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Historians Argue Over Cameroons History: Who to believe?



Dear friends,

I was hesitating to release this letter that I have sent to Prof. Ngoh before it is published by The Post newspaper that carried his attack on me. But I have been encouraged to do so by the understanding that releasing it to you will not reduce anything from it being published for the wider public. I advise that anyone who wants to understand the origin of our disagreement and its progress should read Prof. Ngoh’s interview with the Summit Magazine of April-June 2011, then my valedictory address of 29th August (especially the tiny part that assesses Ngoh;s claims against Foncha) that The Post newspaper is presently publishing in installments, and Prof Ngoh’s reaction to the valedictory in The Post of 9th and 12th September 2011. The Post has accepted to publish this response after they have done with the valedictory.

Best wishes.
Verkijika Fanso

Professor Fanso on Professor V.J. Ngoh’s Reaction to his Valediction Address.
Dear Professor Ngoh,
Thank you very much for your reaction to the small part of my valediction that made reference to your interview published in the Summit Magazine of April-June 2011. I was hoping that you would take time to read before reacting to my assessment of your research on the issue of Dr. John Ngu Foncha and the Foumban Constitutional Conference of 1961. It should therefore not have been the “incessant calls from colleagues in-and-out of Cameroon” that “finally persuaded” you to react. I believe that if you had taken time to reflect on that tiny part of my speech and not be pushed prematurely to react, you would have made a proper and more reasonable academic response, instead of the outbursts of emotions and fallacious accusations you have levied against me in your rejoinder.

I dare say I have read both your published piece in The Post of Friday September 9th and Monday September 12th, 2011 and in the Chronicle of Monday September 12th as well as the copy you left on my table with keen attention and interest. I note that you have slightly modified the published version of the reaction. Whatever, I thank you very much for personally bringing the unprinted copy to the History Department of the University of Yaoundé 1 on Thursday 8th September 2011 to be handed to me.

I have decided to send this reaction to you through your email first before sending it to the press for public information. My decision to respond to the issues you have raised and to tell what I have gathered from my own source(s) is to help our readers to know about the argument and also as a compelling academic exercise. May be it is the spirit of Foncha that made me to read your interview and to try to put the story straight.

The Post newspaper has decided to publish my valediction, which they had from when it was delivered weeks before they published your reaction, so that those who have read your piece without the slightest idea of what you are talking about can better be informed. I am urging those who want to fully understand the origin of our disagreement to also read your interview in theSummit Magazine of April-June 2011. My interview with The Post that you are referring to was slightly jumbled up and difficult to understand; I did call the paper about it.

I equally want to let you know that the part of my speech on your negative characterization of Foncha is based only on your interview in the Summit Magazine, a reputable and popular Cameroon quarterly. In writing that speech I had no intention whatsoever of insulting you or anyone, especially as you have qualified that section as “Prof. Fanso’s academic insults on my academic reputation”. I will, in this reply, tell you and the public the little I know about the draft constitution that you say Foncha got in private and hid from his peers in Bamenda.

Whatever, you have failed in the reaction to address the issue I raised in the valediction and have instead levied unfounded accusations against me. I would have accepted your response as a scholarly exchange and left it at that, but for the fact that if I do many who have read you will not understand what it is we are talking about; they will think that your story is correct. I simply said in my speech that your oral sources are weak (too weak) and controversial for the big claim. Any scholar would accept and respect a claim that is backed by authentic evidence, by verifiable facts, even if he/she does not like the way the story is worded. I indicated some of such (local) sources that should have been ferreted in my speech. That is it.

It is definitely not the first time you and I are disagreeing in public on certain aspects of our history generally and issues concerning Anglophone Cameroon in particular. We had disagreed, if you think back, over the issue of Cameroon’s national anthem and also on this on Foncha during a PhD defence on the myths and realities of Cameroon’s national unity and integration. The candidate was arguing that the Francophone-led government of Cameroon (not the Francophones) had furnished the country with two national anthems, which did not favour national unity and integration. You disagreed vehemently that Anglophones should not keep on blaming Francophones because the English version of the anthem that differs from the French version was written by Anglophones. I tried to point out to you that you had missed the argument, that what the student was saying was that the two versions of the anthem in the same country that were approved by the Francophone-led governmentwere not helping national unity and integration, whoever produced them.

