The stronghold of Muslims in Cameroon’s political scenery angles variedly. There are the historical, demographic and geopolitical intrigues involved in maintaining Cameroon as a nation State.
In over 58 years since independence, Cameroon has had only two Presidents. Late Ahmadou Ahidjo , a Muslim was Cameroon’s pioneer post colonial President. Then in 1982, Constitutional provisions made it possible for then Prime Minister, Paul Biya a Christian to be President.
Ahidjo in the later years in the quest for independence outsmarted a Christian; Andre Marie Mbida to become Prime Minister of the then East Cameroon and later President in 1960.This was partly owing to the numerical strength of Muslims from the Nothern Regions.
Going by the 2005 census, Muslims constitute at least 25 percent of Cameroon’s 24 million population. These figures give them a strong numerical position compared to the two Christian dominated English- speaking Regions of the North West and South West respectively.
In Biya’s 36 years rule, the influence of Muslims on the political scene has remained visible. Observers see this influence through the prism of appeasing the Northern Regions, which lost the coveted presidential position through Constitutional provisions.
The number of voters from the three Northern Regions of Cameroon, predominantly Muslim decides the destiny of who becomes President in Cameroon.
When Biya opened the stage for multiparty politics in the 1990s, the ambition of Muslims accentuated. Before then, the Cameroon National Union (CNU) of President Ahidjo, a Muslim had been transformed into the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM).
Thus, when the likes of Bello Bouba Maigari, a former Prime Minister, created the National Union for Democracy and Progress (NUDP) in 1991, Muslims read a different meaning. Bouba’s party was then and now still seen as a replacement of Ahidjo’s CNU.
One of the most spectacular twists in Cameroon’s politics unfolded in the March, 1992 Parliamentary elections. Bya’s CPDM had emerged with 88 seats falling short of a majority in Parliament. Bouba’s party became the only opposition voice in Parliament with 68 seats.
Dakolle Daisalla another Muslim and leader of the Movement for the Defense of the Republic (MDR) entered an alliance with the Biya Government. His six seats enabled the CPDM to have a majority in Parliament. Salla since then has occupied several positions in Government. He is currently serving a second term as an appointed Senator. This is still seen as compensation for his historic alliance with the regime.
In October 1992, the Presidential elections were held. Bouba came third behind Fru Ndi’s Social Democratic Front (SDF). While he protested the results claiming that Fru Ndi had won, the CPDM of Biya appointed two of NUDP’s key militants into Government. They were Amadou Mustapha and Issa Tchiroma. These are all Muslims. Moustapha occupied key positions even in the Ahidjo’s Government.
Bouba castigated the appointments, but the duo hanged on. Mustapha and Tchiroma were later dismissed from the NUDP. Mustapha first created the National Alliance for Democracy and Progress (NADP).
The NUDP President, who had castigated the result of the election was later appointed by Biya. This was after the elections of October 1992.
In 2007, Tchiroma a former Biya critic founded the National Salvation Front (FSNC). All these swelled the number of political parties from the North. Their leaders are all in the Biya Government till date.
Today, Bello Bouaba, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, Amadou Mustapha and Diakole Di Salla are all in the Biya Government. In the upcoming Presidential elections, parties which these Muslims founded have all thrown their weight behind incumbent Paul Biya. They are all part of what is known today in Cameroon’s politics as the Presidential Majority.
Biya’s interest in them is believed to be the importance of votes from the Northern Regions. These Regions have combined votes, which shape the outcome of Presidential elections in Cameroon.
Besides these, Muslims are still dominant within the opposition voice. There is the Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD) of Garga Haman Adji. Garga is a one time member of Government. He currently sits on the board of Cameroon Anti Corruption Commission (CONAC).
Over in the West Region, Adamu Ndam Njoya, a university don, has in the past decades found space within the politics of Cameroon. His party the Cameroon Democratic Union (CDU) has a strong influence in the Noun Division.
The Prince of Bamoum is currently the Mayor of Foumban. Ndam Njoya is one time minister of National education.
Even at the level of the opposition SDF, a Muslim Maidadi Saido, once served as Vice National Chairman. Maidadi is a Muslim from the Grand North of the country.
El Hadj Lawan Bako, Chairman of the National Democratic Union (UDP) party based in the North West Region of the country is another Muslim force on the political scene. Lawan, Chairman of the Presidential Majority is said to the reason why the CPDM lost in the April Senatorial elections in the North West Region. Christian politicians from the Region are said to have rejected his offer to help campaign in favour of the CPDM. This pushed the UDP to contest the elections. CPDM Councillors voted the UDP. The consequence is a loss of a strategic English-speaking Region to an opposition party.
On the Government bench, the influence of Muslims in politics can be seen from the over 10 Ministerial portfolios they occupy.
