By Joseph M. Ndifor (Opinion Writer)
When a host of South and Central American countries got plagued by military coups in the 1980s by a passel of US-trained military officers, there was a fierce debate in America whether its military institutions — particularly the School of Americas located at Fort Benning, Georgia — could be vicariously liable for the abysmal human rights records that those of them who subsequently seized power on returning to their home countries left in the wake of governing.
In Cameroon, one of the educational institutions that may come under scrutiny by historians someday down the road, for its training of two of Cameroon's high priests —“Pa” Achidi Achu and Philimon Yang, former and current Prime Minister, respectively — would be Cameroon Protestant College, Bali. Its alumni, and I'm one of them, proudly call themselves BOBANS. No other secondary or high school in the country— perhaps College Voight or Lycee Leclec in Yaounde (their former students include Joseph Owona and President Paul Biya) — has had two of its former students foisted on Cameroonians in leadership roles, and for so long, as these two BOBANS.
From 1965 to present day, Achidi Achu has spent— were one to include those years that he's fervently campaigned for CNU and CPDM, even being out of government— approximately 47 years, eight of them in conspicuously-held government positions that include the Magistracy, Minister of Justice, and Prime Minister. Meanwhile Philemon Yang, beginning in 1975, has been on Cameroon's government payroll for the last thirty eight years, twenty of them in the diplomatic corps as Cameroon's Ambassador to Canada. To work unwaveringly as these two BOBANS have done for a government for the sum total of eighty five years—85! — is a big deal.
But Achidi Achu, who is now elderly and is once again on his way back to Yaounde, this time as a likely CPDM Senator, is an enigma. For a country, mired in great controversies since independence, Achidi Achu’s now famous slogan— “Politics Na Ndjangui”—has made him the staple of Cameroon’s two regimes since 1965. Imagine being elevated, as it happened in his case in 1975, to the position of Minister of Justice, barely three years after the merging of East Cameroon and West Cameroon into one, when anger was still very palpable on the faces of West Cameroonians following that surreptitious act by Amadou Ahidjo. Was this man, by Ahidjo's estimation, a political genius of sort, meant to assuage the feelings of Anglophones or what?
You would imagine that after beavering at Cameroon's problems since 1965 and 1975, respectively, Achidi Achu and Philemon Yang ought to be conferred praises, right? Not really. These two individuals have, throughout their political careers, veered off their alma mater's noble philosophy which, in the words of its premier principal, was, “to train young people to face the challenges of their community.” Wikipedia, citing Philemon Yang's biography, quotes: “Yang's time in Ottawa [Canada] was dedicated to securing more foreign aid for his country, despite human rights abuses and Canadian concerns about corruption.” In stump speeches in villages and small towns across the country, both Achidi Achu and Philemon Yang have, in spite of the gross injustice about the system, never lifted a finger to denounce some of these practices often emanating from Yaounde.
I write this column to neither taunt nor shame fellow BOBANS, but to lay the facts as they are. This is because during our students' days at CPC Bali, one of the school's principal, the late Samuel Fonyam, a political scientist—he spoke in hushed tones at a time when Ahidjo's image loomed large—told us that if there were going to changes in Cameroon, those changes would likely be heralded by BOBANS. We were led to believe, almost biblically, that we were those chosen to lead Cameroon in the right way.
And there was every reason to believe Fonyam. After all, BOBANS were all over the map in Cameroon, holding prominent positions, including the military, with household names like Brigadier General James Tataw who, in the early nineties, was rumored to be “that Anglophone General” likely to bring out his military tanks onto the streets and chase President Paul Biya out of Yaounde, into exile. There was also Colonel Hans Anagho, the onetime Cameroon's military attaché to the United States, and supposedly the only Cameroonian military officer who saw combat during the Nigerian Civil War. In fact, we were so imbued with this can-do attitude of a BOBAN to an extent that, when NI John Fru Ndi, with those nerves of an assassin, braved through the streets of Bamenda on his way to launch his SDF on May 26, 1990, I swore to my classmates at the University of Yaounde at the time that Fru Ndi was likely a BOBAN!
It turned out I was wrong in my prediction about who that man was behind the May event. Fru Ndi is not a BOBAN, but there is Joshua Osih, one of the “last breed” —my metaphor for those boys who, beginning in 1972, were admitted into form one through form five until the school became co-educational in the early 90s— of BOBANS who is currently SDF's national Vice President.
How Joshua Osih might turn out politically is yet to be seen. But I supposed that were he to eventually stand for a major position at the national level, he would, unlike Philemon Yang and Achidi Achu, be tanned and ready.
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