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Ahidjo’s Forceful Takeover 


By Enoh Meyomesse

This article is translated from the original that was published in The ‘Le Messager’ of Friday, May 22, 2015. It more than gives a chilling blow-by-blow historical account of how the Late President Ahmadou Ahidjo, with the manipulation of French interests, practically killed off the Southern Cameroons.

It is intriguing, the more so as it is researched and written by a Francophone Cameroonian of Mr. Biya’s ethnic background.

Introduction

Since 1973, Cameroonians have been celebrating ‘the 20th May Event’ year in year out, in tune with Government’s public addresses. During this event, round-table discussions are held, interviews carried out and programmes broadcasted, with the aim of explaining to the masses the relevance of these celebrations in the recent history of Cameroon, as the military, the police, gendarmes, firefighters and of course political parties, Government and private secondary school students, as well as those already in higher institution are involved in parades across the country.

In the meantime few are those Cameroonians who really ponder on the origin, most importantly the scope and relevance of this event, which became a national one, following Ahmadou Ahidjo’s Presidential decision, given that its coming put an end both to the Celebrations held in Commemoration of the 1st January 1960 Independence and of the 1st October 1961 Reunification.

I- The Origin of the 20th May Day

The 20th May Day – which is a commemoration of a Referendum organized on that day in 1972 can be traced back to two pre-existing factors; one of French origin and the other genuinely from Ahidjo.

The French Origin of May 20, 1972

Until 1971, President Ahmadou Ahidjo and the then Cameroon Government were extolling the ‘exemplary success of Cameroonian-made federalism’. They were even praised for it. Cameroon Radio equally took part in the game. The speech that was broadcasted that day read as follows: ‘We, Cameroonians, have achieved in the whole world something only the Canadians and the Swiss were able to accomplish before us’. Meanwhile, in doing so, two issues were kept in silence:

1) We had lost the Northern Part of our country which joined Nigeria on June 1st, 1961. This territory was snatched off Cameroon’s hands through the rigged Referendum of February 11 and 12, 1961.

2) We should not simply be contented with Cameroon’s Reunification. We had the opportunity to extend our territorial boundaries by integrating Equatorial Guinea.

At the time of her independence, Ondu Edu, the Leader of that Nation sought help from Cameroon, unfortunately to the complete lack of interest from authorities in Yaoundé. Regardless, federalism was not only thriving in Cameroon but there was also no apparent reason to end it.

It was even a Government model to emulate not only in neighbouring Nigeria, but in Africa as a whole. However, in the beginning of 1972, the Algerian Government back then, nationalized all French assets found within the oil sector of their country. The Government of Paris was under threat as this source of energy was about to be cut off.

What then was the next course of action? The Paris Government then recalled that since 1954, they had reserved an oil well discovered in Logbaba, in the Douala suburbs, Cameroon and on which Ahmadou Ahidjo had given them exclusive right on December 31, 1958, through the first Cooperation Agreements signed with the French Prime Minister, Michèle Debré.

Better still, the Paris Government also recalls that, from the time of the Reunification, large oil reserves by far incomparable in quantity to the oil wells in Douala had been discovered in Western Cameroon. From that moment, they took the decision to drill oil in Cameroon, adding to other sources of supply across the world in a bid to meet their crude oil needs. However, there was a huge problem with the oil found in Western Cameroon. Across Western Cameroon borders, the neighbouring Biafra State had just witnessed a long and horrible civil war, the cause of which was the fight to control oil lying beneath its land.

For Anglophone Cameroonians, this meant that the same fate could befall their Region if the drilling process of their oil reserves came to be launched. The French were left only with one option… to gag them. And how? By officially putting an end to federalism and creating a unitary system.

This explains why President Ahidjo was summoned at the time by his French ‘counterpart’, Georges Pompidou who ordered him to definitely stop his speech on ‘the exemplary success of a Cameroonian-made federalism’.

Ahidjo’s Influence on the Origin of the 1972 20th May

From the time he was nominated Prime Minister of Cameroon on February 18, 1958 – after the Mbida Government was toppled on February 11 , 1958, by the High-Commissioner, Jean Ramadier – , Ahmadou Ahidjo only concentrated his efforts to squash any voice challenging the established authority.

