Governance and Inquiries
July 7, 2014

After the disgraceful debacle of the Cameroon national football team, the Indomitable Lions at the 2014 Brazil World Cup, the country’s President Paul Biya set up a commission of inquiry headed by Prime Minister Philemon Yang to establish the causes and propose the way forward. Prof. Tazoacha Asonganyi here suggests what it may take for the head of government to succeed in his assignment.

Before the demise of the venerable Bishop Verdzekof, he wrote a little manuscript titled “Running on the wrong road?” In it, he reminds us of a 1961 editorial of The Daily Times Newspaper about the reunification process, brought to his attention by Dr Anthony Ndi, which went as follows "We are bringing into this union a great inheritance, viz., Democracy; the English have not given us fine roads and fine buildings but they have given something far more valuable: a democratic way of thinking... With this inheritance we need not be afraid to meet our brethren across the border for we are not coming empty handed."

These high expectations were because the political class in West Cameroon hoped that the best they were bringing along would be married with the best from East Cameroon, to produce "common values, common understanding and common aspirations." They surely had good intentions, but they suffered from a misunderstanding of human nature and the nature of power.

In any case, human beings always view their deprivation as relative, since they tend to compare themselves with people they are in the same boat with. That is why the North West region always compares itself to the south west region, and vice versa; and West Cameroon always compares itself with East Cameroun. It is through such lenses that historical outcomes and evolutions are usually evaluated, judged and dealt with. It is with such a lens that we here examine Paul Biya’s decreed “inquiry” into the Lions’ debacle in Brazil.

Probing into different compartments of the state to find out what is going wrong in order to look for the right solutions is an approach usually used to earn legitimacy from the people and ensure their obedience of state authority. A "democratic way of thinking" means that rules and rational principles matter, but more importantly, the thousands of small things that those in power do or fail to do to establish their legitimacy also matter a great deal. The West Cameroon Commission of Inquiry Ordinance (Cap. 36 of the 1958 laws) was therefore meant to ensure legitimacy in the exercise of power by those who were delegated the power of the people.

And so on 01 April, 1967, the West Cameroon Gazette no. 13, volume 7, published as notice no. 90, a decision of the Prime Minister appointing a Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Lands and Surveys, West Cameroon. On 27 March, 1968, the West Cameroon Gazette no. 14, vol. 8, published as notice no. 61, a decision of the Prime Minister appointing a Commission of Inquiry into the activities of the West Cameroon Development Agency, as from 1959. Further, on 30 April, 1968, the West Cameroon Gazette no. 20, volume 8, published as notice no. 98, a decision of the Prime Minister appointing a Commission of Inquiry into the West Cameroon Electricity Corporation.

The commissions were usually headed by a respectable person of the law profession and had four or five other members of integrity. These people of integrity were imbued with capacities that can be described as Verdzekof’s three steps: (1) discerning what is right and wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong.

Each decision to create a commission of inquiry always had very clear terms of reference, and the following paragraph: "The sessions of the commission will be open to members of the public. Any person who has any information that may be of assistance to the Commission should communicate such information to the Secretary to the Commission. Any person who wishes to give evidence to the Commission should also contact the Secretary to the Commission."

The Commissions did their work diligently and always ended up with a voluminous report, copies of which they sold to the public at a token price. The report belonged to the people, and the court of public opinion was there to follow up the implementation of the findings by state authority.

With the "Yang Inquiry" commission that Paul Biya has decreed, many people are thinking about the humiliation Philemon Yang suffered in the hands of the Lions, and wondering how much he can be dispassionate in his "inquiries." He may be thinking that this is the time to use his authority to respond to the disobedience of the Lions. It may not occur to him that disobedience can also be a response to authority; that if a government does not do its job well, citizens can become disobedient. Following his flag experience with the Lions, no one needs to remind him that obedience is linked to how people in authority behave.

The government is the principal culprit in the Lions’ debacle in Brazil. The "Yang Inquiry" may only bring out – or choose to hide - what everybody already knows. What we need now is not some emotional reaction to seek individual culprits for punishment. We need a thorough and dispassionate internal and external evaluation of football in Cameroon to seek a more productive approach that can generate positive results in future. We need a strategic vision, a clearly set goal, to ensure that all efforts at achieving success in future will be geared towards that goal. We need a strategic vision that ties down all future corrective acts to the achievement of the set goal. Without such a well publicized strategic vision, all "inquiries" and strategic planning will be worthless.

By Prof. T. Asonganyi