Professor Ephraim Ngwafor was recently voted president general of SOBA Cameroon in hotly contested, dramatic elections in Sasse college, Buea. His opponent, Buea based lawyer John Kameni and some of his supporters walked out of the elections after they failed to get the electoral commission accept proxy votes.
Following his elections, Prof Ngwafor (a class 1965 SOBA) says he has very ambitious projects he hopes to implement during his 3 year presidency, from designing a state of the art website to making the SOBA brand economically sustainable.
Shortly after his elections, he paid a brief private visit to the UK where he met some SOBA UK Exco branch members. In this engaging first interview as SOBA Cameroon president, he outlines some of his dreams for rebranding SOBA and recalls with nostalgia, his old sporting days in Sasse.
He spoke to Francis Ngwa
Q You were recently elected national president of Sasse Old Boys Association SOBA, the oldest secondary school in Cameroon. What was your initial reaction following your elections?
Well, I was very humbled. Sasse college is one of the best colleges in the country and anybody who is asked to run an organisation that emanates from an Alma mater like St Joseph’s college Sasse will feel humbled and privileged. I also think it is challenging because before one gets to the end of the road, he must be able to leave some footprints which will identify his time here.
Q What are the immediate challenges you have identified that you will need to get quickly off the ground?
We are thinking of creating a state of the art website where we will be able to connect Ex students wherever they are in the world today. You will remember SOBA is made up of only a few people who left Sasse. I will try as much as I possibly can to whip up enthusiasm so that we get as many ex students as possible to join SOBA so that it becomes a big big organisation. In that connection, I am thinking of things that will make us economically strong. I am thinking of starting a credit Union, I am thinking of an insurance company. Those are some of the things which immediately spring to mind but you know that the outgoing president did a good job and preserved land which Dr Ashu Balimba bought, so why not a SOBA house? And why not make sure that what he has done concerning the 75th anniversary we continue from there so that we would have a beautiful story to tell come December next year.
Q You have just mentioned that some of the ex students who left Sasse are not members of SOBA and so there must be a reason for this. Everybody must not necessarily belong to an organisation but there are problems in SOBA that are stopping some people from joining the organisation. What will you be doing…
(Cuts in)No, no, no, young man, let me tell you something. When SOBA started, not everybody joined. That is just to show you that, its like when some people go in for elections, others sit on the fence, they don’t even know where they belong. You have to encourage them. You have to ask them to read section 5 of our constitution. Let them see the rationale, the raison d’etre, the values that Sasse college inculcated in all of us. After graduation, everybody goes his own way but there comes a time when you need to remind yourself, remind your neighbour, remind those who are far off that behold, take care, where are we coming from? It is not everybody who does that, some people are supposed to do that for others. You need to get many more people interested. For now, I will blame nobody. My job and that of my team will be to try to whip as much enthusiasm as we possibly can and to remind people what Sasse college has done for us and let us use that as a springboard to get to higher heights.
Q Again, it is a good thing you mention whipping up enthusiasm but your election itself was very eventful and divisive. I understand that Barrister Kameni whom you defeated walked out of the hall in protest. What went wrong that what should have been uneventful elections became so dramatic?
No, no, listen, I am a lawyer. The young man who stood against me is also a lawyer. In constitutional law, you apply the law as it is. If you want to apply the law as it ought to be, then you should make an attempt to have it changed.The constitution of SOBA does not provide for Proxys. I want you to get that very clear. 115 people leave Bamenda, Douala, Yaounde with all the risk, they come to Buea and those who are in Buea, do not make the small effort to come to Sasse college. You want to have proxies, 300 proxies. Absentees will have to elect the president of SOBA. I think that is a travesty of justice. I think common sense dictates that those who were there should vote. You said he walked out, some people came back and didn’t vote for him so it was not a landslide walkout. This is not what I want us to do now. I want us to forget the past.
Let him come and join us. I am thinking of a big SOBA, I am thinking of everybody joining us so that we can work for SOBA. It is not a personal thing. Let me tell you something young man, I have accepted to join SOBA because I want to do some sacrifice. It takes time and money so you should never imagine that one day I will say they reimburse this sum of money because I have driven from Yaounde to Bamenda or Buea to Yaounde, or even to come to Europe. I will use my own money for that. That is why I do hold the view that those who were not happy, it was because our constitution has a few holes. I am going to write to all the chapters and ask that let us review the constitution and see what we can change so that we can have flawless elections if there is such a thing.