This was one of his main goals: to rule supreme over the national territory. The same day he was sworn in as the President by the Legislative Assembly of Cameroon, known in its French acronym as Alcam, he signaled a new dawn in his announcement. He prefigured in the speech he read out before the Assembly and which had been written by Jean Ramadier.

In essence, his speech clearly implied that all powers solely laid in his hands. He stated three important facts that day which are still evidenced in Cameroon today:

1) ‘CameroonUnity’

2) ‘Cameroonian Nation’

3) ‘Ties between France and Cameroon’

He was rather against the ‘Reunification and Independence’ of Cameroonian citizens, the people he was at war with. He gave the impression that the woes befalling our country did not come from colonization, but instead from the disunity caused by his citizens.

In other words, for Cameroon to become a great nation, anything that divides its people must be abolished. Differences in opinions, the very many political parties and trade unions – that wreak havoc by staging out protest -, a multiplicity of newspapers intoxicating the masses etc, definitely fell as the top priorities on his agenda. As from May 1st, 1958, he created in Garoua a political party that would later swallow up all the other ones. A political party whose name is nothing else but the realization of the political agenda described above:

‘L’Unioncamerounaise’. A year later, on October 29, 1959, precisely, he made yet another successful attempt after he was bestowed all the powers by ‘Alcam’, which meant that the Assembly was now ignored so far as writing down the laws of the Constitution of Cameroon and the Electoral Code was concerned. Here is what Daniel Kemajou, who was then the Member of Parliament for the Bamiliké Region and at the same time the Bazou Prince thought of this attempt: ‘… Government’s plan to control the Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary arms of power allows us to make many observations.

Exercising total control over these arms of power will enable the constitution to be drafted out of the Assembly, to secretly draw up the Electoral Code, (…) and to allow one person to have sole control over all these the Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary.

In simple terms, it is tantamount to putting in place a dictatorial system, the reign of an individual, – or the reign of one man’s fantasy, of the police’s omnipotent power, of concentration camps, of deportations, of arbitrary arrests and imprisonments, of summary executions, of hangings, of arbitrary and abusive civil servants’ lay-offs, of the persecution of students in both private and Government schools, of unemployment, of the abject poverty peculiar to black people, of rampant injustice, of slavery, etc, – (…) So that the Government would then proceed at will, to divide ballot boxes, Council seats and Regional development only to the benefit of the party called L’unioncamerounaise, in blatant defiance to all the provisions provided by in the Electoral Code.

The electoral system and the clever splitting of the country into electoral constituency would continuously sustain the existence of a fictive democracy that would go unnoticed, through a series of simple measures but at the same time well-thought; which were hindrances ranging from the electoral propaganda carried out against the opposition, to election and vote rigging, as well as the arrest of potential candidates disliked by the Government, and the detention of their sympathizers, overt or covert pressure mounted on voters, violation of vote secrecy etc…

This system would be supported by a minute group of citizens in a bid to secure a comfortable electoral majority at all times.

The State is inevitably heading to a one-party system, the worst case scenario. Knowing fully well how elections are organized in some Regions in Cameroon, particularly in the North, one should expect the worst.

It is no secret for instance that the ‘Lamido’ who tries to challenge Ahidjo receives threats of deposition or imprisonment. (…) Everybody knows that the father of an MP who fails to blindly obey the orders of the Prime Minister would immediately be subjected to an administrative search or receive prosecution or imprisonment threats from gendarmes. Gentlemen, looking at the status quo, you can forecast yourself what will happen when the High-Commissioner, Mr. Xavier Torre shall come here on November 1st, 1959, on behalf of France, to kick us simply outside and crown the ‘emperor of Cameroon’. (…) Ahidjo, who is extremely unpopular, seeks to obtain special powers only to wage war against his Cameroonian brothers and above all to jeopadise the future of an entire nation. Remember that absolute power always leads to an increase in power. Remember that power corrupts all those who wield it and pits them against their fellow citizens. Once Mr. Ahidjo will be proclaimed the almighty, there will be nothing to stop him from engaging into despotism.

