“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…
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. He asked my vanguards in that interview of his: “Did Fru Ndi own these lands before he started the party or he grabbed it from people?” If he wanted to know, why didn’t he come to me? Since I settled here and built these houses, I have not changed my premises. I have only improved on the structures from within… the tiles and furniture. I want proof of any persons who have come up to testify that I grabbed their land. I have a problem in Ngoh and Befang. The Ngoh people gave me land, but when Henry Kum left the SDF, he encouraged his people to go fight on that piece of land and the administration, till date, has not established whether the land in question belongs to Ngoh or Befang.
What we are saying is that the hills are Government land and if I applied to the Minister of Livestock and Animal Husbandry and he gave me land, then this land has been awarded to me by the Minister. Being the journalists that you are, go to the villages where I have parcels of land and find out if they were grabbed. The Fon of Kom also gave me access to some piece of land and certain Fulani boys came along on horse back, threatened the people and wrote on the land “No Jesus”. I said this was Boko Haram they were bringing to Cameroon. The Mborroro boys under BOSCUDA… I am the founder of BOSCUDA, which was used to fight Al Ahadji Baba, that was virtually killing the Mborroros. Now, BOSCUDA was formed and they came on horse backs to fight me on a piece of land given to me by the Fon of Kom. Whereas, the land they have in Fundong, they are not using. They had cows yesterday, but their children stole and sold them off. They are only telling people, “this is my hill; this is where my parents settled”, without any eucalyptus tree to show for it. They don’t have any activity to keep them going, despite the fact that the cattle are gone. In Wum where I am, towards Binjam, the Mborrorors there are cultivating large farms of corn, rearing animals and cultivating pepper. When you see people transporting to the Southwest Region, the pepper is cultivated by the Mborrors and what they do is that they don’t sell their pepper to some one else, except a certain Alhadji who sells in towns like Tiko, Kumba, Limbe Buea and other cities. But you have some people who come to you say this land is our land and there is nothing to show that the land in question is truly theirs; bad species of grass have invaded the pastures and you see the animals they are rearing looking like improved giant species of rats. The animals are not salted. They don’t have better grass to feed on. That is why sometimes, when you eat beef bought from the local market; in your mind you are eating beef, but in your mouth you are not eating beef. I don’t want to start talking about my beef house, but all I want us to do is that in order to have good quality beef, we must improve on the quality of grass.
Twenty five years ago, you asked me if I was in a position to feed a hundred people at a time. Then you advised that I start working to make such a thing possible. I failed, for reasons I wouldn’t want to bore you with. I hear you now feed thousands of Cameroonians at a go, and almost on a daily basis. How did you achieve this?
Well, 20 years ago I asked you if you could feed and you asked me why I asked you that question. I asked that question not only to you but to a couple of other young men around. You would agree with me that we used to have tontines or ‘’njangis’’ in this town whereby people “played” their njangi in Bamenda, Douala, Victoria and Yaounde. I never belonged, but I know of people of the njangi group where, at the close of the exercise if you got into their houses you would see some of the wines served; you would have pork, porcupine, grass-cutter, beef soya, goat… It was a normal thing to find healthy leftovers of these foods and drinks that were eventually thrown away.
Someone easily spent FCFA a million to entertain people, out of which about FCFA 400.000 was wasted. This was money melting away, and I knew that sooner or later, the economy was going to buckle under; so, just as I asked you that question, I also asked my wife. She said ‘daddy, your bills are being paid; your business is moving well; why you are worried?’ I said I was worried because I saw the worse coming and I knew there was waste going on. So in one tone she agreed with me and went to the farm and today, I’m the happiest person going back to that farm and being able to feed people.
I remember that the SDF invited the Socialist International to Cameroon. We were debating on how to feed the people, wondering why they invited guests without checking whether the party had the means… When it came to feeding, I said well, since we cash strapped, we could raise small money for my wife to cook good food. They said if they ate in my house they could end up having food poisoning.
