in some regards, that which announced the death of my friend Bate Besong which is a painful loss from which I have never recovered.

Some months ago, Ben Muna and our distinguished colleague Paul Chiy flew in from London to the Hague to discuss important professional matters with Karim Khan QC and me.  The contributions of Ben Muna in that profound professional discussion will remain indelible in my memory.

I have known Ben Muna for so many years. Barely four years in my professional career, I contested and was elected a member of the council of the Cameroon Bar Association. Ben Muna was the President of the Bar Council then. Shortly on being elected, I became his close partner in several battles for the enthronement of the rule of law and a just social order.

We fought against the politicization of justice and the militarization of constitutional rights that was imposed on the citizenry by a power cartel of power mongers. Ben was a passionate advocate of justice with a human conscience and mobilized lawyers and the citizenry to join him in this crusade.

Ben led a delegation of lawyers to the biannual conference of the African Bar Association in Abuja Nigeria in 1991, where Chief MKO Abiola presented the keynote address. My distinguished learned colleagues Chief Eta Besong Jr, Mrs M.N Weledji, Peter Monthe Tumnde, Mrs Helen Ebai, Charles Eno, and many others were in the delegation.

There, African lawyers gathered in that conference witnessed the leadership skills of Ben Muna. In a potentially tense election battle that was about to erupt, Ben took the microphone and urged the attendees, “learned colleagues, why this pushyfooting?  Why not give Mr Charles Idehen the President of the NBA a mandate to move this great continental association to higher heights?”.  There was an acclamation and Roger Chamba the Hon Attorney General of Zambia who was the outgoing President, after consultation, reconvened and the choice of Ben was endorsed by a near majority as the President of the NBA. My late friend Kamni Ishola Isobu remarked to me the end of the day’s proceedings that Ben Muna was, indeed, a great lawyer capable of providing the type of continental leadership that Chief Abiola had advocated in his keynote address.

When we last met in Stockholm last year, the first time since the African Bar Association Conference in 1991, Hon. Roger Chamba and I recalled the memorable intervention of Ben Muna in that conference.  It is regrettable that several attempts to reunite Ben and Charles Idehen  did not materialize because of the bad telephone network communication.

Ben led us to valiantly defend the erstwhile President of the Cameroon Bar Council Yondo Black and the venerable Albert Mukong and others before a court-martial in Yaoundé Cameroun, for asserting a constitutional right to pluralist democratic governance.   From thence, I forged an enduring alliance with Albert Mukong for the struggle for freedom and human dignity leading to the creation of the Human Rights Defence Group.

Ben mobilized lawyers and human rights defenders to defend my friend Puis Njawe and Celestin Monga whose only crime was the publication of articles exposing and condemning the endemic corruption that has destroyed the economic and moral foundation of Cameroun.  Through this and other cases, Ben provided the platform for the establishment of civil society advocacy in the fight to liberate the people from the bondage and abuses of dictatorial political brigandage.  In this regard, the fearless legal luminary provided unprecedented leadership in the fight for justice and civil liberties that permeated his national and international law career.

By the verdict of fate and destiny, we met again at the International Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha where he was the Deputy Prosecutor and I was a Lead Counsel for one of the accused persons.  I found myself alone on the defence bench while Ben, Carla Deponte and five other Prosecutors were on the prosecution bench to argue an interlocutory appeal, I filed before the Appeals Chamber of the ICTR.  I stood my ground and responded to the alternate submissions by all the members of the prosecution team. At the close of the session, Ben moved across to me and we briefly laughed at the fact that Ben was back where he began his law career as a Prosecutor. Persons present watched as we discussed courteously and pleasantly only a few minutes after we were subjected to intense legal combat with ammunition provided on both side by the very erudite judge Shahabuddin now of blessed memory and his four colleagues in the panel.  Little did they know that although a prosecutor, Ben was indeed, a champion of fair trial rights for accused persons before the courts.

Ben ended his time on earth, defending largely abducted victims of atrocity crimes and the arrogance of power before a court-martial.  His memorable prophetic submissions will inform the conscience of a nation at battle with its soul about the consequences of trivializing human rights, human dignity and politicization of justice.  The enduring consequences of these violations may never be reversed. But no one will ever say that Ben Muna the prophetic voice of reason and the conscience of true justice did not caution and provide an opportunity for the abatement of the madness that has led to the collapse of an imposed house of cards.

May the justice of the Lord, the Guarantor of true justice and all life, grant him a place of choice in God’s heavenly kingdom

May his soul rest in peace.

By Chief Charles A. Taku