He will rule the roost. You know that when mediocres are in power, they are always tempted to misuse it. It is a hurdle they must face as they feel compelled to ‘act tough’, to prove to themselves and to others a sense of superiority they do not really possess…’

On January 1st, 1960 precisely, the independence of Cameroon is achieved whereas Ahmadou Ahidjo was already almost a full-fledged dictator, all the powers have been conferred to him by ALCAM through a majority win of 50 MPs for, 11 against and 2 abstaining from vote. Soon after, he began to centre his speech on ‘the merging of all political parties to form one, unified national party’.

Put differently, this statement simply meant the dissolution of all the other existing parties within his own party, the UC. From speech to action, political detention became the order of the day. Newspapers were seized on a daily basis, trade unionists thrown in prison as well as all anti-establishment contesters; fear gripped the entire nation.

It is at this juncture that Reunification occurred. The Anglophones would welcome this idea, with the help of John Ngu Foncha, only to entangle themselves in this growing tyranny. During the ‘Foumban Constitutional Conference’ held from 17 to 21 July, 1961, Ahmadou Ahidjo demanded only one thing from his Anglophone interlocutors: to simply adhere to the Constitution of la République du Cameroun voted in the rigged referendum of February 21st 1960 and which granted him once more, the exclusive right to all the powers.

He turned down all the demands of Anglophones:

1/ A federal capital in Douala, Yaoundé and Buea; capitals representing the two federated States, no way!

2/ Revising the National Anthem, no way! 3/ Changing the National Flag, no way! 4/ Putting in place a Parliamentary system like the one in Britain, no way! No way! No way! No way! No way! The Anglophone representatives present at the Conference finally settled on just adding a few lines in the Constitution which allowed the creation of an Assembly for their traditional Chiefs, and nothing else. At the end of the day, both Ahidjo and Foncha went back smiling …

During the era of federalism, Ahidjo’s policy was aimed at neutralizing the political power of the Anglophone community within the Cameroon State. That was how he stripped Foncha of his post as Prime Minister of Western Cameroon in 1965 and replaced him with Solomon Tandeng Muna.

Then, in 1970, he only nominated Foncha as … the Knight of the National Orders, that is the Keeper of Seals … Meanwhile in 1962, he threw six MPs in jail when they expressed some reservations in relation to his plan of a one ‘ unified national party’. Mbida, Mayi Matip, Eyidi Bebey and Okala published an open letter in June 16th 1962 and a manifesto in June 23th 1962, which read as follow: ‘…National unity as defined by some people is a myth and this myth is verging towards utopia.

If we as a people really feel committed to one another and spurred by unity, we would use another language than the one being repeatedly broadcasted by the Yaoundé National Radio and officials (…) Sometimes ; we are called “retarded and ambitious careerist politicians“; and sometimes we are called “behind-time politicians” when people don’t want to say we are “ liars and demagogues” (…)

Please with your permission, we would like to clearly state that we do not deserve all these nicknames, and that we are simply Cameroonians just like other citizens; and what’s more, we only ask to live in our times, in our milieu and in our era. Therefore, we are neither “ambitious”, nor “retarded”, talk less of being “behind time”, “liars and demagogues”.

We do not equally want to be un-shrewd politicians who put the cart before the horse. Our wish is that, together with the Union Camerounaise and all the other political parties, we should first solve the real issues affecting our common nation, one that is peculiar to all underdeveloped nations …’.

A few days after this document was released, Ahidjo ordered the arrest of the 4 MPs, sentencing them to a 3-year imprisonment term without bail.

At the end of the imprisonment term, Mbida left the cell with his sight completely deteriorated,Eyidi Bebey was ill and gave up the ghost a little while after his release. Just Okala and Mayi Matip made it through their jail terms without any problem.

The legislative election of April 29th 1964, to vote ‘representatives’ namely MPs of the Legislative Assembly of Eastern and Western Cameroons were organized in a climate of fear and intimidation. Ahmadou Ahidjo’s political party, the UC, bit the dust in the Nyong and Sanaga Division, the present day Centre Region where, the political campaign of Mbida’s PDC was conducted by his wife, Marguerite. Poll results were tampered with, and the Union Camerounaise of Ahidjo was finally announced as the winning party.

