(Reproduced from Cameroon Post, No. 164, May 20, 1993, P. 7)
The second day in the month of April in the year of our Lord 1993 is a Saturday. As my age-beaten “Lada” is sputtering along the Douala-Tiko highway, a feeling of excitement tinged with some apprehension suddenly descends on me and buries its claws in my mind. Rumours had, in fact, been making the rounds of the anglophone community in Douala that the “Lion-Man” alias “Man-Lion” was determined to disrupt the first ever “All Anglophone Conference” billed for the historic Southern Cameroonian capital of Buea, and arrest those attending.
That must be why I seem to see the red-berets of the “Lion’s” monsters lurking in every corner of the road. To compound this feeling of vulnerability, a thick fog has gripped the land and is crawling with sinister intensity through the CDC rubber and banana plantations.
It is only when I emerge in Tiko that the weather suddenly becomes friendlier. Ahead, Fako stands out in all its splendour, bare from top to bottom, draped only in the golden colours of a rising sun. There, it stands, imposingly majestic, its head, proud and erect, snugly lodged in the underbelly of a dome-shaped sky, infinitely blue in colour.
The serpent of fear that has been gnawing at my guts suddenly vanishes as the cold, refreshingly friendly air of Buea starts to caress my cheeks.
The Mount Mary Maternity Centre is already packed full when I arrive. I’m still wondering where to find a seat when Charles Wirsuiy of The Sketch newspaper walks up to me and asks me to follow him. He leads me to the section reserved for the press not far from the high table.
He motions me to a seat sandwiched between some journalists. One of them vehemently protests that the seat is already taken. Charly says it’s okay, I can have it. I sit down and greet my neighbours. One of them answers cheerfully; the fellow who has just objected to my presence merely grunts and buries his nose in his newspaper.
Shortly thereafter, a pretty-looking photographer walks up to us and asks me for her handbag under my seat. So, that’s the story! My sullen neighbour is telling her she has lost her seat to a usurper. What! Me, a usurper! Come-on, man. There’s only usurper in this land; he’s hiding in Etoudi. I can understand your not being happy with me for taking your girl friend’s seat, but that’s no reason to call me a usurper. Even if I had taken the girl herself away from you, you still won’t be right to call me a “baby usurper”; a “baby snatcher” would be more like it; wouldn’t it? Besides, she’s a photographer and should be on her toes, not warming her behind. That is the argument I’m planning to put up in my defence, but my neighbour is not open to dialogue. Instead, he angrily turns his face away from me.
The CRTV Contingent
I also decide to ignore him and look for more pleasant faces to pin names on. That’s a whole squad from CRTV over there. Not being near enough to talk to them, I decided to address each of them on mind.
“Hi, Adamu Musa! Long time no see. How’s it going? Okay? Good.”
“Oh, hi Emmanuel Wongibe! How are you? Good to see you again. Are you serious, man? You come to Douala and don’t care to come and greet your “Tav-Njong”. What’s wrong with 9ou young Nso fellows of these d`ys? Don’t you know you must give the title-holders and elders of your land the respect due them? Anyway, good to see you again. Haven’t been seeing much of you on our TV screen lately. Probably on suspension, eh? Too bad.”
“Hi there, Zac Angafor! Are you serious, ian? How come you and I are in Douala together and I don’t see much of you? I don’t even heaR you on the air anymore. What’s the matte2? Suspended too? Oh boy, what a pity! Mendo Ze seems to take an obscene delight in suspending you journalists from the air and from our TV screen and replacing your faces with his; if his was a face worth looking at! Quelle horreur!”
Is that the elongated form of the Rambler I see at that corner? Yes, indeed, it is. “Hi, Rambler, are you about to ramble from here today? A good place to be in, man. Dr Bole Butake tells me your play, What God has put Asunder, is on stage tonight! I hear it’s quite a good piece of work. Will surely be there to watch it.”
“Hi, Becky Ndive, how are you, Auntie? Why do you call yourself Auntie, anyway? No, you won’t tell me why? Well, that’s all right. Continue the good work you seem to be doing here in Buea. Boy, nice looking lady!”
Who’s that hiding under that Mexican-like hat? Lucas? Oh yes, that’s him. “Come-on; why must you hide your face from your people? Or is it your bald head you’re hiding from us? I don’t believe anyone here means you any harm. We may not always like what you say, or how you say it; and frankly, few of us here like what you say, or how you say it, but we don’t hate you as a person; not at all. So, take off that ridiculous hat from your head and feel at ease with your people. That’s better. Even if your master, Achidi Achu, himself, had come here, no one would’ve done him any harm. Don’t you see our patriarchs, Pa Foncha and Pa Muna, sitting comfortably among their own kind?”
“Don’t you agree with me, Peter?” Ladies and gentlemen, Peter Essoka of “English with a difference” fame. “What was someone telling me the other day about your programme, Peter? That you give more time to Francophones than to Anglophones the programme is meant to help? He also claimed you always interrupt people when they’re talking.”
“Unfair criticism of your friend, don’t you think so, Julius?” Ladies and gentlemen, Julius Wamey! “Even though you and I have never met each other before, Julius, it’s as if we have always known each other. Of course, your usual tongue-in-cheek remarks on the screen and on the air always go down so well with us, your audience, but, I guess, not so well with your bosses, right?”
And Tav-Njong weeps!
Just then the Conference Chairman, Barrister Elad, is reading his speech and mentions that some among us today had even marched against multi-partyism. I see a finger pointing at someone’s back. Doesn’t that finger resemble Paddy Mbawa’s? Indeed, it is. And that must be Benjamin Itoe’s back he’s pointing at! Oh, yes, it is! “Come-on, Paddy, you mustn’t poke such fun at Benjy’s back”.
“And Benjy, tell me, why aren’t you sitting up there with Elad, Anyangwe and Munzu? Why are you hiding here? I know what you’re going to say; that it’s your right to sit where you like, and you’ll of course, be right. Isn’t this a democracy? What does your boss call it? A “démocratie avancée”? How our brilliant “Man-Lion” alias “Lion-Man” makes the definition of that word, democracy, as bequeathed to humanity by the Greeks of old, look so puerile, indeed!
It’s Simon Munzu’s turn to read his keynote speech. A few minutes into it, he invites the Mamfe Choir to invoke the presence among us of the departed heroes of the Anglophone people. Boy, emotions that have been floating in the air ever since Pastor Ayuk moved many to tears with a heart-stirring opening prayer, are now so thick you can just reach out and grab them with your bare hands, or cut them clean with a knife! Now, the Mamfe Choir has the floor.
Wow! What a song! A gentle, sad, languorous sobbing of a dirge.
Sadness grips the hall. Throats are being cleared with difficulty as lumps start to crawl up many throats, and before long hands are rushing into pockets and handkerchiefs are popping out and heading for tear-spangled eyes and clogged nostrils.
What’s this on my cheeks? No, it can’t be tears! Who’s ever heard of such a ridiculous thing? A “Tav-Njong”, a ferocious warrior of the Nso people, in tears! Worse of all in front of women! No, what I fell so warm on my cheeks can’t be tears at all. It must be something else. But what? Oh no, it’s indeed tears! I too reach for my handkerchief.
Yes, on the morning of April 2, 1993, as the Mamfe Choir is invoking the presence among us of our fallen leaders, I, “Tav-Njong”, a dreaded warrior of the Nso people, weep for my suffering people. Let the history of Southern Cameroons have that simple fact on record for posterity.