Breaking NewsPoliticsSports

Exclusive Complete Interview: “Why And How I Left CRTV” – Fon Echekiye

Fon Echekiye

A few unique features of Ignatius Fon Echekiye make him standout way apart from his other colleagues of the journalism profession. One of them is his unique knowledge of sports and reporting it.

Another is his trademark grey hair. He is a very fast yet, lucid talker. One outstanding characteristic of Fon’s which people apparently don’t know of is the fact that he’s always been into deep research and meticulously keeps a diary.

Three weeks ago, he invoked his three decade old diary. It provided 850 pages of sporting information and more of published work.

Fon discusses this publication in an exclusive interview he granted The Post.

It is compelling!

Fon Echekiye, most Cameroonians know you simply as a stand-out sports journalist who served at CRTV for close to three decades. Who else is Fon Echekiye?

I was born shortly before 11am on Tuesday, September 8, 1964, at the Kumba District Hospital. My father, the late Michael Fon and my mother, the currently ailing Mami Anastasia Mbafon, had come from Djottin-Noni in the then Northwest Province of Cameroon and settled in Kumba. My father was a clerk in the Helmenthisis Research Unit, today’s Medical Research Centre. At the age of six I was enrolled in Sacred Heart Primary School, Fiango-Kumba, where I graduated in 1977. Since along the line my mother had introduced me to mass serving in the Catholic Church, the zeal to become a priest in the Roman Catholic Church became so obvious. So, I requested that I be sent to Bishop Rogan College, Small Soppo, Buea.

My father died in 1975 when I was still in class five in the primary school after he was poisoned by our next door neighbour, his tribesman. So, it was my uncle, my mother’s younger brother, Thomas Ndinayi (Uncle ‘T’) who had come in from London after grabbing his degree in telecommunications who stepped in to assist my mother, a rudimentary farmer, in the sponsorship of the seven children my father had left behind. You know from the Northwest tradition that, when such a thing happens, it is the man’s family brothers who come in to help, but in my case, my uncles absconded from the responsibility. That was how Uncle T sponsored me in Bishop Rogan College right up to form five where I had 11 O/levels and I later moved to CCAST Bambili where I obtained four A/levels. Whilst in CCAST Bambili, I read Chemistry, Mathematics, Further Mathematics and Physics. One afternoon, I got into the room of my classmate, Francis Yoba Yoba who slotted in an audio tape of Cameroon versus Poland 1982 World Cup preview by Zachary Nkwo. What I listened to it over and over again, it sowed the seed of sports reporting in me. Whenever our teacher of Chemistry, a subject I was weak in did not show up or came late, I would spend the time reciting the preview by Zachary Nkwo; and that’s how I got so interested in sports reporting.

So when in 1984, I had four A/level subjects with less than enough points to secure a government-funded scholarship abroad, I travelled to Yaoundé to enrol in the lone university at the time. Imagine a blue-blooded Anglophone from Bamenda confronted with assimilating mathematical analyses in French…I got discouraged. After roaming the campus of the University of Yaoundé for two years, I sat in for three competitive entrance examinations (Advanced School of public Works, Advanced school of Engineering and the Advanced School of Mass Communication). The first results that came out were that of ASMAC. So, I quickly rushed in there and that’s how I would eventually become a journalist. I never cared about what happened to the other results.

So you were taken to journalism by a sheer conspiracy of circumstances?

The flame in me was burning brightest when I thought about journalism. My understanding of Journalism at the time was that you just get into the commentary booth, pick up a microphone and commentate on whatever sporting event was going on. So, I left from there with my first degree in mass communication and according to the mandatory operations at the time, I would spend some few months in the Ministry of Information and Culture, from where we were summoned one afternoon to meet a panel at CRTV Mballa II.

I was later retained as CRTV staffer and sent to the sports service to work with the lone man on board, Francis Niba. That was on August 22, 1990, the day my professional career as a sports journalist began. When I went on retirement, it was 27 years afterwards. I had covered five World Cups and 11 Africa Cup of Nations editions. At the time of this interview, that has gone up to six FIFA World Cups and 12 Africa Cup of Nations, respectively.