On the 1st of September 1966 – the UC which was now UNC ‘Union Nationale du Cameroun’ (Cameroon National Union) – became the only party authorized in Cameroon. In just eight years, (1958-1966), Ahidjo was able to achieve one of his main goals, of abolishing any source of counter power in Cameroon and any group that could challenge his authority. His last obstacle was the ‘stronghold’ of the Federal State which had the unique privilege of two Prime Ministers, two Legislative Assemblies, and a Federal Assembly, three Governments; one being federal and the other two federated.

That was more than Ahidjo could take. Consequently, when he was ordered by Paris to put an end to his cock-and-bull story of ‘the exemplary federalism in Cameroon’, he immediately obeyed without the slightest hesitation or opposition.

II- Preparations for the 20th May 1972

Early in 1972, Ahmadou Ahidjo started preparing the public opinion to welcome the plan he had secretly been hatching against the Anglophones over the years.

He then sprayed across Cameroon the alarming news of an imminent invasion of Western Cameroon by Nigerian troops. To prepare against this supposed invasion and counterattack of the enemy, Cameroonian Army troops were massively deployed in that part of the country.

Every Cameroonian who later got wind of this decision endorsed it. ‘Nigerians are troublesome, we will definitely be waiting for them’, those were the words on the lips of every Cameroonian. Then as time went on, there was no sign of any Nigerian invasion. However, be that as it may Cameroon was ready. Then in April ending, Ahmadou Ahidjo made a trip to Paris.

When he returned, he convened a meeting two days after, precisely on May 7th 1972, an Extraordinary Session with the Parliament, and with CNU leading bodies – whose Headquarter was located at the time around the Municipal Lake, at the Mobile Hygiene Unit roundabout.

The agenda of the day was definitely going to be made available during the meeting. And he obviously announced the end of Federalism to MPs who were in turn dumbfounded. These were his exact words on that day:

‘… Frankly speaking, the federal system was adopted during the Reunification only to assure our fellow citizens of Western Cameroon that the legacy they were bringing after more than 40 years of secession would not only be ignored, but would also be taken into consideration within the framework of a bilingual and multicultural State (…) During the past 10 years, we have always cherished what unites us (…) Taking into account these conditions,-

on the one hand, the federal system seems like a pitfall to the rapid development of this country, and on the other hand, Cameroon is a land where the people have already dedicated in deeds their unity – I believe, Honorable MPs, and I strongly believe that it is now time to move past the Federal State Organisation. Cognizant of my commitments before this Nation and before history, I have to that effect decided to seek through the means of a referendum, the opinion of Cameroonian People who are the supreme masters of their own fate concerning the imminent implementation of a unitary system …’ (Acap, N: 102 published on 08/ 05/ 1972).

That was not all, the following day they had to start going through every Province to announce this good news to the population, for the Referendum had to be organized in 13 days, precisely on a Sunday, May 20th. During the Cameroon Radio One o’clock news, Henry Bandolo announced the end of the Federal State to Cameroonians, and the advent of the unitary State.

Everybody was lost. Ahidjo alone knew where he was taking Cameroonians to … A day later (on May 8, 1972), the Central Committee of the UNC held a meeting, at the end of which its members took the decision to start the massive transfer of citizens from towns to villages across the national territory. Needless to reiterate that the Anglophone community was very shocked with this turn of events.

It was a real cataclysm for them.They knew that the federal system they had inherited from Britain was going to last forever, that no one would dare temper with this legacy. Now that Federalism was about to be abolished in the country, what would become of their ethnic, cultural contribution etc in Cameroon? Within the same time all these events unfolded, Cameroonians now understand the true reason behind the deployment of Cameroonian military troops in Western Cameroon – to suppress the masses in case of any protest.

It now clearly dawned on both citizens of la République du Cameroun and of the Western Cameroon that Ahidjo had received orders to speed up things from Paris by his ‘French counterpart’ Georges Pompidou. That explains why on May 5, the day he stepped out of the plane on his arrival back in Cameroon, two days afterwards,he immediately started the process of merging the two Federated States to form a single State.Over with all the patter on ‘the exemplary of a Cameroon-made Federalism’.

