“First of all, when I met here with him, I told him that when he rigged the election in 1992, I had three options. The first was to form a parallel Government; the second, to join the SCNC and the third was to declare war, because, 70 percent of the army voted for me.
But I didn’t. The President said those things were bygones; we should forget about them and rather sit down and talk.
But since then, we have not talked…”
This is vintage Ni John Fru Ndi, in an exclusive interview he granted The Post in Bamenda, in the ebbing hours of December, 2014.
Take note that this is just the tip of the iceberg of a no holds barred scintillating interview, in which just everything about the SDF in particular and Cameroon in general is addressed.
The 2-part interview is long, yet infectious and ‘un-put-down-able’.
You can be sure that the package has all the ingredients of being your first collector’s item for the year just beginning. Only in The Post…
Mr. Chairman as a political midwife, I would, at least, want for you to set this interview rolling by tracing the path so far travelled by the Social Democratic Front, SDF, since its Caesarian birth in 1990.
It’s been a rough and difficult path because if you ask somebody that has been drinking wine in Yaounde to climb Mount Kilimanjaro or Mount Cameroon; he won’t make it half-way to the top. That is how difficult the SDF story has been. In other words, if you abruptly wake people up from sleep and you tell them that there is war outside, it is likely that many of them will, in the ensuing confusion, run into the enemy camp. Coming back to the SDF, there are people who joined the party, thinking that victory was the very next day. They already saw themselves as Ministers but when such positions were long in coming, they started fighting against the very cause for which the SDF was initiated. It is rather unfortunate that some of these people who resigned from the party have died but I thank God and the ordinary local people who have stood by the truth, faced the truth and are still fighting for genuine change.
Mr. Biya opened the floodgates for the proliferation of political parties. Even from ‘Day One’ after we had procured the necessary documentation for the party to be created, they asked if we had consulted Cameroonians from at least seven Provinces to have their Ok. Then they hurriedly approved Gustav Essaka’s party whose membership was limited only to himself and his wife, right up to when he passed on, years after. Essaka was given the opportunity at every twist to berate Fru Ndi on television, even if it meant doing so in German. I doubt how many Cameroonians understood what he was trying to put across to them in German. So we faced all manner of intimidation and blackmail from the state. At that time they said I borrowed cement from CIMENCAM. Later on they said I rendered Cameroon Bank bankrupt but when they, who brought Cameroon Bank to its knees discovered that I had money in it, they instead paid me cash. Seeing all that we have gone through, one can only thank God Almighty, who gave us the stamina, the intelligence and the people with whom we weathered the storm. It has not been a smooth ride so far.
You would, of course, agree with me that it has been a little more than a generation since the birth of the party. In other words, it is, by all means, an adult, with a right to its own wife and kids. How many of these kids has the party sired, raised and liberated, politically speaking; or is the grand old Fru Ndi still interested in making all the babies all by himself?
The Paramount Fon of Kom is by far older than Fru Ndi. He is still making babies. Other Fons who are by far older than Fru Ndi are still making babies; I do not buy your logic here. But suffice to say that the SDF came as a Socialist Democratic Party and we have practised that democracy up to this point. So far, it is only the SDF leadership that has entertained competitiveness for the Chairmanship of the party. Whereas others simply declare themselves Presidential candidates, the SDF organises primaries for the selection of the Presidential candidates. At different intervals, people who knew nothing about the party like one gentleman who flew in from France, took up residence at the Hilton and brought in people to see how he was going to crush Fru Ndi. He was inviting people and feeding them because he wanted to takeover the Chairmanship, but when he lost he disappeared into thin air and since then he hasn’t indicated any interest in the party. We equally have people whom we have prepared and sent to the Senate, Parliament and Councils. When they lose their political positions some of them don’t return to the party; yet, you have others that even when they lose, they still attend NEC meetings.
We asked this question because you only recently celebrated your 73rd birthday and by your own reckoning, you are “living on borrowed time.” How does a grand old man, living on borrowed time, plan on raising 21st century kids, even if they were mere political zygotes?
The choices of people we send to Parliament are young. The youngest Parliamentarian in the first, second and third assemblies came from the SDF. One of the two youngest Senators is from the SDF. We are, by so doing, exposing them to part of the training that is required for leadership roles. You see, I didn’t contest for Parliamentary elections because at one moment Cameroonians voted me as their Head of State. And then it occurred to me that I need not be scrambling with younger people to be a Councillor, Mayor or Parliamentarian.
