THE MINISTER’S DAUGHTER
Much ink will for ever flow on the snap and unexpected resignation of Cameroon’s first president, Ahmadou Ahidjo, in 1982. It was spontaneous because it was sudden; and unexpected because hardly anyone could have thought of such an eventuality, really. Not only had Ahidjo led his country to independence, but he had actually ruled it uninterrupted for twenty four years. Just before it happened, he had had the constitution changed so that it would no longer be the President of the National Assembly (at the time Solomon Tandeng Muna) to succeed him in case of departure, but the prime minister who at the time was Paul Biya.
A nation in stupor
Ahidjo’s resignation plunged the Cameroonian nation into a state of shock and the entire world into a state of doubt and uncertainty. Nevertheless, his “constitutional successor” took over the reigns of power and did what he could with what he had. This was quite significant because in his lifetime, Ahidjo had not really groomed anyone for successorship whom the world could guess would take over. Even when Paul Biya was prime minister, he was really only what some referred to as “le premier des ministres”, which means “the first of ministers”, and not the head of government. So he could not really order other ministers around.
The president is gone, long live the president
One of the moves the new president took to consolidate his position was that he dispatched top level teams to key countries around the world to explain to the Cameroonian community, what was going on in the country. Indirectly, of course, the idea was to cast him in a good and favorable light.
I was a student in France when the team arrived, having at its head, Felix Sabal Lecco and as a member, Minister of State Emmanuel Egbe Tabi. We received them at a hotel in the northern French city of Lille. The delegation received very tough questions from us, especially as they all seemed to be condemning Ahidjo so blindly, although they had served as ministers under him. When we asked Saba Lecco whether that was fair, he responded: “Si vous étiez à ma place, qu’est-ce que vous auriez fait?” which means, “If you were in my place, what would you have done?” When we asked them whether it was right for Biya to have his own former boss, the president of the Republic, sentenced to death in absentia, Sabal Lecco said he preferred to hand the microphone to Egbe Tabi to answer the question because the latter was a lawyer. The “lawyer” did not say much on the subject apart from the fact that since the matter was now in court, it would be inappropriate to discuss it.
An unusual offer from the minister
At the end of the exchange, we had light refreshments during which I walked up to the minister, told him who I was and said his daughter Maggie Enow Ebai Egbe (today an accomplished medical doctor) and I had been classmates in CCAST Bambili. What the minister said after that introduction was totally startling. He tapped me on the shoulder and said excitedly: “So, why don’t you come back home and get married to my daughter?” Before I could respond, the guests were ushered out of the hotel conference hall because it was time to go.
Believe it or not, the minister’s question overshadowed the object of that meeting. It suddenly relegated to second place the successorship of Ahidjo by Biya as well as the preoccupying future of my dear country. At the same time, the minister’s appeal raised a thousand and one questions in my mind: By “my daughter”, did he mean my classmate, Maggie or another daughter? Did he have any other daughters or was he joking? If it was Maggie, did it mean she had no fiancé? Why did he think I would want to get married to my own classmate and age mate? Was it normal that after meeting me for the very first time, he could hand me his own daughter on a platter of gold? What is more, I had not even asked him for his daughter’s hand.
Honestly, these questions have tormented and taunted me all these years. There are even times when I blame myself for not saying ”yes” to my would-be father-in-law.
So, “si vous etiez à ma place, qu’est-ce que vous auriez fait?”.