“I Resigned From SDF Party After My Appointment As A Member Of Constitutional Council”- Prof. Paul Nkwi
Prof. Paul Nchoji Nkwi, one of the pioneer members of the Constitutional Council, says he resigned from the SDF Party and from partisan politics the day he was appointed. The varsity don and erudite Professor of Anthropology made the statement in an exclusive interview with The Post in Yaoundé recently. To him, the resignation gave him the much needed neutrality and impartiality to serve the nation and the Cameroonian people without any bias. Among other burning issues, Prof. Nkwi talked on the Anglophone Crisis, appealing to President Biya to grant amnesty to all those who are in detention in order to pave the way for frank and inclusive dialogue. Excerpts:
You are one of the pioneer members of the Constitutional Council, how was your first experience when you handled the Senate election?
All I can say is that I am bringing my experience from the classroom where as a teacher I shared the truth and nothing but truth. My appointment has brought me in contact with legal minds or persons used to the teaching and practicing of the law. Since joining this prestigious body it has been a learning experience.
You handled electoral petitions for the first time, would you say you did a good job, were you personally satisfied?
The method adopted by the Constitutional Council was such that each member of the Council was required to study each petition individually based on his own experience and inspired by the law. We then met and shared our assessment of the particular submission. Our work has been highly participatory and collegial in the sense that everybody sitting around the table had a chance to voice his/her opinion about the issue. Debating some fundamental issues leading to a final decision was indeed wonderful.
Did you have a situation where you did not agree? If you don’t agree, what do you do? Do you vote?
I wouldn’t go into the details about how we proceeded, but the most important thing was the fact that debate and discussions permitted us to arrive at a solution acceptable to all based on the facts and figures as well as within the spirit of the law.
As a member of the Constitutional Council, to whom do you pay allegiance most, to the person who appointed you?
If my readings of the provisions of the Constitutional Council are correct, we are there to serve the nation. We are not there to serve the Head of State who appointed us because appointing us was simply one of his supreme responsibilities to put in place that structure which is provided for by our Constitution. If we were to serve the individual, then the whole purpose of the Constitutional Council would be defeated.
You know that since the rebirth of multi-party politics, Cameroon has never had free and fair elections. From the way you are talking, you don’t condone electoral fraud. Can Cameroonians now jump for joy that they will start having elections that are free, fair and transparent because of the Constitutional Council?
I believe so because having been given the opportunity to work on the Senate election, I have the feeling that if all of us on the Council are there to stand for the truth and truth alone, to fight for the truth, and to fulfill the aspirations of Cameroonians, then probably this is the best chance in our country where we may have free and fair elections. At least, from my experience of the Senatorial election, I am convinced that if the oath taken by each and every one of us is anything to go by, then I must agree with you that we will live up to the aspirations of Cameroonians, with respect to the running of elections in our country. Having free, fair and transparent elections remain our ultimate goal.
You are the only one that is coming from the opposition and just when this Council was put in place, there were criticisms from the public that its members are predominantly pro-establishment retirees, what is your reaction?
Let us examine articles 46 and 51 of the Constitution which defines the role of the Council, its composition and appointment of its members. The constitutional provisions of article 51 simply state that, three people will be appointed by the Head of State, three by the National Assembly, three by the Senate and two by the Higher Judicial Council.
So, where do you put me in all these? Who appointed me? Is it the Head of State, Senate or Parliament? Which of these three bodies was responsible for my final appointment? Indeed, what is important is that I am a pioneer member, thanks to the decree of February 7 signed by the Head of State.
Furthermore, the constitutional provisions require that those appointed must be of professional renowned, proven competence and of high moral integrity. So when I look at this, I simply thank God. I served as a civil servant for 30 years and retired without a single rebuke. My track record has been that of a teacher, 30 years at the University of Yaoundé and 10 years with the Catholic University of Cameroon, Bamenda.
You claimed from the moment you were appointed that you will resign from your party, so you no longer have anything to do with the SDF?
Technically, I was a member of the SDF and I am very proud of contributing to the achievements of its social democratic vision. As Shadow Cabinet Minister of that party, I was able to participate in the definition of the social democratic principles within the context of our country. It is a pity many of its members did not live up to these fundamental principles that were designed to provide people a better quality life. I resigned from the SDF and from partisan politics from the day I was appointed so as to be able serve the nation and the Cameroonian people with dignity and without bias. As a member of the Constitutional Council, I stand tall above partisan politics.
You must have read the Constitution and one of the criticisms that is coming from the public is that the Constitutional Council does not entertain petitions from individuals. Even MPs need the signatures of one third of the members of the National Assembly to be able to table a petition before the Council; does that not impede the institution from ensuring the constitutionality of issues in our country?
Our Constitutional Council, as I understand it, is basically inspired by the French Constitutional Council. But there are other Constitutional Councils around the world which I think our new institution must take adequate measures to learn from them so that we can emerge with a Constitutional Council worth the salt. One of the best Constitutional Councils in the world is that of South Africa. If our Constitutional Council can learn from others (EU, South Africa, Senegal, etc), I am sure we can craft a Council that will provide better services to our people.
You are a Professor of Anthropology, many people are wondering what an Anthropologist is doing at the Constitutional Council….?
I strongly believe I represent the voice of the voiceless, the ordinary citizen of this country. Anthropology is a scientific discipline that seeks to understand humans holistically, the mind, the behaviour of all humans around, the legal or the social. As a member, I hope I will articulate the feelings of the common man about things that are being seen as purely legal. Just voting itself, dropping your ballot paper in the ballot box comes from a total social, economic and political thinking and that is human. For a person to leave his house, walk to the polling station and drop his vote means a whole lot of things: that vote needs to be protected because it took a mental and cultural reflection to arrive at that.