Despite all attempts to camouflage this, AhmadouAhidjo’s speech, delivered on May 6, 1972, before the MPs, obviously unveiled a few utterances that only came to corroborate the orders intimated from Paris:

1. He did not give any concrete reason accounting for the dissolution of the Federal State.

2. He contradicted himself in trying to make his point by saying that on the one hand ‘the Cameroonian People have already sealed in deeds their own unity’, and that on the other hand ‘Federal organization is a stumbling block’; it either forms unity or it is a stumbling block.

3. Pressed by the French Government which already wanted without any wastage of time to explore Cameroonian crude oil, AhmadouAhidjo felt compelled to talk about the ‘immediate institution of a Unitary State’

4. Neighbouring Nigeria even went from 12 to 36 States, following the failed attempt of secession war, but is it divided?

5. Why would two States be divided and not seven Provinces, 50 Divisions and 200 Subdivisions? As it was back then?


I- The 20thMay Celebration Proper

During all the time the electoral campaign lasted, nobody was allowed to cast a ‘no-vote’. All the civil servants who had been transferred across the national territory to spread Ahidjo’s good news, were only chanting a ‘yes’ chorus; better still, they sounded a warning note to all the Divisions liable to ill-advisedly produce a single no-vote that they would be subjected to untold reprisals.

That would be called according to the term in vogue at the time, a ‘rebellion’. On Sunday, May 20, 1972, Cameroonians discovered that only two types of ballot papers were available in voting offices: those bearing the words ‘Yes’ and those bearing the words ‘Oui’.

There was no ballot paper bearing the word ‘no’. The outcome was that ‘Cameroonians expressed their political maturity’ by approving through an ‘overwhelming’ majority of 99 percent yes-vote, the abolishment of the federal system and the transition to the unitary one…

What is the link between a rigged referendum and a supposed ‘political maturity’? He who has got a brain let him grasp the meaning of this question. Furthermore, where was the need to publicly announce ridiculous election results of 99 percent, whereas only 51 percent was required for the Referendum to be valid?

Here again, one of his strong cravings which he lived with throughout his reign was his total desire for unanimity.In everything he did, he was obstinately determined to obtain a 100 percent result. For what reasons? We will probably never know. He filled prisons with people who did not think like him, in the name of a quest for unanimity. He did not tolerate any opposition view. In short, he was a tyrant to the core.

That said, after the sweeping victory of the “Yes” vote, on Sunday the 20th of May, 1972, the population was severely repressed by police forces. Security checks, raids, roadblocks, and police cordons in neighborhoods increased. Anybody who did not have a voting card in their pockets was arrested. It seemed as he was punishing Cameroonians for taking part in his fixed referendum. Why such a repression? Everything happened as he wanted, so did he need to mistreat the population as such?


IV-The SCNC rose as a result of the fixed referendum of May 20th, 1972

What happened on May 20th, 1972, angered the Anglophone community, and later on, led to the birth of the separatist movement, the SCNC, which is well known by Cameroonians.

As a matter of fact, with the rigging of elections and police intimidations, the movement had enough reasons to start up their manifestations. They had the possibility of publicly proclaiming that the former Southern-Cameroons, which became the Western Cameroon on the 1st of October, 1972, had, by such acts, been annexed by the former Republic of Cameroon which became independent on the 1st of January 1972.

During the reunification period, a preliminary meeting was held in Foumban, from the 17th to the 21st of July 1961. Why is it that participants at that conference were not invited to this “important phase of national unity”? Just one meeting, no matter how demagogic it might have been, would have appeased the tensions.

But this also reveals how much Ahidjo abhorred dialogue. During his term of office, each time he had to meet political leaders for discussions about the country, he simply ignored them, either by imposing his will, as he did during the Foumban conference where he made no concessions to the Southern Cameroon, as mentioned above, or by making haughty and scornful declarations, like he did in the round-table project animated by Njiné Michel in September 1959.

V Cameroon is the only former colony which does not celebrate her independence

“Dear Prime Minister, during your presentation, you talked of political opinion, of independence, of autonomy, of the issue of integration into the African Union.

You also talked of the status of our nation, Cameroon. Allow me, sir, to tell you and the whole assembly that this is not the right way to tackle the matter”.

The second great consequence of the referendum of May 20th, 1972 is the abolition of two major celebrations in the history of Cameroon:

1-January 1st, 1960: proclamation day of Cameroon’s independence;

2-October 1st, 1961: proclamation day of the reunification of Cameroon.

