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August 2009

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I’ve been fantasising a bit today about Pastor Mensa Otabil, founder of the International Central Gospel Church. He’s been celebrating his 50th birthday today and I’ve been thinking about the man, his ministry and his impact on our society.

Very few will challenge the assertion that Otabil is one of the wisest men in the country today. He commands a lot of respect – even from non-Christians – and he is a man of exceptional humility (compared, at least, to other church founders in Ghana).

He runs a global church and he has thousands of followers yet, he is one of the very few church founders in this country who have refused to take on the title of ‘Bishop’ or ‘Archibishop’ or any title higher than pastor.

His sermons have touched many hearts, inspired the downtrodden, changed lives and even influenced how people vote. Some die-hard members of the ruling party, NDC, think that his sermons about leadership (and its failures) broadcasted on radio stations across the country, contributed to their party’s defeat in the elections that brought John Kufuor to power. They are right. Otabil’s preaching threw a lot of light on the ineptitude of the Rawlings administration and fed into the clamour for change in 2000.

His critics say he didn’t criticise the Kufuor administration as much as he did Rawlings’; that he treated Kufuor and his men with kid gloves, helping them to get away with wanton corruption and indecent ‘grabology’. They may not be wrong.

But take it or leave, Otabil is an exceptional man (of God). He is unlike no other. He’s a man of great vision and what he has achieved with his life and ministry will hardly be lost on even his most avowed critics.

Whiles other pastors were spending good money building temples – a demonstration of their opulence – Otabil built a university. Whiles others were wasting church funds on luxuries and the latest fashions, Otabil set up a scholarship fund for the needy in his church. Whiles others fleeced their congregation with the deceitful message of prosperity (“give and it shall be given unto you”), Otabil was telling his followers that manna will not fall from heaven if you don’t set your heart and mind on doing something for yourself.

He has this ability to deliver his message without sounding preachy and as bigoted as many other pastors are. And that’s why his messages are listened to by many people who do not attend his church as well as Muslims and atheists alike.

Recently, he spoke about the nation’s need for “generational thinkers” – people who will think and act in such a manner that the benefits of their deeds will be felt by several generations to come. Unlike other pastors who preach virtue and practice vice, Otabil’s words match his every deed. And for that he’s earned the respect of many. He is, indeed, an exceptional and an exemplary leader.

I think he’s the sort of leader this nation needs to steer us from the muddle of wretched underdevelopment and hopelessness to a path of growth, enlightenment and opportunity for all. I wish Otabil will become president of Ghana one day. He will care for the nation as much as he’s cared for his congregation. His vision will go a long way to help fulfil the original mission of our forebears – to show the world that the black man is sensible enough and capable of managing his own affairs.

If wishes were horse, I’d sit Otabil on one for a majestic gallop to the Castle. I have no doubt that he would make a very fine, sensible president – if only he will run and win. But he won’t run. Even if he runs, he most probably won’t win. What a pity? Otabil is one of the best presidents we will never have. But that shouldn’t stop me from fantasising, should it?

It was half a year ago when President Mills told parliament that his government will like to see Ghanaians celebrating what would have been Kwame Nkrumah’s one hundredth birthday in a grand style. The president also announced his intention to set aside a national day of remembrance for Ghana’s founding president. The president will just need to put ink to paper to declare a holiday for Nkrumah. But organising a befitting celebration in Nkrumah’s honour won’t be as easy.

Very little has been done by way of planning to ensure that the celebrations honour Nkrumah in a manner he deserves and benefits the country in the long run. In places where people have it ingrained in the genes that what is worth doing is worth doing well (where they don’t sing, “we are going… we don’t know where we are going) planning for the occasion would have started immediately after the President laid his plans for the commemorations before parliament. Not so here…

A committee (yes, another one) was set up to plan for the occasion well over three months after the President made his intentions known. That committee – made up of academic sorts of the ‘colo’ variety, who know little about event organisation and marketing – have been very busy doing all the things that will contribute very little towards making the celebrations an emphatic success.

Receiving the committee’s report on how the celebrations should go, vice president John Mahama, said last month that “There is no time to waste, we’ll move on with alacrity”.

But precious time had already been wasted and as things stand now, it seems the celebrations will pass off as yet another hastily-organised, confused and, sadly, forgettable event. Mark it on the wall.

With just a month to go, it is only now that the celebrations planning committee has started looking for funds. Government has pledged two million Ghana cedis towards the event but a lot more (about 10 million GHC) is needed – from the private sector. Unless government has a special taskforce which will be sent out to wring the money out of the pockets of individuals and companies, it’s hard to imagine how the Nkrumah Centenary Committee will, within a month, be able to raise the same amount as government has offered for the celebrations. It will take a miracle in a time of economic crisis and heavy taxation for such a feat to be achieved.

By now, adverts should have been rolling on the international media inviting the world to join in the celebration of the life (and works) of an African icon; Nkrumah’s memorial park should be squeaky clean and ready to receive tourists from the four corners of the globe and his birthplace should have been prepared for those who might want to make a pilgrimage there. With just a few months to go and very little money in hand, you can be sure that everything is going to be done in an embarrassingly haphazard manner.

