By Mwalimu George Ngwane
Simon Nkwenti was by design or by default a teacher. He would have easily traded his career for that of a Member of Parliament or a Barrister-at-law. For in his heart was entrenched the sterling qualities of a society’s spokesman; in his soul was sown the grains of a people’s Advocate and in his spirit was engraved the fighting splendour of a committed crusader.
But he remained a teacher-one who had made the nation his classroom and policy engagement his drum major. Simon spoke when others chose to whisper, he ran when others chose to crawl and he took the heat when others chose to leave the kitchen.
Teaching was his career, advocacy his mantra, and policy influence his life-time service. He shared some of his personal anger on national issues with me. On the phone he would call to find out my opinion on topical political and economic issues which in his opinion could tip the nation on the precipice of a conflagration. But I always knew he wanted to jolt me into some reaction in the South West Region that would respond to his crusade in the North West. His last call to me was on the day he was arrested in Abakwa. “The Mwalimu, those guys have come for me but never mind I am in the company of my lawyers”. Simon’s lawyers were both those of the learned profession who would go pro bono to exonerate him from the claws of predatory administration but more so the masses who were prepared to use their bodies as human shields to protect Simon from the attempts of a trigger-happy battalion.
A week before Simon’s death, I had read these ominous words in “The Chronicle newspaper”. They went like this:
“I wish to urge you to suspend reading your Town Crier and dedicate five minutes to pray for our beloved Ntumkwifon going through trying moments. But not of the strategy adopted by Dr. Charles Awasum, to isolate him, hundreds of teachers, journalists, family members and friends, who trooped to see him, would have instead precipitated him to.....”
I called the Publisher Eric Motomu to be sure that what I read was about Simon. Motomu confirmed. After failing to get to Simon through his phone, I called his wife who happily allayed my fears that the Ntumkwifon was improving.
At last on the 21st August, Motomu called me to break the sad news.
Simon did not choose the path of advocacy as a pain-inflicting therapy. I guess it came from the effervescent nurture of his town of birth and the eccentric nature of his country of breed. For even against all odds, Simon was the quintessence of epicurean life-he loved his Christian values, he cherished his beautiful family, he adored his traditional community, he valued his designers’ suits, he had a glamourous taste and even admired his own elegant stature. Simon loved the company of progressive ideas and respected the intrinsic traits of those who shared and even shoved his vision.
I always felt he was like the iconic Nigerian journalist Dele Giwa who was raised in the ghetto but pulled himself from his bootstraps out of the mire of mediocrity. That is why it did not take long for Simon to transform himself from an individual to an institution. He was CATTU and CATTU was Simon-not in the patrimonial sense of it or in the primitive practice of self-aggrandisement or personality cult but in the benign ethos of a creation living symbiotically with its creator. And so even with all the tragic flaws that go with leadership, who can ignore the battles that Simon won for Education through policy engagement? Policy engagement is not a subject he learnt in C.P.C Bali, it was not his major or minor in Teacher Training Institution Bambili, it was not a course he taught while in active teaching. Policy engagement is simply how civil society organisations can engage in government policies more effectively. It is about how civil society can influence government policies through campaigns, boomerangs, pilot projects, picketing, demonstrations etc. It is a non-violent liberation tonic that keeps the proponent awake when others have taken the sedative pill of complacency; it is manifest on those who in the face of social injustice throw caution to the wind and march on with the spear of courage. Granted, policy engagement is a tight rope to walk on, especially in a country like ours where we are now defined by political party identities. If you apply the confrontational approach of policy influence, you are suspected to be in the Opposition but if you advocate a public-private partnership with the government you are perceived to have been bought over by the ruling oligarchy.
With a civil society that has either lost its voice in the cacophony of self-interest or simply lost its bearings in the moral compass of our country’s ship of state, Simon would long be remembered as one who tried to mentor, tutor and coach his peers on the best practices to engage relevant stakeholders to ensure an effective policy process in the domain of Education in Cameroon. In that process he sustained some bruises and acquired some blessings.
Simon shall hopefully be judged on how much he tried than how less he succeeded. He would be remembered for what he lived for rather than what he died of. At the relative young age of his transition, Cameroonians would surely remember Simon’s dream to see a National Forum on Education in Cameroon in 2013 but in the words of Martin Luther King, Simon must have said in his dying bed “I have seen the Promised Land but I may not get there with you”.
Farewell ,fair warrior for as a civil society actor myself of policy engagement, I know that life is not all about the quantity of years one puts in but the quality of service one gives out.
RIP Simon Nkwenti.