By Martin Jumbam
I believe it is last year that Cameroon’s Head of State, Mr. Paul Biya, presided over ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of Cameroon's School of Administration and Magistracy, commonly known by its French acronym ‘ENAM’. In one flowery speech after another, we heard how much the nation is, or should be, grateful to ENAM, being the institution that has, over the past fifty years, provided the ‘grease’ that has been oiling the Cameroonian state administration machinery.
That ENAM has supplied the bulk of the top administrators in whose hands lies the entire state machinery, notably the executive and the judiciary arms, is not open to debate. But to ask Cameroonians to show gratitude to those administrators for the work they have been doing over the past fifty years is asking too much of them. Recent events have clearly shown that if our country has lifted the unenviable trophy of the most corrupt country in the world two years in a row, ENAM graduates, who dominate the entire economy (taxation, customs), not to mention the magistracy, are largely to blame for it.
Not that long ago, a French Catholic organization accused Mr. Biya of allegedly looting Cameroon’s treasury and stashing the proceeds in tax-safe havens abroad. More recently still, a group of Cameroonian citizens living in France brought similar charges against Mr. Biya in French courts. In a frantic and panicky response to these charges, Mr. Biya pounced on and forcefully enrolled a few unfortunate fellow treasury looters into two of Cameroon’s most notorious prisons, the dreaded “Universities” of Kondengui in Yaoundé and New Bell in Douala.
Mr. Biya’s so-called “Operation Sparrow Hawk” has netted, among its biggest catches, his former Economy and Finance Minister, Mr. Polycarp Abah Abah who, before being dropped from grace to grass, was the archetypal ENAM product, having graduated top of his class in that institution. He proudly referred to himself, whenever the least opportunity presented itself, as “Le Major de ma Promotion”, a “straight A student”, the valedictorian of his batch. Like Abah Abah, many of those Mr. Biya has arrested, and is still arresting, are ENAM products, a clear sign to the nation, and the world at large, that ENAM has little to be proud of in terms of ethics and morality.
Whither the Anglophone?
How have Anglophone graduates from ENAM been faring on this slippery ground of ethics and morality in public service? First of all, the Anglophone presence in ENAM can be divided into two distinct phases. The first was made up mainly of Grade Two and Grade Three primary school teachers who entered ENAM in the sixties and early seventies. Studies in French proved particularly challenging to many of them, who ended up in very low job positions in the ministries in Yaoundé, or in the provinces. Many are either retired or have already gone to their Maker. They all had sad stories to tell of their stay in ENAM.
The second category came into ENAM in the seventies and eighties. These were generally fresh graduates from the then lone University of Yaoundé. As secondary school leavers, many of them had been thoroughly schooled in French in their respective secondary schools west of the Mungo. The trials and tribulations they went through at the then lone University of Yaoundé prepared them well to confront the challenges of ENAM. Many succeeded, even beating their French counterparts in the process.
Anglophone determination to succeed
How have many of them fared in their professional life? It’s hard to say but a story is told of how one of them, freshly graduated from ENAM, began work as a tax inspector, Saint Matthew’s successor, in Douala. Burning inside him was the strong desire to succeed in his job. He was going to work so well that his boss (hierarchy) would be so impressed with him that, sooner rather than later, he would receive a promotion. He knew many tax inspectors and customs officers who thrived in taking bribes and growing excessively rich in the process. All his colleagues talked about glaring cases of corruption in their ranks and many yearned to grow rich as quickly as possible. But not our young man who was determined to be different. Nothing mattered to him except work well done.
His first test case came barely six months into his job. He had carried out a thorough assessment of a business tycoon’s company in Douala and found a huge deficit in the latter’s tax payment. When this man’s case had dropped on his lap, some of his friends came to congratulate him, green with envy. They all said how generous the man was and asked their friend to ‘squeeze’ him real hard. Our friend merely smiled and said he would do his best. Inside him, however, he was determined not to spoil his job with a bribe.
In the morning of the day he was to present his report to his boss, our friend was in his office earlier than usual. He was putting finishing touches to his report when his office door was suddenly pushed open. He was about to scream: “Who the hell…!!” when the man, whose company he was auditing, rushed into the room, a briefcase in hand. Without uttering a word, he dropped a huge brown envelope on our young friend’s desk, turned round and walked out of the room. He said not a word! No good morning! No goodbye!