The centenary committee chairman, Prof. Akilagkpa Sawyer, is confident that he and his group will “deliver a good programme even with six million Ghana cedis”. They just might be able to pull it off.

But a little forward-thinking would have changed the story completely. Even though I am not a great fan of Nkrumah’s I think he deserves better than this.

The guy could see 50 years into the future and he planned, seriously, for it. If he hadn’t been a forward-thinker, we wouldn’t have had the Akosombo Dam, we wouldn’t have had the Tema Motorway and all those factories successive governments have so gleefully sold off to raise money to prop the economy wouldn’t have been built.

In the hundredth year of his birth, the best tribute we could have given Nkrumah would have been to let him know that we picked a few forward-thinking lessons from him. Alas, decades after his death our leaders demonstrate (year in, year out) that they cannot even plan six months ahead. If Nkrumah can see us from wherever he is, he would weep as we ‘celebrate’ his birthday. What a shame.

Do we even need these celebrations at all? I wonder. For me, a better celebration will be to spend the money to build a modern, well-equipped school in Nkrumah’s impoverished hometown. That would make him happier than these celebrations we are groping in the dark to organise.

Dear Pastor,
I’ve heard that different women come to you with all sorts of problems. Some of them are looking for husbands. Others want their husbands to be delivered from the bosom of other women, often nubile with double twin-peaks, the sight of which redirects the flow of blood from the brains to the groin. Yet other women – and there are a lot in this category – come to you in tears, anxious to conceive so they can bear children to satisfy (and silence) their in-laws, friends and husbands.

It’s amazing how more and more women turn up at your doors every day, seeking divine intervention even though it’s hard (almost impossible) for anyone to tell the number of women you’ve actually helped to secure husbands and those whose husbands have decided not to stray but to stay content with their wives’ “low-down popcorn”. I heard that some men even lead their wives to you.

My friend, Joe Apinto, thinks such men are fools. He and his wife, Akosua Linda, have been together for eight years but they’ve not had any children. And you know how people like to talk about these things. Some say Joe’s gun has either been “seized” or he has just been “firing blanks”. Others, however, say Akosua’s womb is surrounded by one thick concrete wall, so fortified that Joe’s forces, despite repeated incursions and heavy artillery, are unable to break through.

Well, Joe is the I-don’t-care type and so he’s not very bothered. But his wife has been a very worried woman all these years. She shudders to hear that Joe’s mum is visiting. All the woman talks about when she gets Akos’ attention is her need for grandchildren. “So, you won’t give me my grand children before I die, eh?” she keeps asking.

Akosua is even more frustrated because most of her classmates are now mothers. Even her younger siblings have had children of their own. In fact, the youngest among her siblings (who is just 25) has six children already. You know her. She’s called Opeibea and she’s a member of your church.

Her husband has got the libido of a cock (pun is very intended) and he goes around impregnating any woman he gets. Apart from the five kids Opeibea has borne him, he also has three children with different women in Teshie Nungua, Kasoa and Enyan Abaasa. Worried that her husband was straying too far, Ofeibea came to you for prayers.

Opeibea claims that when she came to you for a special session, you told her husband to wait outside as you took her inside. You told her to strip naked and sat her down on a stool. Then you brought out a sachet of ‘pure water’, tore it open and you proceeded to give her inner sanctum a thoroughly divine wash. All this while, she says, you “were speaking in wondrous tongues.” The whole session lasted a good 15 minutes and she claims that since you prayed for her, her husband has changed. She claims that after your ‘intervention’ her husband has suddenly stopped pulling out his ‘langalanga’ at the least provocation, if you know what I mean.

Delighted by the miracle you wrought in her life, Opeibea recommended you to her sister, Akosua. According to Opeibea, your “divine touch, has helped many other women in different, even more difficult situations” and she believes that if her sister comes to you, she will conceive a miracle baby after just two weeks.

Yesterday, I visited Akosua and her husband. They told me that they were considering coming to you – as their “last stop”. But they weren’t sure. Joe thinks allowing you to touch his wife in her wondrous places will border more on folly – and not faith. Akosua thinks otherwise. She insists that if allowing you to touch her is what she needs to do to get her mother-in-law off her back, she wouldn’t hesitate.

Well, after listening to both sides of the argument, I decided to offer myself as a sacrificial lamb just to test your methods and to help my friends decide whether God indeed works in mysterious ways like the one you have adopted. We want to know whether you truly have the ‘Midas touch’.

Pastor, I have problems. A lot of them. To begin with, I have recurrent constipation that turns every call of nature into a torturous endeavour that tears me apart – literally. I want you to pray and command my bowels to loosen up. Secondly, I don’t like my job. It doesn’t pay well and I think my boss is to blame. He sits on all the money and gives me what he thinks is enough for me. I need you to pray for him to stop being so ‘chisel’. Thirdly, pastor, I don’t want my wife’s World Trade Centre (or Twin Towers) to collapse – ever. So I need you to pray for them to stay upstanding for as long as she lives.

