One Year After Senator Nfon Mukete’s Death—

Prince Ekale, Pioneer Kumba I Mayor Remembers Father

By Prince Ekale Mukete

 “For The Thing Which I Greatly Feared Is Come Upon Me, And That Which I Was Afraid Of Is Come Unto Me.” -Job 3:25

          I was going to bed at 1:30 am when my mobile phone rang.  It was Isa, your trusted Personal Assistant (PA) giving me the dreadful news of your passing-on to glory.  I was jolted and didn’t know how to respond.  He broke the silence in a business-like manner and requested that I rush to the General Hospital at Ngousso, Yaounde to effect some formalities like signing documents at the mortuary since I was your only close relative at that particular moment in Yaounde.  I immediately informed my Chargé de Mission, Maurice Nebouo, what had happened and he kindly accompanied me as he knew an alternative route to get to the hospital without much delay.  On arrival I met Queen Mayang, Dr Ashu Balimba and wife, Isa and a few other people whose mien showed that they had accepted the inevitable that you were gone, at last, for good.  The hospital surrounding, and around the mortuary, were eerily silent and desolate, reminding me of passages of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land during my High School days decades ago.

Everything A Son Would Wish For, From A Doting Father And Mother

          I wonder if you had ever pieced together my extraordinary journeygrowing up as the fifth son to your long marriage with my mother, Hannah N. Mukete of blessed memory.  I doubt it, even though you had a better memory than myself and would remind me of some of these unique events, either with regrets or with pleasure – but more of the latter.  I now have the opportunity to recount some of them into a unique mosaic that would justify my declaring that you and Mama gave me everything that a son would wish for in this world.  And for that, I am eternally grateful, and would not be bashful in giving you that rare but merited accolade of the greatest father that one can ever have.

A Right Royal Childhood

          About the time I turned seven years old, you arranged for me to start piano lessons at the PNEU school in Bota.  It was your idea, and I was lucky to have Mrs Baynton, an english housewife and pianist, to give me piano lessons free-of-charge for the next eight years.  Even when I went to secondary school, it was exceptionally arranged that a vehicle pick me up from Molyko every Friday to attend my piano lessons at home on Saturdays and to drop me back in school on Sunday evenings.  What a privileged upbringing!  And soon after I started my piano lessons, you were able to acquire a decent piano for me from a departing diplomat at the American Consulate in Buea.  I have often asked myself why I was the one on whom this opportunity fell!

          At least a couple of times a week we would rush to CDC S. S. Club Bota to play table tennis, swim in the club pool, bowl in the one strip bowling pitch or play see-saw or merry-go-round.  Then there were other activities at the club such as the library, monthly cinema shows of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy-type black & white films, or the Sunday curry lunch which you would pay for us to join other parents and their children.  On weekends, we would watch the expatriates sailing their locally built craft or packing their boats in the boatyard next to the club.  You made these all possible for me and my siblings – and thinking of these idyllic scenes reminds me of Robert Schumann’s KINDERSZENEN Opus 15 (Scenes from Childhood) of which I used to play on the piano two of the melodies in simplified form.

          Next in line was CDC Board lunches which we used to look forward to for the grilled offerings and gravy with fried potatoes made specially for the Board members flying in from London.  And of course, Mr Simon’s “trifle” desserts were heaven.  And occasionally you had visitors who would join the Board members for lunch.  And if they had children, a table would be set aside for them with the youngest of us sitting with them.  I vividly remember when the then Cameroon Ambassador to the UK, Ambassador Epie, brought two of his daughters – Elisabeth and Irene Mejane – to stay briefly with us.  We were served food like royalty by stewards in starched white uniforms and brass buttons, with our white cloth napkins comfortably tucked around our necks, and the china and silver cutlery glittering on the table.  These scenes can hardly be repeated in Cameroon of today, but you made it possible for us to live them with panache.

