My Opposition To The Foley Hoag Law Firm Retainer By Innocent Chia
I have come across several questions regarding the lawsuit being brought by SCACUF against the Cameroon government. I sincerely pray and hope it is a success. However, several questions have been raised about its feasibility and the manner in which the firm was recruited, and the seemingly large fee that has to be paid.
While I have refrained from raising my personal concerns in public, coming across this piece from Innocent Chia has given me reason to think it is good if SCACUF can present a clarification or a rebuttal to this. It does not inspire confidence and the sooner open clarifications are made, the better for this struggle.
Please read with an open mind and make your own conclusions and if you have any rebuttals, feel free to present them.
When the dust settles on the retainer agreement that was signed yesterday – 5/7/14 between the Foley Hoag LLP Law Firm and SCACUF (Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front), represented at the signing in Boston, MA by the Southern Cameroons Public Affairs Committee (SCAPAC), I hope to my God that there is nothing to write home about regarding my misgivings vis-à-vis the agreement and the manner in which it went down. It is important, nonetheless, that I speak my mind as a matter of public record because there is a cautionary tale to what many perceive as a giant landmark in our collective march towards the Restoration of the Independence of Southern Cameroons.
Lawyers For Eritrean Liberation Give Counsel
Sometime between November and December 2016, I started hearing rumors of a Law Firm that was interested in representing Southern Cameroons amidst the heightened, rampant and systematic torture, rape, killings, abductions, disappearances and other dehumanizing acts against our brothers, sisters, children and parents by the paramilitary forces of La Republique du Cameroun. It was not long thereafter that I was fortunate enough to talk with a concerned group that had been researching the option and stumbled upon a couple of the lawyers who represented Eritrea in its protracted fight against annexation by Ethiopia. What these lawyers for Eritrea shared is not only instructive for decisions and choices that have since been made, culminating in the retainer that was signed yesterday but also very instructive of the challenges that we face if we do not detach and rid ourselves of some emotionally charged decision-making processes and those who not only embody but promote the processes and decisions.When asked to take the case for Restoration of the Independence of Southern Cameroons Versus La Republique du Cameroun, the guys who litigated and won a similar case of Eritrea Versus Ethiopia, had responded that although a clearly WINNABLE case, they would not take it because they did not have the political connections in the current white house to go the distance.
Meaning: if you have to sign up with a law firm that will represent you in this matter, make sure they have the goodwill of this Whitehouse to show.
Translation: if Trump and his surrogates don’t have an African policy that favors intervention on the continent, it is a waste of time and your hard earned dollars because you need their backing in whatever court you drag La Republique to. You need their backing to make sure La Republique implement the verdict of whatever court, otherwise it will be another decision, just like that of the AU, that La Republique kicks like a can down the highway.
These same lawyers who won the case for Eritrea against Ethiopia further cautioned that whatever firm eventually offers to take up our case should not do so for the money. We need to be sure that they are doing it because they love the journey, they love and believe in the cause as much as we do and are passionate about the cause. A measure of that love, passion and believe means being willing to do it for free, they said.They then narrated how they had taken the case of Eritrea and worked on it pro bono (without pay) for a very long time. They had been burning with and fueled by the desire to right the injustice that had been perpetrated by Ethiopia on Eritrea. It is after they had done this free work for quite a while that the Eritrean community came together and insisted on compensating them in acknowledgment of all the hard work that the Firm had been doing on behalf of the people of Eritrea.
Meaning: Whoever is taking our WINNABLE case has to do it because of the love of justice, because they share in our affliction, and want to bring an end to our predicament.
As stated at the top, I can reliably state that when the idea of this lawsuit was but a rumor, many people who were in the know expressed varying concerns about it. There was consensus, even in the opposing voices, for those involved to continue looking for other firms or clinics that would provide competing quotes and then a decision be made. We cannot deny that it is in our blood as Ambazonians to look around for or “beat prices” for the best bargain. Is it not? We de beat even price for okrika shoes for market. We de beat price for store even when the price be marked on the item.
