His Life


My life has combined attributes of fortuitousness, steely determination, hard-work, military-instilled discipline, and a sense of giving back to fellow mankind. (E.M Nwana, 2004)

Elias Muthias Nwana was born in Bali Nyonga in the North West Region of Cameroon circa 1933. First son to Bambot Kala & Nah Genla, his presumed birth date of 26th February 1933 was estimated upon entry into primary school in Mamfe. Arguably the most important person in his early life was late Papa Davidson Mfum Nwana, junior brother to Bambot Kala, who played a pivotal role as his father and sponsored him through secondary education at St. Joseph’s College (SJC), Sasse.

He attended primary school at the Roman Catholic Mission school in Mamfe and his formal education was augmented by an induction of discipline that was typical of upbringing in the Police Barracks that was home to him and his elder brother Ni Moses Nwana. He graduated with his standard 6 certificate in 1948 and was admitted into SJC Sasse in 1949. From the accounts of his teachers and contemporary students, he was venerated for his discipline, moral rectitude and fairness. It was not a surprise therefore, that he was elected Senior Prefect in 1953. He graduated from Sasse, having obtained the Senior Cambridge Certificate. In 1954, he was enrolled into Bishop Shanahan Teachers’ Training College in Orlu, Nigeria, along with two of his best friends, Mr Ben K. Simo and H.R.H. Fon Moses Galabe. Upon graduation in 1953, the three of them, along with Mr Peter Nsanda Eba, formed a strong cohort of young Cameroonian teachers at the prestigious Sasse College.  Whilst teaching in Sasse, he embarked on studies for Advanced Level General Certificate of Education, successfully obtaining good results in 3 subjects: History, Literature and British Economic History.

In 1960, he was awarded a scholarship, along with Mr Francis Nkwain and Mr Daniel Namme, to study for a Bachelors degree at the University of Legon, Ghana. During his time at Legon, he was lucky to secure work placements at the Volta River Authority, the body that was tasked with constructing the strategic electricity-generating Akosumbo Dam in Tema. During his placement years, he also helped in the supervision of the construction of the first resettlement village in New Ajena. He obtained an honours degree in Sociology in 1963.

Upon his return from Ghana, he assumed duty as a teacher at the Cameroon College of Arts, Science and Technology in Kumba which was under the Principalship of Mr Sylvester N. Dioh. Within 6 months of starting in Kumba, the government requested the operations of the college to be moved to Bambili – and he was appointed Executive Vice Principal, a position he held until he went on to further his studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

During his tenure as Executive Vice Principal of CCAST, he instituted two schools: the School of Agriculture, and the school of Education and the Sciences. The creation of these two schools aligned with a strategy developed by senior anglophone educational pioneers for CCAST to eventually become full-fledged university. One of his ultimate regrets was that this strategy was stymied by political interference that eventually left CCAST as a “Lycee” with the Schools of Agriculture and Education transforming into separate institutions. The former is current day Agriculture College in Bambui, and the latter is what is now the Higher Teacher Training College (HTTC) of the University of Bamenda.

Two further achievements stood out from the multitudes that he recorded during his time as Executive Vice Principal. First, having studied Economics as part of his degree at Legon, he introduced the teaching of Economics into the Cameroonian education curriculum during this period. Second, he was proud to facilitate the admission of girls into CCAST Bambili – thereby opening new horizons for the next generation of women in Cameroon.

In 1965, he embarked on a Masters Degree in Education at UCLA and proceeded to complete doctorate in Education in 1968. Upon his return from California, he was recommended by his student, mentor and friend, Dr Omer Weyi Yembe, to take over as Principal of CCAST Bambili, a post he held until 1973. During this time, he oversaw the construction of some of the iconic infrastructure (student halls and administrative building) that are still in use on the campus today. He was succeeded as Principal of CCAST by the recently departed Dr Mathias Niba who shared similar philosophies and principles to pursue excellence in the education of CCAST students.

He also credits Dr Yembe with facilitating his following appointment as Cultural Delegate of Education for the South West province. In his consummate humility, he wrote of Dr Yembe in his autobiography “Dr Yembe would not like me to mention this, but my life history cannot be written without mentioning the role that he played in my life.”.

In 1979, having made a significant impact during his time at the helm of Education in the South West Province, he was appointed as the Director of Studies (Charge d’Etudes) at the Ministry of National Education – a natural promotion – for a visionary educationist. However, this was the least rewarding time of his professional career – finding the role far removed from the frontline of providing education which to him was a vocation. After just over a year, he negotiated to be transferred to the Ministry of Higher Education – specifically, Ecole Normale Superior (ENS) in Bambili to carry out his passion of educating the Cameroonian mind.

Leading the Science of Education department at ENS Bambili for over a decade was his last engagement with the Cameroonian Civil Service. During this time, he was a trusted advisor and defacto Assistant to a list of venerated Directors of the institution including: Mr. A.T.M Mofor, Prof Moses Asanji, and Dr Omer Weyi Yembe. His life was also influenced by – in his words – the young and brilliant Dr Ivo Leke Tambo – who ran the department with him and brought new ideas to the department and Cameroonian Education. Top amongst these was Dr Tambo’s facilitation of a close collaboration between universities in Canada and Yaounde. As part of these partnerships, he was seconded to work at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada. He enjoyed this period immensely and made numerous friends who would eventually organise and pay for treatment of a brain tumour in 1990.

