Fru Ndi was born in Baba II, near Bamenda in the Northwest Region of Cameroon. The title of Ni, a marker of respect, was given to him when he was born. He attended school in Cameroon at the Baforchu Basel Mission and the Santa Native Authority before going to Nigeria to study (at Lagos City College) and work in 1957. In 1966, he returned to Cameroon and began selling vegetables. He ran a bookstore in Bamenda, the Ebibi Book Centre, headed a football club from 1979 to 1988, and headed the Lions Club International branch in Bamenda from 1987 to 1988.
By 1988, Fru Ndi became a candidate of the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (RDPC) in the Mezan Central constituency during the single-party 1988 parliamentary election, losing to a different RDPC list.
Fru Ndi founded the SDF, an opposition party, in 1990. He was elected as the SDF’s National Chairman at its 1st Ordinary National Convention, held in Bamenda in May 1992.
In the October 1992 presidential election, he made a strong showing against President Paul Biya, losing with 36% of the vote against Biya’s 40% according to official results (in Fru Ndi’s stronghold, Northwest Province, he officially won 86.3%. This election was condemned as fraudulent by the opposition, and Fru Ndi and third place opposition candidate Maigari Bello Bouba unsuccessfully sought for the election to be annulled by the Supreme Court. Amidst the outbreak of violence in the North-West Province that followed the election, Fru Ndi was placed under house arrest in late October 1992. After about a month, he was released. On 20 January 1993, Fru Ndi, along with his wife Rose, attended the inauguration of United States President Bill Clinton. He and Rose were photographed with Clinton and Clinton’s wife Hillary, and Fru Ndi’s presence at the event had a symbolic impact in Cameroon, giving the impression of recognition and legitimacy in light of Fru Ndi’s claim to have won the 1992 election.
Along with other opposition parties, the SDF chose to boycott the October 1997 presidential election. Fru Ndi was re-elected as SDF Chairman at the party’s fifth congress in April 1999, receiving 1,561 votes from delegates against 40 for his challenger, Chretien Tabetsing.
Fru Ndi was the SDF candidate in the October 2004 presidential election; according to official results, he took second place with 17.40% of the vote against 70.92% for Biya. He received his best results in Northwest Province (68.16%), followed by West Province (45.04%), Littoral Province (32.71%), and Southwest Province (30.59%).
Fru Ndi alleged fraud in the July 2007 parliamentary election and called for it to be annulled; in the election, the SDF won the second highest number of seats but was far behind the ruling RDPC, which won an overwhelming majority of seats. After the election, Fru Ndi said that Biya should recognize him as the official leader of the opposition.
Fru Ndi said on November 14, 2007 that he would be willing to meet with Biya. He said that Biya had not invited him to meet and that he had tried to meet Biya several times, contradicting Biya’s statement on French television that Fru Ndi had not responded to his invitation.
On 12 April 2008, Fru Ndi called for a national day of mourning on 21 April 2008 to commemorate the individuals who died during the 2008 anti-government protests and the “death of democracy” in Cameroon. Fru Ndi indicated that he believed the 2008 changes to the Constitution were intended to enable President Biya to be life-long dictator of Cameroon and that the changes would institutionalize corruption, immunity, and inertia.
Presidential elections 2011
On Monday, October 17, 2011 few days after the Cameroon presidential elections, John Fru Ndi alongside other presidential candidates called an emergency meeting to tell Paul Biya to annul the elections.
*Sarli Sardou Nana, “A Brief Narrative on the Man Ni John Fru Ndi”, SDF website.