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Nkwenti, The Rabbinical Visionary 

By Peterkins Manyong

In his biographical work "Life of Johnson", James Boswell recounts a memorable voyage across the river in a boat rowed by a boy. During the voyage, a friend of the sagacious Samuel Johnson observed that the boy was so satisfied with the money he made from his occupation he didn’t need education. Johnson turned to the boy and asked: "What would you give in order to be educated?"  The boy’s reply was spontaneous: "I would give everything I have."

The boy’s reply in this anecdote is so sincere that none but a hypocrite would disagree with him. And for education to be meaningful it must be thorough. Augustan poet, Alexander, makes the point in his "Essay On Criticism". "A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep a taste not the Peirian spring; there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain And drinking largely sobers us again".

The force of this truth is what led the Cameroon Teachers Trade Union, CATTU to embark on a mission years ago to salvage Cameroon’s educational system.  Within that period, all the disparaging remarks imaginable were heaped on Nkwenti. Those who were not accusing him of using CATTU to enrich himself, derided him as a cheat who shunned the classroom, while earning a monthly salary from the State. The latter accusation was the prelude to a vicious campaign that culminated in the suspension of his salary. Rebukes from blood relations who benefited from his earnings aggravated his physical and psychological pain. The loss of his monthly pittance was, therefore, not a personal, but a family tragedy.

Added to those who pelted him with invectives were enemies more dangerous who portrayed him as the most outstanding crusader against the hard-earned peace President Paul Biya stood for. He was yanked and banged in the most deplorable of dungeons the Northwest harbours – the former Public Security constabulary in Old Town and the Mobile Intervention Unit, GMI, were for a long time his "second home." All this only gave Nkwenti inspiration and courage.

When force and intimidation failed, cajolery was employed. Whereas some teachers spent gargantuan sums of money lobbying to be appointed school heads or something close to it, Nkwenti was appointed first Vice Principal of GBHS Bamendankwe and later Principal of GBHS Mbatu. The strategy was also to substantiate the accusations of his detractors that he embarked on trade unionism as a strategy to achieve self-aggrandizement. He snubbed both appointments.

Nkwenti’s sacrifices began to pay off when he was co-opted into the anti-corruption unit in the Ministry of Education and his opinion sought on crucial national issues. Joseph Owona, a former Education Minister, even included him in a delegation to some Asian countries, among them Bangladesh.  His reputation continued to soar after he succeeded in persuading Owona to visit Bamenda. This resulted in the first meeting between Fru Ndi and an influential Biya disciple crowned by the much-talked of Ntarinkon breakfast. CATTU’s romance with Owona didn’t sway the Union from its goal, reforming Anglophone education or check the excesses of its academic tyrants.

Omer Weyi Yembe, former GCE Board Registrar, certainly underestimated Nkwenti when he embarked on his ill-fated mission to include Multiple Choice Questions, MCQs in the GCE syllabus without proper feasibility studies and consultations. Nkwenti stopped him. By that act, Nkwenti proved that in his search for excellence, he had banished parochial thinking. Honour never fails to be given someone who makes the people’s problems his own. Nkwenti’s pedagogic feats were not lost on his supporters who soon gave the dynamic CATTU leader the title "High Priest" an honour not too inferior to that of "Rabbi" with which the disciples of Christ honoured their master.

Nkwenti And The Growing Spirit Of Academia

Within the period that CATTU was trying to sanitise Cameroon’s educational system, Northwesterners developed an unusual interest in university education. The Biya Regime’s reluctance to satisfy this need resulted in a boom in private universities. Dr. Patrick Fusi, who had lived for close to years in the US was among those who ignited the process when he started the International University of Bamenda.

The Bamenda University of Science and Technology, BUST and NACHO University, Cameroon, followed Fusi’s curious academic perception. To him, it makes more sense awarding Jonas Puwo, proprietor of Guarantee Express, an honorary doctorate degree when there is ample proof of success in business, than an MBA or PhD in Economics to someone who has never even run a village provision store.

Should a degree be valued only when it comes from Europe or the US, even when the university that gave it is an obscure institution unknown even in the country where it is found?  Why should government think it must recognise the International University for its certificates to be considered credible?  After all, what has the State done to tens of thousands of graduates from its own universities? These were rhetorical questions posed by Professor Fusi and his supporters.

The Importance Of The Nkwenti Crusade

Nkwenti avoided condemning the proliferation of universities in Bamenda, not because he approved of them, but because he saw in it a hunger for higher learning. Rather, he intensified the campaign for the uplifting of ENS Annexe Bambili as a first step in the direction of creating a State university in the Northwest. Fame Ndongo’s promise last week is the fruit of that advocacy.

Concerned Anglophones certainly have good reasons to question the good faith of the Biya Regime because of its many unfulfilled promises. This is the more reason why Jacques Fame should keep his promise on the ENS Bambili issue. Northwesterners are surely never to forgive him if he reneges on this very important promise.

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