Forever Chairman
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A passionate farmer-rancher, an astute businessman, family pillar, lover of football, champion of freedoms, beacon of hope, crusader of peace, social democrat, true statesman, pan Africanist and above all, the people’s leader! He embodied these and even more with a simplicity that left several in awe of his person. This brief biography highlights  the many phases of the life of an iconic leader and serves as a prelude to a much detailed and broader autobiography to be published in due time. As such, since his entire story can never be completely told, this piece should rather be read as the beginning of a litany of heartwarming and inspiring words for a man with a heart made of gold.


Born 7th July 1941, in Baba 2, in the present-day Northwest Region of Cameroon, to the family of Joseph Ndi and Suzan Angob Ndi (both of blessed memory), he was the first grandson to a lineage of mostly women. Endeared to his grandmothers, they immediately used the prefix “Ni” to address him. This, all out of love, admiration, respect for a boy they believed was marked to lead his family. Unbeknown to them, they had rather set the stage for his achievements later in life they could not imagine. ‘Ni’ thus became an integral part of this young man.  

By age four, Ni John was enrolled in the local Basel Mission School which he attended up to standard 2 before moving to the Native Authority School in Santa in 1950. Shortly after completing primary school in the mid-fifties, he accompanied his paternal uncle to Nigeria for better opportunities, where he would later attend and complete his formal education at Lagos City College. The harsh conditions under which he found himself in Lagos, obliged the teenager Ni John to do a multitude of menial jobs for survival, starting off as a broker of fish products at a cold store, before taking up jobs as cook, gardener and seneschal (butler) for expatriate pilots living and working in Lagos at the time. Serving and being around these pilots, enabled him to acquire a lot of other life skills and caused him to generate a genuine interest in the aviation industry. His attention to detail, reliability and careful management of the captain’s household, was good enough for a promotion to airline traffic officer at the Lagos International airport, a big step closer to his dreams of a career in aviation. However, this never materialized as his stay in Nigeria was cut short by the outbreak of the Nigerian (Biafra) civil war in 1966. This very unfortunate event forced Ni John to return to Cameroon, but not without giving him first-hand experience of the war, where estimates put the total loss of life at about 3 million through battlefield deaths, ethnic cleansing and starvation. The material destruction this war left in its wake, the pain and suffering he saw on the faces of orphaned malnourished kids and desperate mothers as he made his way by road through the war zone of East Nigeria back to Cameroon, left a lasting impression on him, of the brutishness of war, it’s very false promise of quick delivery and improvement of livelihood and a means to conflict resolutions.


Back in Bamenda, Cameroon where he finally settled, Ni John started the next phase of his career by launching a newspaper vending agency, specializing in much sought-after international papers and magazines. For the society to grow, you needed well read and open-minded people and he felt he could make his mark by providing the material that will bear on the culture and thinking of his society. What started as an act of passion, propelled him into a world of books and life as a celebrated bookseller, the founder and main proprietor of ‘Ebibi’ Book Centre (EBC) Bamenda, with motto “Service with Speed”. He proceeded to setup  subsidiary EBC branches in Mamfe, Garoua and the capital city of Yaoundé to have nationwide coverage. EBC provided  a range of services adapted to the individual needs of its clients.  Being a passionate bookseller, Mr. Ebibi as he was fondly called, genuinely enjoyed reading most of the books he traded in. Quite satisfying to him was the smell of fresh books, ahh the look on his face when he sniffed the pages.

This burgeoning businessman quickly rose to social prominence. Endowed with a typical ENTJ- personality, his charm, charisma and intellect made him friends across the board in society He became President of the Public Works Department (PWD) Bamenda Football Club, building an exciting team that finally took part in the Cameroon Cup finals in 1979 (the first team from English speaking Cameroon to do so under the new dispensation of the best team from East Cameroon to play the best team from West Cameroon after knockout play). As president of this much cherished club, he bought the first bus (blue Toyota dyna) for the club, another first of a kind in the country, for a club to own a bus. His sociable nature made him always go the extra mile of providing a post-match reception at his residence for visiting first division teams, whether they beat his team or lost to it. This was his way of bringing people and the country together, as things always got heated on the football pitch. Breaking bread together over a cup of water or wine has proved to be a vital way to discuss and resolve conflicts, a key value that he has implemented and used to good effect throughout his life.


His smooth tongue, savoir-faire in throwing sumptuous social gatherings, thanks to the skills acquired as a cook/seneschal in Lagos, earned him the admiration and respect of his community: from the hawkers along the streets to the very prominent persons in Bamenda and many other cities. He was a heavily applauded master of ceremony (MC) at most economic, social and religious gatherings, a renown straight-talking bookseller, with anecdotes, personal stories and ideas that would captivate an audience for extended periods. His generosity, counsel and charm were widely acclaimed, a voice heard in several homes, a disciplinarian to children known and unknown to him, a familiar face to several students and a listening friend to both young and old. To all these circles, Ni John, soon to be known as ‘Daddy’  earned the respect of a people who were quickly rallying behind him, even without his full understanding of what was about to happen to him.

