Originally published in Le Jour, July 1, 2008.
A technician at Radio Cameroun during the April 6, 1984 coup attempt, it is thanks to his actions that the mutineers’ coup proclamation was never heard beyond Yaounde. 24 years after his act of bravery, he is now a poor winemaker living in Bibondi in the Ocean division (South province).
The April 6 1984 coup failed in part because of this Radio Cameroon technician whom many Cameroonians believe is dead. Gabriel Ebili, the technician, is still alive.
The face of the man whom we met yesterday in Yaounde is marked by misery. With his hair unkempt hair and his clothes old and dirty, Gabriel Ebili was anxious to tell us about the crazy day of April 6 1984. His voice trembling with emotion, the former technician at the Department of Radio Operations is proud that he saved the institutions of the republic, particularly "the Biya regime" as he puts it. "But to what benefit?" he asks.
According to Gabriel Elibi, some of the coup plotters contacted him prior to April 6 and asked him to "cooperate", failing which they would retaliate against him and his family. A few days before the event, the young Elibi who was just 27 years old at the time sent his family to safety to the village of Bibondi near Lolodorf. Why didn't he inform authorities? He says he was scared.
6 April 1984. As the first sounds of gunshots echo across Yaounde in the early hours of the morning, Gabriel Ebili heads off to work. It is about 5:30 am. He makes his way to the radio station without any problem. The station has been occupied by armed soldiers. One of them rushes towards him and slaps him violently. He stumbles. "Why are you slapping me? What have I done to you? Did I betray you?" he asks with tears in his eyes.
Frequency Allocation Center
Dragged across the radio station by the mutineers, Gabriel Ebili turns on the transmitters. Still accompanied by the mutineers, he returns to the Frequency Allocation Center which is "the heart of the radio”. “I turned it on, but not completely”, he continues enigmatically. How? “That is a professional secret...in any case I pretended to turn on the Frequency Distribution Center.” [Note: Ebili simply switched the transmitters to the FM frequency, which limited broadcast to Yaounde and its environs rather than to the Shortwave frequency which covered the entire national radio network].
Still accompanied by the increasingly nervous and threatening mutineers, he is taken to the studio… "When the mutineers returned with the tape [containing the coup proclamation], they ordered me to broadcast it over the air, which I did. The mutineers were thrilled and convinced that their message had been broadcast across the national territory.”
They are completely unaware that due Ebili's manoeuvres at the Frequency Allocation Center, the speech was heard only in Yaounde…
4 pm on that same day. Gabriel Ebili is at the entrance of the radio, which is still occupied by the mutineers, when Colonel [now General] Samobo and loyalist forces arrive. "I hid in studio 101. The fighting went on for quite a while. When I came out of hiding, there were corpses everywhere. Then I ran into Colonel Samobo; I pleaded with him not to kill me and pointed out where mutineers were hiding. He asked me to lead the way, but I refused out of fear. He gave me a violent slap. I begged again and he let me be and I went back into hiding.
Later Captain [now General] Ivo Yenwo arrived at the Radio station with a tape of Biya's speech to the Cameroonian people. "I went into the booth to broadcast the president's speech. I reconnected everything. At 7:10 pm the speech was broadcast after I had played the national anthem", he recalls. It was only on Sunday that the radio station became fully operational. Ebili spent all of that time at the station with no knowledge about the fate of his family. That Sunday, he travelled to Bibondi to find out that his family was safe
After his act of bravery, Gabriel Ebili received the gratitude of the nation. Alongside Alexandre Kokoh, then director at the radio, Francis Achu samba, a communications engineer, he received the medal of Commander of the National Order of Valour on September 29, 1984. The young man was very happy and proud of having saved the institutions of the country.
In June 1987, he was fired unceremoniously from Radio Cameroon, accused of stealing seven vinyl records. Stripped of his salary of 42,042 Fcfa, he was forced to return to his village. 24 years later, Gabriel Ebili, 51 years, is a poor and embittered man who lives in complete destitution...
All he asks for is the appreciation of the nation. To this end, he has written numerous letters to the president of the republic but has so far not received any reply. "I love Paul Biya and I have proven this to him. I want him to give me a reason to believe that I did not waste my time on that 6 April".
© 2008. Le Jour Quotidien