By Victor Epie’Ngome
At 82 Paul Biya is not too old to have been one of the wild oats Nfon Nfon Mukete could have sowed as part of the exuberance of his early youth. After all, was not one of his Chief ministers said to have sprung from the loins of one of Nfon Mukete’s departed peers? The point I am making is that by dint of his age, experience and, I almost added, political clout, Nfon Mukete has what it takes to wield almost parental authority over Biya. Judging by the calibre of people the Biya regime recognizes as patriarchs, it is safe to say that if Nfon Mukete were Bulu, he would not have to go to Ngoa Ekele. Cavaye and even Biya, would be going to Kumba to consult with him. Unfortunately, not only is he not Bulu, he is Anglophone.
But it is not only because he is Anglophone that he is not given patriarchal regard. Much of it is his own doing. Like his departed cronies – Foncha and Muna – he has lost all his clout by bending over backwards for too long.
So the pin-drop silence that greeted his feat of histrionics on the Senate floor last week may not really have been out of reverence for the patriarch speaking with the voice of the oracle. Rather, people were surprised that he was capable of uttering anything other than the old platitudes they have all been known for. The silence must also have been intended for the cameras – to show the world, as part of the drama, that the house respected him, whereas they knew, and he knew, that it was all going nowhere. They were letting him empty his little bag, just in case it made him feel better.
Nfon Mukete is 100, and must have had a few age-related discomforts and malaises so far, but there have been no public signs of senility yet. So one may assume he is still lucid enough to know his harangue in the Senate was absolutely inconsequential. First, it was too little too late. In fact, many see it as his political valediction – but one that cut no ice with anyone.
I could not hold back a smirk when he kept repeating the phrase “my people”. Which people? Where was he when, for over a half a century, these people were treated like scum? Why did he not accompany Foncha and Muna when they went to the UN in 1994 to acknowledge that their people had been shortchanged in the political marriage they had led them into? Back from New York, Foncha and Muna, accompanied by Njoh Litumbe and others, toured Southern Cameroon, apologizing for their gullible leadership, and insisting that separation was the only way out. Nfon Mukete was busy minding his own business and reaping as much as he could from that marriage of inconvenience.
When, two years ago, Wirba, a much younger MP, rocked the Ngoa Ekele chamber of horrors, Nfon Mukete and all those who claim to be representatives of our people, did not raise a finger in support. That could have been the moment for all of them to storm out of the two houses in a bi-partisan protest, to force deliberation on the Southern Cameroon question. So, which people is Nfon Mukete talking about now?
I smile at some Southwesterners’ reaction to all this. A handful think Nfon Mukete must be supported because he is a Southwesterner. They argue that Graffi people respect their own chiefs but are quick to castigate our own. Yes, as politician-cum traditional ruler, Nfon Mukete is the last of the giants and we ought to reverence him. But he should know better than we do, that silence is more dignifying than talking without substance. He should also know that what you are speaks so loud that the world can’t hear what you say.
And here is why Nfon Mukete’s outing neither ruffles any feathers in Yaounde nor excites Southern Cameoonians: For Yoaunde, even if he were to be taken seriously, they could just ignore him and his little surge of bramble-fire enthusiasm would peter out before long, especially as they know his noise cuts no ice with Southern Cameroonians.
But more importantly, Yaounde knows that, by his advocacy for ten-state federation, he is playing their game. And it is precisely this advocacy that puts the Chief at odds with the majority of Southern Cameroonians. If the regime could marginalize and rape the people of Southern Cameroon in a two-state federation, what protection would they have in ten-state federation? Once they succeed in sundering the historic tie between the Northwest and Southwest, Yaounde and Paris will have won their bet. Two individual states (like regions) out of ten will become toothless, and the cubes of sugar will have been finally dissolved.
I think the Nfon still has one chance to prove that he was not just playing to the gallery. As the patriarch he is supposed to be, one hopes his Southern Cameroonian colleagues will follow him if he were to match his words with walk-out action in the days to come. After all he is not likely to starve to death if he left the Senate now.