On May 26, 1990 the Social Democratic Front, SDF party was created in opposition to the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, CPDM. The creation rally saw the death of six people killed by the forces of law and order.
The SDF has since remained under the stewardship of chairman Ni John Fru Ndi. As the party clocks 30, we revisit his most recent outing. It was in an exclusive interview with MMI on Sunday May 24th.
During the live interview, the politician shed light on a range of issues including the bloody war that has been taking place for close to four years in the North West and South West regions today.
Below is the full transcription of the interview:
Nice having you Mr. Ni John Fru Ndi, thank you for accepting to talk to us.
Thank you for having me Mimi Mefo, at last we catch up again. I am here in Georgia-Atlanta, I was a little under the weather so I came here for some medical checks and unfortunately for me the outbreak of Corona Virus pandemic caught up with me here and with the older generation (70 years and above) being particularly vulnerable to this disease, I have particularly kept a low profile throughout the time but luckily the party has been fully operational as the first Vice Chairman and the Secretary General of the party are back home to take care of the Party affairs in my absence with my guidance of course as we are in regular contact.
Thank you Mr. Chairman for speaking to us. Let’s begin with the covid19 pandemic and the measures put in place by the President of the Republic of Cameroon. Are you satisfied with them so far?
Well the covid19 is a pandemic. It does not relate to Cameroon alone and so whatever instructions are given about the disease in the world affect everybody. Cameroon cannot create their own methods to handle the pandemic. I would first of all like to use this opportunity to apologise to Cameroonians for not being in touch after such a long while. This is because I know the first Vice president was there and competent enough to handle the running of the party and I deemed it unnecessary breaking the flow. So like I said, this pandemic has swept over the whole world and it is rather unfortunate for us. Maybe the Head of State did address the issue properly but I was very impressed when I saw the health officials in the North West Region carrying out checks on entry into the region at Matazem and am sure that too is (should be) done in the southwest and other regions.
I also trust the other other health facilities in the North West like in Mbingo and in Shisong where I have been receiving medical attention. If I came out to the US it is because they have more superior equipments. In Mbingo there about 40 Medical doctors and because of the crisis in the Anglophone regions most of these doctors had to run away for their lives. I want to appeal to Cameroonians that whatever affects a Nigerian or British or American or whatever country affects us too and whichever measure have been put in place, be it washing of hands, social distancing or wearing of facemasks, I want to appeal to Cameroonians to strictly follow them.
Unfortunately Mr. Chairman the figures are on a continues increase. We all want it to reduce and to see an end to it around the world and in Cameroon but it rather keeps on rising on a daily basis. So what I ask is, are you positive and happy with the measures put in place by the government to fight and contain the covid19 pandemic in Cameroon?
I am not comfortable with what the government is doing because if what I got a few days ago is true, that the Minister of Territorial Administration said Biya gave 2Billion FCFA for the covid19. If truly the money was given then it should be noted that it was not properly done. Because it is not in the place of the minister of Territorial administration, but rather the Minister of Public Health to take charge. The minister of Health should have gone through the councils and involved the parliamentarians and the senators who are directly involved with the people.
It was not a matter of going through the Governors down to the S.D.Oz and the D.Os. I think that was just another channel for them to see what they can keep aside for themselves from the funds. So I this is the way in which Cameroon is fighting the pandemic then I want to condemn that it is not the rightful way. But the fighting is more in the hands of the people. It is your health that matters to you. In Cameroon already we have far too many problems, we have the Anglophone crisis in the North West and South West Regions, we have the Boko Haram insurgencies in the Far North, North and Adamawa Regions, we have the crisis in the East Region from the Central African Republic.
These things weigh heavily on Cameroonians and if they keep looking onto the government which is inactive, then I think we are fighting a lost battle.
So to you, holding the government to account is telling the Cameroonian people to take their own destinies into their hands?