I disagreed with you during that same defence when you claimed, as you have done in the interview in the Summit Magazine that Foncha had received the draft constitution from Ahidjo in private earlier but did not present it at Bamenda. Since the candidate was my student and you (an external examiner in the jury) were insisting on your point of view and trying to impose it on him, I left it at that because I did not want us to steal the show or jeopardize his defence. The press that was present at that defence reported about our clash. Anyone who has not supervised a PhD thesis cannot know how a supervisor feels when a member of the jury is unfair or wrong in his or her criticism of a candidate’s work.

I also disagreed with you and others, in a more subtle way though, who argue that Anglophones should not cry foul against the referendum of 1972 that destroyed the Federation because Article 2 of the Foumban Constitution authorized the holding of a referendum to revise it. I say no to that argument because Article 47 of that same Constitution also states clearly that any proposal for the revision that impairs the unity and integrity of the Federation shall be inadmissible. Please read my article (online) in the Cameroon Journal on Democracy and Human Rights (CJDHR), December 2009, Volume 3, Number 2, titled “Constitutional Problems in the Construction and Legality of the Unitary State in Cameroon”. But since Ahidjo was all powerful and would not tolerate any challenge from whomever, he got away with violating and destroying the Foumban Constitution. I do not want to be carried away by the argument of many who read and discuss the works of us Anglophone historians (and we are many in colleges and universities!) that some of us write as if we have been commissioned for whatever purpose to distort or discredit the past of Southern Cameroons.

History is an interesting but delicate subject because the past we are writing about is never dead to the present and also because it is written and re-written. Whoever thinks that the dead do not bite and that the past is gone for good does not think history.

You have said several times in your reactions (written and oral) that I should have asked you to provide evidence of what you have published or said about Dr. John Ngu Foncha instead of raising the issue in public. If I did that in private, how would it help those who have read your published interview and other works on the matter? They would all think that all the historians have agreed with you would they not? Many keep on accusing us (historians) of distorting the history of this country because we never criticize ourselves or each other. When I disagreed with you over this matter during the defence referred to above, you did not provide any concrete evidence except that you had interviewed some reliable persons who knew what happened. It was proper for me this time after your edited interview to bring it up in my talk to students as a research problem. I am still not satisfied with your answer. If the issue was raised in Cameroon from a Federal to a Unitary State, 1961-1972: A Critical Study (2004) that you edited and I approved for UB funding without criticizing it, it was a gross oversight and I regret.

I have not said anywhere in my valedictory speech that you did not interview S.T. Muna, N.N. Mbile and Moussa Yaya. Read it over again. What I have said is this, that I doubt that S.T. Muna would have told you in 1990 that Dr. John Ngu Foncha, or Foncha and him as accomplice (because you say the two were bribed with high governmental positions, one to be VP and the other to be Minister), received the draft constitution from La Republique in private and hid it from his/their peers at the Bamenda Conference. After this clarification, my question is, are you therefore asking me to see Barister Akere Muna to confirm that his father told you what you say he did or that he should confirm (what I have not contested) that you actually interviewed his father? I have also said that Mbile might have said what you say he did for the reason given in my speech. May be Moussa Yaya told you that he was present at one of the Ahidjo-Foncha private meetings when Ahidjo gave the document to Foncha and that he, the informant, later learnt that Foncha hid it from his peers. But that is not what you have said. That is why I have used doubt and perhaps to qualify the possible answers the three informants gave to your questions. Interviewing an informant and reporting exactly what the informant said, especially after he/she has died, are different things.

Incidentally, I was already in college in 1960 and fully aware of the politics of reunification and integration and was on Mbile’s side against reunification, after P.M. Kale’s bid for the independence of Southern Cameroons was turned down. I have never regretted to this day that I was against the reunification of Cameroon. When asked recently on CRTV how I would react if the hands of the clock were to be turned back to the time of the plebiscite, I responded that I would still argue for the independence of Southern Cameroons and nothing else. Perhaps N.N. Mbile had changed his mind and was regretting about the past; I have not changed mine. So if I was simply writing in support of the person who was opposed to reunification like me, it should be Mbile, not Foncha. Remember my dear professor that we are dealing with the past that is still with us and also with someone’s character and reputation. See how angrily and emotionally you have reacted to an academic criticism that you call “academic insults” on your reputation!