But Mr. Chairman you took part in the Senate Election
Well, I went in as an elected person, not as an appointed candidate like some people came to tell me to meet Mr. Biya and asked him to appoint me. I went in because people kept forcing me and asking me that “why don’t you go in for this election and have a feel of it?” I didn’t go in because I wanted to. I went in and won in Mezam against Simon Achidi Achu. But you see, they have come to the same Mezam and taken Achu, the Fons of Bali and Ngenwui. So what is so special about Mezam that entitles it to three Senators?
When almost everyone else was puss-footing on the issue of confronting Biya’s totalitarian regime, you belled the cat, so to speak and some measure of democracy came about in this country. How would you compare your rating then, when you were at once, feared, respected, revered and even idolized? Please don’t ask me to ask the people because I won’t take that for an answer.
Well but that would be part of the answer because as celebrated journalists that you are, you must have been following the political trends of the country. I have never stood at any rally to beat my chest and saying “I, Fru Ndi have…”, but I have always talked of “we have…” You can always ask the people what they still see in this man. I still enjoy lots of protection from the people. I can hardly drive through a place without people wanting to touch my car.
But they also rush to touch Biya’s car, even at the risk of being shot by his bodyguards.
Well, Biya has the money to give them, which I lack. Take note, if a Cameroonian is shot with a bag of money, he would die smiling, because they believe that any other thing can wait but let they have their money.
I was on my way to Kribi once, passing through Akomte to Mann and a woman took an empty bottle of beer and said “Mr. Chairman, I’m seeing you through this bottle, because there is nothing inside; so if you can give me something to drink, I will vote you.” I told her that I want people to vote me with a clear conscience, not people who have been deceived and conditioned by alcohol. When I’m passing people are running to see the Fru Ndi who was yesterday and still is, today. When you look at the parties which Government helped to create and named “Presidential Majority”, you start asking yourself what is it that makes a man start a party with an ideology, programme and turns around to say, “this party was formed, but I want to support Mr. Biya.” And when you meet them, they give you their business cards on which is written, “Presidential Majority”. So you see, such people have taken the “Presidential Majority” as a business, by which they can make money, as opposed to a party that can talk politics, convince people and propose positive change.
Mr. Biya and his cohorts must be very formidable political gladiators, hard nuts to crack, do you think? Because for 24 long years since you made the first challenge and fought with the furiousness of a wounded lion, they haven’t budged. On the contrary, many of your political foot soldiers and other disciples have given up. Some have even joined him, taking along with them some of your most treasured secrets, tactics and all that?
We’ve wrestled it and if today, I’m still talking, it is because I still believe in what we started off some 24 years ago. True, some of my best soldiers have defected with my ideas and joined him and those that they couldn’t take, they stole. When we started, we said we wanted Cameroon to change. If Mr. Biya took those ideas and effected the change and Cameroonians saw the change for themselves and said truly, Fru Ndi, this man has taken your ideas and changed this country, they will support him. I read this man’s book, (Simon Mann) who organized a failed coup d’état in Equatorial Guinea and was arrested, locked in Zimbabwe for about five years before being transferred to Equatorial Guinea. What he said was that when he accepted to execute a coup in Africa, he knew that he was going to be either killed or make millions for himself. When he was caught, he knew that he was going to be killed. When he was transferred to Equatorial Guinea he spent two years in prison before President Obiang Nguema called him and asked to be told who was behind the coup and what were his grievances were. The man opened up and gave him the reason the man who plotted the coup advanced. The President ordered that he be released. The President of Equatorial Guinea is building houses, making the people live comfortably and today in Equatorial Guinea, there is no opposition because he is doing what the people were yearning for. That’s why when you travel from Europe coming back home, you see most of the whites disembarking in Malabo, implying that there is something here that Cameroon lacks. If Biya had used the ideas that have been stolen from the SDF just like the President in Equatorial Guinea is doing, then it would have been good. The money Mr. Biya is buying a few consciences with, if he had invested it money in projects, then Cameroon would have long been a better place. Let us start from the universities… you have students in the University of Yaounde I who at one time hadn’t benches, water and electricity. So much was absent. You come back to our local society; they’ve “given” schools to nearly every neighbourhood. People from those neighbourhoods build the schools and pay PTA teachers to teach their children. Look at the roads, just from Babajou here to Bamenda; if you have a heart attack and they are rushing you to the hospital, you are most likely to die before you reach Bamenda or soon after. People who cannot afford bottled water drink all the mud. At times you find mud in the water that people drink here. The same thing holds in Yaounde. It is absurd that in the heart of the rainy season, Cameroonians lack water. Cameroonians are paying exorbitant bills for electricity that is hydro-generated, far higher than countries whose electrical power supply is thermal. Cameroon is blessed with different sources where electricity can be generated from but the Government has decided to tie everybody to Edea and Song-Lou-Lou.