Many people do not know much about my educational background: Before I became an Anthropologist, I studied Philosophy and Sacred Theology, specialising in Christology and earning an STL (Licentiate in Sacred Theology). I was brought up with a critical spirit and the love for truth. Drilled in philosophical and theological principles, I cannot but live up to these principles. I have been called to serve the nation. I will do the things that ought to be done and I will live up to the responsibility conferred on me by the provisions of the Constitution. I pray to God to help me remain faithful to the dictates of his laws.
As man of integrity, if you discover that the rest of the members of the Council do not care about delivering the goods in terms respecting the aspirations of the Cameroonian people, will you resign?
As I said earlier, I am the voice of the voiceless. I will continue to preach the truth and protect the sacrosanct values of truth.
Is it your party or you that was consulted before your appointment?
Who appointed me is immaterial. What is important is that I have been entrusted with a responsibility and I need to live up to it. I got wind of it some time back, but never gave much thought to it. I come to it with some administrative experience. I served in the civil service in the capacity of Programme Officer, Deputy Director, Acting Director, Technical Adviser and at no time was I ever consulted and this present appointment is no different. It is important to know that I served also as the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the Catholic University of Cameroon, Bamenda.
You are appointed for a period of six years renewable once, by the end of the six years or at 12 years, what would you want Cameroonians to remember you for when you will be quitting the stage?
That I represented them and did so with dedication and honesty and that I was among those who tried to move the democratic process in Cameroon forward.
There are press reports to the effect that the Council validated the mandate of a certain female Senator from the North Region, who was never elected and whose name never appeared on the list of CPDM candidates……..?
That is an area I will not like to go into because before things come before us for a final ruling, a lot of background work has been done. The political parties choose their candidates; the Council has nothing to do with the choice of candidates. ELECAM plays a vital role by preparing the electoral process. The actual polling is another level and once that process is over throughout the national territory, the National Vote Counting Committee chaired by a member of the Constitutional Council sits to ensure that all the information coming from different structures are based on facts and figures. The National Vote Counting Commission verifies to ensure that nothing was left to chance. I doubt these press insinuations which seek to discredit the good work we have done so far.
As a member of the Constitutional Council, you move with a gendarme, body guard and so on. Are you conscious that you are no longer a common man?
I don’t like to think about that because I want to be with people, eating in usual places, meeting them, teaching my students. And now we are being told not to do this or that. Sometimes you have to go along with them because if anything happens, they will say they warned you.
As a son of the Northwest Region, of Boyo Division, you know very well that the common political etiquette in this country is that when people are appointed to important positions like this, they organise what is usually referred to as homecoming, so when are you celebrating your appointment?
Honestly, there shall be no political homecoming. I will celebrate it differently. First, I want to thank God by asking Him to give me the strength, knowledge and wisdom to serve because ultimately, He is in charge. We want to give it a spiritual dimension. My homecoming will be to bring people to pray together with me for peace in our country. Our Region, Divisions, Sub-divisions and villages have been in a deep crisis that has led to the lost of precious human life. How can we have a homecoming in such a tense atmosphere? The meal I shared with the sons and daughters of the Northwest after my swearing in in Yaoundé was enough. I want to focus on prayer and peace. We will organise a series of masses to pray for peace and ask God to help us find a lasting solution to the Crisis that has plagued our Region and country. We will use these occasions to pray for the souls of those who died fighting for an alternative voice.
President Paul Biya is the one who appointed you, which means that he knows you well and that you are getting closer to him. If you were to meet him now what would you say the Anglophone Crisis is and what solutions will you propose to him?
It is very difficult to speculate on what I would do if I meet him to talk about the Anglophone Crisis. He is fully aware of the Anglophone Problem. I hope he has been told the truth. The Head of State should know that the people of the Northwest and Southwest have clamoured for three things: Dialogue, Dialogue and Dialogue. Granting armistice to all who have been arrested and jailed will create a conducive climate for dialogue. Solving the Anglophone Problem will certainly be the defining moments of President Biya’s presidency. Dialogue will provide an opportunity to address the root causes rather than attempting to treat the effects. The president’s legacy shall be determined by the successful handling of the Anglophone problem. Even those who denied that there was no Problem are running around the country desecrating the “peace plant”. God’s grace is at work.
What are your observations about the Anglophone leaders that were brought in, from Nigeria?
These leaders are Cameroonians with an alternative vision of this country. They are being persecuted for and jailed for thinking differently. There is need to listen to them. They must be part of the solution. They are Cameroonians who have been pushed to the wall. Dialogue is crucial and it was what made a difference in the South African case.
Why are you wearing a wig and gown when you are not a man of law?
The gown and wig won by members of the Constitutional Council enhances the solemnity and seriousness of rulings of the Council. Wigs were popular in ancient Egypt, later among the Romans. Wigs eventually became the costume of the French aristocracy and later given legitimacy by the Queen Elisabeth of England and also found its way into the Church of England and the English courts. During the French Revolution, the wig was discarded because it was associated with aristocracy, but Britain adopted it for its judges and barristers. The wig or the special head gear, was either made of horse hair, buffalo hair, human hair, was borrowed from the British court system by the Cameroon Constitutional Council.
Interviewed By Yerima Kini Nsom and *Mabo Fanta Keita *(Siantou Journalism on Internship