Back in the 1990s, thousands of Cameroonians were not only willing… thousands accepted to be brutalized during street protests and rallies. Hundreds of thousands joined ghost town campaigns. Tens of thousands accepted to be arrested, detained, tortured, raped, “disappeared” or killed.
It was, they considered, a small price to pay for the ideal they were fighting for. Only few guessed or could have imagined then that they would be rewarded with one-man rule for over a quarter of a century. Few of those who fervently believed in the magic of “power to the people” could have imagined that the opposition political party they fought so hard to build and for which so many were killed would – by 2017 - become one of Cameroon’s least democratic political parties.
Welcome to the Social Democratic Front (SDF)! Welcome to the shameful legacy of the once endearing SDF leader, Ni John Fru Ndi. This is the same politician… I beg your pardon… this is the demagogue whom younger SDF colleagues – like Hon. Joseph Wirba and yours truly – did not hesitate to referred to as “Pa”. This is the man who had millions chanting the “Papa eeeellleee… Yayayoooo” as he took to the soapbox. Twenty-seven years after, one thing is obvious: how the mighty have fallen! You would be ashamed to brag about such a record… except if you are Mr. Fru Ndi, who apparently does not know how not to.
Definitely irked by the fact that one parliamentarian (Hon. Joseph Wirba) has, indeed, stolen his political thunder, Mr. Fru Ndi used a recent media outing (interview granted Equinoxe TV and aired by CRTV) to find a very public way of hauling that Member of Parliament (MP) under the bus. The SDF leader is apparently so irked he cannot even bring himself into recognizing the MP by his name or title.
The Fru Ndi Rant, as it should be called, begins with words to the following effect: “One of the SDF parliamentarians, Joe Wirba… after he talked in parliament… He came. I congratulated him,” says Mr. Fru Ndi. Only a few seconds later, he admits: “I cautioned him”.
Question: which is which? Did Mr. Fru Ndi “congratulate” or “caution” Hon. Wirba? Did he do both?
The case Mr. Fru Ndi makes for the political crucifixion of Hon. Wirba accuses the MP of daring to be himself; not the SDF… of daring to speak up in support of Southern Cameroonians, whereas the SDF would have preferred their massacre. Ahmadou Ahidjo would have been very proud of Mr. Fru Ndi when he says the following of Hon. Wirba: “He talked more from a personal point of view - I, not we. He talked not from the point of view of the party”. Ni John Fru Ndi wants viewers to know he was generous with advice to Hon. Wirba. “He should make sure that when he is talking he is talking as an SDF member”. Translation? How dare anyone within the SDF outshine Fru Ndi? If Hon. Wirba had such a powerful speech, why did he not let the boss deliver it?
Like all rants, this one opens a window into Mr. Fru Ndi’s heart. What the viewer sees is a man who, after 27 years of “come-no-go” rule, remains anxious to advertise the party as “private” property; not open to those who, like Hon. Wirba, he lambasts as “opportunists”.
“Is the SDF a place for opportunists?”, he asks, really meaning to say: “only one opportunist is welcome here”. The SDF, he adds, is not “where you come and start your own thing and you are running in your direction and expect the party to follow you”.
Got that, Hon. Wirba? Don’t try to run for president or prime minister from the one seat Mr. Fru Nid already occupies. And, please know that no one who wants to still be around would join you. Not other MPs. Not the Divisional Coordinator of the SDF for Bui Division. Not the mayor. Never mind that thousands of the people turned out to encourage you at that rally. This is no longer the “power to the people” party.
What Does Cautioning Hon. Wirba Mean?
Even if it is hard, let us still try to understand what Mr. Fru Ndi cautioned Hon. Wirba about. Did the SDF leader caution the MP from Jakiri not to decry the rape of his niece at the University of Buea by security forces? Did he caution Hon. Wirba not to ask to many questions about colonialism? Questions like: “does the president know that the governors and SDOs sent to West Cameroon behave like colonizers”? Did Mr. Fru Ndi caution Hon. Wirba to keep quiet about being told by cabinet ministers that Southern Cameroonians were supposed to melt like cubes of sugar in a bowl of water? Did Mr. Fru Ndi caution Hon. Wirba not to tell the colonial regime that “the people of West Cameroon cannot be your slaves”? Did he caution Hon. Wirba to say, instead, that Yaounde conquered Buea in war? Would Mr. Fru Ndi have preferred no one accused Yaounde of having a “master plan to finish our culture” in West Cameroon?
