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Meet the Black baby who made the news in 1952 for being the first to be born at a Whites-only hospital in Nigeria

July 02, 2019 at 05:30 pm | Opinions & Features

Mildred Europa Taylor

Mildred Europa Taylor | Associate Editor

July 02, 2019 at 05:30 pm | Opinions & Features

Parklane General Hospital (now Enugu State University of Science and Technology Teaching Hospital Parklane). Pic credit: Checkout Enugu

When Parklane General Hospital (now Enugu State University of Science and Technology Teaching Hospital Parklane) was established in 1930, it was a Nursing Home for colonial masters.

Described as a “white man’s hospital”, Nigerians were not treated or allowed there, so it became a huge surprise when in August 1952, the facility produced the first black baby, making headlines across the country.

After more than six decades, that baby would create another hype when he challenged the 36-year rule of Cameroonian leader, Paul Biya in the country’s October 2018 polls.

Now 66-years-old, that baby is Akere Tabeng Muna. The Cameroonian lawyer had set up the Cameroonian chapter of Transparency International and had hoped to effect reforms from within by contesting for the Cameroonian presidency.

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Akere Tabeng Muna. Pic credit: Cameroon News Agency

“Baby Muna” was born in August 1952 in the North-West region of Cameroon, which was then a British administered territory from Nigeria.
The North-West region of Cameroon, which was formally known as Southern Cameroon, would elect to join the Republic of Cameroon by UN plebiscite in 1961 around the time of decolonization.

Parklane General Hospital was then not taking in black people or Nigerians, according to sources, until 1952 when the first civil servants resident in GRA were allowed and treated in the facility.

In other words, the institution changed course from the then Nursing Home established for the colonial masters to a first-class hospital for government officials and elites in the society in 1952. During the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970, it was converted to a general hospital and used extensively to treat the wounded.

Gradual and progressive expansion led to the establishment of Surgical, Maternity, Theatre, Paediatric facilities in 1985. It was then approved for the training of house officers. It became a specialist hospital in November 2005 and a Teaching Hospital in May 2006, according to its website.

By then, Muna had founded the Cameroonian chapter of Transparency International and was on a mission to fight corruption.

“The first thing I did when I decided to work for Cameroon was to start the chapter of Transparency International. You know what it cost me? I was styled as [a member of] the opposition, somebody who was not patriotic and the clients from abroad who came to work with me were told that I was an opposition lawyer and they left. I lost 80 percent of my work because of that.

“When I was the head of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) I pushed for us to start the process; we are members since 2004, founding members, but we hadn’t even started the first stage of the review process. It has to do only with governance. So what do you want me to do? We have a government which closes its eyes so it cannot hear and closes its ears so it cannot see. And that’s a crazy way to behave,” he told DW.

South Cameroonians holding their national flag — Nationalia

Having grown up in a country that has been heavily divided between the majority Francophone and minority Anglophone, Muna, who is from southwest Cameroon, where insurgents are fighting for an English-speaking state, had trained at the bar in London before going back to his native country to implement reforms that would augur development.

When he announced his intentions to challenge long-running leader Biya in the 2018 elections, Muna said he was the best candidate to fight the corruption that has plagued the country and stalled development, despite rich natural and human resources.

Cameroon had, in 2015, been labelled by Transparency International as one of the most corrupt African nations, saying that the situation had increased poverty.

“Under my government, there will be zero tolerance for corruption,” Muna then said. He had come into the presidential race at a time when media reports said that resentment was growing towards 85-year-old Biya who had become repressive.

Cameroon was also at the time having difficulties tracing embezzled funds in foreign banks. In 2016, the government said it had recovered $4 million in stolen public funds. The state estimates more than $150 million has been stolen, the VOA reported.

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Akere Muna. Pic credit: journalducameroun.com

Muna, who is also a founding member of the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), subsequently indicated that he was working on what he called an African platform to bring back the stolen money.

“For the past five years, I have been in a committee chaired by Thabo Mbeki on illicit financial flows. And I made a proposal which was adopted by the heads of state of the African Union (AU). I proposed that all the money which is found in foreign banks which is frozen should be transferred to the African Development Bank (AfDB). Because those banks that are keeping that money are complicit with the kleptocrats who stole the money from Africa because they knew that they would take this money illegally and they took it. So they’re handling stolen goods.

“So my proposal was that we should fight to ensure that all that money is put into a holding account so that when they decide whose money it is, it is sent back. That was my proposal and the AU adopted it.”

Being from southwest Cameroon, Muna had also hoped to lead dialogue to end the current challenges in Cameroon that date back to pre-independence when the country was formed by combining two British and French colonial territories, with the bigger territory being the French.

The domination of French-speaking politicians in government has, over the years, been the source of conflict. There are now over 300,000 internally displaced persons and more than 40,000 refugees in Nigeria.

Even though Muna’s hopes of ousting Biya did not materialize, he is, however, remembered as one of the candidates who left a lasting impact.
The father of two daughters has also chalked several feats for himself. In September 2008, he was president of ECOSOCC and in 2012, he became a member of the High-Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, a body established by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

On February 11, 2013, the Board of Directors of the African Development Bank (AfDB) approved his appointment as Sanctions Commissioner of the African Development Bank.

After the 2018 election, he wrote: “The danger that Cameroon now faces is that its elections’ lack of credibility could lead voters to question the need to participate at all. And if electoral justice becomes captured by politics and hence incapable of addressing issues raised through the proper avenues, the streets will take over.”

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