Yes exactly. Let them take their destinies into their hands, because some times its frequent to hear the Bamenda man say “Make a go drink ma mimbo die me”. That is exactly the kind of language to shun away from. One cannot sit and wish suicide. Your life as much as anyone’s matter and some of us have really worked hard and sacrificed a lot to make sure that we reach the level we have with the people alive. But if things go the way they are going, a pandemic comes we just give ourselves to it then that means we are signing into suicide which I want to condemn.
Now can you tell us about the said impression that you have absconded from the party. Are you still the Chairman of the party?
If I am not still the Chairman of the party then would we be here about my stance? Many Cameroonians say I’ve absconded, some even say I’m dead. These are the types of things happening in Cameroon. “Fru Ndi is dead, Mr. Biya is dead” etc. at the beginning of this pandemic we lost lots of people, and I want to send my condolences to persons who lost their loved ones to the disease. One of persons I felt most was Manu Dibango who died of it and Fotso Victor equally, of recent Dr. Chemuta Banda died of it too.
These are great people we are losing to the pandemic. A river cannot be carrying your children away and you stand by just smiling. Those of us who cannot swim will try to always try to see if we can try to throw something in the river so that the drowning kids can hold tight to. So with our own limited resources we think the government should do something. We see government giving to their citizens facemasks, instructing them and supervising places to be closed up to avoid overcrowding, to wash their hands, keep distance from other etc. well, I will not want to say much about this because I am not on ground (Cameroon) and I think that the First Vice Joshua Osih is very capable and has given out one or two instructions for people to do but people still believe this should be said by Fru Ndi himself.
When I came out from my treatment, I sat down with the first Vice, SG and some members of parliament and told them to be having regular meetings to discuss issues that affect the country and the world, take a position and get me informed about them. I’ve been following some of the things that they have been doing and am ell satisfied with them. But if they’ve not worked up to expectation, then I think it’s because people are expecting a little too much out of us.
With regards to the Presidency, we saw the results of the 2018 Presidential election. The SDF got one of its worst Presidential election results since creation in the 90’s and we also saw the results of the party after the twin election in February 2020. Do you think that Hon. Joshua Osih is the right person to bear the flag of the Social Democratic Front?
Hon. Joshua Osih was voted by the people at the convention and I gave my thumb print on that. You gave some comments about the dwindling results of the SDF. Can you also tell me as an investigative journalist that I know you to be whether all these elections are elections that can pass anywhere in the world? You cannot just organise elections in the face of war. Let me first pay my respect to all the militants who have passed on. We saw the way Hon Mbah Ndam’s (RIP) convoy was attacked when he was going to Batibo. I had never quite seen any convoy attacked the way Mbah Ndam’s was. I’ve equally been attacked many times but think about the local in the village whose fingers and toes have been cut, who has been kidnapped and who has been tormented in one way or the other. You’re telling that man to come out and vote? That’s during one of the visits to Etoudi where Mr. Biya invited us, I had to hold him to a corner and beg him saying if he didn’t handle the situation, then the oil was going to spill. And when I look at the situation presently, it has turned out even worse than I had expected and Mr. Biya has himself to blame.
You are talking about not having confidence in the polls and do you think that so far the SDF has been able to achieve its goals because when you talk to some Cameroonians they are disappointed. Of course they describe you as the father of Democracy. But you did not take Cameroonians to that desired destination of bringing change into the country. Do you blame yourself? Do you think you could have done things differently?
I cannot blame myself. I think Fru Ndi and the other SDF members have fought a good fight. And I think that even in this last election that the army had to be brought in. they equally wanted the SDF party to run away with our tails between our legs with death threats if we came out. In the face of this we still managed to go out and we saw what the army and the government were doing to thwart the outcome of the elections. And it is because of our participation in these elections that we have been able to tell Cameroonians what has been happening on the electoral field. That’s equally why we’ve had some stitches of electoral reforms because we’re there to accurately point of what is actually going on in the field.