I said OK, you people should go and raise funds from wherever… Before long they called me to say there was no money so maybe we could come and Ma should cook the food. When we got to Yaounde, my wife said no one was to get into her kitchen and did the cooking all by herself. The guests came and ate well, and that’s when she collapsed and died. Some people just jumped up to say it’s me who killed my wife. So, as I say, in journalism, when certain serious things happen most of your friends take it like a joke, such as when Ama Tutu Muna’s son died, some were writing that she sacrificed him in order to hang on as a Minister. How can one afford to write such a dirty story?
That is an important point you are making Mr. Chairman about how some of us, so called journalists perform. And if you get my point… I am very surprised that you have hardly been crowned “Man of the Year” by media overlords. Are you not rich enough to have this under your belt?
Yes, I cannot afford money to buy people to wash me. It is the population that washes me and I’m happy. People know that things like ‘man of the year’ award are bought but I can never come to buy a newspaper to publish about me because I believe that you write what you think is correct about Fru Ndi and if you think it is what I can defend myself, you will say look, this is what people have said about you. How can you defend this?
Are you not interested in being man of the year?
Excuse me, what does man of the year mean? Severin Tchounkeu in those days, awarded me ‘man of the year’ twice.
It was credible then, right?
Yes but now it is not credible at all. Today somebody just writes on his paper that this is the best SDF Mayor; he has done this, that, he is formidable. And the very next day, the same newspaper writes that this ‘best Mayor’ is now the worse Mayor ever. I think that such journalists have discredited and destroyed your profession and I think you people have to face it with them and not me, Fru Ndi.
Mr. Chairman at one point you were getting, or actually being seen to be getting quite chummy with President Biya. Did he, at any point suggest to you that you could work together or vice versa?
Politics is not war. 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 never talked. Mr. Biya wanted to take me in and ridicule me, but I resisted. First, he invited me to the grandstand in Yaounde. They wanted me to go through a scan which I did but I told them that I was not a security risk in this country and never will I go through a scan again. In Buea again, they took me to a first chair, then the second and changed me to the third. I took note of that. The next invitation was at the Unity Palace. They wanted me to go through a scan but I said I wouldn’t do so. They let me through. If some of you were present in Buea, you would have noticed that when I arrived the grandstand they asked me to go through the scan, but I refused. They took me from one chair to the other and decided to put me behind the CERAC women but I left and went to the side.
See what the Boko Haram are doing in the North, Anybody else can harm this country, but I can’t do it. I want to face Mr. Biya as a man. I know he is a man, so let him come for us to talk and chart the way forward. It doesn’t suffice for him to be using strategies to ridicule people. After extending my friendly hand, Mr. Biya thought he had taken me in. But, of course, you cannot take me to your house if I don’t want to get in. That is where we are now. What I want is for us to sit down and talk about issues that affect the country and look for a way forward.
What would you say is your relationship with him now?
Well, after the meeting in Bamenda, we have not met again to sit down and talk, like he told me we would. I am still waiting for that day.
How about strong claims of tribalism and Regionalism within your party?
When people don’t work well and you correct them, they tend to say that you hate them. In my administration, if you are not working I tell you to your face that you are not working; which is the right way. Those of you interviewing me now would agree that I’m the only political leader who has gone out to see what the Parliamentarians and Mayors are doing and how they are performing. I tell them outright that you have not done anything; you have not work for the people. So when they hear that I am coming, some of them escape. When I went to Douala, one Parliamentarian escaped; he was not there to welcome me. The same situation happened in Ndu. I have to tell the people to their faces that you have not worked. You need to work for the people, not for me. I don’t know any Mayor’s office. If I entered Njong’s office it was because we had an issue to sort out and we sat at the outer parlour. Even since SDF went into Parliament I have never passed around the Parliament Building. I don’t know how the offices of Awudu or Banadzem look like and those that have gone in as Senators I don’t know how their offices look like. So if people do not do their work they shouldn’t hide behind the fact that Fru Ndi doesn’t like me. I want Mayors, Parliamentarians and Senators to do their work and if they don’t do their work well we change them.
Can you cite some specific examples of those who do not do their work well in the party?
I don’t think the press is the right place for me to state who have done their work or not.