          You never joked about our health.  I remember I was about six years old when I complained about my eyes.  You wasted no time in hiring a Cessna plane from the airport at Middle Farms.  We often forget that at the time Bota had an airport and an airline called Cameroon Air Transport (CAT)!  We were whisked off to Douala by two British pilots.  Once we landed at Douala airport we took a taxi to see the ophthalmologist who, fortunately, found nothing wrong with my eyes.  We then went for lunch at Hotel des Cocotiers (current site of Hotel Meridien which has now become Hotel Pullman) where some of your French friends invited us for lunch.  And then back to Douala airport where the two pilots were waiting dutifully.  It was during the flight back that I enjoyed watching the sea coastline.  A soft landing, and we were back at home in Bota before about 5 pm.  What a privilege to have had you as my father!

A Very Royal Education And Upbringing

“Fortune, good night: smile once more; turn thy wheel!”

― William Shakespeare, King Lear

          When it came to going to Secondary School, I was the one who broke tradition and went to the then Federal Bilingual Grammar School (FBGS), Molyko – Buea, and not to St. Joseph’s College, Sasse.  I remember vividly being sent by the late A. D. Mengot for an interview with Monsieur Roper, a quiet-spoken French man who was the Principal, and who soon after would be appointed by the French Government as Consul to Uganda.  This was how important FBGS was when I was admitted in October 1970, with practically the entire teaching staff supplied by Western Governments!  I can boast with all humility that I had an excellent and elite Secondary School education there.  Fortune again turning its wheel!

          In 1974 I decided to do the London University Board GCE ‘O’ Levels as an external student while some of my Anglophone classmates opted for the French Brevet.  It was your idea.  You believed in Correspondence Courses as you had used their notes in England to good effect.  That is how I got registered for six papers at the Rapid Results College in London.  I would write tests and post them to London and within a month the tests would arrive duly corrected.  Amazing feat today!

          One of your reasons for me to do my ‘O’ Levels in Form 4, and to leave Bilingual Grammar School (as it had then become) in 1974, was to attend the International School of Geneva / Ecole Internationale de Genève or ECOLINT as it was fondly called.  You had heard about the quality of Swiss Education and you and my mother were determined to send one of your sons there.  Your choice of ECOLINT was not so much the fact that it was a popular school for the children of European aristocracy and Middle East magnates – and the alma mater the late Indira Gandhi who was for many years Prime Minister of India – but for the fact that it was the school that introduced the International Baccalaureate which is well accepted today as an alternative certification for producing broad-minded graduates for university.  Again fortune fingered me.

          I remember vividly when, in July 1974, you, Mama and I travelled to England via Lagos and Geneva.  In Lagos, we stayed at the Ikoyi Hotel and a dinner was given in your honour by the late Mr Brandler – an english timber magnate in Nigeria whom you had known for decades and who had had business operations both in Liberia and West Cameroon (Brandler & Rylke Auto Dealership in Tiko and Coast Timber in Muyuka).  You had earlier intimated to him your intention to send one of your sons to the alma mater of your principal at Government College Umuahia, Rev. Robert Fisher, whom you credited for the foundation that made you a success in your professional and political life.  Permit me to quote a brief extract from your book – MY ODYSSEY – The Story of CAMEROON REUNIFICATION – With Authentic Letters of Key Players – about Government College Umuahia (page 16):

 “The school was created by the British Colonial Government and modelled after the elite British public schools – Eton, Harrow and Winchester.  It was known as the Eton of the East because of its very high standards and selectivity, as well as its being located in Eastern Nigeria.  The school placed strong emphasis on three pillars of development: academic excellence, proficiency in sports and strict discipline.  It encouraged the study of science and English literature.  Its founding principal, a British Anglican pastor, Reverend Robert Fisher, ensured that literary ambience prevailed at the school and students were encouraged to read the literary classics for leisure and personal edification.”

Two other guests at the dinner offered by Mr Brandler in your honour were Sir Louis Mbanefo (a former Chief Justice of the Eastern Region of the Republic of Nigeria before the Civil war who played the same role in the secessionist Biafra state – and who with Major-General Philip Effiong negotiated the surrender) and his son Louis Mbanefo who was a practising lawyer in Lagos, and had the distinction of having been the first African admitted into Marlborough College in the early 1960s.  This college in Wiltshire, England, was Reverend Robert Fisher’s alma mater.  The idea of Louis Mbanefo the younger, accompanying his father to the dinner, was to brief me about his experience at Marlborough College, which he attended when his father became the first black judge at the International Court of Justice at The Hague in the Netherlands.  I could tell you were old friends as Sir Louis kept on calling you by your first name, Victor.