His life was a vocation to education in Cameroon and the passion for this was no more evident than in 1992 when, along with his friend, Dr Yembe and other anglophone educationist like Andrew Azong Wara, fought for the creation of the GCE Board. The initial lobbying resulted in the creation of the Sondengam Committee. This committee, which he was a member drew up to modalities for the operation of the GCE Board in Cameroon.

Following his retirement from the Cameroon Civil Service, and frustrated by the fact that Bamenda was still devoid of a fully-fledged university, he worked alongside the others, including Hon John Ngu Foncha and Mrs Anna Foncha to form the Bamenda University of Science and Technology (BUST). He reluctantly served as the Vice Chancellor of the University during which time, he facilitated some of the building projects and signed a partnership with the University of Buea to validate degrees awarded by the Institution.

As an anthropologist and sociologist, he enjoyed the process of curating the cultures of the grassfields regions of Cameroon. He wrote, reviewed and critiqued several papers on the historical and contemporary cultural aspects of the peoples of Bali Nyonga. In a sense, together with other cultural curators like Mr Augustine Ndangam and Mr Patrick Mbunwe, he acted as a liaison between older curators of Bali Nyonga culture such as Liz Chilver with a now, vibrant body of researchers in this field. Along with Mr Patrick Mbunwe and others, they sought to “industralise” the teaching of the curation of culture through the Association of Creative Teaching (ACT). The raison d’etre of ACT was to imbue teachers from different backgrounds with the tools to teach creatively, using appropriate pedagogic models that fit the African sociological context. ACT’s operations culminated in brilliant publications by authors such as Mr John K. Fokwang, Mr Martin Miye, M.N Fonjie and others.

During his life, and in the last few days since his passing, one of the most used adjectives to describe him is “humble”. His humility derives from a strong Christian belief. He was never beholden to an ostentatious lifestyle – demonstrating his simplicity and humility in whatever he did. He wore his Catholic faith on his sleeves and was influenced significantly by Late Prof Bernard Fonlon and Archbishop Paul Verdzekov, with whom he worked closely as an advisor. He led multiple initiatives in the Archdiocese of Bamenda including acting as chair of the Cameroon Catholic Convention on three occasions. His love for sociology and anthropology also came to the fore in the work he did with Archbishop Verdzekov and his team on “Inculturisation in the Catholic Church in Cameroon” – a seminal piece of work which contextualised the Catholic Faith within the African culture. Dr Nwana also taught Sociology and Psychology of Education at the St Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in Bambui and served severally as chair of Parent Teachers’ Association of Sacred Heart College and Our Lady of Lourdes College, Mankon. Having moved to Njimafor in the early 90s, he became a parishioner at the Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish Njimafor. He served in the parish council, was a member of the Knights of St Columba.

He would freely acknowledge that any success in his professional life over the last 60 years was underpinned by a formidable and indefatigable wife, Mrs Odilia Mantan Nwana nee Domatob. They met and married in 1963 and had a wonderful union that has now only been broken by his passing. They were blessed with 8 children – with three sets of twins – Protus Samgwaa (died 1994), Hyacinth Samjella, Augustina Genla, Augustine Bambot, Gerald Feh, Stella Nagwa, Benedicta Nagella and Vincent Lebga. He will always credit “Mama” as the mainstay of the upbringing of these many children and spoke glowingly and proudly about how Mama had “trained them to be good and moral citizens of the world.” Together, they were the epitome of a good Christian marriage and in this regard, were role models for a generation of younger couples. He was blessed with 19 grandchildren and 2 great grandsons.

He was also robbed of one of his closest friends and confidants; his brother, Mr Peter Nyonga Sama, in May 2016. He and his younger brother, Peter, had a formidable bond and were the patriarchs of the wider Tanunjam family.  They are now re-united.

He battled several ailments in the latter years of his life but faced them with fortitude and faith in God. He lost his sight in the latter years of his life – but stayed positive throughout, once stating that “I believe that I will see again – if not here, then in the God’s kingdom.” A mark of his faith!

For what its worth, given his apathy for frivolous recognition, he was a Knight and Commander and the Cameroonian Order of Valour. Perhaps more importantly to him, he was also in receipt of a special commendation from the Vatican.

In summary, he was a man who lived an impactful life. A man with a passion for educating himself and others. A man whose humility overshadowed his significant achievements. A man who viewed fatherhood in the broadest sense of the word: not just a father to his biological children but to the wider populus. A God-fearing man who never took himself too seriously; safe in the knowledge that there was a greater purpose to life than earthly achievements. The impact he has made on the lives of people he met is boundless. His legacy on education in Cameroon and beyond is unparalled. All these attributes are demonstrated in the following sentence which he used to summarise his life: My life has combined attributes of fortuitousness, steely determination, hard-work, military-instilled discipline, and a sense of giving back to fellow mankind. (E.M Nwana, 2004)
It was a life well lived. Adieu – rest in peace.