I am writing this letter to book an appointment in your chambers, where you will prayerfully give my precious hanging cannons a thorough wash – just as you did for Opeibea and all those women. If two weeks, after my session I begin to see an improvement in my situation, I will gladly ask Joe and Akos to come and see you. However, if after washing my hanging canons, I don’t get any positive results in good time, I will go down on my knees and pray that you go to hell.

I am hoping to hear from you within the shortest possible time. Please, don’t tell me that your divine washes are for women only. You know you are not the only pastor who does this sort of thing. I hear there are several others (who may be even more powerful than you are) in places like Teshie Nungua, Adenta and Dansoman. If you turn me down, I will go to one of them. You don’t want to lose out to the competition, do you?

In need of a wash,
atokwamena

The New Patriotic Party has definitely taken a bold step forward. For several months last year, they were singing “we are moving forward”. They were knocked off their tracks at the polls in December, but over the weekend they got themselves back on track and took major steps into the future. Those steps should help a great deal in deepening the democratic culture in Ghana and for that, they deserve a tonne of congratulations.

The constitutional amendments approved by NPP delegates at their special congress in Accra are very forward-looking and should pave the way for the various political parties to devolve power to the grassroots.

By voting so massively for the constitutional amendments, the NPP delegates delivered a rebuff to former President John Kufuor who quite unwisely opposed the changes, insisting that the party’s constitution needed no revision. His opposition to the amendments was yet another manifestation of how eight years as Chief Executive of the country have thrown Kufuor completely out of touch with the people – even his own people.

In rebuffing Kufuor, the delegates approved all the proposed amendments – except one. The party’s leadership in Parliament had tabled this proposal to insulate them and help them contest unopposed for re-election.

In a speech at the start of the conference, the party’s leader in Parliament, minority leader, Osei-Kyei Mensah-Bonsu delivered a rousing speech urging the delegates to vote for the amendments. He dwelled at length on the need for the party to retain its best brains in Parliament – apparently hoping to be spared the fate of predecessor, Abraham Osei-Aidoo, who lost his parliamentary seat after losing the constituency primaries last year. Mensah-Bonsu spoke of “all manner of men and women” showing up at the end of each legislative term to challenge sitting MPs, trying to “reap what they have not sown”.

Clearly, he must be disappointed that the one proposal the delegates voted against was the one that would have ensured that he kept running for parliament on the NPP’s ticket unopposed – year in, year out.

“There should not be any winners,” he said in his speech. “And there should not be any losers.”

But he should count himself among the losers of the day – along with the likes of Kufuor. Kufuor opposed – among more than 40 others – the proposal to enlarge the body of electors that will choose the party’s presidential candidates for future elections. This means the days of a few thousand easily corruptible ‘executives’ and big shots electing the person who leads the party into electoral battle are well and truly over. That decision will now be made by more than one hundred thousand individuals from every polling station in the country – including some of the lowliest of party faithful.

Ahead of the congress, it had been argued that such an arrangement will weaken the party’s central leadership. But as Osei-Kyei Mensah-Bonsu eloquently said, it would rather foster “a sense of belongingness… a sense of ownership” of the party at the grassroots. The NPP foot soldiers who were so restive in the last days of the Kufuor administration, crying that they had been abandoned, should be happy with the new provision in the party’s constitution.

The provision to enlarge the NPP’s electoral college marks a very big step forward, not just for the NPP but for democracy in Ghana. More power is being vested in the people and that’s what democracy is all about. The new provision doesn’t go as far as it could have gone, but it’s an important first step that should eventually lead to every card-bearing member of the party having a say in every major decision of the party – such as the election of executives and those who run for political office on its ticket.

Over the past eight years, the NPP delighted in doing some pretty nasty things that most Ghanaians would rather forget. But the small, first steps the party took at the Trade Fair Site in Accra (amidst sporadic scenes of violence, which should be condemned) are good examples for the other political parties to follow. Opening up the arena of decision-making to people at the grassroots is not as bad as Kufuor and his out-of-touch ilk think – it’s rather a very good thing. Hopefully, the NDC will not wait to be kicked out of power before it takes similar measures – to hand ownership of the party over to the people at the grassroots.

It’s not going to be easy. Organising elections at the polling station level to elect presidential candidates will be an expensive endeavour for any party. But democracy – power of the people, for the people, by the people – is not cheap. If good money needs to be spent to get as many people as possible participating in party decision-making, so be it.

I’ve received numerous requests from people asking me to publish some of the writings of the legendary PAV Ansah. I am yet to get permission from the publishers of ‘Going to Town’, which is a compilation of writings but I am sure they won’t object to me reproducing the following excerpt, which I had to type out from the book. This was Prof. Ansah’s last article on earth. Shortly after it was published in the Ghanaian Chronicle on June 14, 1993, under the heading ‘The land where success may be a high risk factor’ he passed away.>>>

Beloved Friends and Lovers, dear Brethren and “Sistren”, pray, lend me your ears for today I’ll commence by donning the skull cap and comfort myself like the sanctimonious prelate whose hobby consisted of inflicting unedifying and insipid homilies on a docile congregation. I do, however, crave your indulgence and assure you that I shall not be too “preachy”, though I will resort to the Holy Writ at least once to make my point and drive it home.

For it was said to them of old in the last of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house; thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s wife. Nor his manservant, nor his maidservants, nor his ox, no ass, nor anything that is they neighbour’s.”

