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Opinions of Monday, 11 May 2015

Columnist: The Median Newspaper

Why Agbor Tabi is unstoppable!

The malaise suffered by Prof. Peter Agbor Tabi, ASG of the presidency and a leading contender for the post of PM, during a public event in Buea last week – at a time when there is popular expectation for a new government, has left observers wondering if he was not hurt by missiles from his political adversaries. Read about Agbor Tabi’s career and his chances in the race for PM.

Prof. Peter Agbor Tabi, ASG of the presidency and CPDM heavyweight, is that one Anglophone who is always linked with a move to the Star Building as Prime Minister. Even though Agbor Tabi has hardly declared having such ambition, political bookmakers have never hesitated to present him as one of those with the best arguments for the exalted job.

Since way back in the mid 1990s when elites of the South West region through SWELA, mustered strong on President Biya that it was high time one of theirs too occupied a prestigious post in Yaounde, and that was after Foncha, Jua, Muna, Achidi Achu (all from the NW) had taken turns as either PM, Speaker of the National Assembly or Grand Chancellor, for over three decades, Agbor Tabi was considered by many as the one South Westerner most psychologically prepared to handle the complexities attendant with the job of PM. Some even considered him a PM in waiting.

However, political commentators contend that by always linking Agbor Tabi with a move to the Star Building the press has only created more enemies for him.

Given a system that is based on scheming and expediency, and one that always creates conflicts between and among its actors, it is believed that other Anglophone contenders for the PM post have only been put on a war path with Agbor Tabi.

That is why when Agbor Tabi had a malaise and collapsed during the solidarity march against Boko Haram in Buea last week, many did not hesitate to conclude that he had been fired with mystical bullets by his adversaries.

Many believed this to be so, because of the hidden nature of political combats, which are sometimes and perhaps more often by witchcraft.

When Christopher Nsalai died suddenly in 2008, it was widely believed that he was butchered on the battlefield of his quest for the PM post. Former PM Thomas Ephraim Inoni also took time to complain about witchcraft experiences he had suffered. Incumbent PM, Philemon Yunji Yang collapsed at least once when he worked as ASG of the Presidency. Senator Peter Mafany Musonge was once feared dead when he collapsed at the Palais des Congres during his days as PM.

That is why Agbor Tabi’s partisans have differed strongly with those who hastened to declare their man as unfit for the job of PM simply because he collapsed. His supporters insist that despite the mishap in Buea his chances are well intact.

“Prof. only stumbled on the race course; he is still in the race and still occupies a leading position. You cannot write him off just like that,” retorted an Agbor Tabi loyalist, in response to an observer, who speculated that by collapsing in public Agbor Tabi has only compromised his chances of ever becoming PM.

Like most political pundits, Agbor Tabi’s partisans contend that the mere fact that his name is permanently linked with a move to the Star Building only puts him at war with his enemies. They maintain that even if in the unlikely event that he is not fighting, the fact that he is in an arena of war does not spare him the blows of his many enemies.

Yet, Agbor Tabi’s supporters argue that none of the other names that are also cited in Yaounde as possible replacements for Philemon Yang are in any way more deserving of the job of PM than him. They support their argument by brandishing Agbor Tabi’s career report card, apart from his sterling performance as a trusted ally of President Biya.

Born on 23 February 1951 in Ndekwai village in Manyu Division of the South West Region, Agbor Tabi attended the Bilingual Grammar School Man’o war bay (now BGHS Molyko, Buea) from 1965 to 1971; he was among the privilege group of students to sit and pass both the Francophone BEPC and the GCE “O” Levels.

After his “A” Levels, Agbor Tabi enrolled in the then unique University of Yaounde, where he took a bilingual degree from the department of bilingual letters and linguistics in 1975. He also in 1972 obtained the ‘Certificat d’Etude Francaise’ from the university of Dijon, France.

With his quenchless appetite for knowledge, Agbor Tabi later flew to the USA where he bagged successively a Master’s Degree and the PhD in Political Science and International relations from the University of South Carolina in 1978 and 1982 respectively.

Upon return to the country, Agbor Tabi began his career as lecturer at IRIC Yaounde. He would later in 1984 become the Deputy Director of the prestigious institution. In 1988 he was promoted as Director of IRIC.

His success as Director of IRIC caught the attention of President Biya, who decided to entrust him with yet another exalted job, but this time a more trying one: Agbor Tabi was in 1991 made the Chancellor of the University of Yaounde. In this position he had the arduous task to implement the very unpopular reforms that government had just adopted for University education in Cameroon, notably the proscription of bursaries for students and the institution of tuition fees.

Agbor Tabi did not fail in this daunting assignment, which two of his predecessors - Laurent Esso and Prof. Joel Moulin had proved unable to handle. The two Francophones made very short spells as Chancellor of the Yaounde University; President Biya replaced them in quick succession before he decided to also try the Anglophone Agbor Tabi.

And these Francophones left not before the Ngoa-Ekelle campus had literally transformed into a war zone, as students took up arms and rioted against the authorities.

But the young (he was just 40 then), courageous and fearless Agbor Tabi stunned the entire nation and left many watching in awe, as he in no time restored calm on the campus.

Prof. Agbor Tabi suggested to the government and got its nod for the construction of a security fence all round the campus. Even though the students protested against this, Agbor Tabi stood his ground, sometimes folding the sleeves of his shirt to face the raging students; he succeeded to erect the fence. Today that fence not only delimits the boundaries of the University territory but also affords security and protection for students on campus.

And as if these were not enough, Agbor Tabi succeeded to also implement the new reforms: bursary for students was stopped and tuition fees instituted.

It was perhaps in recognition of this sterling feat that President Paul Biya after creating six new universities in 1993 retained Agbor Tabi as the pioneer rector of the UNI-YAO-1. The president later on 21 July 1994 made Agbor Tabi the Minister of Higher Education with mission to get the new campuses fully functional and operational. As usual Agbor Tabi did an impressive job; all the six universities went fully operational before long.

It was at this moment that political pundits started predicting that Agbor Tabi would be made the PM. However though, some analysts still raised questions as to whether Agbor Tabi would be able to translate the huge success as university manager into political leadership at the post of PM giving its complexities and multi-dimensional demands.

Then as fate would have it, President Biya did not hand Agbor Tabi the PM job; he as usual, surprised the entire nation when he appointed instead Peter Mafany Musonge from the CDC to replace Achidi Achu as PM.

Even as it emerged later that Musonge actually had the requisite profile for the job, few were those who saw in him the qualities of a potential PM. This was probably because Musonge was hardly a front row politician; very little was known about his public and leadership qualities and what he stood for at the time.

Yet, and as if Agbor Tabi’s failure to become PM was not enough, he was also dropped from the government. The new PM, Mafany Musonge, who saw Agbor Tabi more as a rival rather than a loyal collaborator, took the first opportunity offered him by Biya and threw Agbor Tabi out of the government in 1997.

This did not however cause Agbor Tabi to turn his back on Biya: He immediately returned to the classroom at IRIC but also continued with active CPDM politics.

Today if the opposition is almost eradicated in Manyu it is thanks in great part to Agbor Tabi, who never stopped preaching and convincing the people that Biya understands their problems and has special plans for them.

That is why when Agbor Tabi re-surfaced like a phoenix on 30 June 2009, after staying 12 good years in political limbo, many concluded that Biya had brought him back to prepare him for what he truly deserves - the PM job.

Today Agbor Tabi is among the privilege Anglophones ever to be removed from government and brought back as minister. The only others were Achidi Achu, Christopher Nsalai (RIP) and Philemon Yang.