The abolition of the federal system in Cameroon which took effect in 1972 through a pseudo-referendum organized by president Ahidjo did not come about abruptly. Ahidjo with the help of French political and constitutional experts took systematic steps to slowly but surely eradicate any iota of Anglo-Saxon system of governance in a French prone colony.
In view of the Foumban constitutional meeting, history tells us that it was sought after by the West Cameroon delegation to achieve a Bi-camera legislature, maintain their House of chiefs, maintain their education and judicial systems and achieve a rotative presidency.
However, after the conference in Foumban, it happened that the west Cameroon aspirations did not match with that of Ahidjo who had pre-planned for a unitary state in Cameroon after reunification. Meet Joseph B. EBUNE, lecturer at the Department of History University of Buea, Cameroon. In the foregoing paragraphs, he gives a succinct narrative on how events unfolded from a federal structure in 1961 to a unitary state in 1972. Now ware your lenses and take a cup of coffee.
The creation of administrative regions
Immediately after reunification, Ahidjo in a bit to weaken the federal structure governing mechanism issued Decree No. 61-DF-15 of 20 October 1961 which specified that the federation should be divided into administrative regions with federal inspectors in each administrative region accountable to the federal President.
As stated above, the federal inspectors were responsible for representing the federal government in all acts of civil life and in judicial matters. The administrative regions were Centre, South, North, West, East, Littoral and West Cameroon.
They were to supervise the enforcement of federal laws and regulations, to maintain order according to the laws and regulations in force by making use of the police force and gendarmerie. The appointment and empowerment of federal inspectors ignored the federal nature of the country and in the case of West Cameroon, Jean Claude Ngoh considered himself the equal to the Prime Minister.
The fact that the Federal Inspectors were answerable to the President meant that by law they had more powers than those of the Prime Ministers especially in the case of West Cameroon. The outcome was constant friction over jurisdiction between top officials.
This was why in 1962, the West Cameroon government wrote to Ahidjo complaining about a number of issues like administrative organization, official languages and the national gendarmerie. Ahidjo in his reply noted that all of these were within the confines of the federal constitution (Secret 324/CF/CABB/PR).
The failure by Foncha to ensure the creation of a loose federation which he had promised Southern Cameroonians was reflected in his inability to secure a revision of the clause which dealt with federal administration.
This failure made the centre stronger than the governments of the federated states meaning that the state of West Cameroon did not enjoy any benefits of federalism. One area in which Ahidjo asserted his ambition to stifle the federal system in West Cameroon was in the function of political parties.
Multiparty politics operated in the two states before the 11 February 1961 plebiscite. In West Cameroon, the KNDP was the party in power while Dr. E.M.L. Endeley’s CPNC was the opposition party in parliament. By the end of June 1961, Ahidjo had succeeded in planting a de-facto one party in East Cameroon and what remained of his political agenda of centralization of power was the replication of this regime in West Cameroon. The CPNC was a staunch advocate of multipartyism, but the state of affairs led it to change its political stance for a single party.
One of its parliamentarians, S.N. Agebe Sone, during a parliamentary debate observed that the state was passing through a difficult period and added that West Cameroon was filled with depression, confusion, and general discontent arising from politics (West Cameroon Government Press Release, 1963).
He noted with dissatisfaction that recruitment and promotion in the civil service were based on party loyalty rather than academic qualification; the result was inefficiency, favoritism, bribery and corruption by the people themselves.
In this regard, the CPNC felt that only a single party regime would ensure its survival. Endeley then became more enthusiastic for a single party state believing that this would enable him to play a meaningful and constructive role in national politics.
Within the ranks of the KNDP, the struggle for the leadership of that party since Foncha had to move to Yaounde as Vice president had its own sad story. S.T. Muna’s bid to become the Vice President of the KNDP ended in Augustine Ngom Jua’s victory with Nzo-Ekha Ngaky as Secretary General of the party (Ngoh, 1996). Muna resigned and formed the Cameroon United Congress Party with headquarters in Victoria (now Limbe).
The outcome of Muna’s resignation from the KNDP was that political uncertainty stepped in. Against this background, Ahidjo exploited these differences to form a one-party system of government. He came knocking at the doors of West Cameroon with the vision of a single party which the party leaders did not hesitate to buy.
The fear of an Endeley-Ahidjo alliance led Foncha’s KNDP to accept the formation of a KNDPUC “National Coordination Committee” on 27 April 1962 to work out ways by which a national party could be created (West Cameroon Government Press Release, 1962).
This move suited Ahidjo’s political ambition because of his fear of a possible merger between the KNDP and any of the Southern opposition parties in East Cameroon. After years of political discussions, Ahidjo’s desire to concentrate power in a few hands bore fruit when in June 1966, he called a meeting of political leaders in West Cameroon. With this favorable political atmosphere, Ahidjo succeeded to force through a constitutional referendum in May 1972. From research, Africaninfolook came across this:
“The proposals which were submitted to the attention of the voters on this famous 20 May 1972 were recovered. The first option is in French: “Approuvez-vous dans le but de consolider l’unité nationale et d’accélérer le développement économique, social et culturel de la nation, le projet de constitution soumis au peuple camerounais par le président de la République fédérale du Cameroun et instituant une République, une et indivisible, sous la dénomination de République unie du Cameroun ?”.
The second proposal on the same ballot paper is indeed a translation from French to English or vice-versa. We can read on the document: “Do you approve, with a view to consolidating national unity and accelerating the economic, social and cultural development of the Nation, the draft Constitution submitted to the People of Cameroon by the President of the Federal Republic of Cameroon and instituting a Republic one and indivisible to be styled the United Republic of Cameroon”. (S. Andzongo, 2016)
On the voting day, voters had access to one unique ballot box and were proposed to choose between “Yes” and “Oui”. At the end of the referendum, out of a total of 3,179,634 voters, the “Yes” won with 3,177,846 votes (99.99%). The “No” garnered 176 votes (0.01%). There were 1,612 blank ballots. 20 May then became the national holiday in tribute to this referendum.
Nfi Joseph Lon, one of Cameroon’s iconic historian in his book titled. “The Dismantling of the Cameroon Federation in 1972: The Petroleum Factor” concludes by saying that
Several political and economic arguments were advanced to justify the 1972 “revolution”. The most publicized and most pronounced by Ahidjo were the economic arguments especially the high cost of running the federation with its three governments and four assemblies…. The abolition of the boundary between West and East Cameroon in 1972 was therefore intended to keep Cameroon united at a time when West Cameroon could secede from the federation because of its new oil wealth. This objective fitted squarely in Ahidjo’s grand desire, that of establishing a centralized and totalitarian regime in Cameroon.