But Mr. Chairman there is Memvele and Lom-Panga coming up now?
We started hearing of Memvele and Lom-Panga a long time ago. In 1992, when the SDF boycotted the election, Mr. Biya said let’s come together and discuss development. “We will work on the Memvele and Lom-Panga together. I have sent people to France canvas for the money.” That was in 1992 and the projects are only taking off in 2014.
Don’t you think from 1992 to 2014 is too early compared to the famed Ring Road whose construction he promised to personally supervise?
I was at the grandstand when he talked of the Ring Road. Coincidentally, I was sitting next to the late Bongadu. She was full of praises… “See how handsome the President looks; look at our President, so clean and shining. I told her that ‘Ma’am, with all due respect, that might be the ugly face of Cleopatra.’ The President said he was going to personally supervise the road and that Bamenda people will never go to Yaounde to chase files again. So after he said this, how many people have died on the way to Yaounde to chase files and how many have died at the National Social Insurance Fund chasing their monies just because justice has eluded them?
The roads that the late Ahidjo, (some people say was not educated) built, Biya is unable to maintain them. At some periods of the year, it takes one a whole day to drive from Maroua because the roads are bad. The stadia that Ahidjo built… we have participated in international matches both at the world and African levels but we have nothing to show for it. While other countries are building stadia from their own fallouts, Cameroon has nothing to show for it and because of the rate of theft, embezzlement, bribery and corruption; it is only today that Cameroon is happy that CAF has given us the opportunity to host the African Cup of Nations. Is it only Fru Ndi as a politician that is feeling this or it is felt by every Cameroonian.
Before we proceed Mr. Chairman, are you still nursing political/Presidential hopes? We ask this because from all indications, Biya has willed that he must die in power. We want to state why here.
In the SDF, it is not the Chairman who declares his Presidential ambition. I made it clear in the early part of this interview that when we have a Presidential election, we go through primaries to pick a candidate. Let me tell you that there two cousins signed the SDF “birth certificate”; late Dr. Siga Asanga and myself. I remember your friend Hebert Boh who used it as a slap on the face that what party is this? The Chairman is Baba II, the Secretary General Baba II. The two brave Baba II people had the courage to come out when no person else had. They were a few people who were invited for us to sit down and talk. Despite this fact, we still took that risk; we still stood elections and when they said Asanga and I were related, so, he should be changed, the argument that was put forward was that Asanga braved the odds and launched the SDF and that if some lily-livered man was introduced into the fray at that crucial moment of the party’s life only for him to chicken out like typical cowards would do, it would not bode well for the party. So this is the same argument that some people still bring up today. So take it from me, if tomorrow I say will not be standing for Presidential election what will you the journalists say? Most of you would say “hey! Biya has given Fru Ndi food to eat that is why he is chickening out.”
Not long again one of my collaborators came up with the idea that we could contribute even FCFA 100 each to enable the party raise its financial base. I told him the idea was good, but that we had given out party cards, fabrics, caps, T-shirts and other items to be sold, but that most times the proceeds were not remitted and that those people who were in possession of such money were very likely to resign from the SDF. When you bring such people to be the Chairman of the party like the gentleman who came in from France, and took off as soon he lost the election, are you telling me that gentleman was coming to run the party or sell the party? I’m not campaigning here. What I’m saying is that at anytime I stand election with a younger person and the people bestow confidence in him and think that he can continue from there… fine.
I’m not going to hold the Chairmanship of the SDF till death, neither am I turning the party into a monarchy to handover to my son like people started mooting when he ran for the Council election. He went in for the Council on his own merit. I never knew. I only learned of it after he had won his primaries and when we sat in the investiture committee to determine the calibre of Councillors to send into the City Council, different people made a case for my son, that he had the requisite qualification. So I want you, as journalists, to once in a while, appreciate the calibre of people that we put in the Council.
Did your failure to make the Senate diminish your authority as party leader in anyway? Better still, are those of your party who won seats at the Senate now considering themselves more important to the party project than you?