If the commandment had been given to us today through Moses, I am sure the good Lord would have added, “Thou salt not covet thy neighbour’s soap factory, nor his poultry farms, nor his cement paper factory.” But alas, the Big Man above spoke too early and so these vital items were not specifically mentioned.

This country of ours seems to be buffeted in contradictory and whimsical directions, and it looks as if we don’t know where we are going or how to get there. Or it is even possible that we don’t know exactly what we want. We appear to be so fickle, unstable and undecided. At least that is the indelible impression our leaders give by their capricious actions and unguarded pronouncements.

There is a tendency among human beings this side of heaven to react in various ways to the success of others. Some are admirers and try to emulate the good example given; others yet are consumed by envy, jealousy, covetousness and would wish the successful entrepreneur, industrialist or professional dead. For the first category of persons, we in Ghana in our infinite quest and unquenchable thirst for fun, jest and levity are reputed to have found a parody to depict the syndrome, meaning, the “pull him down” syndrome. Yes, indeed, it does exist and manifests itself at all levels.

Since independence in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, we in Africa have undertaken all steps to develop our societies. Many of our efforts were guided more by unjustified idealism which lacked touch with reality, so that even where there appeared to be some growth, it was growth without development because it did not pay enough attention to the equitable redistribution of the wealth that had been created. The result was that there wasn’t much evidence of social justice. The people had been fed on extreme populist rhetoric. The result was a re-creation of poverty and its equitable re-distribution in a levelling down operation. There was vociferous bombast and vacuous rhetoric but nothing more.

In the early 1980’s, we settled for the free market model of development under the spiritual guidance of our new “old” masters from overseas. Thus it was that our Investment Code was revised to make it even more liberal, a floating currency was put in place, protection of the products of local manufacturers was reversed, subsidies were removed from essential social services such as health and education; the price of petrol went sky-rocketing, and many other measures besides, all meant to help resolve the survival equation.
There were several dislocations; people were forcibly retired and lost their ability to provide for their families’ needs. The promise of employment in the private sector could not be fulfilled because the private sector industry was not getting the necessary incentives and nurture for growth and expansion.

The official statistics said one thing while the reality of our pockets presented a different story. School leavers were frustrated because there were no jobs to go to and they had no marketable skills to sell on the job market.

This was the time when we all expected that local sons who had made it should be commended, praised to the skies, held up as models and objects of emulation and adoration by others who might be encouraged or inspired to find out how they made it. This is what one would expect from a well equilibrated political environment. This sounds only commonsensical, but we in Ghana seem to have a natural penchant for denouncing, decrying and deprecating what we should rather be praising to the skies.

Let us not protest our innocence on this score. We as a people did what was expected of us, but not our beloved President. The man seems to be allergic to other people’s success and never misses an opportunity to express his sentiments. Instead of holding up our indigenous entrepreneurs as examples to follow, he berates them, as and when in an appallingly condescending and derisory manner he referred to the NIP presidential candidate as “akoko Darko”. What the cheek! As our elders said Nnye asem na oaba ma Kwesi Mensah ekowia serekye ma aporisifo rikyin dan ho ritsiw no a, nkye nnye kopol ne nyenko tsipen nye sagye-megya – if it had not been a question of political argument, how dare Mr. J. J. Rawlings even have the effrontery to speak so disparagingly of this successful self-made man, Mr. Kwabena Darko.

And let us all take the case of Mr. Appiah-Menkah and his Apino soap, which is serving the local market in the face of fierce competition by other types of soap officially imported or smuggled in. If for nothing at all, the entrepreneur has provided employment opportunities to the locality where his soap-making plant is established. For this alone, shouldn’t he be given the accolade? And yet our envious and jealous head of state not only finds it appropriate to denounce him, but actually calls on people to boycott the products from Mr. Appiah-Menkah’s factory because he will use the money to finance a rival political party. What do the businessmen and contractors, local and foreign, who support the NDC do with their money? Throw the whole damn lot into the sea? Come again, Mr. Rawlings. Can anybody sink lower in subverting and sabotaging the economy? This is most unpatriotic and betrays the President’s penchant for vindictiveness and covetousness. If he has failed in any cherished mission, he shouldn’t take it out on innocent persons who deserve praise and not denunciation.

And then Dr. J. A. Addison, a most admirable person, a humane employer and responsible taxpayer who should be held up as a model, is instead being denounced as an exploiter whose goods must be boycotted in preference to imported substitutes. And yet we continue to talk about encouraging independent and indigenous enterprise. Why should the whims, caprices, aberrations and personal hang-ups of our president subvert all the work being painstakingly done on the labour and economic front; why should they be neutralised by the unguarded utterances of our head of state.

Since the discoveries of the virtues of the IMF/World Bank package, we have been mercifully spared the sterile ideological rhetoric of incipient and infantile Marxists. With the demise of Marxism in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, we had assumed that we were permanently rid and cured of those sterile mouthings directly or by implication or inference. Even they have also discovered the strengths and virtues of private enterprise as well as the weaknesses and vices of the collective thinking approach to economic development. They are now encouraging entrepreneurship, so who are these cheap, incoherent latter-day proletarians who are waiting for Rip Van Winkle to wake up to shake them from their ideological slumber?