          I will digress a little bit here again on the subject of Sir Louis Mbanefo because the late Hon. N. N. Mbile, in his memoir, “Cameroon Political Story: Memories of an Authentic Eyewitness”, mentioned that he was in awe of Sir Louis whenever he took the floor at the Eastern Region Parliament because he was so erudite – and he attributed it to his background as a lawyer.  This was certainly one of my hidden motivations in electing to study Law at university.  It is well known that Sir Louis was a towering intellectual who distinguished himself as an excellent orator and lawmaker during his brief stint as a politician when he was elected into the Eastern Region Parliament in 1950. 

Papa, you can see that you never hesitated to expose your sons to such greats during your adult discussions!  You once told me that it was to broaden our minds.  Peer examples are a powerful conditioning force and your sons were positively influenced by these occasions, as you saw that they elected easily not only to further their education but to attend some of the best universities on the planet: Cambridge, Yale, Rutgers, Indiana, LSE, King’s London, East Anglia etc.  A by-product of these peer examples and the excellent educational institutions you made us attend was “confidence”.  I remember that the University Entrance Clearance Scheme (UCCA) in England allowed the student up to five choices of universities.  I was so confident that I filled only three:  Emmanuel College, Cambridge, University of London King’s College and the LSE.  The LSE were so miffed that I put them as third choice, that they wrote a riposte that since I put them in third place they would not make me an offer!  I still have a copy of that letter.

As an anecdote, I vividly remember sitting within hearing range while you were discussing with the late S. T. Muna, who was Prime Minister of West Cameroon at the time, during one of his occasional visits to CDC Chairman’s residence at Bota to see you.  I cannot remember what you both were discussing but I remember my little boy’s eyes being totally engrossed by his elegant black shoes which I would later describe as “Beatle’s Boots” as it became standard wear for that famous pop music group!

The next day, we left Lagos for Geneva on a Swissair flight.  One incident that made you and Mama laugh a lot was my insistence on taking along my “Salamander” platform shoes which was in vogue amongst young people in 1974.  Mama warned me that using them abroad will make me stick out like a sore thumb.  In fact, when we got to Geneva, I saw no one using platform shoes and quietly dropped mine in the bin of the hotel room!  The incident was an embarrassment for me, and a sing-song for Mama for a long time.

I was admitted to start school in September 1974 at the International School of Geneva based on my Bilingual Grammar School results transcripts. We then proceeded on the last leg of our journey to London where we took lodging at St. James’s Hotel at Buckingham Gate.  This was Mama’s favourite London Hotel and was a few hundred metres from Buckingham Palace.

Reservations of hotels and bookings of appointments were quietly and efficiently done for you courtesy of Mr Duncan, a top ecexcutive at the Commonwealth Development Corporation Head Office at Hill Street London.  One such appointment was to meet the Admissions Officer of Marlborough College, who at the time was one Mr Thomson.  You have recounted this story so often, and with evident pleasure.  But this is my version which is a variation of the same outcome.  As soon as we met Mr Thomson, he made it clear that the school was fully booked up, but he graciously offered to give us a tour of the buildings around the main quadrangle.  When passing by the chapel, we saw that there was an organist playing a huge pipe organ, and Mr Thomson quickly observed my interest and asked if I played any instruments.  I let him know that I had been playing the piano for eight years.  He quickly took us to a room where there was a piano, and I nervously played something.  Without hesitating, he turned around to you and said that even though the school was fully booked up, there would be no problem in admitting me for the beginning of the academic year which began in September 1975.  That is how I proceeded to the International School of Geneva in September 1974 and left for Marlborough College in September 1975.  A rare opportunity of attending two splendid and highly prestigious – and stupendously expensive – educational institutions, and an opportunity which only genuinely doting parents would give their child!