Q A lawyer yourself, what other things do you think need to be changed in the SOBA constitution?
I am not going to do that. People should be left to make contributions to change it. There is going to be an extravaganza of ideas coming from me as a lawyer if I had to propose changes. I will like other Sobans with various professional backgrounds to make contributions so that we can see what needs to be changed.
Q I have spoken to Sobans here in the UK, in the US and in Cameroon and I understand the reason for all the drama during the elections was because there is a 500 Million FCFA budget for projects in relation to the 75th anniversary celebrations. Do you think that was the problem?
You will be surprised to hear that it is only in Sasse college that I heard that there is such a budget for the 75th anniversary. That really does not interest me at all and I doubt if they will be able to raise a budget like that for an anniversary celebration. If there are projects to carry out, then that is fine. That is a very large sum of money.There are many projects that could be carried out in the college. Look at the dormitories, look at the sick bay etc. I never attended any meeting concerning the 75th anniversary. It is only there that I heard about a budget for the anniversary.
Q Lets step back in time. When you were in Sasse college, in which dormitory were you and what do you still remember of your time there?
The famous St Kitts. We won all the cups. I loved sports a lot. In form two, I became the college goalkeeper. I broke my wrist. I broke my shoulder in Sasse college because of my love for football and my love for Sasse college. You know what dragged me to Sasse college? The college band. They came to play in Victoria (now Limbe) and when I saw them, I decided to go to Sasse.
While in form two, I was in the college team. One fine day, Father Flinn came and declared that I was the new college goalkeeper. I was twelve or thirteen then, you will not believe it and I didn’t do a bad job. I played for St Kitts, we won many cups and I also played for the college team. I played lawn tennis and was champion. I also played table tennis and volleyball. In fact, I spent a lot of my time in Sasse playing.
Q You left Sasse in 1970 and recently were in the school again and probably visited the same St Kitts dormitory you stayed in during your time in the college. It’s the same structures you slept in almost fifty years ago. Don’t you think there is a problem with the structures of that college now?
I left Sasse and Cameroon soon after the elections and took the next plane to England because I had a meeting here. I visited St Kitts and to be honest, there is congestion there. I guess if they are talking of a budget of 500 million FCFA, it is to resolve some of those problems. Even as president general of SOBA, I cannot go and dictate to the school authorities. I must source my information from students, from teachers and others and after I get that information, I will be able to go and see the proprietor of Sasse and make proposals for changes. I know his Lordship Bishop Bushu is a very smart man who is open minded. I have a passion for Sasse. I don’t know what will have happened to me if I didn’t go to Sasse college.
Everything I learnt from that place has molded my life. From the university of Yaounde to Canada to London, I always heard that backdrop, that silent voice coming from Father Cunningham, that silent voice coming from Father Flinn and all the other principals; I am who I am today because I went to Sasse college.
Q While in the UK, you met some SOBA UK branch members. What were your discussions with them about?
Well, they have never met any presid ent general of SOBA face to face so it was a good occasion. We talked about the usual issues, what were their dreams, how could we work together and we also talked about the fact that Europe now has a vice president. We are all ready to work because we are all ready to serve. Shupo Francis is a very dynamic man, so too is Joki Manga. These are people I will be working with for the good of SOBA including those in America.
Q You will be running the mother branch in Cameroon but there are SOBA branches all around the world with the most visible being those in the UK and the US. I have spoken with some SOBA UK members who just think those running SOBA Uk are very dynamic but they have been running the organisation since 2004 and some changes are necessary now. How do you intend to handle issues like this as SOBA president general?
No, no. That is not my concern. The chapters are independent and very powerful and can even dismiss people from the organisation even though you have a right of appeal. When we do carry out the revisions in the constitution of SOBA, we hope that the chapters will follow suit. That is what I can tell you. I hope they follow our example.
Q How different do you think SOBA Cameroon chapter will be by the time your three years mandate ends?
Young man, I cannot play God. I have not even seen the documents. When I go back, documents will be handed to me and we will start having meetings, making resolutions. We need to start working together because that is the only way we can succeed.
Q Any final message to SOBANS around the world?
I want to greet all Sobans. I want to tell them we are people of good faith. We want everybody to come together to build Sasse. We need the ideas of everybody. They should not come in as spoilers. They should come in as builders.