Well you forewarned me in one of your questions not to ask you to go and ask the people but I think you should ask the Senators what they think of their Chairman. They still give me the honour and respect. They still know that they are under the party and that it is the party that has sent them into the Senate, Parliament and Councils. They are still aware that party is led by somebody to whom they should give their support. You see, the thing with most of these young men make is their obsession with challenging Fru Ndi is because Fru Ndi also challenges Mr. Biya. So they have to challenge him too show that they have also come of age. But then, you have to challenge Fru Ndi by doing something good for people to see and feel. But if you think challenging Fru Ndi is merely by standing at a rally to either insult him on this issue or that, the question would be what have you done? I gave an open cheque to go into the Councils, Parliament and Senate. People are judging them now on what they are doing and among them are young shoots that are coming out. For instance, my Senatorial Group leader went into Parliament as the youngest Parliamentarian and he has grown in the SDF system. Today, he is leader of the party in the West Region and also the party’s leader in the Senate.
What is the relationship between you and political office holders of your party? I am thinking here of Mayors, Parliamentarians, Senators etc?
They have the laws of the party that govern them to be where they are and do what they are supposed to do. They owe no allegiance to Fru Ndi in the execution of their office. They do their work. For 24 years, have you ever heard that Fru Ndi went into a Mayor’s office and harassed him; asked him for money? Or have you ever heard in Yaounde that I passed through either the office of my Parliamentary Group leader, the Questor or any such person? No I don’t go there. I allow them to do their work. They know that as long as they are there, they are serving the people, the party and not Fru Ndi, and to serve the people, they must work well as Parliamentarians, using their micro-project grants judiciously.
Statistics released last year indicated that the best Mayor in the country was an SDF Mayor; the Mayor of Kumbo. It was not me who came up with those statistics. You see, you can never hide smoke. If you cover smoke it will always find its way out. This was one of the youngest Mayors I had in those days and who has grown in the system. While others thought that it was their time to chop, others came and said it was time to work and they did a good job for the people. The people appreciated and lent them their support
We hear that most of them are often expected to owe some sort of allegiance to you; that they must kiss your feet to get to what is considered by the common man as money-spinning enterprises. We also hear that no sooner than some of the “stooges” get your nod to get into office do they start growing horns
Take note that Government gives out money to political leaders whose parties are represented in Parliament, but the SDF is the only party whose money is paid directly into the party’s bank account. Fru Ndi is not a signatory to this account. The signatories to this account are the party’s Treasurer, the Vice Treasurer and Financial Secretary. The Parliamentarians have certain amounts of money that are deducted from their salaries at Parliament and paid directly to the party’s account. I do not take money from anywhere, whether the money is spinning right or left.
There are allegations that the Chairman and a clique of people are the ones managing the finances of the party, while people like the Treasurer and the Secretary General of the party are sidelined. What is your reaction to these allegations?
I don’t have much to say concerning the finances of the party. Like I said earlier, all the finances of the party go through the party’s account. I am not a signatory to that account. It is the Finance Committee which often sits down at intervals and draws the budget of the party I only come there to append my signature, before which I may disagree with one or two points; but I am not the one who draws the party’s budget. The Treasurer, the Vice Treasurer, the Financial Secretary and the Deputy Chairman oversee the budget. In fact these accounts are open for scrutiny and for us to be accountable for the state audit when time does come.
Many news media are overly critical of you; some of them see you as having compromised the revolution that you ignited 24 years back; others even say you are on Mr. Biya’s payroll and that you have enough of his millions in your accounts to make you play hide and seek with the destiny of the suffering masses. True or false?
The media are paid media by these people to come out with such accusations against me.
Paid by who?
By their paymasters. You know that there are several media houses that are on the payroll of people in Government, contractors etc. They come out with one newspaper to insult somebody and when they have insulted you they go to report back…
It is Fru Ndi that launched the SDF in 1990 and that same 1990, we had the freedom of the press. For a long time, the press in Cameroon was grossly censored. You had newspapers with obliterated or sometimes outright blank pages. SDO’s were the ultimate, in fact, the de facto Editors. They, and not even skilled journalists read your scripts, “corrected” and either approved them for publication or had them banned outright. So those journalists who are supporting the state in doing this and those who say that Fru Ndi is now on Biya’s payroll have always been challenged by me. Remember that when my former Secretary General, Asonganyi wrote that Fru Ndi was wining and dining with Biya, I told him, Asonganyi, ‘yes’, and I asked him if he had proof. When Mr. Biya came to Bamenda he said he was meeting me for the first time… You see, even those who were working from within were not different. The same group of people went round saying we should demystify Fru Ndi and one NEC meeting was used only to see how they could demystify me. All those agents of demystification went; some of them died, unfortunately, but the SDF is still there, struggling and jogging on. “Gombo”, “Ayaba” or Hilton journalism has tinted the face of democracy to an extent that people have to go to Government officials to back-stab others to attain heights that they don’t deserve. Fortunately most Cameroonians read between the lines and are able to discern most of the disinformation as incorrect.
