The Minister of Secondary Education returned home to cheering family members and friends after spending onE day in jail for suspected corruption
EUGENE N NFORNGWA
YAOUNDE–In a turn of things as surprising as his arrest, the minister of Secondary Education Louis Bapes Bapes walked away from jail on Tuesday, after spending the night in lockup for suspected corruption.
There was no official explanation for the u-turn, which came as President Paul Biya left the country for Europe. The minister refused to comment and went straight to his home where family and friends were waiting.
Its unclear if charges of embezzlement of public funds brought against the minister were dropped. “Today, the judge decided to release him,” Communication minister and government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary said simply.
The release fixed a serious embarrassment and an awkward situation that had left the government with a vacancy and no juridical disposition for an interim.
Bapes was the first sitting minister to be arrested in the country’s crackdown on corruption which began in 2006. He is now also the first to leave jail after just a day. Nothing now stops him from returning to work.
His arrest fell short of being a bad April Fool’s joke, coming on 31 March.
Bapes has been minister of Education for ten years and controls one of the country’s largest budgets. He had been invited by the Special Criminal Court (SCC) and sent to the Kondegui Central Prison to await trial.
It had been romoured for months that the minister was under investigation for the disappearance of unspecified amounts of funds and Monday’s arrest appeared to have confirmed those running reports.
Prosecutors must have believed they had a solid case to cause the arrest of a sitting minister, said one of our legal analysts. Neither the court nor the state council have commented on the final turn of things.
In 2010, a spate of arrests at his ministry took down his secretary general Catherine Abena. She went on hunger strike soon after arriving in jail and died recently after falling ill.
The arrests and Abena’s fate left Bapes very unpopular among elite form the Center and South regions, who hold very powerful positions in government, said a source familiar with the politics at the ministry of Secondary Education.
Bapes is equally a powerful member of Biya’s ruling party’s central committee and an influential elite form the Littoral region.
His arrest and the drama it generated fueled speculations of an imminent change of government, which in itself is long overdue following the last election of lawmakers. It still would not be a big surprise if Biya announces a new government when he returns from his stay abroad.