As a traveling businessman, his social and economic encounters brought along plenty of exposure over time. The experiences of people and the stories they shared with him, laid bare the stark realities of the country. All this was in addition to his own personal experiences, whether driving from Onitsha to Bamenda or making supplies from Bamenda to other cities, different ministries and private offices across the country. They all had a similar complain – the center was not holding and something needed to be done. Even when he felt silence was golden, his heart was never at peace, his soul had caught the flame and it was only a matter of time. He watched his mentors, friends and business associates fall one after the other from exploitative policies and a poor state of the economy. The double standards  were becoming endemic, and  needed to be addressed. It never seemed to him like this was just a targeted process, an injustice to a particular group, region or entity, but rather it was a problem of the system, by its very nature of not putting people at the heart of its choices and decisions. Still , the politics of using different yardsticks, the stifling of free speech and the intransigence of the regime made it clear something needed to be done and done urgently.. Consequently, he initiated focused consultations with targeted persons in the premises of his bookshop and private residence thinking it was better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Through the conclusions of these consultations, Ni John began another journey in his life and one that marked him forever. It was his belief that the only way we could have the society we all wanted was by taking part wholeheartedly in the process of nation building. Individually, he therefore made his attempt at change within the one-party system (CNU) by participating as candidate for parliament on the Khaki List during the legislative elections of 1988, a necessary experience, which only confirmed what he knew all along, that dissension was unwelcomed, and someone needed to tell the truth about our realities and say it with no regrets.


It is after previously consulting extensively with the late Albert Mukong, a man feared and shunned by many for fear of being targeted for collusion against the state, that he made up his mind to get seriously into politics. And so along with other members, he started a think-tank called Study Group 89 (a think-tank of 10 participants) in November 1989. These members were his uncle, Dr. Siga Asanga, his cousin, Dr. Alfred Azefor, longtime friends, Justice Nyo Wakai, Prof. Clement Ngwasiri, Mr. Aloysius Tebo, Prof Carlson Anyangwe, Dr Gemuh Akuchu, Mr. Vincent Feko and Mr. James Mbanga. A political party needed to be formed and they were fully aware of similar contemplations of a Douala-based group rallied around Barrister Yondo Black. With the paperwork complete and the statutes of the party firmly in place, Ni John Fru Ndi made the historical courageous gesture  of signing as National Chairman, with his uncle, the late Dr. Siga Asanga as the Secretary General, as such breaking all existing political codes to launch the Social Democratic Front (SDF), as a national party, to fight for a just, fair and equitable society on the 26th May 1990 in Bamenda. In an attempt to prevent this launching, 6 people were shot dead by troops deployed by the regime. These 6 have since been recognized as the martyrs of democracy in Cameroon.

Unrelented by the violent intimidation, the National Chairman, the title he now became known by, with a dedicated entourage of aides and volunteers braved all odds with a rare combination of political wizardry, raw courage and visionary leadership to literally ‘gatecrash’ the party into the political arena of Cameroon. From 1990 onwards, the SDF rode on the crest of Cameroon’s turbulent political waves, confronting the governing Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) party head on. The SDF catch phrase “power to the people” seemed to have a massive adhesive appeal among many ordinary Cameroonians who saw in Ni John Fru Ndi, the hope of a better alternative. Someone needed to say the truth as is and say it forcefully, and the Chairman found his life purpose in being the mouthpiece of the downtrodden and all those who had lost hope in the ruling elite class.

His pro-democracy street battles with security forces, in the midst of tear gas and water cannons, carved a near mythical figure of a man, described by his admirers as being capable of catching bullets fired at him. He carried his message for change and a new narrative for the country to all 360 sub-divisions of the country, at a time when neither the internet, television nor radio existed in most places. He adopted this method of touring the nation, moving from door to door, so that he could be seen, heard and understood, thus using nothing more but his heart, his conviction and a language as simple as pidgin. Not surprisingly, his large party following won him the first multi-party presidential election in 1992 even though official results declared him runner-up, with a near photo-finish score of 36% as against 39 % for incumbent Mr. Paul Biya, after having secured a mammoth 1,066,602 votes. He declared himself winner as there was widespread proof of voting, counting and tallying irregularities. He was unjustly put under house arrest, and faced some of the most traumatic provocations any person can ever be subjected to, like watching your mother beaten and drawn in the gutter. Some of his supporters urged him to drop his belief in the bible and take up arms to start a civil war and reclaim his stolen electoral victory. But being a true statesman at heart, looking at the faces of the young men and women and knowing that the journey was to deliver a society of equal opportunity and not about occupying an office, he called for all members and sympathizers to stand down and declared he was not prepared to walk over dead bodies and blood to get to Etoudi. He took the harder and cumbersome route of preaching to the people about their rights and how a society of equal opportunities can be achieved through the ballot and by reinstating the federal system of governance as an emancipation from the previous context to align with new and future realities. He took this message round the country 24 times in 33 years, a feat which if we extrapolate outside the electoral years, meant he spent more time speaking to Cameroonians, raising their awareness on key issues affecting their daily lives rather than seeking only their votes. Some of the topical issues that saw him crisscrossing the nation included raising awareness on the HIV pandemic, the importance of urban hygiene, the need for community development through self-help (the setting up of loan and thrift economy), encouraging youths to invest in the soil as a means of combating unemployment, engaging in tree-planting to combat desertification and the list could go on. These things to him were bigger than a political office.  He simply took the burden of nation builder to heart and in addition, missed no opportunity to publicly demonstrate what he preached in his private life. It comes as no surprise therefore that these efforts were recognized and honored by multiple local and international awards over the years.

By and large, during Ni John Fru Ndi’s 82 years on earth, he fought many battles in his private and political lives; losing some but winning more and in death, crowning it all, as he tells his story to the attention of the world.

As he passes on at the age of 82, Ni John Fru Ndi, a father to many, a friend to several, a mentor to the next generation of community, regional and national leaders, leaves behind 9 children, 19 grandchildren, brothers, sisters and a whole nation to mourn the loss of a man whose achievements are much bigger than the life he lived.