By Boh Herbert
You would be forgiven for understanding the Guardian Post editorial, under the penmanship of Ngah Chris, as an enthusiastic endorsement of Hon. Ayah as the next SCNC Chairman. Yet, the title (“How Justice Ayah Paul was Catapulted to the SCNC Chairmanship”) suggests that the election is a done deal. Welcome to making of an SCNC leader!
Upon further scrutiny, it seems a leader is yet to be elected or “selected” – the exact word used by the Guardian Post. The paper says “a reinvigorated and united SCNC executive is about to be elected”. It will be, we are told, at an upcoming “Elective General Assembly” where Hon. Ayah “will be selected [nice choice of verb] to replace the deceased Chief Ayamba”. The sales pitch for Hon. Ayah describes him as having an “unblemished profile and record… the right candidate” for the “uphill task” of “enormous complexities” at time of “sweeping allegations” of the Biya regime buying leaders over.
The editorial is partly aimed at discrediting everyone else who might threaten Hon. Ayah’s rise to the helm of the SCNC. Without verification, the paper accusations that Nfor Ngala Nfor has tried to “usurp leadership” whereas, as it claims, he is a “government agent”. The other potential troublemaker is Ambassador Fossung, who lives in exile in the USA. He is dismissively portrayed as claiming to be the “legitimate leader” but reduced to providing lame leadership via sharing tracts and videos online.
To its credit, the Guardian Post acknowledges that Hon. Ayah cannot seek to become president of “La Republique” while also fighting to restore the independence of Southern Cameroons. The paper does not go further to add that Hon. Ayah cannot fight a regime on whose Supreme Court bench he plans to take oath to defend. Reportedly “on good authority”, the paper announces Hon. Ayah’s upcoming resignation from PAP (the political party he founded) to satisfy “hawks within the SCNC” (also known as secessionists) who asked for and obtained no less of Prince Ndoki Mukete before that. Stepping down, says the Guardian Post will make Hon. Ayah “an unquestionable candidate for leadership” of the SCNC.
Democracy and Meritocracy Managed by Dictators
Even as they have clamored louder for democracy and meritocracy, Cameroonians – sadly of all political stripes – have grown increasingly complacent, comfortable – even resigned – to dictatorship dressed in this kind of rave review of politicians, steeped in intellectual dishonesty and the manipulation inherent in the spiritual vote cast by the Guardian Post in this editorial. Endorsing Hon. Ayah would make sense for a newspaper like this if at least two candidates were running for the position and the paper would endorse one, providing reasons to readers (also voters) why the paper has done so.
There are no known rival candidates in this case. In fact, we do not even know if Hon. Ayah is even running or is being manipulated into running. This is the old-time, one-party “Ahidjo versus Ahidjo” ballot! We get no explanation why Hon. Ayah may be better suited for attending to the Augean task of unifying fractious factions; of infusing new blood; of building a movement more capable to standing up to the expected attacks from the Biya regime.
We, as a people, will not get competent, qualified leaders of integrity until we set rigorous selection criteria and abide by them in electing – not selecting – our leaders. The process needs to become more transparent, inclusive, competitive and democratic. The health of our democracy is dependent on that. So far, though, from grassroots movements to the Top Job in the land, dictatorship is our DNA. Far too many dictators are in training at the helm of political parties and other grassroots movements like the SCNC for Cameroon to hope to enthrone democracy without a genuine reawakening.
Everyone mentioned for a position in Cameroon is almost always invariably praised as qualified for it. Yet, anyone old enough to breastfeed knows what qualifications would make a good SCNC leader, for example. The movement has a clearly defined goal. It suffers currently from a number of setbacks, not the least of which is lack of seriousness, professionalism and unity of purpose at the helm. These are problems that democracy and meritocracy can fix. However, our movements dodge democracy; shun meritocracy; continue to wallow in some Ahidjo-invented concept known as “regionalism”. Steadfast leaders will not emerge if past betrayals and the likelihood of recurrence are overlooked and if lack of support a movement and a people still qualifies the holder of the curriculum vitae to lead it.
Unlike Rome, not all roads lead to the achievement of the goals set for itself by the SCNC. As shaky leadership to, during and immediately after the Foumban Conference proved, it is easy for the regime in Yaounde and their French masters to take Anglophone leaders for a ride. Southern Cameroonians cannot afford such a misstep in the aftermath of the landmark Banjul Ruling and on the eve of the sun setting on President Biya’s current seven-year term. It may matter more now and in the near future who leads the SCNC than it has ever mattered at any time in our history. And, on that count, it is my opinion that Hon. Ayah is woefully unqualified to lead the SCNC.
Excuses, World Without End…
Apologists for Hon. Ayah, like the Guardian Post, have been scrambling to find excuses for his past and even future shortcomings, in the hope of remodeling him away from his CPDM past (and future?). They have tried to find the right words to shoehorn him into the position of SCNC Chair. Good luck with that!