When the SDF leader says Hon. Wirba did not speak on behalf of the party, is it because the SDF does not really stand for federalism? When Mr. Fru Ndi claims (with TV cameras rolling) that the MP from Jakiri did not speak for the party, can anyone imagine what Mr. Fru Ndi has said to the colonial regime (with the cameras off)? If Hon. Wirba got so much love from Mr. Fru Ndi for calling Southern Cameroons West Cameroon, what exactly has Mr. Ndi said about Hon. Nji, whose speech from the same floor of parliament, preferred the name Southern Cameroons? Imagine what the SDF leader feels about the MP from Bafut speaking up so eloquently on behalf of the people during a meeting with Premier Yang?
Happily, Mr. Fru Ndi’s rant educates Southern Cameroonians about the profound depths of dictatorship into which the SDF has sunk. MPs for the SDF, he says, are not authorized to hold any views of their own. They are legislators for the party. Never mind the people.
Without trading one evil for another, it is worth pointing out that even the ruling CPDM proved more tolerant of their MPs holding their own views. While still an MP for the CPDM, Hon. Paul Ayah Abine resigned from that party in January 2011, more than a year ahead of end of the term in 2012. The CPDM did not deliver him give him up for arrest until five years later.
Not Possible to Fool the People All the Time
By playing “cry baby”, Mr. Fru Ndi has brought attention to and highlighted the magnanimity of Hon. Wirba, as shown in his letter. Unlike Ni John Fru Ndi, Hon. Wirba knows that in Biya’s Cameroon “laws exist only on paper”. He knows that “the real law of the land is the absolute authority of the president” and that the president “rules by the barrel of the gun”.
However hard Mr. Fru Ndi tries, he and the SDF people like him and Hon. Joseph Mbah Ndam have made a hostage won’t fool the people and won’t certainly undo what I call the Wirba Shine. Who has forgotten how Hon. Mbah Ndam claimed that the terrorism law which is now being used to imprison Southern Cameroonians did not curb civil liberties? Shortly after that counter-terrorism legislation was passed Hon. Mbah Ndam claimed that the law “has not limited the right of anybody”. He added that the law “has not deprived Cameroonians of their right to public manifestations (sic); it has not deprived political parties of holding public rallies and manifestations (sic) against evils committed by the government”. This is the same Hon. Mbah Ndam who claimed that “the military tribunal that exists in Cameroon today is no longer that murderous military tribunal of old”. He said the regime follows “due process”.
Just as Mr. Fru Ndi was the man of the hour in 1990, Hon. Wirba is the man of the hour today. Sadly, this is the same Fru Ndi who does not want to get out of the way for younger politicians like Hon. Wirba to follow despite being on record saying: “I have done my best. If citizens feel disgruntled with the regime, they should lead a protest march and I will support them”, adding: “Let them lead and I will follow”. Mr. Fru Ndi has never wanted to follow despite admitting two years ago that his party had failed Cameroonians and that he was giving up. “We have fought so hard to change things in parliament, but failed”, Mr. Fru Ndi confessed.
What is the logic of saying the above and then trying so hard to prevent Hon. Wirba from taking “the bold step to cry out against the regime’s systematic enslavement of the people of West Cameroon”? Those of us who, like Hon. Wirba, felt we developed a “Father-Son” relationship while working with Mr. Fru Ndi and the SDF, wonder why the SDF indulges in such betraying silence. Hon. Wirba is right. Mr. Fru Ndi no longer stands by or speaks up for the people. Not even when the people need him the most, as Hon. Wirba did. Mr. Fru Ndi’s “complete silence on such a capital issue” as the independence of Southern Cameroons - which also touches “every West Cameroonian at home or abroad” – enocurages the oppressors (the colonizers) to hunt all our people down with impunity. As in Hon. Wirba’s case, silence on the independence of Southern Cameroons has forced all of us Southern Cameroonians to realize that we are on our own. For with a democrat like Fru Ndi, no Southern Cameroonian needs a dictator.