In an interview focused on his career path, and his achievements, ace communication Professor, journalism trainer, researcher and author, Professor Enoh Tanjong, said he is retiring as a happy man, after working for decades in his passion-filled career, adding that his services have paid off as his vision has been fulfilled.
Enoh Tanjong officially retired from duty on October 10, 2020, when he clocked 65 as required by the text in place. The erudite Professor, who has endeared so many of his students, some of who became colleagues, narrates how his career path took him around the world and he later returned to Cameroon to train generations of communication experts in diverse fields.
He also revisits his days in the classroom, at the Journalism and Mass Communication Department in the University of Buea, where he was referred to as “the Pope” by his students and colleagues. Asked about his agenda after putting in decades training communicators and researchers, Enoh (as he loved to be referred to) said: “I do other things, such as consultancy. I am now doing what I did not do when I was busy with career and raising kids.” He also talked about his health, stating that he has greatly recovered from the Ischemic stroke he had in April 2019.
People have been wondering why they have not seen Prof. Enoh for some time now. What have you been up to?
I have not been very well. You may want to know that on April 9, 2019, I suffered from Ischemic stroke and, since then, I’ve been recovering from it. That’s what happened. I later travelled to Nigeria and other places for medical attention. The situation now is improving; I can’t say I am there yet, but I am improving.
Prof. we are meeting you just few days after you officially retired from the University of Buea having clocked 65. Can you tell us about your career, how you came this far?
My career was in the making from the years that I was a student. Having left my village in Fotabe after primary school, I travelled to attend St. Joseph’s College Sasse where I obtained my Ordinary Levels in 1972, and then proceeded to CCAST Bambili. It was from Bambili, after passing my GCE Advanced levels that I moved to attend the Mass Communications School in the University of Lagos (UniLag). From there, I returned home and worked briefly, before moving to the United States for Masters and PhD studies. I started my career on September 3, 1979; worked for a year and a half, before traveling to the USA for my Masters and PhD – that was December 1981.
Between that time, I spent four and a half years in America and got my Masters in 1983, then PhD in 1986 at the Prestigious University of Madison, Wisconsin in the Mid-West. Because of the love for family and the need to serve the fatherland, I was bound to return to the country around October 1986 and resumed work with my Ministry which is Communication, while carrying on with my consultancy work.
Then, in 1993, following a series of movements orchestrated by Anglophone teachers and students which brought some turbulence, the University of Buea was created. Hansel Ndumbe Eyoh, Dr. Dorothy Njeuma and Prof. Sammy Chumbo invited me in April 1993 to write a Journalism Programme for the University of Buea, UB. I consulted my friend, Dr. George Ngwa, and we wrote the programme and handed it to the UB administration. I then took off to Madagascar for consultancy. One day, while I was in my room, I received a fax from UB that we should come and start the programme. That is how the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication was created. I started it with George Ngwa, then, we had another colleague, Beltha Ndoh. Three of us started the JMC programme in November 1993 and, for one reason or the other, I was made Head of Department and that’s the story of how things unfolded.
What did you like about this new found career of yours – the teaching and the mentoring?
I have always loved to teach and share my experiences. Maybe, that is what made me to leave the Ministry and create JMC. My best moments always came when I was with my students; the anecdotes, the teaching, the research. When I was getting PhD in the USA, I had a lead paper (one of the best papers in a journal). And when I came to Buea in 1994, I had a lead paper in Africa in the area of Mass Communication, Research and Journalism. Since then, I have been privileged to author four lead papers which have substantially contributed to knowledge. If you go to Rhodes University in South Africa, one of the top-notch Journalism Schools on the continent, you’ll see my name as a contributor, just like in Makerere University, where I’ve always enjoyed being around the students, helping them in research and teaching. I have a soft spot for very intelligent people and, during my stay in JMC, 90 per cent of my students were very intelligent. This is how we did it: we had high cut off points for admission. Then, a child comes to JMC with seven, eight, nine points. Those are intelligent children and you just need to create an environment for them to excel, and that is what happened during my stay in the Department. And for all of that, you saw how JMC became the flagship of UB. And when my students started performing on the national and international stage, JMC became the bedrock of the University and every child wanted to be a journalist. That is the legacy I lived for and will cherish till the end.
We know after every successful career, there is always a time for change or transition. How ready are you to embrace this transition?