Manipulation, lack of Transparency or Due Diligence
So, why did we not talk with other law firms or put out a proposal for bids from other firms? We know that some small law firms, even some big ones, make their names by taking and championing causes like these. In fact, this is exactly what Ben Muna is doing in Cameroon with Agbor Balla, Neba Fontem, Mancho Bibixi and the other Southern Cameroonians who have been abducted, imprisoned and are getting judged in a foreign land by the colonial La Republique du Cameroun. His services, and those of the hundreds of lawyers that are working with him are free of charge. Was there no such firm, clinic, or school in the diaspora that could be interested in taking up what the lawyers that defended Eritrea against Ethiopia have called a “clear case”? I will tell you that those who have been pushing the idea of Foley Hoag as “the” only firm to represent us left no stone unturned in making sure that we had the outcome that materialized yesterday. Under the aegis of a certain Dr. Tata and Barrister George Awazi (one-time campaign manager for Muna to the Presidency of the Bar Association of Cameroon), each time the idea was rejected by one group, they took it with the next group and sold Foley Hoag LLP. Indeed, reliable sources allege that at one point they put in $5,000 of their own money into the SCAPAC account to sustain the effort. An investment?
Lurking around from one group to another, and with intensity in the struggle growing, the retainer fee grew from $20,000.00 to $25,000.00. By the time SCACUF and Wilfred Tassang came on board and endorsed it, the price tag had skyrocketed to a down payment of $35,000.00 and a minimum of $70,000 to be held in the account at any given time. You may recall that even when MoRISC endorsed SCACUF, it expressed reservations on two matters: The first was that it was not consenting in any way, shape or form, to any lawsuit representation by Foley Hoag, until it had been appropriately reviewed and approved by the MoRISC legal team. (The second reservation was that it would not endorse any group that preached or embraced violence as part of the struggle).
Be that as it may, the retainer terms of reference are open ended as to how much time or how many hours Foley Hoag LLP are projecting to bill for and what it will show as achievements along the way.
Retainer Fee or Vulture Fund
Remember, there’s no way of ever verifying how many hours a lawyer has actually spent “working” on your case. It is a very subjective process where they absolutely control every facet of the billing. They only tell you that they are billing for X number of hours. And that is where the rubber really hits the road in this matter as I see it. This is where I consider the 56th African nation-to-be as having been dealt the the short end of the stick in a 419 scam where we are already mortgaging the future of our unborn kids with an unnecessary and avoidable debt. Let us use numbers to examine how much of a raw deal we are into, and then we can determine whether we are into another “Hewitt is too late” situation or whether we can and should sever this umbilical cord before it chokes and kills the child. Here are the hourly rates for the average and above law firms:
Senior Partner – $1,000.00 per hour
Junior Partner – $750.00 per hour
Senior Associate – $500.00 per hour
Midlevel Associate – $400.00 per hour
Junior Associate – $250.00 per hour
Paralegal – $100.00 per hour
Each one of these legal professionals have very distinct roles to play in this process and journey – from research to secretariat functions, to cross checking of facts, to submitting the file where necessary, to making the case against La République du Cameroun. So what would happen if each one of them worked on this case only one (1) hour a week? Here is the math:
$1000 + $750 + $500 + $400 + $250 + $100 × 1hr = $3,000.00
What if they had to each work 3 hrs on the case? Well, we would simply multiply $3,000.00 × 3 hrs = $9,000.00 for each one of these professionals to work on our case for three hours on any given day. So, how long would it take for $35,000.00 to be depleted? Well, based on all six professionals working/billing for three 3 hours of work every day, here is the breakdown:
$1000 + $750 + $500 + $400 + $250 + $100 × 3 hrs × 4 days = $36,000.00
Yes, people, for 18 hours of work, less than half of a US working week, SCACUF / SCAPAC are committing Southern Cameroons to $36,000,000 (18,000,000.00 AMB money?) even before blinking their eyes. And there is no telling that even after a week of work this firm would have anything or be anywhere close to taking the case to any court of law. Yet, someone is on the hook to be replenishing that account so that there is a minimum of $70,000 in it at every given moment!
For the record, can we tell how much time it has taken SCACUF / SCAPAC to raise the $35,000.00 that it signed away yesterday to Foley Hoag? It wasn’t a week. It has taken more than two months to raise the said sum of money. Which begs the next set of questions.