A certain story got me into avoidable conflict with The Post Newspaper; they sat in a lawyer’s office and cooked up a story that Fru Ndi has billions in his account in Europe.
But we did apologize…
Yes, you apologized, but that was done in a lawyer’s office in Yaounde and your journalist that reported in Yaounde knew that, because when he called me I told him that should he publish such a story, he would be discrediting your newspaper or if you said you called Fru Ndi and he said he had no account in Europe more so sponsored by the African Confidential; African Confidential is a reputable organization, so don’t you use your Cameroon dirty politics to soil their name. As soon as the article came out, African Confidential came out not only to The Post but also to other newspapers to state that they have no business nor neither had they indicated anywhere that Fru Ndi owned billions.
All these accounts that Cameroon journalists have kept on repeating they have never quoted the account number, the bank and the amount of money inside. I have always said at rallies that if you know that I have money in any foreign account, please set up a commission to go get this money. But nobody has been able to come up with anything to show that this is what we are talking about.
You are known to be very passionate about farming. How much of farmland do you have, where, and what is the output?
How much farmland I have, I cannot tell you but I am very, very passionate about farming, because for me to sit here and you come with interviews and I hit this person or that, it doesn’t help. When we formed the SDF, we said our mainstay was agriculture. I started farming because I knew what I was doing. I couldn’t go and take a subject in economics which I am not abreast of; but agriculture was supposed to be the mainstay of the SDF, which was going to help over 60 percent of the Cameroonian population. Journalists who have visited the farm will agree that if, in the Northwest Region, we had 10 farmers copying what I am doing, then we would have a better standpoint, rather than just sitting down and talking. What I am doing now is ranching; there is so much quarrelling between the ranchers and farmers. Yesterday the ranchers said that “this hill, that hill and the next, are my hills”. But today, they cannot say that because the farming population has increased and the very rancher who said the hills belongs to him has delivered more children too and these children need their own land… so we have to live together and see how we can improve on the land.
What is your personal commitment in organic farming and how does it integrate with your “political farming”?
Well I would say I started off as a book seller and then, got into farming. How farming integrates in political life is that when I have farm work, I concentrate on it but as soon as my political agenda comes up, I abandon the farm and concentrate on politics on a full scale. Now that there are no elections and I am not touring, should I just sit here, talking to people? I go to the farm. You know, the people who visit this house everyday must eat and drink. I know it is expensive doing farming, but along the line, you must teach people how to do the right things, because today in the Northwest, I might be the only one who has improved on the pastures of animals to graze on the same area.
This is because one of the problems we have here in the Northwest Region is the transhumance, whereby animals have to move on during the dry season because there is no grass to feed on… like in Nkambe, were the grass in so stunted. But in areas where the pastures have been invaded by grasses that the animals don’t eat, you can weed or spray them to give way for new pastures. We have done this to show our people that, you can do the mixed farming, have your crops, fruit trees and plant grass so that the animals can eat them and will serve as paddocks. We have also shown that the Fulani man can keep his cow and use the cow dung as fertilizer to plant his corn.
I quarreled with a researcher who was proposing his fertilizer to me. I showed him the healthy corns I planted with animal droppings and asked to see his that was produced with fertilizer. Just to know that if you take a bag of fertilizer, you may just apply it on a few ridges, and what you plant on it might do well during the first year, but the next year, the very spot may not give the same yield. But if I plant with animal droppings and the next year plough and plant, even if the animals do not sleep there again, it might not give the yield like the first, but it would provide a yield better than if I had used fertilizer.
We want to encourage researchers to adopt this method and see how much encouragement we can give local farmers to do organic farming. When you are going towards Nso, you see animals tethered beside the road. The dung these animals drop is often used to plant the healthy corns that come from this area. If you take a bag of fertilizer that is sold for FCFA 27,000 and plant corn, you cannot sell that corn for up to FCFA 20,000.
It is bandied around that you have grabbed so much land from peasants and other hapless persons from across the Northwest Region. Is it true?
No, I have not grabbed any land. A gentleman called Christmas Ebini flew in from America, fuming in Fru Ndi’s compound in my absence………………………
[To be continued on January 15th, 2015.……]
Interviewed By Sarah Nduma Ekema, Yvonne Massa Ako, Nester Asonganyi, Isidore Abah, Yerima Kini Nsom & Charlie Ndi Chia