On August 17, 1991, Yerima Bello Bouba Maigari, the co-founder of the UNDP who had all along insisted that he was merely a “simple militant,” ended his seven-year exile in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna. He landed at the Douala international airport aboard a Nigerian Airways Boeing 737 at 1:05 p.m. and was received by thousands of UNDP militants led by their President Samuel Eboua.
On August 18, thousands of people wept with joy when the Cameroon Airlines Boeing 737 carrying “the pearl of the North” and President-in-waiting landed at the Garoua airport at 11:45 a.m. True to his promise, former President Ahidjo’s “spiritual son” – who incarnated the hopes and aspirations of the Grand North which was itching to regain its rightful place on the national political scene and erase the "shame" of 1984 – had finally returned home.
Speaking to UNDP militants at the airport, Maigari enthused that
The party’s success is far beyond our wildest dreams… the road to victory is wide open, though littered with obstacles placed by the CPDM regime. But no obstacle is insurmountable… We should be armed with enough patience and perseverance. Ours is a responsible party that will conquer democracy’s liberties in an orderly manner, and by respecting the law. Only through this can we be able to prove that ours is a party of patriots.
In the excitement surrounding Maigari’s return, very few people paid attention to his urging that the UNDP “respect the law” and fight for democracy “in an orderly manner” – statements that eerily echoed statements by the Biya regime and were clearly at odds with the position of the National Coordination of Opposition Parties (NCOPA) which had built its entire platform on a civil disobedience campaign and incivisme fiscal which entailed breaking, or at least ignoring, the law.
Maigari’s “legalist” stance would ultimately pull the popular UNDP out of the camp of the “radical opposition”, lead to a palace coup with him replacing Eboua at the helm of the party, transform the erstwhile national party into a northern regional party, and pave the way for a quarter of a century of collaboration with the Biya regime. And in the process, Bello Bouba, the President-in-waiting would be reduced to irrelevance on the national political scene.
An excerpt from Dibussi Tande, Reform and Repression: A Chronicle of the Smoldering Years, 1990-1992. (Forthcoming).
For details of Bello Bouba’s triumphant return see « Biya a-t-il perdu le nord? Le récit de l’accueil hystérique réservé à l’héritier d’Ahmadou Ahidjo. (1991, August 30) La Détente no. 045; “Bello Bouba: Return of a prodigal son.” (1991, September 28). The New Standard, p. 12.