Great Expectations, Serendipitous Outcomes

          I have written a long valedictory on what it felt like, growing up as one of your sons.  My brothers too have their own stories to tell, but I have no doubt that they will all agree that you were the greatest Dad one could ever have.  Maybe it could have been different if there was a daughter amongst us – but I think the conclusion would still have been the same, or even better.

          In all you tried to do for me, you had great expectations.  But the outcomes were serendipitous.  Same serendipitous outcomes for my siblings too.  I started speaking to you about myself, so I will continue in that manner.

          When at that early age you arranged for Mrs Baynton to teach me how to play the piano, it was with the hope that one day I will play the organ on Sunday service at the Presbyterian Church in Kumba town.  You were disappointed that it never happened. 

The jolly old hand of serendipity made it possible for me to be admitted in Marlborough – one of the most sought after private schools in England – without an entrance exam or being registered there at birth.

“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,  

      Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,”

  • Rudyard Kipling, IF

          The royal connection never crossed your mind.  All you were doing was to send one of your sons to the alma mater of your Umuahia Principal who impacted your life very positively.  But serendipity delivered me into the company of the top echelons of British and European societies where I have many lifelong friends today – and which allowed me to travel to Venice, Monte Carlo (for the 1975 Formula One Race), ski in Leysin, spend a month in Iran and be a constant visitor to the Imperial Club of Tehran before the fall of the Shah, stay in a yacht at Menton with the owners of the famous Chopard timepiece, have as my roommate in Geneva the son of a gregarious American (John W. Meyer Sr.) who had been the action man for Howard Hughes and was at that time President of Olympic Airways ostensibly to act as close confidant of, and action man for Aristotle Onassis – and who introduced me to many of the sumptuous hotels in Geneva where I would sometimes play the piano etc.  My preference was Hotel Beau Rivage.

And look at the royal connection: Captain Mark Philips who married Princess Anne was an Old Marlburian.  The current Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton) who is married to Prince William – the next in line to the British throne after Prince Charles – is an Old Marlburian.  Princess Eugenie, daughter of Prince Andrew (Duke of York), is an Old Marlburian.  And the list goes on.  How a college which was founded in 1843 for the education of the sons of Church of England clergy, became the breeding ground for wives of a prominent section of the British aristocracy is the hand of serendipity: Samantha Cameron, wife of the former British PM David Cameron, Sally Bercow, wife of the former speaker of the British Parliament are all Old Marlburians.  And so on.  I was very pleasantly surprised one night a few years ago, when Nfon Ekoko – your successor as Nfon of Kumba and Paramount Ruler of the Bafaw – called me that he was in Douala sitting beside the British Minister for Africa (Harriet Baldwin), and that she had announced in the gathering that I was not only her classmate but that we both lived in the same House (Littlefield House) at Marlborough.  I still have a photocopy of a programme pasted in the inner cover of my Mozart Klaviersonaten Music Book with the title: Littlefield House Concert, May 23rd, 7.30pm.  In that concert, I played the Theme and Variation 4 from Mozart’s Sonata No. 11 in A Major (KV 31).  I won fifteen pounds sterling for my effort.  Harriet played the violin of another Mozart piece in a Quartet with three other of my fellow students.  The friends I made and the exposure I got during this parcours were priceless, and are still serving me.  I often pinched myself that this was a boy from Kumba who grew up in Bota.  Serendipity again!

          The fortunate hand of serendipity made it that I went to schools with outstanding records, ECOLINT being the first to introduce the International Baccalaureate, and Marlborough being the first private school in England to begin admitting girls in the upper form in 1973 – two years before I got there.

          To conclude, I cannot but feel that though you have transitioned to glory, the jolly hand of serendipity will continue to yield positive fruits both for me and for my siblings.  It is said that before we are born, each of us has an unwritten script of our life which we follow till we transition to the next world, just as you have now done.  Nothing is impossible with our God because He has infinite intelligence, and none can compare unto Him.  It is also called Destiny.

Adieu, Papa; greatest father in the world.

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