The Guardian Post says of him that he was “a lone voice in the wilderness” during his two terms as Member of Parliament in Cameroon’s National Assembly. Not true! The SDF spoke louder, but never – even once – benefited from the support of his voice or vote.
The one time Hon. Ayah is credited with voting against the CPDM was when he was not there and never voted. Hon. Ayah was “no show” when parliament voted to give President Biya constitutional authority to lift presidential term limits and, not only to forgive all crimes committed by any president while in office but also to grant them immunity from prosecution once out of office. Hon. Ayah, quite honestly, cannot take credit for what he neither did nor for a vote he never cast. Significantly, he did not find it important enough to be in parliament to express his opposition at a time when hundreds of Cameroonians were being killed by security forces stamping out street protests against what MPs were approving.
Unlike Hon, Ayah, the SDF parliamentary group can take credit for walking out of parliament in protest. The five members of parliament who stayed through the deliberations and then voted against the amendment can take credit for what they did. But, Hon. Ayah…. Please!!! Hon. Ayah knows that by his absence he provided proxy to the CPDM to cast his vote alongside other dictatorship likeminded MPs of the party in power. That vote was in April 2008. Not once since then and in January 2011 when he resigned from the CPDM did he caucus with the SDF or vote along with them. Even as he complaint of “fearing for his life and of family safety” in early 2011, Hon. Ayah was acting emboldened – not frightened – going on to put up one of the most disgraceful showings on a presidential ballot ever!
A Lone Political Wolf
Remarkably, he continued to be Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly – not ever once stepping so much as out of line with the ruling CPDM. Tied to the hip with the CPDM, it is not forlorn to imagine that Hon. Ayah has never been his own man. It is CPDM appointments and decrees of its Leader-President Biya that made him magistrate plenipotentiary. For all the legal heavyweight paint him to be – and he may well be – his legal prowess did not associate with other legal luminaries like Prof. Carlson Anyangwe in defending the Southern Cameroons cause before a national court (such as Bamenda or Buea) or an international tribunal (such as Banjul). As the patient legal dog, Hon. Ayah ultimately got fed one of the fattest Supreme Court bones. We are told he could use that position to advance Southern Cameroons, but for that to be aligned with his past performance how about they allowed us to read just one landmark ruling he handed down as a magistrate of the bench. Just one!
The SCNC needs a leader who connects well with the grassroots. One forumist, Bens Awaah, offered advice where the Guardian Post editorial failed. “When the Southern Zone militants assemble to elect the next SCNC Chairman”, Ben Awaah wrote, “they should elect a young, energetic and visionary man or woman, whose sole interest is to take us to independence. He/she must be a people person, able to build bridges and to bring more people from the region to the cause. Northern Zone people and Mola Njoh Litumbe have always been there, working and waiting”.
Forget many aspects of those basic qualifications! Hon. Ayah’s past suggests that he is neither the leader the SCNC deserves nor the one it has been waiting for. His role as CPDM-appointed, regime-obedient Supreme Court Justice denies him the potential to grow into that role. He is seen as a “lone political wolf”; not without some justification. For example, he announced his bid for the presidency via email and followed it up with phone conversations to media editors, even as most aspirants spoke to monstrous crowds. A Cameroonian blogger once pondered thus about him: “maybe he needs to connect more with the grassroots. The same people who are the silent majority, invisible yet always present”.
While some of the wordings used by the blogger to describe Hon. Ayah cross sacred family lines, they are worth being shared three years after they were first posted. “What is most lacking for the Hon. Ayah Paul,” the blogger wrote “is traction. He says just the right things, has the right ideas, is married to a Francophone from Douala (no fear of secession), and has the academic and professional credentials relevant for the presidency of Cameroon”. The blogpost remains unchallenged to this date by Hon. Ayah.
The Market in Illusions
There is no shame in Cameroon these days of selling illusions to the highest bidder. The Guardian Post has one on sale. It argues that the tough issues opposing “La Republique” to Southern Cameroons can be thrashed out amicably “through internal dialogue without resort to international arbitration, the consequences of which is (sic) difficult to predict for now”. The Guardian Post is also an oracle teller, predicting – we have to presume – less consequences if internal dialogue was adopted! The last time we tried that via street protests in February 2008, a few hundred civilians were shot dead and thousands more, including the now late Lapiro de Mbanga, were thrown in jail. By comparison, the proceedings before the Court in Banjul had a casualty figure of exactly “zero mort”! So, too, did Bakassi!
The Guardian Post informs us that the Biya regime spent taxpayers’ money to sponsor “some blacklegs within the movement to The Gambia and Senegal to pose as leaders” during the Banjul Hearing. If that is true, could the Biya regime be up to the same bunch of tricks with Hon. Ayah?
Admitting – without confessing to the sheer violence that the regime visits on dissident movements – the Guardian Post offers the following advice: allow SCNC members to “hold their assembly without interruption by security forces so that in the end, Yaounde will be able to know who to dialogue with for the interest of ‘national unity and integrity'” Holy smoke! If dialogue is for the interest of “national unity and integrity”, how can that dialogue be at the service of the SCNC and its followers?