During the last decade, the government has spared no effort in promoting private investment in local industry and hence the spate of divestiture, including the hiving off of enterprises which because of their encouraging performance or strategic importance had better been left in the public sector. But if you consider the enthusiasm of a convert you can easily appreciate why a fresh convert would like to show that he is more Catholic than a Pope. The result is that most of the state enterprises including profitable ones are being sold to private persons and companies. The slogan seems to be free market all the way till thy kingdom come. The climate ought to be created to attract investors, but with these leftist outbursts by our head of state, is the atmosphere not being polluted? These outbursts send the wrong warning signals. This certainly is not the first time our head of state has performed so disastrously. Let us pray that this is the last, at least for the next four years.

A few years ago, the butt of the attack was a retired manager of the Ghana Commercial Bank who was doing pineapple farming and who had chalked great success in a short time. He was exporting his produce to Europe and decided to facilitate shipment by having constructed at the airport, near the tarmac, a facility to ease the handling of the products. This man had been selected as the Farmer of the Year and was mentioned in despatches. When it came to the turn of Flt Lt Rawlings, he bitterly criticised and denounced this enterprising young man who was as much taken aback as the rest of us. As we say, ennyi me ayew a, mma nnsee me dzin, that is if for any reason you can’t praise me, please do not take my name in vain. This is a very appropriate piece of advice to our president.

What is the point in spending money on campaigns both at home and abroad, canvassing support for your economic recovery programme and inviting investors when all your efforts are being undermined and subverted by inappropriate utterances which less polite merciful colleagues will qualify as irresponsible and damaging? The foreign investor will say that having regard to the way and manner the head of state treats his own local and loyal subjects and their best efforts, is investing in such a country not tantamount to throwing good money after bad?

After several years of aimless wandering in the sterile ideological wilderness, we seem to have settled for a free market economic system and the enabling environment or congenial climate has been propitiously available. If we have settled for a free market economy, let us abide by it.

It does not make sense that any individual’s personal frustrations should colour and influence vital decisions. After all, we have a stake in the fortunes and future of this country, and there is no reason why one person’s ill-considered and ill-timed utterances should have any adverse repercussions on our destiny. Is our president only lamenting and complaining about the fact that individuals are becoming wealthy by dint of hard work? So what should they do with the profits they make by dint of self-denial and sacrifice? Cast them into the sea or use it to buy umbrellas?

We do hope and pray that the spirits of our industrial heroes, both those who were mentioned and those who are “guilty as charged” by association are not daunted and dampened, and that they will not be deterred or terrorised into taking a back seat in the journey towards development. We do assure them from (excuse me to say) the bottom of our hearts that their good deeds have already been recorded in letters of gold.

Dear heroes and comrades, you are making an invaluable contribution to the development of your country and you have more than a dozen reasons to feel proud and gratified. Posterity and Ghana will be ever more grateful to you for ages to come. (I almost said Amen!)

A final word. We salute the gallant industrialists in Ghana and we invoke God’s blessing on them. This is the least we can do. But to those consumed by envy, jealousy and covetousness our only words are: wobosu ara ewu or oye woe hi a, fa aposo botwa.

Hei, Prof. Kwesi Yankah, what are you waiting for before you translate this on behalf of your big brother?

The Ghana Journalist Association has decided to name its top journalism prize after a great man – Paul Archibald Vianey Ansah. He is one of the four men who have shaped my philosophy of what journalism is all about. Besides PAV Ansah, there is Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, Kwesi Yankah (pro-vice chancellor of the University of Ghana) and the socialist-minded firebrand, Kwesi Pratt.

I wrote a piece a while ago and mentioned how Kwaku Sakyi-Addo urged my class to “go out there and shake the basket.” Those who criticise my work, often like to refer to that article, mention Kwaku and admonish that I should learn to do things as he would.

I just want to make it clear today that in journalism there are four mentors I look up to. Long before Kwaku came into my life, there was PAV Ansah and Kwesi Yankah. One day, hopefully, I will say a lot more about the influence each of these four wise men have had on me.

Today, I want to talk about PAV Ansah.

The first and only time I saw him, he was dead. That was in 1993 and I was a teenager in form one at St John’s School. As a boy, PAV Ansah had walked the beautiful lawns at St. John’s decades before I did and upon his death, the school authorities thought it wise that a contingent be sent to his funeral in Saltpond. They decided that the school choir should go there to sing ‘Viam Parantes’ as a mark of respect to the great man. I was a member of the choir and I sung soprano in the all-boy choir. And, trust me, I did it very well – almost like Celine Dion.
When we got to Saltpond, we were taken to his family house at Prabiw and later to church (I am not so sure) to see his body laid in state. I could tell that we were attending the funeral of a very important man. And was I fascinated to read his biography?

He was a very learned man (of course, he had the title of “professor” attached to his name) but one thing that really struck me was what everyone kept saying about his column in the ‘Ghanaian Chronicle’ and how in his articles he liked to make reference to his hometown and the streets he grew up on. The more I heard those tales, the more I yearned lay my hands on some of his articles to read. Before that day, I was really hooked on was Kwesi Yankah’s ‘Woes of a Kwatriot’.

