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Praise Be To The Mediocre Men Of Letters 

By Azore Opio

It doesn’t matter how many times you have heard about it. But there is a spiritual as well as an intellectual meltdown in Cameroon. First, suffering, which might only have been an abstract concept, is intensified by the regime. It soon becomes a reality, taking on a private, very personal character.

Then the regime offers the carrot on the condition that you sing its praises, ululate in its name and tell its lies. When you falter, you are dropped back into poverty. You become an isolated captive then. Your freedom restricted, your horizon limited, your daily life miserable because you are waiting, while chorusing for the head of state to remember and appoint you. Again.

The appointment syndrome has diverted intellectuals from the service of principle and they are instead worshipping utility and servicing their political passions. A spell has been cast on the contemporary Cameroonian intellectual. Under this corrosive influence with their souls corrupted, and their minds turned enemies of dispassionate inquiry and rationalism, and the quest for truth, our present intellectuals are increasingly becoming more barbarous in their acquiescence and complicity to the despotic regime than even the unlettered mind.

I never knew that the professing jesters in motley mortarboards and academic bells at the University of Buea, the place for U to B, expected to be ready in witticisms at a moment’s notice for bribes from their ill-fated students. At UB, we boast of the vilest pick of academic brigands. They belong to a school long abhorred – absurd mediocrity. It is dreadfully depressing.

Here is the mathematics. Courses at UB are run like a buyam-selllam enterprise where some lecturers shamelessly charge a female leg or FCFA 5,000 for examination questions, a piece. And recommendation letters go at as measly a piece as FCFA 2,000. So if a lecturer has, say, 100 students marked out for the trading and he/she sells a minimum of 100 questions, that is a cool half million francs. For one examination! They are millionaires!

At the Faculty of Medicine, one of the dullest students there who had been graded by a lecturer on the F scale is now third from top in his class. Simple bribe mechanics. The parent came once with a half-filled envelope, the respectable don on whose table the buck ends shook his head vigorously. The parent retreated.

The next day he was back with the envelope swollen, bursting at the seams. The don nodded. The F-grade student was uplifted to A Grade because some greasy millions had possibly exchanged hands. That is not all. Unscrupulous, desperate lecturers force students to photocopy their (lecturers) unpublished manuscripts; "if you don’t photocopy my manuscript, you fail!" the students are told. Afterwards, they are still forced to read the ‘crap’, else you fail!

"That’s what we go through," a female student told me inside a taxi one evening, "just today, I have spent over FCFA 12,000. Only photocopying."
"And if you don’t? You have a good library…" I said.
"Chei! You want me to fail? I don’t want to fail oo-h! He comes into the amphitheatre and says, read from page one to 50; the next day he comes again and says, read from page 50 to page 70… that’s how it goes."

The young girl looked frightened at the very thought of not cramming and regurgitating her lecturer’s notes. She cringed, gazed out the window at the rapidly falling darkness flash by.
My mind wobbled, heart puckered. A kaleidoscope of unprintable thoughts whirled in my head and left me with little else than to imagine that wrongs have been committed against the youths of this country in such huge numbers and on so many occasions that it seems to be a crime not to commit one. 

Someone said, "Really, Cameroon is on heat. It needs a squirt of fresh sperm to reproduce a new generation of morally upright human beings." Some of these so-called lettered minds have transmogrified into political vagrants for fear of offending their masters, thereby missing out on crumbs that fall from the royal table and being retained as the royal fool. Their ritualization of ‘positioning’, as it were, climaxes in a faintly sacramental aura.

Thus, two college principals from the Northwest once prepared two goats plus ‘envelopes’ for their Director of Human Resources at MINEDUC in Yaounde. They wanted to maintain their positions as principals. They bought huge bundles of najma-njama (huckleberry vegetables) to add to the goats. The goats were first loaded on top of a Vatican bus bound for the city. Then last minute changes. The pedagogues thought the sacrificial beasts could travel more comfortably in business class.

They packed the goats with the vegetables in the cargo compartment of the bus, which is conveniently located in the floor under the passenger seats. As the Almighty would have it, the two principals off-loaded two stone dead goats in Yaounde. With no animal offering to make to Azazel, they abandoned the njama-njama in the bus and continued with the envelopes.

The same fate befell a Delegate in Buea who one early morning received a phone call from his Ministry to the effect that he was due promotion. His adrenaline shot up and he hurried to compile his CV, resume, if you like, for they had asked for it. He purchased from the Muea market a large he-goat, two bags of cocoyam, filled the service car and zoomed off to Ongola. For promotion.

He drove straight to his Ministry and parked in the yard. And waited for the reception. Minutes turned into an hour and no reception was forthcoming. Curiosity got the better of the guys in the ministry, who turned up at the Delegate’s side.

Confused, he stuttered, "I…they telephoned me…about a… eh my promotion…"
"Your promo, what?
"Motion of support?" The guys burst into laughter. "We aren’t aware of any such thing."
Mediocrity and hypocrisy, as we all know, have their compensations.

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