One would have thought that a book like the one you recently published would have been dedicated to one sporting legend or the other. Surprisingly, you dedicated it to all the victims of the Anglophone crisis, what informed this option?

There were three things. One of them was to dedicate the book to my mother, whom as I said is ailing right now as we run this interview, for all what she has done for me. The other one was to the heat which so many Cameroonians are going through because of the Anglophone armed conflict and then the third one was to dedicate it to any particular sports man who trained me during my career as a sports journalist. When we put all three independently on a scale, the one that weighs heaviest is that of the Anglophone armed conflict.

Did you by any means have covert or overt sympathy or support for propagators of the Ambazonia project?

Sympathy not for the propagators but rather sympathy for a cause as it is. Why? Because it is accepted that this matter is something that started way back in 1961 when the two parts of Cameroon came together; Southern Cameroons and La République du Cameroun at the time. When things started from there, there was a seeming attempt to frustrate the ambitions of one part of the deal. There is no reason why you will leave an earlier dispensation to something you think is better, just for you to discover that, a fast one has been pulled on you. Therefore, my stand on the matter is, things should be done in a way that people stop complaining. Allow sleeping dogs lie, don’t let them wake up and start looking for food only to end up eating what they didn’t have the intention of eating. It is more of a sympathy with the cause, than with those behind the cause, because, we are looking for an idea; what can be done from this idea for us to find again the dispensations that were initially there. It’s for things to be better off than they are now. This present dispensation, given the facts and figures of what has been happening people are rather suffering than enjoying what was hoped would result from a sincere partnership.

The social media is awash with allegations of you having had brushes with your bosses in CRTV on what was said to be your political tilt towards the Amba project. What is your reaction to these allegations?

What happened was that in 2017 while we were covering the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon, we were watching CRTV, the state owned media, broadcasting coverage of the events as they unfolded in Bamenda and Buea. And, one thing that was happening at the time and that was so obvious was that, schools had been disrupted. And so, as I watched, I told my delegation head at the time, Alain Belibi, that, if CRTV kept giving the impression that schools were going on normally in Buea and Bamenda, they would end up radicalising the Anglophones because, they seemed to be clamouring for something and showing that things are not moving, but, you’re giving the impression to the whole world that, things are moving. So, I posited that time was up for something to be done. I continued that information reaching me in Libreville necessitated that everyone should think of a way of contributing to resolving the problem.

My stand at the time was simply that, let the Head of State order for the release of Agbor Balla and all those coming from the Southwest region and Mancho Bibixi and those that were coming from the Northwest region, so that, he could receive them as a politician and tell them, “listen Agbor Balla, I’m the father of the nation. You guys have complained, and protested. I’ve heard you. Go back to Buea and tell your guys that, the father of the nation has said that, he has heard and he’s going to react.” Mancho Bibixiy was to do the same for Bamenda. In a rebuttal, the mission head, Alain Belibi said the Head of State cannot receive the likes of Agbor Balla and Mancho. So, I asked, “are they not normal human beings?” I said these are just members of the same family and if you have a father of the nation or a father in the house and there’s trouble in the house, you sit down your children and talk to them.