After the funeral, I felt like I should get my hands on some of PAV Ansah’s writings by all means. Back in school, I kept wondering how I was going to get copies of the ‘Ghanaian Chronicle’. I asked the school librarian. She was no help. I asked a couple of teachers and they told me they didn’t even read the Chronicle. At the time, that newspaper was causing a lot of trouble for Jerry Rawlings and his government and, I guess, those who read it were considered undesirable opposition elements. So I gave up.

Then by some stroke of luck – about a year later – during a visit to an uncle’s house, I went into his storeroom and saw hundreds of past copies of the ‘Ghanaian Chronicle’. Through the dust of the storeroom, I searched diligently for PAV Ansah. I found him and I fell in love with him.

At the time, I hadn’t even thought of becoming a journalist. Hell, I had no plan of becoming a journalist. I was studying science in school, preparing for a future as a gynaecologist. (Please, don’t ask me why).
Discovering Prof. Ansah’s articles in that dusty storeroom put all the things I heard people say about him at his funeral into perspective. But, for me at that time, I read PAV Ansah just for fun. His audacity and no-nonsense writings made me laugh a lot. I was always happy to read his favourite opening lines:

“Dear friends and lovers, pray, lend me your eyes and ears. I am craving your indulgence and serving notice that today I am going to town.”

Somehow, I didn’t turn out to become the doctor I wanted to be. I became a journalist and I fell in love with PAV Ansah all over again! I have never sought to be the second PAV Ansah. I will never be him. But he has been a mega influence on me – much more than Kwaku Sakyi-Addo.

If you see me as an overly-opinionated journalist, blame it on PAV Ansah. If you think I am disrespectful, insulting and irreverent check out PAV Ansah – read the compilation of his writings in ‘Going to Town’.

He was a man with balls. He was an academic and a very respected one at that. But he had no qualms about raining insults on incompetent twerps. And he did all of that at a time when this country was being ruled by an egocentric despot. It was a time of great danger when no one dared to speak about the ruler from the wrong side of the mouth.

Yet he was afraid of no one and he would take no crap from anyone – not even from the president at the time, Jerry Rawlings for whom he had a lot of justifiable disdain.

Even in sickness and much against the advice of his doctors, you could tell that PAV Ansah was an angry man who wouldn’t just sit and watch the government behave in a nonsensical manner.

“I am not prepared to seek accommodation with people who compromise too cheaply,” he wrote. “Nor do I suffer fools too gladly.”

PAV Ansah’s words were very harsh.

He described Rawlings as an “impetous, boisterous young man who had nothing but indiscipline, vaulting ambition, personal psychological problems…” a man who had “assembled around him a few brilliant guys plus a bunch of obscurities, mediocrities, not to say, nonentities.”

PAV Ansah said the Rawlings government (under constitutional rule) was “a pompous, self-righteous and pigheaded administration.”

Chastising our chiefs, PAV Ansah wrote about “their fickleness and inconsistency, being the kind of shameless sycophants and cringing stooges most of them are.”

PAV Ansah also described former vice president, Kow Arkaah as “a ‘kotobonku’ (an effeminate and cowardly man)” and urged him to act as a “man with two solid balls” between his thighs.

When he concedes that he had “used some strong words” he defends himself by saying that “the nature of the topic calls for this” and goes on to state emphatically that “let nobody get it into his head that I have to apologise for the use of strong language sometimes bothering on invective.”

This was the guy who founded the School of Communication Studies. He was a deeply religious man who once met the pope. And he’s the man for whom the GJA has named it annual top prize for journalism excellence.

I’ve learnt a lot from him. You can say that I am deliberately trying to copy him. Sometimes, when I am confronted by the stupidities of people who should know better, I ask myself: ‘what would PAVA say? How would he say it?’

When people tell me to stop insulting people, learn to respect my elders and be objective, I just smile to myself and shake my head.

If only they knew the giant whose footsteps I am struggling to follow and the words he spoke which ring so loudly in my ear anytime I sit down behind a microphone or before my keyboards:

“This is not the time for niceties, sweet nothings or misguided politeness and civility. It is time we called things by their names and stopped being hypocritical. Let everybody keep quiet and acquiesce, but as for me, I shall have my say to get the nonsense off my chest.”

In other words: “If others won’t talk, as for me, I shall not deny myself that right,” PAV wrote. “I am not afraid of the butcher’s knife. So if you want to advise me to take it easy, save your breath. I may be too ‘sabe sabe’ or too known but please, for Christ’s sake, leave me in peace to pursue my own ways even if you find these crooked, wayward or misguided. That is my absolute and inalienable human right as a full-blooded citizen of a free country called Ghana.”

That is PAVA’s influence on me. With him, I am in very good company and if the whole world tells me to shut the hell up, I know he will urge me to get the “nonsense off my chest”. I look forward to the day when I’d die and meet PAV Ansah on the other side. I hope I would get the privilege of walking right up to him to say: “I tried to copy you, sir. I failed but, man, it was so much fun!” That would be the best day of my death.