If Southern Cameroonians are able to cough up this money day in and day out, is this the most judicious, the most efficient use of their hard earned money with a certain outcome of victory? Were there less expensive options with the same guaranteed outcome? If so, did we check them out and why did we not go with them? Finally, why are we stuck, or are we indeed stuck, with this particular law firm? It is an open secret that MoRISC opposed this deal all the way. Still, it reached out to SCACUF when it was confirmed that SCACUF was intractable in embracing the Law firm to represent the people’s case against La Republique du Cameroun. Among other things, MoRISC, even as recently as at the second conclave in Nigeria, proposed to have its US based legal team, go and review the retainer agreement before any decision was finally made. This was only after SCAPAC walked back on earlier statements that the agreement had already been signed and all that was left was the disbursement of the money for Foley Hoag to commence the process. When they walked back on that lie, SCAPAC loosely committed to the idea of having a team comprising of Professor Carlson Anyangwe and the renown Barrister Charles Taku review the documents. Almost two weeks after the second conclave, Wilfred Tassang revealed on air in an interview with SCTV that SCACUF was expediting Professor Carlson Anyangwe from South Africa to the United States to review and sign the retainer agreement. The suggestions of the MoRISC legal team, which had been considered only after serious stonewalling, to review the retainer draft agreement were tossed aside.
The team had complained, among other things, about the deliverables and the bottomless pit nature of an account. They had also pointed out the lack of SCACUF oversight of the SCAPAC account, absence of a clear distinction as to which of the two entities was in control. Who would manage the account, issue checks, countersign checks? Were checks to be t jointly signed by SCACUF and SCAPAC? How about the money that Southern Cameroonians were donating for other causes besides the lawsuit? How would they ascertain that the money was indeed being disbursed per the provisions of the retainer agreement? Equally of great interest, are the questions spiraling around Dr. Tata and Barrister George Awazi? Are they getting any kickbacks for pushing this law firm arrangement through as much as they have done? If they are getting kickbacks, how much are they making? Is there anything wrong with them making a quick buck at the expense of the martyrs and people of Southern Cameroons? Remember the $5000 that they allegedly put into the SCAPAC account? Was it to be repaid? How much interest are they making on it? Is it tax deductible?
We may not have time here to delve into matters regarding the jurisdiction where the human rights violations case might be brought against La Republique du Cameroun. But if it is filed in Cameroun, it most certainly will mean that Foley Hoag will be entering into a partnership agreement with a local firm. Given the ties between Barrister George Awazi and the Muna family, there is every indication that the Muna Law Secretariat will be tapped to handle “secretarial duties” given that Barrister Muna is already volunteering his pro bono services to the political prisoners of Southern Cameroons in La Republique du Cameroun. How much will that bill be? I can project that the light bill will be CFA 500,000; the water bill will be CFA 250,000; the salary for the secretary will be CFA 750,000…then miscellaneous will be a whopping CFA 2,000,000M frs. In the meantime, Wilfred Tassang, now enjoying an undisclosed salary in Nigeria as SCACUF Secretary General, is challenging the diaspora to pour money into a bottomless pit, allegedly controlled by his confidante, while his colleagues wallow in misery in Cameroon. The diaspora has to be steadfast and remain very vigilant or the worst of con men, some dressed in cloaks and getting called Prophets, others with PhDs, Professors, Lawyers…all wearing beautiful suits, dresses and handbags dash away into the night with our fight for the Restoration of the Independence of Southern Cameroons.
We have come too far to be conned by anyone that is not ready to answer serious questions and be held accountable. At the signing of the retainer yesterday in Boston, oddly on a Sabbath day, one could not escape the rookie mistake of the lady who issued the check – while the numerical value said $35,000.00, she wrote it out for “thirty-five 00/100” dollars. It certainly can be corrected, but it does not bode well for the quality of people that are representing us at SCACUF / SCAPAC. We have been blaming Foncha and Muna for dragging us into the doodoo, but it seems as if we could be regrettably poised for a repeat of the mistakes of the past by investing our emotions and not our brains into this fight.
It is one more reason why we need to fight against any forces that are stonewalling the logical step of an Interim Government in Exile that the roadmap, birthed by MoRISC and adopted by SCACUF, calls for. It is strange that SCACUF has recently pulled down the roadmap page from the website. It may be reasonable to wonder whether it is a clear indication of an intention to derail the restoration agenda. The reasons keep on piling why we need a qualified, visionary leader. We must continue to source for our Moses, possibly one who is voted into office by universal suffrage and with a clear mandate and resources to carry out the task at hand. This fight needs a leader, not charlatans or position fillers with some scars to show, that will understand the fierce urgency not now towards the countdown to the restoration of our independence