Alain Belibi still insisted that President Biya could not receive them and stuff like that. Then I said, from what is coming to me from Yaounde, the situation is getting out of hand; this is the time for you to do something. He said “but how?” Why was I talking as if I was championing the cause of those guys? I retorted that I was feeling the heat myself because I’m Anglophone. He asked if I was suggesting that because I am Anglophone, if there was secession in the political dispensation of Cameroon I would join my guys and go back to Bamenda. I said, “Mr. Director, if that came to pass, I’ll stay in Yaoundé because most of my friends are in Yaoundé. At that time, I continued, Yaoundé would be in a different country. So he said, “ok, the way you’re talking, I now know who you are.” So, we had a wild exchange. One of the Directors called me in his room and said the kind of exchange I had had with the boss could be subsequently used against me. I said, “Mr. Director, I was just airing my point of view on a crucial matter.” So, when I came back to Yaoundé and we had to go receive the victorious national team at State house after their triumph in Libreville. I was driving out of CRTV with George Ewane when he asked me why it was that Alain Belibi thought that I was radical. I said we had had an exchange in Libreville and if he was saying that to the latter it meant that the matter was taking a new dimension which I had not foreseen. That notwithstanding, we came back from the State House and we had a meeting to draw the balance sheet of the AFCON during which the head of delegation, Alain Belibi stood up and told the General Manager in a heavily attended meeting that everything went on well. After the meeting I went and saw the General Manager and told him that I was disappointed. I told him that after he was appointed to manage CRTV he noted that discipline in the house was imperative for him to attain his set objectives; and so if Alain Belibi came back from Gabon to tell him that everything was right he was being untrue to the boss. I maintained that discipline was at its lowest ebb and indiscipline was touching a remarkable high. So, the GM asked me what happened and I explained and he said, “Ok, I’ve heard. Now I have confidence in you. I want you to overhaul the sports service in radio and TV and make it more interesting and performing… go ahead, even if you have to create positions of responsibility, do so and appoint people there including yourself.” I did, only for me to be shocked that the day the appointments came out, not only did they adulterate what I had presented as the new way the service should look like; they had appointed everybody else except me. So, I went to see one of the advisers of the General Manager to find out what had happened. He told me the General Manager said that being such an experienced staffer that he did not want me to come down there and run around with kids and stuff like that.

As I left his office somebody whispered to me that on the morning of the appointments, the General Manager came to the office and asked that Fon Echekiye be dropped because reports about me and my political leaning were very disturbing. All this was happening with the CRTV Sports Channel imminent. Facts speaking for themselves, at CRTV at that time, the most qualified person to manage that channel was Fon Echekiye and no one else. So, I thought that with that done, probably what the technical adviser had said I should be waiting for the channel, it did not come to pass. They appointed some other person to head the channel. I was nowhere to be found. So, I began roaming about at Mballa II without an office or a chair until the Friday night when I was told that staffers had been redeployed and I was going to work at the radio under Mr. Alain Belibi. But before then the latter had met me at the lobby of CRTV Mballa II and promised teaching me a lesson after considering my report as the TV coordinator during the 2017 AFCON as treacherous and indicting him, the mission head. I had been working at CRTV for 27 years, and just two years to going on retirement I was being sent to work at the radio!

On Monday morning, I wrote to the General Manager and said because of this and that, I couldn’t work with Alain Belibi. He summoned me to know more before asking me what I wanted to do. I said I just wanted to work. I said the World Cup in Russia was just a few weeks away, and with the sports service seemingly sleeping, I could start a countdown with a special programme. It was validated and I got to work. When I started working there, Alain Belibi who hoped to see me show up for service reportedly wrote to the General Manager to say that, I had abandoned my duty post and the General Manager was supposed to have told him to assume his responsibility. To take his responsibility was that, he put up an announcement on radio calling on me to come back to service or be considered as having absconded. I was told that someone from the presidency called and said CRTV is radio and television and that I was on special World Cup programme on TV, so how come my name was being called on radio to report for duty? I was later to be ignored and my retirement already on the horizon. Meanwhile, there was something at CRTV, when you leave the Ministry of Communication and come to CRTV, you go on retirement at 55 as a civil servant but when you’re recruited directly on CRTV you go on retirement at 60. But some few years back, the Prime Minister signed a decree asking for harmonization which meant everybody working at CRTV goes on retirement at 60. But the General Manager needed to validate for it to move from 55 to 60, based on what they call in a clause ‘necessity of service’. You are looking forward to the advent of the Sports Channel, and the man known to be the most qualified is there, but you don’t validate his stay therein to 60, but rather allow him to leave at 55… That was how I left CRTV.

