Ni John Fru Ndi, national chairman of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) passed away at 11.30 pm on June 12 in Yaoundé. According to a statement by party vice-president Joshua Osih, he died after a long illness. The statement adds that “the funeral arrangement will be communicated once established.” According to his entourage, Ni John Fru Ndi returned home from months of medical evacuation. He withdrew from public life over a year ago, relinquishing his party presidency.
The deceased leaves for eternal rest at 82, after more than 30 years of political activism in the opposition. Born in Bamenda in 1941, when the English-speaking regions were still under British rule, Ni John Fru Ndi spent part of his schooling days in neighboring Nigeria. He is known for having run a bookshop in the town of Bamenda.
He left the ruling party CPDM and, in 1990, he created his party, the left-winger Social Democratic Front. In 1992, he ran for president for the first time against President Paul Biya, officially coming second with 36% of the vote, against 40% for his opponent. But the Chairman felt that he was cheated and declared himself the winner, earning a house arrest at his Ntarikon residence in Bamenda.
Crisis at the SDF
The chairman left a party torn by an internal crisis. In 1997, he decided to boycott the presidential election, even though his party was already the opposition leader. He stood for re-election in 2004 and again in 2011 but was outrightly defeated. Before the 2011 presidential election, to ease political tensions, Paul Biya, the President of the Republic, met his historic challenger in Bamenda, on December 10, 2010, during the celebrations marking the half-centenary of the Cameroonian army.
In 2018, Ni John Fru Ndi chose not to run for the presidency, leaving his First Vice-President Joshua Osih as the SDF candidate. Osih recorded the party's worst defeat in a presidential election, finishing fourth with just 3.35% of the vote, far behind incumbent President Paul Biya (71.28%), Maurice Kamto of the MRC (14.23%), and Cabral Libii invested by the party Univers (6.28%).
Weakened by political setbacks, corruption scandals, and illness, Ni John Fru Ndi announced his plan to retire from politics in February 2021. His announcement signaled the race for succession at the head of the SDF but, the outgoing chairman never hid his preference for his first vice-president, who became the de facto runner-up. This accentuated tensions within the party, leading to the exclusion of some thirty executives. They challenged the decision and appealed to the courts.