Had it been we never participated in these elections to have first hand view of all these electoral malpractices, then, false and untrue statements about the state of affairs would have been reported to the Cameroonian people. I’ve always respected the Cameroonian army a lot. But if they stoop so low to political misdemeanors then there should be question marks.
The SDF has always maintained that the army should be apolitical, if they have to be manipulated to go vote for any political faction, then they are being very unfair to the Cameroonian people and I condemn that strongly. During the elections, the SDF was fighting two armies; the Ambazonian army and Mr. Biya’s. The SDF militants were faced with continuous threats. We recently heard of the assassination of the mayor of Mamfe, a very young and vibrant man. My question is if you claim to fight for the people and at the same time keep killing them, then who are you going to rule? graves? that is what I reiterated in my early campaigns. I said I do not want war, I wanted peace and the people on my side. Today due to the crises we have so many unmarked graves in the Anglophone regions. People have died in bushes and gone unnoticed and so this is so very unfortunate for us.
Could you have tried and done better if you succeeded in having a coalition government in Cameroon?
Well the coalition parties in Cameroon come in to fight Fru Ndi. They’re not fighting Mr. Biya, because historically you discover persons whom you may consider as amateurs often are projected as presidential candidates. Some very irresponsible. So it is rather Mr. Biya’s government that has destroyed everything and I put it to him that he is responsible for anything that is happening in Cameroon and those supporting him should know note is being taken of them.
Another set of persons say you won the 1992 elections and you had the opportunity to take charge and change these things but you didn’t.
You are very right on that. Then, we were still following the constitution. And we thought that Cameroonians should go on the bridge to cross and not go on the waters. In one of the camps I was abducted to, the “Amba boys” said they were angry with with me because I did not declare war in the 90’s. I told them I had seen firsthand effects of war. I told them starting a war not difficult, the difficult part was ending it and reconciling the people. The elections then were carried out and Mr. Biya said Ok! Give my results to Fru Ndi and Fru Ndi’s to me. That’s what he did. I told him when he came to Bamenda I was on the brink of declaring of war but only just changed my mind because I thought war would not have been the actual solution to the problem at the time.
More so when people say how our fathers left the Eastern House of Assembly in Nigeria, they left as parliamentarians and as a group. That same happened when they left for the Unity system and I believe if anything secessionist has to come to play then it has to through that same parliamentary channel and not by picking up arms to fight.
Where do you actually see the SDF party in the next five years or post the ongoing pandemic? Do you still see the SDF as that party capable of bringing change to Cameroon?
I am still very convinced even in my grave that the SDF will bounce back. The SDF has withstood the test of time. We have shown the Cameroonians that the SDF is not a party to just pick up our bags and run despite the ongoing situation. We have received intimidations from all fronts, we’ve been abducted and detained. But standing before them (Amba Boys) I have always told it was impossible to just walk out of parliament way they were ordering me to and I said on the media to the Ambazionian leadership to come constructively as I am a leader chosen by the people to defend their interest and until you convince them to agree to what you are asking me to do, then I can’t just follow your instructions.
So I believe deep in my heart that the young men and women that we have on ground will bounce back in full force to take the SDF to its desired position.
You just mentioned young me and women. Now tell me about the place of women in the SDF. Don’t you think it is time for the men to step back and give chance to the women?
The SDF is the only political party that has made a woman the Secretary General, it is the only political party to have made a woman in the senate the first vice, though we are having some problems with her at the moment. We are really trying to project the women, and we have done it, as what we have done hasn’t even yet been matched by other political parties and if you look at me as the founder of the party, I have not gone to the parliament fighting to be a parliamentarian, senator nor mayor of my constituency. I openly gave the go ahead to the young men and women to go ahead and get more involved so that I could remain behind doing the checks and balances as the party chairman.
So are you saying the place of a woman would only be the Secretary General and the first vice in the senate?