You have told us that you sympathise rather with the cause that has escalated to an armed conflict. Was that the reason why you were summoned to the gendarmerie headquarters à few years back? Your fans were really worried about your safety then…

I appreciate the concern demonstrated during the saga of the gendarmerie summons. It’s important that I explain what happened. The first thing is, it had nothing to do with politics. Next thing was that it was a civil matter that was poorly managed. I had borrowed money from someone years back. I was paying back but at some point it became difficult, so I met him and told him that, despite all my efforts, it’s very difficult for me, I don’t know how to go about it anymore. In response the guy said, “now that you’ve said that you can’t continue, what else can one do?” When you talk like that and you leave it at that point, the first deduction to make is that, you’re saying that let’s forget about this thing since you can’t continue paying. The perception could also be, “what else can one do? I need to use a more stringent methods to recover my money.” So I was therefore surprised that, so many years later on, I was summoned to the gendarmerie for the matter. When I came back from the Cup of Nations, I was scheduled to be on leave, but that day, somebody came to Mballa II; I was actually in my office, the door shut and keyed. Why? I wanted to stay away from the house and I didn’t want to roam around. By being on leave, nobody was supposed to come and look for me, so I actually heard somebody knocking at the door. About 30 minutes later I came out to check and someone asked me if I didn’t see a gendarme looking for me who went upstairs. When I went upstairs, somebody presented to me a summons from the gendarmerie and which was stamped ‘confidential mail’ which was meant for me. The gendarme had to hand it over to me and not to a second party, because by handing it over to a second party it was no longer confidential. And anybody would have done any kind of thing with it. It was summoning me to the gendarmerie. I showed up there with my lawyer and was told that there was a complaint to the effect that we were into some commercial deal with a gendarme, and that I was the one managing it with all dividends going into my pocket. First of all, that was what they commonly refer to as ‘faux et usage de faux’ because we had never gone into contract with any gendarme officer. What I understood later on was that the guy in question who was supposed to have dropped this matter against me had talked about it to this gendarme officer who promptly took advantage and this was exactly what happened. But at the end of the day the matter was resolved and I insist, it was a civil matter that had nothing to do with politics.

From the declarations and revelations that you made about your colleague Alain Belibi, you got the reaction from Nana Payong, who is like saying that Belibi is not that kind of person, denying what you presented as altercation you had with Alain Belibi. What was your reaction to the comments he made about you?

Since I read the comments, I have not made any public declaration on that. I’ll eventually answer him appropriately. But since you’ve asked me the question, this is my brief reaction to it. First of all, I was invited on a programme on Canal 2 called “90 minutes pour convaincre”. On that programme I answered every question. I had to answer including one whose answer took about 13 minutes. That was the question on what happened that I didn’t show up when I was sent to the radio to work under Alain Belibi. I told them the entire story. Somewhere else I was asked the question on some of the things I went through at CRTV? I said there was something I found so unusual throughout my stay at CRTV for 27 years. I was never raised to the rank of “grand reporter” which is senior reporter or senior journalist. So, I found it unusual that was the statement. You watched an entire programme of 90 minutes and settled on that and start saying that, I am claiming that Alain Belibi is the cause. My 13 minutes response indicted Alain Belibi, but the one that had to do with the grand reporter stuff had nothing to do with Alain Belibi because his opinion had never been sought, to the best of my knowledge, in whether or not I should be raised to the rank of grand reporter. So he left the substance and was chasing the shadow. And I insist, the tape is there on YouTube, go and listen to the entire interview or the section that was talking about that. At no point did I say the matter was because of Alain Belibi. So, I am therefore shocked that the one-time renowned producer of CRTV, Robert Ekukole could get into that stupidity and take a position on the matter, saying that it was a lie I was telling and it was degrading for me to be pinning the thing on Alain Belibi. Did Mr. Bob Ekukole listen to me say that or he was following the allegations by Nana Payong. So I’ve been really enraged by that and I’m going to respond to him since he used a medium to address himself and that has gone round the world, I want to announce to him that, you don’t joke with me when it comes to facts and figures, I read all the things they wrote about me concerning that matter, I did screenshots of them that I have. But what has happened at the end of the day I’ve gone again to check and discovered that, they have taken away what Bob wrote but I have a screenshot of what he wrote! Unfortunately, the bullet is fired and you can’t hold it back. I have never said that Alain Belibi did anything for me not to be appointed grand reporter. That is not all, the issue of grand reporter does not have to do with a piece of paper; it has to do with your DNA and no piece of paper can put in or subtract what you have in your DNA concerning your professional proficiency. If I wasn’t appointed grand reporter it means that I’m “petit reporter.”