I’m a happy man. Now, I don’t teach anymore and the highest I can do now is to supervise PhDs. I’ve finished a lot of what I wanted to do in my life in terms of teaching and research. I’m just helping younger people now to give them a head start; in that way I’m the happiest person. I do other things, such as consultancy. I am now doing what I did not do when I was busy with career and raising kids.
What is your plan after retirement; how have you structured it?
It is highly structured. I will be travelling – I have grand children in America and Douala; I will do consultancies – I have a series of them that I will be doing. I will be working with teams so that I can bring them up, research-wise, so that they can continue in my absence.
What keeps you going after life in JMC?
My students keep me going. The students I trained while at the Department – undergraduate and post graduate -are now some of the most influential communication professionals around Africa and beyond. That is what keeps me going. Look at BBC, Africa News, CRTV, STV, Equinoxe Radio and TV, The Post, Cameroon Tribune and other news organs, my products are in commanding positions: editors, directors and so on. Also look at the top UN Agencies across Africa – UNDP, WFP, WHO, UN Women – those managing communication there are those trained during my time. Am I not a happy man – that this programme which was born out of my passion to serve Cameroon and give it another direction of Journalism and Communication from what was done is ASMAC – has become the most reliable programme in the Sub region?
Another dimension to what keeps me going is the care and support I received from the past generation of Ex-JMCs (reference to former journalism and Mass Communication students). When I got sick, many of my students called to wish me well and pray for my recovery. Some even sent me money, both individually and collectively as classes. Some classes sent FCFA 625,000, another class 450,000, another one 750,000. Individually, some sent FCFA 200,000, some 100,000. So, I was able to pay my medical bills. When I have such relationship with my students, I feel very good. That was my vision – that I should have a relationship with my students – and it is there till date. That is why I said then that JMC is a family.
When you started the Department years ago, you had a vision. When you look at the Department today, is there something you think if you were still there, you would have done differently?
I exhausted everything I wanted to do. I wrote the BSc, Masters and PhD programmes. I was given funding by friends in America to write the Masters and PhD and they work well. Prof Che Tita came and reinforced with a Masters in Corporate Communication. I’m leaving JMC with four programmes on the ground: BSc, MSc Journalism, PhD and Masters in Corporate Communication, which I co-authored with Prof Che Tita. When you have done your own, you leave the scene. The world is a scene, according to Shakespeare: when you enter you can exit so that other people can continue. So, what becomes of it is their own history. It is not my history.
What advice can you give the trainees you have left behind: the teachers and those excelling in various fields of communication?
I wish them the best in the whole world and the advice is that they should go for what they want: go get it!
Communication has been identified as one of the pathways for conflict resolution. As a communication scholar, what is your proposal for Cameroon?
The bottom line is that you cannot do communication without politics. The actors and stakeholders have to come to a point and listen to each other; when they listen to each other, they’ll be able to find solutions so that we can have Peace Journalism, Conflict Journalism – all kinds of journalism are in there. But how are you going to promote Peace Journalism when there is a lot of antagonism? How can other forms of journalism be promoted if there is no enabling environment? An enabling environment is needed. Stakeholders in the quagmire must sit down and talk. Sitting down and talking is the communication element in the whole thing.
We have issues of fake news now and some of those who promote fake news are people who are trained in journalism and these journalists seem compelled to disseminate unchecked information. As a towering journalism trainer and communicator, with over four decades of experience, what is your take on this?
The first point is Ethics. I tried to include Ethics in the training. When the University said they were not recognising Religious Knowledge – JMC was one of programmes that said Religion should be accepted in order to build Ethics. You cannot have a Journalism Programme without ethics which is fundamental for a just society. That’s why we are where we are today, because, the ethical part of it is absent. I do not know how to revive it, because Ethics is very important. Fake news is a function of immorality and lack of Ethics. Someone gives you FCFA 10,000, you go and distort the facts without minding the damage it has on the society; or you go on air and make pronouncements… Ethics is the basis and very essence of humanity.
You headed the JMC Department several years ago; looking at it today, how can you assess the programme?
I will not be part of that; I will ask market forces, consumers and former students to assess the programme. I’ve done my best; I’ve done my own; I’ve existed. You people (students, trainees) are the ones to know how the programme is going on – that’s not my concern… I believe hope is very important. I’ve a lot of my students excelling around the world – some are medical doctors; some have become big UN Agency Directors, some are in important organs like the BBC, Reuters – that’s my hope. The new generation should produce its own people. For me, when I look at my students I’m very happy. I will not be part of making assessments, because, I can become subjective.
Interviewed By Andrew Nsoseka & Hope Nda