By the end of this week, the people of Akwatia will know who their representative in parliament will be. It most certainly will not be deputy Eastern Regional Minister, Baba Jamal.

He knows that only a miracle will give him the Akwatia seat and that might explain why he has been urging his supporters to stage a “jihad” to help him win the re-run of last year’s parliamentary elections in six polling centres in the constituencies. The re-run has been necessitated by the theft of ballot boxes in these polling stations in the last polls.

Ballots counted so far from the other polling stations (numbering about 80) give the NPP candidate, Dr. Kofi Asare a decent lead of some 3000 votes. Baba Jamal needs three-quarters of the remaining votes 4000 votes in the ‘uncounted’ polling stations to just break even. And to win, therefore, he might need each of the votes that will be cast on Tuesday – if the poll goes ahead despite the reported violence in the town.

No amount of ‘jihad’ (however intense) will wrought this miracle and Mr. Jamal should therefore be content with his job as the second most powerful man in the Eastern Region. This job is not as secure as that of an MP – and he will not get a loan he can choose not to repay – but it’s better than nothing. It’s not too late for him to throw in the towel, is it? If Jamal had given up, he would have saved us a lot of time and money and spared us all the nasty scenes of violence that are being played out now.

Ahead of the Akwatia re-run some NPP bigwigs have converged in the town to campaign and make the assurance of victory a certainty. Some of them would have loved to be in Accra to lend some moral support to the embattled former information minister Steven Asamoah-Boateng. He is due in court this morning for the start of his trial on nine charges ranging from fraud to causing financial loss to the state.

He has been caught up in yet another controversy with the BNI (the Bureau of National Idiots, as someone described them on this site) and this has angered not just his friends in the NPP but all right-thinking Ghanaians who believe firmly in the rule of law.

The BNI locked him up on Thursday (after he had turned himself in). The BNI reportedly decided to detain him when he refused to be questioned in the absence of his lawyers, who had been told to leave. Angered by his resistance, the BNI chose to detain him overnight.

The next day (Friday) they failed to show up in good time for a court hearing and last minute efforts by his lawyers to secure bail for him yielded no positive results for him. Then out of the blue on Saturday, there was news that he had been granted a bail of sorts. Details of that will be clarified this week when Mr. Asamoah-Boateng appears in court.

Even if he doesn’t appear in court today for the start of his criminal trial, Mr. Asamoah-Boateng will be in court for a ruling on his suit against the BNI. In that suit, he is seeking a declaration that the BNI had no right to stop him from travelling outside of the country. The court will probably agree with him. His wife is also due in court this week for the continuation of her trial for assaulting a public officer (ahem!).

A separate court will also rule in yet another case brought against the BNI by Sammy Crabbe, another NPP big shot. He went to court after the BNI interrogated him in the absence of his lawyers. Last week, the Attorney General (who doesn’t seem to be “seeing top”) threw in the towel and declined to put in a defence. That, essentially means that the BNI has already suffered a TKO and the judge will rule on Tuesday that they had (and will never have) no right to question anyone in the absence of a lawyer.

It’s remarkably stupefying that just a few hours after the AG had thrown in the towel, the BNI were at it again – denying Asamoah-Boateng his right to have his lawyers present during his interrogation, making one wonder whether the BNI and its directors and agents have grains for brains.

Also this week, we should expect the police to conclude the autopsy on the corpse of the young man who reportedly died after allegedly being assaulted by police officers. The officers reportedly pounced on him and beat him mercilessly in the precincts of the offices of the BNI. He was with a group of NPP supporters who had gone to the area in solidarity with Steven Asamoah-Boateng. The autopsy report will determine the actual cause of death, after which the corpse (which was forcibly seized on Friday) will be handed back to the family for burial.

Under a pall of controversy, Kofi Akordor, a columnist with the Daily Graphic has been crowned journalist of the year. He also won the columnist of the year award with “from my rooftop” column in the nation’s most popular daily.

I congratulate him and all the other award winners, especially those I consider to be friends – Peggy Ama Donkor (a former journalist of the year I admire so deeply who won a prize this year for her reports on domestic tourism), Maurice Quansah (sports), Charles Benoni Okine (communication and ICT), Anas Aremeyaw Anas (investigative reporting), Theophilus Yartey (business and economic reporting) and Victor Kwawukume (rural reporting).

And I will also congratulate myself and my friends at Joy FM for winning the breakfast show of the year award.

Going forward, I hope the GJA gets it act together so that future awards are given out with very little or no controversy – definitely nothing like what we saw this year.

One of Joy FM’s newsreaders, Dzifa Bampoe, shared the following joke with me. She didn’t write it herself. Someone sent it to her by email. She just couldn’t stop laughing after reading it and when I asked what had gotten her in stitches she unselfishly decided that I deserve to be let in on the joke. It’s quite an insightful anecdoate and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did – that’s if you don’t mind the few expletives. >>>

A little boy goes to his dad and asks, “What is Politics?”

Dad says, “Well son, let me try to explain it this way:

I am the head of the family, so call me ‘The President’. Your mother is the administrator of the money, so we call her the ‘Government’.

We are here to take care of your needs, so we will call you the People. The nanny, we will consider her the ‘Working Class’.

