By Jacob Nguni. Musician, Close friend of Lapiro
Before December 31, 1989, Mr. John Fru Ndi was a relatively unknown bookseller in the town of Bamenda. His name meant nothing to the common Cameroonian out of the township of Bamenda. On that particular night of December 31, 1989, Mr. John Fru Ndi most probably did not know what destiny had in store for him, politically speaking. He had been a CNU member and was still inkling with the same CNU that had metamorphosed into the CPDM a few years back right there in the town of Bamenda.
Somewhere in Cameroon on that same day, December 31, 1989, a prominent musician going by the stage name Lapiro de Mbanga was preparing for a huge New Year’s eve concert in downtown Douala, 192 miles away from Bamenda. It would be none of Mr. John Fru Ndi’s business as he, like many other “responsible” Cameroonians at the time, was not really connected with the type of music that Lapiro was known for and surtout the type of language of the so-labeled dregs of society that was medium of communication between Lapiro and his millions of fans of “low-class” folks around the country.
On the night of December 31, 1989, while Lapiro was busy on stage singing about the plight of the poor and the downtrodden in our country, Mr. John Fru Ndi was getting ready to go to bed after 2 or 3 cups of overnight mbu that he had gulped down at a small obscure house party with his fellow mbu drinkers to usher in the New Year 1990. On that night Mr. John Fru and Lapiro had nothing in common, had never met before and had no plans to meet as both of them were full strangers to one another with the only difference being that Mr. John Fru Ndi must have surely heard about Lapiro whereas Lapiro surely knew nothing about John Fru Ndi on this particular night.
Come January 1, 1990 and beyond, the political wind of change that started sweeping across Africa got hold of Cameroon and many things began to happen. From nowhere emerged a political party known as the SDF with a relatively unknown John Fru Ndi as the chairman. The grapevine had it that the founders of the SDF were staunched members of the CPDM who took to the back seat in the beginning and shunned the position of chairman because they feared reprisals from the Y’de regime. This fear of reprisals by the staunch founding fathers is what led to the bold but unprepared Mr. John Fru Ndi to be (s)elected as the pioneer, cum self proclaimed “life”, chairman of the SDF.
Be it as it may, the launching of the SDF in Bamenda was greeted with some hostility by the Y’de regime and the fact that Mr. John Fru Ndi was chairman left the Y’de regime consternated as they could not figure out who John Fru Ndi was and why he was chosen as Chairman. This confusion is what led the government to go back to the drawing board to find out those who were actually calling the shots in the SDF and the void created by this inaction on the part of the government gave room for the SDF to find its feet on the ground.
However, the SDF started making waves and came to be accepted as a party to be reckoned with. That notwithstanding, this was also the time that the UNDP led by former P.M. Bello Bouba and the UDC led by Mr. Ndam Njoya were rising to prominence. These two political opposition parties were up there and the regime was not taking any chances. At this precise moment, the Y’de regime was focused on the UNDP and the UDC because their chairmen were men of substance and also former close collaborators of the chairman of the ruling CPDM party. A name like John Fru Ndi was not seen as a threat to the regime as such despite the fact that death had occurred in the streets of Bamenda during its launching.
At that time in 1990, Lapiro de Mbanga had more supporters than all the political parties combined including the CPDM. Lapiro had risen to become the voice of the voiceless and the real champion of change in Cameroon. Whereas the UNDP had a northern Cameroon tone to its structure, the UDC with a Noun departmental tone to its structure, the UPC with a Bassa tone to its structure and finally the SDF with a graffi tone to its structure, Lapiro’s constituency cut across tribal lines.
Yes, Lapiro’s constituency cut across the length and breath of Cameroon defying all tribal connotations. Lapiro’s constituency had no constitution. Lapiro’s constituency had no NEC. Lapiro’s constituency had no political setup or organigram. Lapiro’s constituency had o treasurer. Lapiro’s constituency had no attorneys at law. Lapiro’s constituency had no offices. Lapiro’s constituency had no chairman.
Lapiro’s constituency was the people. Lapiro’s constituency was the downtrodden. Lapiro’s constituency was the poor. Lapiro’s constituency was the abused and denigrated. Lapiro’s constituency looked up to him as the messiah for change. They revered Lapiro. They loved him. They liked him. They loved his music. And in his music, they found their lost dignity or whatever was left of it. Lapiro became the man who could make or mar anyone in the opposition. He became the first to have the last say. By default, Lapiro became the kingmaker.
It was for all the above reasons that on the onset of multiparty politics in Cameroon in 1990, which was more than 5 years after Lapiro had been on the scene as the only voice of the voiceless, all the opposition political parties is Cameroon did all their underground biddings to get Lapiro’s endorsement. That is what it was and nobody can deny this fact. He who was going to win Lapiro’s endorsement was surely going to outshine the others and carry the day. At the end of the day, the SDF party won Lapiro’s endorsement and the SDF party moved from being a basically graffi entity to a powerful national party.
By consequence, Mr. John Fru Ndi who had now assumed the title of “Ni” John Fru Ndi became the direct beneficiary of Lapiro’s endorsement putting him ahead of renowned political power horses like Bouba Bello Maigari of the UNDP, Ndam Njoya of the UDC and whoever that Bassa fellow was of the tattered UPC. The SDF rose to prominence as all Lapiro’s supporters became members of the SDF and Ni John Fru Ndi became the symbol of Cameroon’s opposition overnight without lifting a Ib.
There is no Cameroonian out there who can remember on thing that Fru Ndi said he would do differently if voted to power. No internal or external policies were ever tabled or sold by the SDF. “SDF, Power” is all that was echoed and reechoed and still being reechoed to this day that it has become a cracked record. That is what I meant by Fru Ndi becoming what he became without lifting a pound. I cannot hate myself for being a member of the SDF at that time because we all thought that anything was better than the CPDM. We were wrong and regrettably so wrong.
Anyway, I do not want to go into that which transpired between 1990 and the time Lapiro suffered persecution from members of the opposition and the state security service jointly and severally. For now, I will also skip the role that opposition leaders played in that saga. All that will be dealt with at some point. I do not also want to go into what led to Lapiro’s incarceration that subsequently became the beginning of his imminent demise. Let me not even get into the deportment and/or reaction of our so-called opposition political leaders when the verdict of 3 years was handed down.