For both celebrations, many Cameroonians shed their blood, and suffered persecutions; some were forced into exile. Therefore, they mean a lot for our fatherland.

But what of the 20th of May? , who did what on that day? It is a pity that Cameroon is the only former colony in the world which does not celebrate her independence, the day of her liberation. All the countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, which were equally under colonial rule, celebrate theirs, except Cameroon. Even the world’s biggest country, USA, is still celebrating her independence, which occurred in the 18th century, more precisely in 1776, that is, 300 years ago.

Whoever goes to Philadelphia, is invited to visit the “Independence Hall”,situated in the centre of the town,where all the materials (pens, blotting papers, tables, chairs, carpets, curtains, etc.,) used on the day Independence was officially signed and proclaimed are preciously kept.

Americans even positioned dummies inside the hall, showing the various places where the signatorieswere standing, and seated, and wearing the same suits that were in vogue at the time. In the courtyard, the “Independence Bell”, on which Independence was symbolically rang, has not changed an inch. Thousands of tourists from all four corners of the globe are seen there every day, taking pictures.

Regrettably, the reality In Cameroon is totally different. Even the place where former President Ahidjo stood to proclaim independence no longer exists. Pictures of the speech are nowadays difficult to find. As to those of the reunification…

Reasons that led to the abolition of the celebration of January 1st, 1960 are still unknown. Was the referendum of May 20th, 1972, which has so much been contested, in contradiction with Independence? What is the link between both dates? Why should one date abolish the other? Could they not be jointly celebrated? Instead of abolishing the 1st of January, they should have abolished the 1st of October, because in Ahidjo’s jargon, the 20th of May meant “reinforcement” unity.

Is unity opposed to Independence? Having followed Ahidjo’s strange policy, we are now trapped in a situation where we seem to oppose Independence to unity. What a strange and impolitic policy! This is utter abnormality. In the past, had the date of October 1st, 1961 abolished that of January 1st, 1960?

Each Cameroonian can now have an idea of how strange Ahidjo’s attitude was, and draw his or her conclusions. We consider it as sheer indifference – to say the least – from him in the face of the issue of our independence.

The truth is that he never lent a hand in the fight for independence. Instead, he fought with an extraordinary determination all those who purported to have conquered it.

Let me quote what Ben Bella, the former President of Algeria and famous hero of the fight for Independence in his country, said about Ahidjo (as mentioned by Marthe Moumié in her book entitled Victimes du colonialism français, Editions Duboiris, 2006): “…I had many heated discussions with former President Ahmadou Ahidjo, who, with the support of France, severely repressed UPC militants’ revolts.

To me, he was nothing but a bloody dictator. During OAU meetings, we used to have very harsh arguments. I remember during the first OAU meeting, President Ahidjo vented his anger on Egyptian President, Nasser, and all those who were opposed to Colonialism”.

Let me also mention Ahidjo’s letter to Mbida, on the 15th of May, 1957, in which he claimed the incompetence of the latter, as Prime Minister, to lead Cameroon towards independence:

“Dear Prime Minister, during your presentation, you talked of political opinion, of independence, of autonomy, of the issue of integration into the African Union. You also talked of the status of our nation, Cameroon. Allow me, Sir, to tell you and the whole assembly that this is not the right way to tackle the matter”.

The day the status of our nation was voted, some people complained, telling us that our country’s fate needed to be decided, once and for all. Those people were curious to know on which grounds we chose not to declare ourselves in favour of independence.

You said Cameroon was marching towards independence. Let me, on behalf of the Cameroonian Union, bring some precisions. Independence means sovereignty. We strongly believe that no Cameroonian is against our country getting its sovereignty. And if we are against the immediate independence of our country, permit me to say:

Dear Prime Minister, neither France, nor you – if you obtain the nomination from the legislative assembly tomorrow –talkless of the legislative assembly itself, have the right to decide on the future of our nation”. (J.O. 1957).

No wonder, looking at such declarations, that Ahidjo decided to abolish the celebration of the independence of Cameroon. As a matter of fact, he simply did not want it, and unfortunately for the Cameroonian people, he became the President.

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