A video has emerged online in which then opposition member and current Minister of Communication, Issa Tchiroma, makes some relevant truths about political events between 1992 and 2004 in Cameroon. In the video, Tchiroma is heard confirming the victory of candidate Fru Ndi during the 1992 Presidential election but which results were ruled to the favour of incumbent Paul Biya by the country’s Supreme Court.
Recounting the political dilemma of the time to his BBC interviewer, Tchiroma said, in 1992, Cameroon was facing very big chances of a civil war in the event of an opposition victory or safe legality by maintaining Biya. “We had to choose legality and not legitimacy just to safe Cameroon from war.” He said. Legitimacy to him meant giving the election to Fru Ndi, largely considered to be the winner of the election. But to avoid war, he said, legality, that is, maintaining the Supreme Court ruling that Biya was the winner was the option to save the country from a civil war.
Tchiroma’s interview also focused on the famous “Grand North Memo” signed by some elites from that geographical area at the time, decrying the marginalization of their area. Tchiroma confirmed in the interview to be one of the signatories of the memo. Justifying the memo on grounds that the Grand North is the most marginalized area in Cameroon and that “everything is done to please the people of the South.”
Blaming the government for lack of political will to develop the Grand North, Tchiroma alleged that the marginalization of his area was payback by Paul Biya for the 1982 coup d’état that almost unseated him. In the
interview, the then opposition leader warned in firm terms that if care wasn’t taken, a rebellion would arise from the Grand North as the people were highly frustrated and feeling abandoned.
The interview also touched on the 2004 Presidential election where Tchiroma and other opposition politicians had formed a coalition to oust Paul Biya. In the video, he says he presented a plan of what was to happen had the coalition won. “The plan involved a three year transitional period,” he said.
Referring to the 1982 transition from Ahidjo to Biya, Tchiroma exclaimed, “I couldn’t believe Ahidjo was going to resign because I knew him personally and there was no sign to show that he was going to resign. When Mr. Biya came to power, I was really delighted because under Ahidjo we were in a dictatorship; we were deprived of the right of speaking out.” He added.
Tchiroma said his hopes were high when he heard that Biya, an intellectual was coming into office, but he was later on disappointed as a machinery was put in place to annihilate the Northerners. When asked to compare the Biya and Ahidjo regimes, he laughs before saying “the difference is that today there is freedom to speak out because they fought for it. Mr. Biya did not give us freedom out of his generosity, Cameroonians fought for it.”
Tchiroma also lamented the fact that Biya has failed to repatriate Ahidjo’s corpse to Cameroon, adding that “Biya has to transcend lines because he is the President for all…Cameroon is not his private property,” he said.
Since the interview was aired on the eve of 2004 presidential election, he was asked whether he wasn’t afraid of another landslide victory for Biya. His response; “It is paradoxical for Mr. Biya to say he is elected by a majority of 80% when even people in his own area are fed up with him.”
Tchiroma who later radically switched sides and went to bed with same Biya’s regime cannot today make same pronouncements because of the luxury of the cabinet position – that of Minister of Communication that he now sits on. However, his remarks about the marginalization of the Grand North makes sense if one considers the embrace of Boko Haram by some of the youths in the area at the offer of meagre sums owing to the high rate of unemployment and infrastructural neglect in the community.
The Marginalization that goes on in the Grand North, however, pales in comparism to what obtains in the Southern Cameroons and serves as prove of lack of political will from the Biya government to change the living conditions of a majority of Cameroonians.