On every ladder we start we one step. Let me explain. The SDF was formed as a family. When we came into existence we were structured into wings; youth wing, women wing etc. and as wings we are all moving on the same direction and seeing the excelling and deserving ones. It’s not me who gives these, it’s the convention and when we had the chance to choose then we choose a woman as the Vice of the senate, we chose a woman as the Secretary General of the party and mind you that is one of the highest positions to wield in any given political party. So we’ve been making our own part to push the women forward, sending them to parliaments.
We are calling on other strong and ambitious women to come and take part in promoting our country. But unfortunately some women often give excuses saying they can’t come into the SDF because they feel they won’t get promotion from the government or probably lose their civil serving jobs. So that kind of leaves the SDF handicapped.
Talking about women and children as being some of the most affected as far as the conflict in the North West and South West are concerned, you are an elite and a prominent figure. You along with other prominent figures such Cardinal Tumi have given propositions on how the government could handle the ongoing crisis, but there’s still a deadlock. Do you think there are other better measures to the crisis or you maintain on your previous stance as a means of handling the Anglophone crisis?
We gave our proposals before and we maintain them. As I said before, the Ambazonian leadership always kept telling me to get out of parliament and the international community will hand over their independence. They went to the UN, the White House, the House of Commons, but before they went there I had already been there. While there I always talked about the Anglophone marginalisation asking if we could sit and talk.
I equally asked what would happen if I stepped out of parliament. But anyway, the positive thing is they used the guns to get the SDF out of the way thinking with us out their independence was assured. I’m still waiting to see how possible that would be but that’s not my problem. My main problem is the way these things are being done. We saw the way the Fon of Nso was treated, the way I was treated and equally others treated same. But I strongly condemn such actions because when I started the SDF party I did not go around forcing the people to support what I was doing which I knew was the right thing in the interest of the people.
You just talked about the fact that they were telling the SDF MP’s to quit parliament do you honestly think the SDF could still have the desired representation in parliament if there is no stability in the two English speaking regions?
Well that’s why we are all fighting for the stability. And I took part despite the stability to point out what Mr. Biya was doing during the elections which were wrong. I would never stand out of the elections even if everybody is dying. Because if you run away, then what do you point out that they did wrong? We are dealing with people that we know, and if we know them then we have to catch them and point them out.
As I said, you for instance went to Pinyin and reported about the Pinyin Massacre, still came to Bamenda and did more in-depth investigation but results have not been released. There were facts and truths that had to be known and if you didn’t go to the field you would not have known them. For instance people have challenged me saying I could have followed Wirba. Where is Wirba now? You cannot just shoot a stone at the enemy and start running. You have to stand there and face him.
Had it been Wirba stood in parliament and was killed in parliament or was sent to jail then that obviously would have been a different phase. But you just don’t show up, say a word or two and take to flight. In the 90’s when I formed the party, people were killed during the launch and we were intimidated but I never resulted to fleeing.
So in essence the SDF took part in the elections knowing that the results were going to be falsified?
Yes indeed. We knew that was going to be the case and it was proven that Mr. Biya’s government was working hand in glove with the Amba boys. Some openly came to me and asked me to stop wasting my time because they were going to vote for Mr. Biya. Some I even have on tape.
You talked about your role in the lobbying of the international bodies to look into the state of affairs in Cameroon. Are you positive about the involvement of possibly Switzerland or the US or the UN in possibly solving the crisis?
Well, we have Cameroonians out here who think we’re moving on the right path, that independence will be granted and all that, we are all looking to see how far that goes, because sometimes you see a man just folds his arms and is like let’s just watch and see. If they succeed to achieve it then bravo. But do they know there are so many other problems in the world to take care of. In Cameroon our lawyers and teachers complained about their status and what they were going through and this sparked up and got to this level.