And your baby brother, we will call him ‘the Future’. Now think about that and see if it makes sense.”

So the little boy goes off to bed thinking about what dad has said.

Later that night, he hears his baby brother crying, so he gets up to check on him.

He finds that the baby has severely soiled his diaper. So the little boy goes to his parents’ room and finds his mother asleep.

Not wanting to wake her, he goes to the nanny’s room. Finding the door locked, he peeks in the keyhole and sees his father in bed with the nanny. He gives up and goes back to bed.

The next morning, the little boy says to his father, “Dad, I think I understand the concept of politics now.”

The father says, “Good, son, tell me in your own words what you think politics is.”

The little boy replies:

“The President is screwing the Working Class while the government is sound asleep. The People are being ignored and the Future is in deep s**t.

I don’t think I will ever win a journalism award in this country. It would be nice if I won one but if I look at the path my career has taken, I know I won’t ever get a journalism diadem. So when someone close to me is nominated for an award (and goes ahead to win – as Israel Laryea and Komla have done recently) I take the opportunity to bask in their shine for as long as they will allow me.

So imagine my delight when I heard earlier this week that my boss and friend Matilda Asante had been nominated for the journalist of the year award. I think Matilda deserves the award more than any of this year’s nominees and so immediately I heard she was up for the crown, I started thinking about sewing a new ‘agbada’ to wear for her coronation on Saturday.

But with just a few hours to the event, I shouldn’t bother attending.

The entire award programme has suddenly become the talk of town with people raising questions about how the Ghana Journalists Association seems incapable of organising an awards scheme devoid of controversy.

It all started when the GJA put out announcements asking people to vote on the list of nominees, ostensibly to decide who should take away the prize for journalist of the year. I found it quite nauseating that the award had been reduced to a competition like ‘TV 3 Mentor’ (which, I do not like). But I felt that, perhaps, that’s what the sponsor of the GJA awards (MTN) wanted.

Then it occurred to me that the public voting might not favour Matilda. You see, Daily Graphic has a staff of thousands strewn across the country. The same applies to GBC. If these people decide mobilise to vote for their colleagues who had also been nominated for the top prize, Matilda would lose out by an embarrassingly wide margin. Her company has just a few hundred workers. Under the circumstance, I decided to bank on the fact that not everyone at GBC and Graphic will vote for Lorreta Vanderpuye and Kobby Asmah respectively.

Then to my utter surprise and shock, I heard Bright Blewu, general secretary of the GJA (of which I am a member – not a proud one at this moment, if you ask me) saying on radio that the public voting will not amount to much.

“I suspect by now they [the awards committee members] are very clear in their minds who is going to be journalist of the year,” he said.

His comments raised serious issues about the sort of thinking that had gone into the planning and execution of this year’s awards scheme. It also brought back painful memories about some of the controversies that have shrouded previous awards.

But things were to get even murkier. A few hours after Mr. Blewu’s comments, the ‘Daily Graphic’ published a list of award winners which was very different from what the GJA had issued earlier in the week. Once again the public were being asked to nominate (by text) their choice for journalist of the year.

After texting for his favourite candidate, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, a friend of mine got this message: “Thanks for voting Loretta Vanderpuye. Your vote is valid. Thank you, have a nice day.”

Surprised, he sent a message to ask me: “Is the GJA awards a joke?”

He wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines. For sports journalist of the year, for example, those who voted for Kofi Asare Brako of Adom FM, got a text message thanking them for voting for Nathaniel Attoh of Joy FM.

Pushed for an explanation, Mr. Blewu (I really feel sorry for him) went into damage control overdrive and tried in vain to explain why for this year’s awards there are different lists of nominees – the one issued earlier in the week and the one published in the ‘Daily Graphic’ today.

According to Mr. Blewu the one in the ‘Daily Graphic’ was a mistake – from his end – and should therefore be ignored.

How on earth could a mistake like that have happened? We don’t know yet. But I am sure ineptitude had a lot do with it.

What is clear, however, is that yet another batch of GJA awards are going to be presented in just a few hours under a pall of needless controversy. There is already talk of a plot to deliberately hand the awards over to some undeserving people. And in a country where even presidential awards are doled out like cheap, expired ‘bofrote’ such speculation is hard to brush aside.

But the bigger issue for all of us journalists to deal with is the apparent incompetence of the GJA. Members of the association complain, criticize and challenge people to be up and doing. And we cannot prudently and efficiently choose the best from our ranks for recognition? That doesn’t speak well of us. If we can’t do this simple thing without setting ourselves up for ridicule, what right to we have to take the higher ground to condemn people who fail to live up to bigger responsibilities?

We should all have to bow our heads in shame and pray that the blight on this weekend’s award ceremony goes away as soon as possible. I believe a win for Matilda will help a great deal – even though in the latest twist to this madness, her name is strangely absent from the list of nominees “officially” announced by the chairman of the awards committee.

We need to find a way of cleaning our house to make sure that the GJA awards are presented to those who rightfully deserve it and without any controversy – or very little of it. After this year, the only time I want to see any controversy around the GJA awards is when I pick one, which – as I’ve said – is highly unlikely.