The last man standing
Senator (Chief) Victor Esemingsongo Mukete, the Cameroonian elder statesman and paramount chief of the Bafaw tribe, is the only surviving member of Nigeria’s first Executive Cabinet led by the late Alhaji (Sir) Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, as Prime Minister.
Born November 15, 1918, Chief Mukete turned 100 last Thursday. Not surprising, very few Nigerians know him or knew he was a member of the late Prime Minister’s first cabinet. However, this is because before the reunification of Cameroon in 1961, the country was divided into two zones — the Western Zone (comprising two separate areas and later known as Northern and Southern Cameroon). British government administered this area, as a mandated territory of the League of Nations and afterwards as a trust territory of the United Nations following Germany’s defeat in the World War II.
Secondly, the French under its policy of Assimilation administered the other area, which formed the rest of the country (comprising four-fifth of its total land mass).
In the British area, there was local participation in government in the sense that both Northern and Southern Cameroon were joined as part of Nigeria for administrative purposes. This was how young Victor Mukete eventually emerged Nigerian Federal Minister in the 1950s.
French Cameroon proceeded to partial Self Government in 1957 and full independence on January 1, 1960. After UN plebiscite in 1961, Northern Cameroon chose to join Nigeria, as part of the Northern Region. Southern Cameroon on the other hand (where Victor Mukete hailed from) initially gained independence from Britain in early 1961, but opted to join the rest of Cameroon formerly administered by the French in October later that year to form the Republic of Cameroon. This in effect brought to an end Victor Mukete’s longstanding and political ties with Nigeria. This also, perhaps, best explains why very few Nigerians know our Federal Minister of yesteryears.
Victor Mukete began his Primary School Education in 1926 at the age of eight. He attended Government School, Kumba in Southern Cameroon. Thereafter, he gained admission into Government College, Umuahia, (then known as the ‘Eton of Eastern Nigeria’) in 1933 for his secondary school education. Government College, Umuahia, was and remains a leading Nigerian secondary school known for having produced the largest number of celebrated writers in one generation. Some of the writers include, Chinua Achebe, Elechi Amadi, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Christopher Okigbo, among others.
Other distinguished alumni include statesmen, Jaja Wachuku (former Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives) and Okoi Arikpo (a former Foreign Minister of Nigeria). At Government College, Umuahia, Victor Mukete became a Senior Prefect as early as Form 5 and again in Form 6.
From Government College, he passed the entrance examination into Yaba Higher College, Lagos, and afterwards attended its Professional School of Agriculture in Ibadan. In 1943, he secured a Diploma in Agriculture and was subsequently posted to Bamenda in Northern Cameroon to work in the Institute’s Agricultural Department. He worked there for four years before securing a Colonial Development and Welfare Scholarship to study Botany at Manchester University in England.
Obtaining his bachelor’s, he secured another award to study Agriculture at Christ’s College University of Cambridge. On his return from the United Kingdom in 1952, his political career began almost immediately. He first married his late partner, wife and mother of his children, Hannah Makia, in 1953. Subsequently, he became a member of the Kumba Native Authority and in 1954 was called to serve on the Cocoa Marketing Advisory Committee, as well as the Southern Cameroon Marketing Board. Around the same time, he became the Secretary General of the Kamerun United National Congress.
Senator Mukete was a staunch believer in the reunification of Cameroon and he along with five others of Cameroon descent and of the same political persuasion eventually won election into the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives on the platform of the Kamerun National Congress as re-unificationists in 1955. Perhaps, due to his impressive educational background, British government appointed him a Federal Minister almost immediately. He was first of all Federal Minister without Portfolio in 1955 and, subsequently, Federal Minister of Research and Information from 1958 -1959. This was the last ministerial appointment he held in Nigeria before Southern Cameroon joined what became the Republic of Cameroon in October 1961.
His political stature continued to grow in a unified Cameroon. First, he became Chairman of the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC) from 1960 – 1982; and was sworn into the Cameroon National Assembly as Judge of the Court of Impeachment. He later became a member of the Economic and Social Council; Vice President, Cameroon Chamber of Commerce, Mines, Industry and Crafts; and now its Honorary President. He is currently Chairman of Cameroon Telecommunications (CAMTEL) and Chairman, Mukete Estates Ltd.
Chief Mukete is an Honorary Member of the Central Committee of the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement Party (CPDM). He also holds different foreign and national decorations, including the Knight Official, Humane Order of African Redemption (Liberia); Officer of the Cross Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany; Officer of the Cameroon Order of Agricultural Merit; Commander of the Cameroon Order of Valour and Grand Officer of the Cameroon Order of Valour.
At 100 years, Senator Mukete is not surprisingly the doyen d’age of the Cameroon Senate (the oldest member of the Cameroonian Senate) and, indeed, the oldest Senator in the world. From a Nigerian perspective, Elder Mukete and his family have retained close ties with Nigeria. His children are known to frequently visit Nigeria. One of his sons, Ekoko Mukete is a Director of the United Bank of Africa (UBA) and regularly attends the bank board meetings. At 100 years, the elder statesman remains just as influential in Cameroon as he was in Nigeria in the Pre-Independence Era. With recent growing tensions between the French and English speaking natives of Cameroon, all his considerable political knowledge, skills and experience will be needed to resolve the mounting tensions and divisions built. Nigeria and Cameroon have continued to appreciate this African legend.
We all wish him a very Happy 100th Birthday!
• Stephen Kola-Balogun is a legal practitioner and a former Commissioner for Youth Development in Osun State.
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