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Spyglass: Academic Brigandage! 

By Azore Opio

I have worked hard and learnt a lot about how teachers and their students interact in this good, old country. And I have noticed that most of them are living in a way which makes a big mess of our education system. Part of me wonders, now, if academic brigandage is not an honourable kind of thievery in Cameroon.

The state of intellectual garbage is far worse than should be tolerated. Much as crime and violence walk hand in hand through the districts and towns, many, if not most of the institutions of learning are infested by footpads and garrotters of the academy. Organised intellectual banditry is increasingly becoming an inveterate and seemingly ineradicable institution such as it must be always where the governors are weak, or the records inaccessible and surreptitious, and where the offender has the only to easy recourse of melting away in an insouciant society. It is against such a background of general intellectual insolvency and social vagrancy and general moral rot that I attempt to appraise Cameroon’s academic brigandage.

One might, it is true, have to travel far to find another country where academic banditry is directed and exploited by political managers, but, at least, the circumstances of such theft are not in themselves so very unusual to the men and women of Cameroon. There are, however, certain characteristics attaching to the Cameroon academic theft, which makes the institution unique.

Those who have cared to observe Cameroon would know the origins and history of the noble thief. It can be discerned in the scanty records about the country and the existence of bands of morally desiccated men and women who later were to become the powers above and were able to cast an enveloping mantle of patriotic kleptomania over the intelligentsia. The powers that be could devise no means to corrupt further the intelligentsia and ensure a cyclic reproduction except by the recruitment of irregular forces of scholars are as dull, destitute of intellect and vulnerable to malleability and ductility as them.

These forces were, and are still officered by the powers above and are as much in sympathy with patriotic kleptomania and academic theft as they are opposed to anybody who as much as raises a finger against them. The kleftic manner of life has become idealised into the heroic. If you must reach it, all you have to do is don an academic robe, sing the praises of the head of state and dance to the drumbeats of the master thief. This band of academic mediocres is almost of incredible softiwood, lacking in mental resource.

Their lives are ruled by a rigid code of mutual loyalty in theft; scholars in theft, which is reinforced by superstition of very remote origins. Their victims are often, by no means, youngsters. The rich ones are always the first victims of their depredations. Female ones are no less susceptible than the rich ones as their ascendancy on the academic ladder is transmitted sexually. For the rest, the rural scholars furnish them with supplies given either as willingly as patriots or under compulsion as marauders, or else they perish as the jetsam of another academic year.

In Cameroon, you know that it is always your word against the police and you know you will come out the loser. Seriously, police should be better paid, properly trained in their job and have a higher degree of integrity. But what the heck! The policeman probably bought his way into the police college very dearly and was badly trained by some academic garrotters, so he sees bribe as a way of living.

This is because the whole damn system is rotten. Bribing is an accepted culture among Cameroonians. And the more rules and laws are instituted, the more incentives the government seems to give to the enforcement people. Great idea actually, no need to raise salary, just make the ordinary man pay by introducing more rules. What about the middling magistrate who bought his way into ENAM , the doctor who "greased" him/herself into CUSS, the teacher who "palmed" his/her way into ENS, the accountant who tipped the balance to his favour in school and became a bank manager… ?

And the customs officer? Obviously, magistrates are entitled to the rightful reward for diligent service, but the ENAM magistrate will graduate as a meritorious "miscarrier" of the law; the CUSS doctor as a certified butcher; the ENS teacher as a half-baked academic misfit, and so on and so forth. For crying out loud, it is money that does the talking and of getting things done and settled. So be it police, doctors, teachers, councils, immigration, magistrates and others, sadly, even the clean officials get tarnished because of the sorry state of corruption in Cameroon.

To the Cameroonian middling scholar, the kleft unites in his person all that is most spirited and courageous in their national character, and this sympathy has survived for at least four decades. How does one accredit a public competitive examination, for instance, that is set by lecturers of a certain subject but is marked and graded single-handedly behind closed doors by, say, a head of department and then dispatched to Yaounde for another man to expunge the names of deserving candidates and replace them with academic misfits?

The kleft has done no small service to ordinary Cameroonian since they still pray that their sons and daughters may breathe the air of kleptomania in the academy and thus ascend to the heights of heroic theftdom. So grand is this sentiment that the prestige of the thief remains a powerful attraction to the adventurous Cameroonian. So great also is the demand for paper qualifications and bogus academic titles and robes that the number of lettered bandits in the country shows no diminution.

Their ranks are constantly recruited from those who are guilty of examination frauds, or are liable for any malpractice that would earn them spurious certificates with the least ado, or simply attracted by the life of dishonesty and easy profits. These banditti, in unofficial parlance, are no longer dignified by the name of kleft; they have been re-christened with irrelevant appellations of doctors and professors who are not ashamed to array themselves in flowing gowns and black hoods and mortarboards.

This, for practical purposes, is the extent of distinction, but the manner of their life and operation, their consciousness of the pride of their calling and depredations remain the same, and the public, terrorised and stupefied by their assumed grandeur, continue to pay them pathetic tribute and admiration. And these pseudo-academics, inordinately conceited and supremely contemptuous of decent living, regard the practice of plundering the intellect and blackmailing innocent scholars as an honourable way of life and one which is synonymous with patriotism. If the cap fits you, wear it, so it is said.

It is not impossible to estimate the damage and suffering brought on the ordinary Cameroonian by this abominable system of protection and encouragement of academic banditry. One can see it clearly depicted in the present roguery of La République, earnestly spearheaded and maintained by the honourable rapscallions of the so-called blue-blooded stratum, who, for their own insatiable hunger for power, allow these peculiarly brazen academics to perpetrate academic brigandage.

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