There is Ahamodu Ali, one time Minister of Justice and Keeper of the Seals. He is currently Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Special Duties at the Presidency in charge of Relations with the Assemblies. Amadou Ali has been in Government since the Ahidjo era.
Others are Baba Amadou, Minister of Public Contracts, Zacharie Perevet, Minister of Employment and Vocational Training, Yousouf Hadidja Alim, Minister of Basic Education, Mounouna Fotso, Minister of Youth Affairs and Civic Education, Dr Taiga, Minister of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries, Alamine Ousman Mey, Minister of the Economy,Planning and Regional Developmnt, Adoum Gargoum, Minister Delegate at the Ministry of External Relations in charge of Relations with the Islamic World, Bonifcae Bayoala, Secretary of State in Charge of Teachers Training at the Ministry of Secondary Education, Koumpa Issa , Secretary of State in Charge of War Veterans and Victims of War at the Ministry of Defence and Piere Ismael Bidoung Mpkatt Minister of Sports and Physical Education.
Muslims who are members of the Presidential Majority in Government are Issa Tchiroma Bakary, Minister of Communication, Bello Bouba Maigari, Minister of State in Charge of Tourism and Leisure, Amadou Mustapha, Minister Delegate at the Presidency in charge of Special Duties.
Besides these, there is the incarcerated former Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation and also erstwhile Scribe of the Presidency, Marafa Hamidou Yayah. He was a close ally of the regime and influenced elections for several years in favour of the current regime.
At the level of Cameroon’s Senate, a host of influential Muslim Lamidos have been appointed from a second time by president Biya. Even the Sultan of Bamoum, Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya , a muslim is serving a second term of five years as senator. He is the leader of the CPDM party in the Christian-dominated West Region.
Besides, Muslims enjoy a reasonable number of seats in the National Assembly in Cameroon especially on the ticket of the ruling CPDM party. The current President of the National Assembly, Honourable Cavaye Yegue Djibril is a Muslim. Until 2013, Cavaye who has been President of the Legislative Chamber for over 25 years was the second personality in Cameroon after Biya.
Within the ruling CPDM party, the President of the National Women Wing, Yaouh Asiatou is a Muslim. This too is seen as a political strategy to woo female votes from Muslims, especially in the Northern Regions. Asiatou is the President of the National Investment Promotion Agency of Cameroon.
Ibrahim Talba Malla, Muslim and member of the National Bureau of the Youth Wing of the CPDM is General Manager of the coveted National Oil Refinery Corporation( SONARA).
Renowned business magnet, Baba Danpulo, of North West extraction is known to be a friend of President Biya. When the Government unveiled its humanitarian plan for Anglophone refugees, he donated FCFA 50 million. Even during fund raising for campaigns, Dan Pullo is always in support of Biya’s CPDM.
These Muslims and more serving in Government often serve as political hunters on the fields in their respective areas of origin to drum support for a Christian, Paul Biya. This is common practice in Cameroon for those of the ruling party irrespective of religion.
Even the last daughter of former President Ahidjo, Aminatou Ahidjo, is a member of the CPDM party. She is currently Board Chairperson of the Yaounde Conference Centre.
Apart from these, there are Muslims in the administrative set up of Cameroon. The Governors of the three Northern Regions are all Muslims. There are Muslims serving as Rectors of State Universities and Board Chairs of State Corporations.
A few years back, Biya cancelled the entrance examination into the Teachers’ Training College of the University of Maroua, following a petition from the Northerners. They had petitioned the President over the quota reserved for their kith and kin.
On July 25 this year, the Imams of the Bamenda and Buea Central Mosque, Mohamed Adama and Alhadji Mohamed Aboubakar respectively were part of a meeting held in Douala seeking the holding of a conference to end the current Crisis in the North West and South West Regions.
Even at the local level, Muslims continue to have a say in the political life of their environment. For instance within the CPDM in Kumba II Sub-division, the Assistant Imam, Ibrahim Nasirou, is an influential member of the local party structure.
Under 50 days to the October 7 Presidential poll, opposition candidates have made several trips to the Muslim Regions. Akere Muna, of the ‘Now Movement’ got a political platform, the Popular Front for Development (PFD) from the Muslim zone.
Besides the likes of Maurice Kamto of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (CRM) and SDF’s Presidential candidate, Johsua Osih have in the last months, increased seductive political gesticulations towards the population of the Muslim dominated Grand North.
Kamto, Osih and Akere are all Christians from the West, North West and South West Regions respectively. Observers say they all know the Muslim Regions constitute the bastion of who becomes President in Cameroon.
With the current picture, pundits observe that, though 70 percent of Cameroon’s population has as religion, Christianity, the influence of Muslims on the political landscape will remain strong for the next decades ahead.