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“Death, Be Not Proud” – Adieu, Ni Sam-Nuvala Fonkem 

“Death, Be Not Proud,” for ideas render you irrelevant. This line from British metaphysical poet, John Dunn, along with the Socratic notion of prioritizing ideas over interlocutors constitutes, in my thinking, a prism through which one can better understand and appreciate the passing of Ni Sam-Nuvala Fonkem, an icon of journalism on Cameroon’s media landscape.

One may be tempted to say ‘one death, too many’ on account of the numerous deaths registered in our circles these  past couple of years, but that is the sobering reality of life on this journey we all must undertake from the womb to the tomb. For we are indeed disappearing organisms in time and space; we are not that relevant in who we are, but in the footprints we leave for posterity as we ebb out in turns. It is from this standpoint that Ni Sam’s life deserves celebration, for he fought the good fight in his very unique way and left the stage with his head held high.

Ni Sam was a truly larger-than-life figure as one can easily glean from eulogies pouring in on social media from his former colleagues, friends and family members.

I crossed paths with him during my graduate school days in the late 1990’s in Yaounde in familiar but often very unique circumstances. We shared the same alma mater in CPC Bali, and while preparing for the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the college in March 1999, we both served on BOBA-NEC communications committee, charged with (among others) publishing an institutional quarterly, BOBA TODAY. Also serving on this sub-committee were Prof. Tatah Mentan, Mr. Peter Essoka and Prof. Francis Wete. Due to scheduling conflicts, three of us (Ni Sam-RIP, Prof TM and I) met more regularly in their Yaounde Etoug-Ebe neigbourhood. This, by any stretch of thinking does not imply that we were colleagues; In fact, all the members of this committee left Bali College before I was born. The two were among names we heard on radio as adolescents in our high school days and dreamed to be like them some day. The understanding, in a typical Boban gerontocratic culture, was that I will essentially be the young man to run around for material and other errands necessitated by the publishing process. It was a privilege for me to join two house-hold names in journalism practice and theory in Cameroon in carrying out that assignment, an activity that resulted in a beneficial stint in print journalism to me. What an experience it was!

Our editorial board meetings were unique not only in that they were often held in a neighborhood bar; it was the quality of the discussions that emanated from the often bottle-filled table around which the triumvirate would sit to talk the imminent ‘impeccable’ (an adjective Ni Sam would use in that context with emphasis) issue of BOBA TODAY. Each editorial board meeting turned out to be a class in journalism, with me as the lone student diligently taking notes from two of the very best in the profession who had practiced the trade and taught same at home and abroad. The ‘classes’ were punctuated with insightful and often telling anecdotes and catch-phrases from their experiences from the late 1970s to then.

In my interaction with Ni Sam, one thing that stood out clearly was his disdain for mediocrity; His impatience with the mundane was ever so evident. He would get visibly frustrated with me on account of my amateurish writing or editing of material. In one instance he suggested to the editor-in-chief that the meeting be postponed for the next day while I go and take another look at the entire material before bringing it for review. He kept me very busy, and I enjoyed every aspect the assignment.

Ni Sam leaves behind a lovely family, friends and colleagues to mourn him. Worth noting is that he paid his debt to posterity in his unique manner. Like a tongue, probing a decaying tooth and exploring its jagged edges, he combed the crevices of his society’s dark soul and, prior to his exit, succinctly articulated his views, perspectives and some of his experiences in:

Incisive Journalism in Cameroon: The Best of “Cameroon Report” (1978 – 1986), published in 2013, Snapshots: An X-ray of Cameroon’s Democracy, Governance and Unification published in 2014and “Preface” to – In Defense of Press Freedom in Africa by Tatah Mentan, published in 2015.

 

Undeniably, he has belittled death in a very Socratic fashion because everything else will wear-out and perish while these ideas will exist for ever. He has been immortalized in them, and (unlike many of his contemporaries) no one will dare spit on his grave.

Victor N. Gomia, Ph.D.

Dover, Delaware

Associate Professor

Department of English and Foreign Languages

Delaware State University, USA

 

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