Cameroon's Professor Bernard Nsokika Fonlon of blessed memory was a success in life. His can be called a success story. He was Cameroon’s foremost educationist - a genuine intellectual; a teacher all his life. It can be said that he was born a teacher and he died a teacher. After his primary education which took him from the Native Authority School in Kumbo in 931 to Saint Anthony’s school, Njinikom in 1938, where he graduated, he taught as a probationary teacher at Shisong. In December, 1941, he entered the Junior Seminary. After he completed the course in 1945, he returned to Cameroon where he taught for two years, in St. Joseph’s college Sasse.
In 1948, he gained admission into the Bigard Memorial Seminary in Okpuala in Owerri, Nigeria which later moved to Enugu in 1951. After completion of six years of the seven-year course, he was asked to discontinue his studies in the seminary. He then took up a teaching job in Christ the King college in Onitsha in 1954. He later moved to Europe for further studies in the National University of Ireland; the Sorbonne in France; and Oxford in Britain.
He returned to Cameroon in 1961 after his studies. He joined the Government in 1964 as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, then Minister of Transport, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications and Minister of Public Health. When he left the Government in 1971, he went back to his original job: teaching and joined the teaching core of the University of Yaounde. He taught there until he went on retirement on his 60th birthday on the 19th of November, 1984. He died in Canada on the 27th of August 1986 at the age of 61.
Professor Bernard Fonlon is a legend in Cameroon. He will be remembered for a long time to come. Future generations will read about him. Never in the history of Cameroon has more tribute been paid to someone as it has been paid to Professor Bernard Fonlon. Hundreds of tributes were paid to him in churches, in the press and in academic journals when he died. Many more came later.
If Professor Bernard Fonlon was so admired, it was because of what he stood for and what he offered the world. One of his greatest ambitions was “To educate and inspire the youth.” This ambition, he realized. He educated the youth in primary school; in Secondary school, and in University. He supervised the theses of many students right to PhD. He spent personal money to educate children who were not his children. (He had no children of his own, not having married all his life.) The children who lived with him or benefited from his largesse were adopted children. Among them were moslems, Catholics, and Protestants from different tribes.
Professor Bernard Fonlon was an educator par excellence. He taught not by precept alone but also by example. His life was his first lesson to all his students. One of the greatest lessons he taught was humility. As early as childhood he pledged to live a simple life. “I sprang from humble origins. I was not favoured by wealth; I was not favoured by rank. I was lowly to live, lowly to die. In one word, it is my ambition to live the life of a simple man.”
He liked that everybody should feel comfortable with him: “whatever I may become, my life, my surrounding, my bearing, shall be such that any man shall find it easy to approach me; and approaching, find himself as in his accustomed environment completely at his ease.”
Did he live up this standard he set for himself? Those who knew him, among them the Archbishop of Bamenda of blessed memory, His Lordship Paul Verdzekov say he did: “When Bernard died an American friend of his made pointed reference to this aspect of his life and character when he wrote, ‘in some ways, the very fact that he died in semi-obscurity is symbolically appropriate for despite the accomplishments of his life, Fonlon was a humble man who never really sought the lime-light. As others gained fame and notority, he laboured patiently and effectively – as a Government Minister, as the editor of an impressive cultural journal and as a teacher to realize the lofty ideals he had set for himself.’”
He instilled into the young minds a spirit of detachment from worldly things and the qualities of good leadership. To be a good leader he said, it is absolutely necessary that the leader knows where he is ‘leading the people to; should know how best to lead them there; should wage perenial war in life against all the attractions, enticements, and seductions of money, ease and pleasure, worldliness, against the thirst and craving for power and glory; must come to no terms whatsoever with vice; must live in the world with a spirit that is totally dead to the world; must toil in union with God.”
Professor Bernard Fonlon was a great educationist. He inspired many young people who aspired to be like him. He was a role-model as a teacher and leader of men. His reputation as a genuine intellectual went beyond the frontiers of his country. He has been described by many as a great teacher and master of future generations. The ideals that this man stood for, lived for, taught and upheld would make our country great. The story of education in Cameroon will never be complete without a page on Professor Bernard Nsokika Fonlon. His life was a true success story.