When this happened, the SDF went to the North West governor saying if you send the army to beat students from their hostels, same to the South west governor with respect to the students of the University of Buea. The SDF maintained a just stance and took sides with no faction and if today they say it is because the SDF did not do this or that then I can’t say more.
So does this mean you can’t do your best any longer?
We did the best we could and we are still struggling to do more and that’s why I told you that in the case of Wirba, he shouldn’t have shot the gun and escaped. If we all shot the gun and escaped then we couldn’t have been here. For instance when I was abducted in Nso and other places, if I had sat in their camps and given alarm for the SDF to quit the parliament and the rest because I was in danger then we won’t be hear. I told the boys in their face I am a political leader and we’ve sent people to parliament.
If your people think that getting out of parliament will take us to where we are going to then let us sit down and better strategise on how to go about it. These are the same people Gorji Dinka said they wrote letters asking me to quit parliament and that I burnt them, whether he was there when I was burning the letters I don’t know.
Secondly, if the letters were burnt then how come people came out of parliament and when they wanted to go back to parliament, their names had been removed. We had to fight hard for those names to be reinstated. We boycotted elections, and the people who laughed at us for boycotting elections are the very ones today telling us not to go for elections. For us to take such important decisions, we have to sit in conventions to sit, discuss and debate what was the ideal way forward that was best for the people.
Do you think Anglophones should put aside their political future and look for a immediate solutions?
We have to keep fighting. You win a boxing tournament in the ring and not outside. Am glad you mentioned about 4 thousands lives have been lost. Not just these lives but the Anglophone educational system has been destroyed and because Mr. Biya saw that the Anglophone educational system was coming up, beating what they were doing, Sacred Heart in Bamenda for instance at one time, had close to 400 Francophone in a school of 600 and many other schools like St. Bedes, CPC Bali etc. This was not pleasing to them because they saw we were doing enculturisation of the own children with our English system, and that’s why they’ve sought to destroy it. All these we know. But it is the differences in approach that vary because some sit and just think the SDF should do this or do that with thrashing it out properly.
We are an organised party and we do not just sit and say things out of the bloom. Recently a certain young man just called me telling me he was a Secretary to the Ambazonian leader I had asked to see. Another even called me from Cameroon telling me not to waste my time, that I wasn’t going to see their leader in the Diaspora that we would only meet in Buea. I told him good luck to that. If we are destined to meet in Buea then I would be there.
You once said if you were younger then you would have been in the bushes fighting because of hour the regime is pushing the youths in the two Anglophone regions to the call. I asked about a referendum whether you think is the way out. Do you think the people should be given the possibility to decide on their fate?
Yes when the Anglophones are not given opportunities are you telling me they should then commit suicide? The unfortunate thing now Mimi is the fact that the young people fighting in the bushes right now never tasted of the Anglo-Saxon system of life back then and if this is not resolved, then I only see it getting even worse from here. There are so many things in my mind I can’t disclose over such a platform.
In Nigeria the Yoruba’s are grumbling that they too want to leave, same with the Igbos. And with all these around us, I did not go in to support for us to go in to suicide the way we have done because one day things would not be the same. When Mr. Biya called for the talks, I told him before that the talks will not take us anywhere if he does not call for a cease fire.
But Mr. Chairman you were in Yaounde
I went there to make my point clear. I don’t start outside to throw stones, I go to your face and tell you and that is what I told me Mr. Biya. Told his PM and the rest about the stance of the SDF.
So how can we end this crisis Mr. Chairman? What is the way forward?
It is not me who started the war, so I cannot call for a cease fire.
If you were in Biya’s shoes now, what would you do to end the conflict?
First I would not have declared the war, I would have gone to the leadership of the Anglophones and discussed with them. When the former PM came to Bamenda and discussed with the lawyers and the teachers, they had points which they wanted him to sign for people to resume their activities. Instead of signing these, they chose to declare war on the people and that is how hell broke loose.
So you believe that dialogue and cease fire are the only solutions, you are not in the favour of any form of independence in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon?