If you have not been told, I am telling you today that many who have read your interview in the Summit Magazine talk bitterly and negatively about it. It was the talk that urged me to acquire the magazine and read the interview, and I decided to take just a tiny bit of your very negative portrayal of the statesman to discuss as a research problem in my farewell address to students. There are a few other things that you have refuted in that same interview without remorse that you yourself had raised and claimed to be facts, without saying that you had been misinformed by your earlier source(s) on the matter. An example is what you now say is not true, that the Fon of Bali was made to carry Endeley’s bag in London an act, you had said, that infuriated the Grassfields people to vote against Endeley and his KNC. I hope that someday you will also come back to some of the negative things you have written and said about Foncha without proper evidence, especially this on the hiding of the draft constitution.

Your coming back from the US with a PhD and being at my defence (not as member of jury) are irrelevant to the discussion. Whatever, it is the pride of many teachers including me to see their students rise and prosper and achieve. You know very well that I always encouraged you to publish and change your grade from Lecturer (Assistant) to Senior Lecturer, then to Associate Professor and finally to Professor. Incidentally I was selected as full professor with others in the last two cases to evaluate/assess your application file for promotion. You have also risen administratively to the highest or near-highest academic post at the university. Yet I continued (not only as your teacher and senior colleague in age and grade) to be proud instead of jealous of you, as you seem to insinuate. I even sent you congratulations from afar when you climbed to the position of Registrar at UB, did I not Professor?

Indicating earlier publications and other sources without citing or paraphrasing what each says on the issue of Foncha privately receiving and hiding the draft constitution is unhelpful to the discussion. This is particularly so because the public might not know or have easy access to those published sources. But, if Willard Johnson was the first to say the same thing before you, why claim that you first said it in 1990? Why not give him that credit and use his work as an additional source?

Let me come now to what I have gathered from a more authentic source about Foncha and the draft constitution from La Republique before the Bamenda and Foumban Conferences. Yes, Ahidjo did give the Foncha Government (not Foncha alone in private) constitutional proposals in June 1961 at Buea after a tripartite meeting involving his government, Foncha’s government and the British administration. These proposals that favoured a much centralized system of federal government were later discussed by the Foncha Cabinet in consultation with a certain Smith (British) and counter proposals were produced for the Bamenda Conference, “which adhere[d] very closely to the form of Federal Constitution published by Foncha immediately prior to the plebiscite”. The British were of the opinion that there would be fireworks in Bamenda over the Ahidjo and the Buea proposals. Yes, Foncha and Muna did hold private discussion with Ahidjo after that tripartite about the form of Federal Government and security matters after re-unification during which Ahidjo told them he could not open the door to large constitutional changes in La Republique but that he would “suitably enlarge … the Government on the 1st of October” to constitute the Federal Government. He told them that a “new Government of Eastern Cameroon could be formed in due course”. Ahidjo promised that he was going to leave a place in that enlarged government for Foncha as Vice President and Muna as Minister; that A.N. Jua would then become Prime Minister in the Southern Cameroons and the other Ministers could hope to retain their portfolios. News of this private discussion soon spread in Buea and Yaoundé and the One Kamerun (OK) party was strongly opposed to Ahidjo resuming full powers in Southern Cameroons, fearing he would immediately eliminate the party. All these things happened and were known before the Bamenda and Foumban Conferences.

I thought Professor that a specialist like you on Foncha and the Foumban Constitution, who has kept “abreast with new scientific discoveries, newly de-classified documents, new publications and new sources of evidence,” unlike me who has failed “to keep abreast” with them, would have had this information from the PRO (Public Records Office, now British National Archives) to use as authentic evidence in your interviews and writings. Since you did not know the source, I will help you. The information is contained in a secret inward telegram after the tripartite from the Commissioner of Southern Cameroons to the Secretary of State for the Colonies (CO.554/2188) in the United Kingdom and dated 26th June 1961. My question to you now is whether or not you are talking about the same or different constitutional proposals that Foncha got in private from Ahidjo and refused to table at Bamenda? Is this the same Muna you claim informed you that Foncha (and possibly himself) received the proposals but refused to show to his/their peers in Bamenda? Are Ahidjo’s proposals that Foncha would be VP and Muna Minister what you call bribes?

