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Analysis: From Authority To Power (The Yang Experiment) 

By Peterkins Manyong

On September 29, Prime Minister, Philemon Yang, did something unexpected. He ordered the Minister Delegate at the Presidency, Alain Mebe Ngo’o, to reverse a controversial decision barring Anglophone candidates with less than three GCE Advanced Level papers, from writing the competitive examination into the National Gendarmerie School.

On the contrary, Francophone candidates needed a bare pass in the Baccalaureate examination to qualify for the test. The message here is simple: the Minister Delegate did not recognise two GCE Advanced Level papers as a pass. No reaction could, therefore, be more appropriate or timely than those of Simon Nkwenti who first raised the alarm and Northwest CPDM MPs who led a protest delegation to the PM’s office on the issue. In reaction to the MPs, Yang promptly ordered Jules Doret Ndongo, his Secretary General to draft a letter to the Defence Minister instructing him to reverse his decision.

To the unsophisticated mind, the PM was simply exercising his right as head of Government by giving instructions to a subordinate. Those with this thinking are as far away from the truth as are those who describe Cameroon as a democratic country. The Defence Minister, like the Secretary General at the Presidency, is answerable to the Head of State who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, not to the Prime Minister. Yang is certainly very aware of this and if he still decided to give Mebe Ngo’o instructions, it is because he knew the Defence Minister was equally conscious of the security risk posed by his decision.

To avoid all circumlocution, it can be said that, like his predecessors at the Star Building, Yang has authority and not power over most of the ministers. It is easy to think that these two terms have the same meaning since a person in authority is generally expected to have power. That is, unfortunately, not the case, at least in Cameroon. In principle, all members of government are supposed to take instructions from the PM. In practice, we have "super ministers" who always have their stubborn ways.

Achidi Achu had to employ all his cunning and skill as "The Old Fox "to get the GCE Board granted to Anglophones. But even then, he needed the dogged determination of Andrew Azong-Wara and the bulk of the Anglophone population to take the decision because Robert Mbella Mbappe, then National Education Minister, vowed to die first. It required the intervention of Biya before some of his ministers took instructions from Musonge. One of such ministers was Julienne Ngo Som, then Minister of Women’s Affairs who, subsequently, lost her post, allegedly for the same reason.

Marafa Hamidou Yaya is said to have been Inoni’s incurable "headache". One doesn’t need to be a connoisseur in the art of governance to understand why. As stated in the last News Analysis, an Anglophone is a bondman (slave) who should take instructions from, not give them to a Francophone. His minority situation has emasculated him so much so that he lacks the self-esteem to consider himself the boss even when placed at the helm of a service.

Unfortunately, Biya hasn’t made things easier for him by his methodology of appointment. What the President does is, sign a decree appointing ministers whom he provides with all the financial resources needed. Biya does not give the new appointee guidelines to operate. If the minister succeeds, the President takes the credit. If he fails, he carries the cross.

The average Anglophone has everything except the courage to take major decisions. History has very unsavoury lessons for them. The case of John B. Ndeh is not yet forgotten. When he was Minister of Transport, Siyam Siewe and Etonde Ekoto, the Director and Board Chairman of National Ports Authority, PAD, not only undermined his authority, they viewed him with absolute contempt. Ndeh was hardly consulted on major decisions affecting that service. Yet another example of how helpless he was. When the deal for the purchase of the ill- fated Albatross was in process, Ndeh was not even invited for meetings because his Francophone subordinates didn’t recognise his right to the mouth-watering sitting fee.

Another Anglophone Minister who has been rendered ridiculous is Ma Tutu Muna. In principle, she is the boss of the Culture Ministry. That is far from the case in fact. Otherwise, Sam Mbende wouldn’t have such a strong Francophone backing in his tussle with her. Such supporters include even the Supreme Court which ruled in favour of Sam Mbende and the xenophobic Francois Bigono Bigono, (there is usually something sinister about names that repeat). The Supreme Court’s ruling against a sitting was the first of its kind in Cameroon.

Concerning authority in general, it is exercised by somebody who feels competent and confident to exercise it. Parents and teachers give instructions to children because they know that the children have a moral obligation to obey. But no stranger can walk into a home or a classroom and push them around. Security officials and armed robbers give instructions without any doubt of being obeyed because they know they have coercive power enforced by the possession of the gun.

A park boy can give instructions to a philosopher, university professor or even a police commissioner because he is aware that none of them would disobey him knowing that he risks being given an uncomfortable seat or not travelling at all. Nico Halle is a perfect example when talking about authority and power. The value which he has given to the Ntumfor title and the manner in which he functioned as NEO representative for the Northwest substantiate this. While other NEO members hero-worshipped SDOs and DOs, Ntumfor dared all those who attempted electoral fraud.

He had the authority as NEO member, but he needed courage to exercise the powers the text gave the eleven of them to supervise and control elections. His strength was his conviction that he was applying the law and nothing else. Yang’s decision to check the excesses of the Defence Minister is a very good start for him. He needs to remain firm so as to substantiate his position as Head of Government.

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