If the independence indeed has to come, then it should not be at the detriment of so many lives. That I can’t subscribe to.
Who has the powers to end the conflict? Is it the Yaounde regime?
Mr. Biya has it on his shoulders
What is your relationship with Biya?
We don’t have any relationship
Now, finally before we end Mr. Chairman, we saw the performance of Prof. Maurice Kamto during the presidential elections, he came second and he’s been doing a lot with his team since the covid19 broke out in Cameroon, facing a lot a lot of repression from the Biya Regime. What do you think about Maurice Kamto as somebody who has been into politics for several decades now?
Since Prof. Maurice Kamto formed his party he has never called me or come to me, same with others who formed parties and start parading themselves as the leading second political party in the country. We are not fighting of second, we are fighting to be first and to administer Cameroon. If Mr. Kamto is fighting to be second, then the SDF is not fighting to be second. If they took advantage of the problem in the SDF stronghold to do what they did then I just wish them well. It is Cameroon we all want to change.
So are there any other opposition parties in Cameroon that you see as that symbol of change?
Well, you’re the journalist and you can best tell me about that. I am also involved and so I am not best placed to answer that. I was just about telling you the what Jean Jacque Ekindi did, I read from the papers he resigned from his party and went back to the CDPM, those are the people that we worked with and they lobbied us to support him.
If we had supported him and today he’s back to the CPDM then… so the Cameroon political scene is very slippery and so I cannot point my finger at a particular person.
So do you have any last points Mr. Chairman? You haven’t talked about the referendum.
Yes a referendum is what we should fight for but let me tell you, if we have some cosmetic changes in the constitution of Cameroon now, it is because of the fight that the SDF put in. When I talked of the computerization of the electoral register, Marafa told me, “Yes Mr Fru Ndi we would do it but you know, garbage in garbage out”. We fought for transparent boxes etc.
So all these things are going on in Cameroon and we are still struggling to see how we can effect more changes without much damage. But when we jump into the fight with the over 4000 graves in the North West and South West, not forgetting what’s happening in Far North and other regions, they hurt me as a leader.
I have two more questions for you Mr. Chairman, some people say you destroyed the dreams of Cameroonians that you could do better. What do you have to say about that?
I didn’t destroy the dreams of Cameroonians, I stood firm as a fighter and faced Mr. Biya’s army, the Amba army and never ran away. I never abandoned Cameroonians half way. Am still on the field with them, we still have regular meetings and if anybody has anything to say, come say it openly on the floor, we are open to debates and suggestions. The SDF brought dialogue and it is that dialogue that I keep on encouraging. In one of the camps when I was abducted they said if you went to war in the 90’s we could have been free by now. I told them I knew the effects of war, and war was never the right way.
When are you coming back to Bamenda?
As soon as I am medically cleared. Am not here on a honey moon or some leisure trip. I am the only politician who in 30 years never took any form of holiday or leave for himself. I am here today not on holiday or leave, but rather because am not well. When these boys abducted me, to be fair, they never got me beaten, but they played on my head with their guns. They hit my head 5 times and with these I’m having problems and so when I came to the US, the covid19 just broke and so everything turned its attention towards fighting it. The doctors had limited time to attend to me. Back in Cameroon I want to thank the medical personnel for all they are doing to save the lives the lives of the Cameroonian people.
The government might not be doing much to appeal them but they should keep up.
Thank you so much for accepting to talk to us Chairman Ni John Fru Ndi, we hope to have you some other time to discuss other pressing issues when the need arises.
Thank you, I want to apologise to some that might have expected better answers from me, I am not on ground for sometime but my absence does not mean that I have abandoned the people. I think that I left the people in good hands and they are always ready to handle the needs of the people.
I equally want to assure everyone that the SDF will bounce back like no one ever expected. God bless you.
Thank you so much Mr. Chairman
Mimi Mefo Info