Coming back to another source you have made reference to, I met Malcolm Milne in person in 1996 when I was a Fellow at the University of Oxford. I held many discussions with him on the issue of Cameroon reunification and told him clearly that they, the British, produced bogus and much distorted information about the Southern Cameroons economy in order to persuade the United Nations not to grant the territory independence in its own right and also to force its inhabitants to vote in favour of integration with Nigeria. I wanted to know from him why they thought it was proper to terminate their administration of British Cameroon generally and Southern Cameroons in particular by going against both the UN Charter and the colonial understanding that every colonized people should be granted independence at the end of colonization. I also said that the British did not like Foncha at all and called him names because he had stolen the show and taken Southern Cameroons away from Nigeria into re-unification against their wish. He found it difficult to refute some of the things and to convince me with his defensive arguments. We continued to talk about Cameroon on the few occasions we were together during that fellowship and he even chaired my presentation on “Anglophone and Francophone Nationalisms in Cameroon” that has since been published inThe Round Table: the Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs in 1999. Malcolm Milne was a very wonderful and friendly person, open-minded and nice. I also read his book and was hoping to discuss some issues in it with him the next time I was in the UK, but unfortunately he passed on before I was again there to meet him.

About not interviewing Foncha, I expected you to tell our readers that you went to his home several times but that he refused to grant you an interview. Making only one attempt on the day he was about his own business was not enough. Considering the magnitude of the question you wanted to ask him, you should have made several attempts. A researcher goes to the informant at the convenience of the informant, not at the convenience of the researcher!

How can you deny saying that you did not say in that interview that Foncha was corrupt? Even a primary school child knows that whoever accepts or gives a bribe is corrupt! It is as simple as that. You say it clearly that Foncha was selfish and unskillful in his discussions with Ahidjo because of the bribe, which made him not to take the interests of the people of Southern Cameroons into consideration. Please, revisit your own interview in the Summit Magazine.

What has my coming from Nso’ and travelling ever so often to Nso’ through the kingdom of the Fon of Mankon, Angwafor III, got to do with the fact that “No Southern Cameroonian participant at the Constitutional Conference declared … that Foncha had received but refused to show them the document….”? Are you asking me now to go and ask the Fon of Mankon to tell me in 2011 (for your own sake) what he did not say after Foumban in 1961? I think it is you, not I, who has researched on the matter who should go to the Mankon monarch. As for my interview with Foncha in the 1980s, I certainly would have raised the question of his hiding the draft constitution with him if you had raised that controversy then.

Someone who continues to research and publish and to work with research students at all levels, from the Masters to the PhD, even at retirement, cannot be said to have suddenly gotten up “from academic slumber … as if he has been paid to defend a cause or people or as if he wants to take care of his retirement.” If you do not know, I just returned from a six-month research fellowship at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom where I was working on a totally different aspect of our Anglophone Cameroon history. In any event, I cannot and will never accept a bribe or commission to falsify history. Only those who are desperate for something and are commissioned to write defamatory history can do so. I am definitely not desperate for anything and have no overbearing desire or ambition to accept such a commission. Your statement that I am possibly writing for whatever to take care of my retirement is therefore misguided! We see some of such people who have been very critical of our present administration for failing to do this or do that now struggling to have a political base and to be members of the ruling party at all cost, when nothing at all has changed. What reasons do such people give for their change of mind?

I like to state once again that I used my farewell speech to point out a research problem to students and researchers. The controversial item was only a tiny part of the valediction, not a paper on you and Foncha. Everyone will see that my speech was not entirely on you when The Post newspaper has done with the installments.

I like to conclude by saying that our disagreement in this and other aspects of Cameroon history should not turn us into enemies. I do not wish to have enemies in my old age when I did not have them in my youth. I still respect you as a scholar and researcher and hope that, God willing; you will someday be humble enough to accept a simple academic criticism as an aspect of scholarship, without insulting retired professors. Although you have annoyingly harped much and for too long on this issue of Foncha and the draft constitution, I surely recognize that you have also written and published on other matters. You seem to forget or are not aware of one important thing. Throughout the time their territory was administered as an integral part of Nigeria, Southern Cameroons nationalists and politicians believed that politics was a game of interests and commitments, not a game of deceit and violation of solemn accords as they were to learn at their cost after the plebiscite and re-unification. I hope that the revelations you say are in your new publication do not turn out to be anything but history that enriches and illuminates our past, not betrayals. You should not forget Professor that sooner or later you too will be another ‘retired, tired and dangerous professor’!

V.G. Fanso

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