On a rather spiritual note, you are known to have been having some sort of spiritual romance with the now famous TB Joshua’s sect. As a professed Christian of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, PCC, doesn’t such a romance go against the grains of the PCC Constitution? You risk being ex-communicated, don’t you?
Are they ex-communicating me that they brought me into the Presbyterian Church? I am seeking God’s face. One of the celebrated Evangelists that I trekked for about five hours to listen to, was Billy Graham. I was in Lagos and had to trek through Edo, going across Idumota to listen to Billy Graham. I was seeking God’s face. I have been to Rome and was received by the Pope; so I’m seeking God’s face. I am a member of the Catholic Focolare Movement. So where I can pray, we pray. So it’s not that I’m a Presbyterian Christian that makes it a taboo for me to visit TB Joshua. I have moved with Pah Ngwa on Sunday and I said let’s go to the Presbyterian Church; he said no we Catholics don’t go the Presbyterian Church. I said look, you are a pretender because I pray in the Catholic Church like I pray in the Presbyterian and Baptist churches. One of the things that made me to go to TB Joshua was because the chiefs of the Northwest organized an ecumenical service that they wanted to pray for peace before, during and after election. I told them that Sirs, please with due respect, God has given us peace in Cameroon. What we lack is justice. Can you pray for justice? They dribbled me around. The only person who prayed for justice and talked about justice five times in his sermon was Rev Fr. Humphrey Tatah Mbuy. The second person who talked about justice three times was the Pastor who came from the Baptist. The rest of the people were berserk, nobody could mention justice. Some said we had justice, what we need is peace. That’s when I got angry I took the Cameroon flag and handed over to TB Joshua and asked him to pray for justice in Cameroon.
So the Presbyterian Pastor who was here at the ecumenical service; why didn’t he pray for justice? He was the representative of the Moderator in the Northwest and he did not pray for justice in our land. Anybody, anywhere, who can pray for justice and God answers him and gives us justice in this country, I will go and kneel down for that man to pray for justice.
Do you sometimes, contemplate on mending fences with some of the people with whom you worked so closely in the days of yore, but who, for one reason or the other backed out and swore to God that you are worse than the man you set out to correct?
It’s not the SDF that dismisses people. The laws are laid down and you know that you have to exclude yourself and when this happens you start barking that Fru Ndi is dictatorial and has changed the constitution.
I always say politics is not academics. Politics is field work and when you go to the field and people listen to you, accept you, tolerate you, they vote for you. But if you, in your vantage position as a journalist comes and sees the job, I’m sure you will agree with me that I have covered Cameroon almost 20 times in 24 years and some of these people who are talking they are talking from the cosiness of their houses, offices. They fail to understand that politics is field work; that you have to go meet the people.
What have you done to bring back those who left, since you have been preaching reconciliation?
There are methods for them to come back. I had meetings at the Church Centre with Ben Muna and he brought late Dr. Awasom to preside. What was Ben’s argument? Fru Ndi should resign for him to takeover the Chairmanship of the party. I said no, the SDF is a democratic party; let’s go in for election. We went in for election and he lost. After losing he still insisted that I should resign and handover the Chairmanship of the party. So you think that is what I should listen to? Politics like I keep saying, is field work, not just sitting down and condemning people. We have approached all those who resigned from the party for reconciliation and they have the right to take their cases to the Convention. The Convention brought many of them back, because there, you have to do what we want. There is a Constitution that guides people, so why should I tilt that Constitution to favour an individual?
As an individual, do you believe in turning the other cheek, in the Lord’s Prayer, part of which says; forgive us our trespasses, as we “forgive those who trespass against us”?
Now if the person trespasses against you, you forgive and the person again trespasses against you again, you forgive, do you spend your time forgiving the person at the detriment of the others or you are looking at the majority of the people?
Did you forgive up to 77 x 7 times as prescribed by the Bible?
Well, I wish Jesus counted that and told me how I could be counting that. As I quoted the Ben Muna case; how many times has he walked out of the SDF? He walked out and came in and walked out and came in. So should the SDF come to a standstill because of him? Why is it that it is only the SDF that people are fighting to take over the Chairmanship, like Chris Fomunyoh came the other time and said he wanted to be the Presidential candidate for SDF. Kah Walla comes on, ‘I want to be the Presidential candidate for SDF’ and people come from France… ‘I want to be the Chairman of the party.’ There are over 300 political parties in Cameroon, why is it only the SDF?