Luckily for me, I worked with Jean Lambert Nang who understood I didn’t need to be appointed grand reporter to be asked to cover the several World and Nations Cups I covered. All those grand reporters, why didn’t they cover? So it’s just a kind of figment of the imagination from Nana Payong and also, I’m going to answer to this his thing subsequently.

Besides Zachary Nkwo, that was more or less your Godfather, who are other journalists that have impressed and inspired you during your stay in the profession?

I would say just one, and that was George Michael of the Sports Machine fame. He died in 2015. He was a celebrated sports caster in the United States of America. I had been trained in radio broadcasting at school not television. We had some rudimentary insights on television but where I received training was radio. I got admitted as a staffer at CRTV and I was rather sent on television than radio. I remember at the time Joe Chebongkeng who had been trained on television was rather sent to radio. So behind the curtains I was trying to see whether I could go to where I was trained and Mr. Chebonkeng goes to television. But, the argument I received from Eric Chinje who was editor-in-chief was that, the workload at television was so much that, they didn’t just need people who were qualified but those who were passionate about the job. So, he said the decision had been taken so I stay only at television. That was how I got to receive footage from the American Embassy on the programme called Sport Machine presented by George Michael. I started fashioning my performance on television on the image of George Michael. So that was the guy who, like Zachary Nkwo on the other hand inspired me to become who I became.

What would you say were your best and worst moments at CRTV?

My best moments were when Cameroon’s National team scored the victories, the 2000 victory with the so-called Dream Team, the 2017 AFCON and so and so forth. Those were the best moments as a reporter. And then a particular moment that I actually enjoyed professionally speaking was when I was in charge of the television team at 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, because then I determined what was going on the air, I determined how it was done, contrary to when I used to work under others who always reminded me that they were the boss as soon as I fought to push professionally sound things through.

In 2017 I had the opportunity to do things the way I conceived them and they got out to the audience the way I thought. And of course my worst moment was when the Cameroon team lost to then little known Cape Verde in Praia or the first round elimination during AFCON 1996 in South Africa. But, there are some two moments that ached me throughout my career at CRTV. The first one was in 2000. We had gone to Ghana and Nigeria to cover the AFCON and so were required to produce some micro programmes on the side-lines of the competition.  I and Jean Lambert did three reports each, edited and sent to Yaoundé. Once I came to the producer the master of the programme and the editor told me that all my reports had been erroneously recycled. The circumstantial evidence was that it had been done on purpose. In 2005, we were in Buea for the Mount Cameroon Race and the Minister Bidoung Kpatt came for the opening ceremony, and started presenting his speech in English. My francophone mission head stood up and told me that, if the Ministers keeps presenting this speech in the English language, he would ask the cameraman to stop recording. He effectively walked up to the cameraman as the Minister was still presenting his speech and said “cut.” Things like that at the time that would have sparked off the armed conflict.

What did it take you professionally to publish an 850-page book on sports and related issues?

When I enrolled in ASMAC, we were taught a number of things amongst which, there is what I can call a daily notebook of events. The idea was that, you keep daily records of events happening around the world. We began that, and just about two weeks into the exercise, I started dwelling more on things that had to do with sports so, by the end of the first year, I was already calling it Echek’s Diary. That’s how I kept reports of stories I did for the news and special programmes from then till this day that we’re talking. I still have in my keeping about 5000 stories I wrote during my stay at CRTV. So it was easy for me to get into that batch now and take out 176 of them and publish as part of the book. Also included are the highlights of my Nations Cup coverages as part of the book, as well as my short notes of all eight World Cup participations by Cameroon, just at the level of facts and figures. Now, on the side-lines of that I have key things that happened in my life and affected my career and of course, the story of my professional career as I went in and out of the studio to cover events. That is what it took for me to come up with the book, not forgetting 42 pages in colour and pictures that highlighted each and every year during my professional career.