The young tax collector was completely dumbstruck. What was going on? What had that man just dropped on his desk? Money? He touched the envelope and nearly froze on the spot. Yes, indeed, it was money and much money too, from what he could see. He was used to seeing money and that quantity definitely ran into tens of millions of francs CFA. His hands were shaking so much that the report he was working on dropped on the floor but he just didn’t have the strength to pick it up. He was still wondering if he was dreaming when he again heard other footsteps walking to his door. What was he to do? In one swift action, he opened the drawer of his desk and dropped in the envelope. His heart was pounding so hard he thought it would drop out of its cage.
Was it the tycoon coming back to explain to him what that envelope was for? No, it was the cleaning lady who had come in earlier than usual. She said something about hurrying to finish her work so she could go to the hospital. Whatever it was she was saying, our friend barely heard a few words. He was so anxious to have her out of the office that he merely grunted and bent down to pick up the report he had worked on so diligently for so many months. The figures of unpaid taxes ran into several hundreds of millions of francs CFA. What was he to do with that report?
Limply, he dropped it into another drawer and decided to quickly leave the office for fear one of his colleagues might come in and meet him. As he was about to leave he suddenly remembered the cash-stuffed envelope. What was he to do with it? He couldn’t possibly leave it there! He took it out of the drawer and tried to stuff it into his coat pocket but it was too bulky to fit in. He then opened his briefcase, dropped in the envelope and made for the door.
Long walk to his car
The short distance to his car, parked a few yards away, looked like a mile. It turned out to be the longest distance our friend ever walked. He felt as if everyone's eyes were on him even though he knew there was no one around at the time. He nearly fell on his face after stubbing his foot on a small stone. What was he to do with all that money? he wondered, his heart pounding in his chest like a piston. When he reached home, he felt as if the veins on his neck and arms would explode as blood coursed through them at high speed. His body suddenly generated enormous heat and before long he was in bed trembling with a high fever. And that is how he failed to show up for work that day, and the next day, and throughout the week. The report against the business tycoon finally ended up in flames behind his house; and the cash-stuffed envelope in a small box under his bed. It contained too much money for him to deposit in his bank. What would he tell anyone who might be curious to know where all that money came from?
A few months later, our friend’s boss received a watered-down version of the original report, which basically said: “Rien à signaler” (Nothing to write home about!). His colleagues gave him a knowing wink; a silent language he was beginning to read and to understand so well. As days and weeks and months went by, our friend began to laugh at his own naivety. Why, he wondered, had he been so worried about a few million francs CFA when all his friends boasted of several hundreds of millions from less lucrative customers to write off their taxes? Why was he so afraid of something as simple as money from a tax evader? After all, was it not the State the man was cheating? Was the State anyone in particular? The more he thought about it, the more he felt that he had done nothing really wrong, as such. It was all right, from time to time, to take for oneself what belongs to all. After all, has he not recovered more money for the State than all his colleagues combined?
Go and multiply!
With money, life in Douala became really ‘sweet’. What with all those chicks, the “sweet sixteens” from Lycée Joss, Collège Alfred Saker, Collège Libermann; the daughters of the well-to-do whose companies he was auditing. What was wrong with him ‘auditing’ their daughters as well? In the process of ‘auditing’ women, he planted many seeds that sprouted and bloomed and blossomed all over the Republic. Wherever he worked, he planted seeds, proof of his legendary indomitable virility. But taking care of his brood has never been a problem at all. Is it the cash lacking, or what? He doubled over with laughter, as he shared his adventures with his colleagues, who had similar tales to tell.
Several years later, our friend’s drawer was to open and close several times a day, engulfing in its bowel huge cash-stuffed envelopes. Wasn't that what being a tax collector in a city like Douala was all about? Were all his friends not doing the same thing, his boss included? What else was new?
Today, our Anglophone friend is rumoured to be worth his weight in gold. Landed property in his name, or in that of his numerous children, stretch from Bertoua to Bafoussam; from the coastal city of Kribi to Kousseri at the banks of Lake Chad; just about everywhere he has worked. An ENAM product, par excellence.