What is the position of the SDF concerning the Mayors of Kumba II and Tubah who have been dismissed from the party due to indiscipline? This issue seems to be splitting the party in these two municipalities especially Kumba II and there are fears that if the situation is not quickly arrested, it may degenerate.
For a party to be worth its salt the members must be disciplined and when members of the Investiture Committee have designated a candidate, that candidate should not be changed for anything. In the case of Kumba II, you can go interview the man himself; he never applied to be Mayor. A few people instigated him and he grabbed the opportunity. Soldiers cannot start shooting if they have not been given the order to shoot. The Man of Tubah said it was his turn now. Who gives people turns? Are you telling me that when Mr. Biya rigged the election I should have taken up arms because it was my turn? You are looking at the interest of the people. It is not as if the people were dismissed, they auto-excluded themselves from the party because the rules are clear, if you commit such acts, you are excluding yourself from the party. The people did this; the people from the base sent their report to NEC. So if they are still there as Mayors, they are not there for the party. They know that they have put an end to their political career within the SDF.
But the two Mayors still attend NEC meetings and their matter was tabled before NEC in the last meeting, yet, no decision was taken. What is the way forward?
I think to the best of my knowledge, the two Mayors no longer attend NEC meetings and the way forward is for the Mayors to resign. If they resign, then NEC would know what to do. You are from a family, I guess, and if your father says you will be his successor and a few years after somebody else just jumps in and starts fighting to be your father’s successor, will you be happy? Somebody must be a leader and for him to be a leader decisions must be taken and when these decisions are taken there is no reason why they should be changed abruptly. I think these persons are acting on selfish reasons, not in the interest of those they serve. If I jumped in and I said Mr. Biya you rigged election and I want to be in your position… now we could have been at war and some of us wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see it. So as you people have kept on reminding me that I am a Christian, I believe that at every Christian time, God would take a final decision.
Any particular message for Cameroonians?
I want to thank your team that for the very first time this year, this is the only newspaper that has come with a team to interview me. I have had interviews at one time in Douala when Severin Tchounkeu came with his young reporters to interview me. We had quite a difficult but exciting interview. I appreciate this as you can see you are training these young ones how to put their questions and do their follow ups because if you had sent them here all on their own, they wouldn’t have taken this interview to the extent that you have. I sincerely appreciate this and call on you to continue with this. I want to wish Cameroonians a wonderful and prosperous New Year; a New Year filled with God’s blessings. We should be vigilant because we are going through an era of insecurity, yet, we are taking so many things for granted, because, within this period, I am told that far too many people have been killed in the North of the country again and some military people kidnapped. While during this period some families are rejoicing and happy, others are mourning and weeping because either parents or children have been killed or kidnapped. I still want to ask the million dollar question… the Boko Haram is a Nigerian and not a Cameroon issue and the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria says they don’t want Western education; that their girls shouldn’t go to school. But when we say Boko Haram is attacking Cameroon, what are they saying is their grouse? They are using Western guns, cartridges and cars, and they say they don’t want Western Education. What has the Cameroonian Moslem Boko Haram said? When I say Moslem I say it with a heavy tongue because it is not all Moslems that are Boko Haram. Those that belong to that sect; what do they want? Because if you stress out your point like for instance that Mr. Biya has over stayed in office we will understand rather than fighting a fight that you don’t understand, what is their quarrel? Have we sat down to talk and the issue was not resolved? But here I blame Mr. Biya when he went to France and declared war against them when he has not called his close collaborators to discuss the issue. He is Commander-in-Chief-of the Armed Forces so, he is supposed to have regular meetings with his Armed Forces before taking such hasty decisions. I want to say here that members of Boko Haram should make their points clear and sit down to dialogue for these killings and kidnappings to end in Cameroon.
Interviewed By Sarah Nduma Ekema, Yvonne Massa Ako, Nester Asonganyi, Isidore Abah, Yerima Kini Nsom & Charlie Ndi Chia.