It is rumoured that there was a calculated attempt by some of your colleagues to boycott the recent launching of your book.

The book is dedicated to all victims living and dead of the armed conflict. Now, when I leave from Yaoundé there is a programme of a triduum in Yaounde, Douala and Buea. In Yaounde, the hall we rented was scheduled to take 150 people, I had also written a book on Zachary Nkwo, which launch was also a fiasco because at the time we took a hall that could take 400 people and only about 40 people attended. So, someone told me don’t you know there is a saying that to hide something from Cameroonians you can only put the thing in a book. So with that in mind, I said it won’t repeat itself. We took a hall that could take 150 people about 112 showed up in Yaounde. We went to Douala, where I have 50 people who are either my close friends, professional allies or prospective collaborators but only five showed up… two francophone journalists, male, female and cameraman; and the other two were my tribe’s lady and her neighbour. Till this day I’ve never known what happened. We went to Buea, about 23 people showed up. So the question I asked myself was, is it because of the people to whom I dedicated the book? But I didn’t bother and at the end of the day, this is what happened. Just about 10 minutes to 6pm, there was a crisis meeting outside and they were suggesting that I should postpone the Launch for a different time  but I told them no. I asked my point man in Buea Barrister Ashutantang, what explained the fact the people didn’t show up? So, there was no reason for me postponing the launch.

Are you bitter with the way you rounded up your career in CRTV?

Not the least; it’s just that I observed that there was something that prevented me from ending the way I would have done with the house I so dearly loved. But, that doesn’t mean there is some bitterness in me. No.

Many people were wondering until you broke the silence, where you’ve been. What else were you doing since you retired?

Just before I went on retirement, there was the President of the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, IFFHS, who came to Cameroon and wanted to see Roger Milla. When he got to me, I took him to Roger Milla, he was so excited and asked me a lot of questions about myself, which I told him. When I was going to see him off at the airport two days after he arrived in Cameroon, he saw the way the crowd reacted when they saw me at the airport and said I’m a popular man in this country. I said I don’t know. So, just before he could go and board the plane, he told me he’ll see me. So he went there, didn’t ask for my opinion, and just posted something on his Facebook page where he had built up his executive bureau of 14 members of this federation, three from Africa and I was the only black and I’m still the only black on their executive bureau for a five year mandate. He did not only draft me but took me straight into executive bureau and I started work. What does the job consist in? It’s putting together facts and figures of performances of football players and teams and coaches and officials etc… Since I left CRTV I’ve been an executive bureau member of IFFHS. That’s what my job consists in right now.

Covering 6 World Cups, 12 Africa Cup of Nations, it’s not only the professional clamour and grandeur, but there is also the money…

If you make a roll call of rich people in this country Fon Echekiye will never be among them because actually he’s even indebted. I’ve not made money myself simply because I had a number of things in my life that stopped such an ambition of amassing wealth. When you don’t have a stable home, that is one of the consequences, that your finances become unstable. I lost the first marriage and I’m into the second one now. That is not all; there is some other part of it too. Sometimes you go to Pentecostal churches and they talk about the devil sitting on someone’s finances; I think I’ve had that experience. That sometimes you have money and at the end of the day you don’t know what you’ve done with the money. So, I’ve been unable because of those two key factors, to make enough money. To another extent, my children attended the best schools coupled with the fact that my better halves in their times came into my life as students. But you’ll never buy my conscience because I don’t have money. Money has its limitations. To close, I thank God I am right now headed for financial redemption.

Interviewed By Yerima Kini Nsom

Related posts

“My Objective Is To Bring More Honour For Cameroon”— Gama Derick

The post

ANGLOPHONE CRISIS: What If Cameroon Changed Its Name?  A Proposal For Neotoponymy

The post

The post