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Feature Article of Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Columnist: Mensah, Solomon

Toilet reporter: Now Journalist of the Year 2011

- From a mentee to a mentor

By Solomon Mensah

The news reader, Agatha Asamoah introduced the segment thus: “The news at one live on Radio Ghana and now to news commentary, business and sports after the break...In news commentary, Manasseh Azure Awuni, a journalist, argues that since the state sponsors the Ghana Football Association it is fair for the association to subject itself to accountability. It is read by Agarther Asamoah”.

And Manasseh’s commentary started as follows: “The hyena once asked his next door neighbour, the rabbit, why she has never paid him a visit? The rabbit replied saying, it is true I have never visited you but it is for a good reason. I have seen many people enter your room but I have never seen any of them ever returning home...”
The above is an excerpt of one of the spell-binding numerous news commentaries written by the boy from Honourable Albert Abongo’s Bongo for Radio Ghana’s News Commentary.
Our elders say that a person we know at day time needs not to be looked on the face with a glowing lamp at night. Indeed, the ardent readers and fans of Manasseh Azure Awuni need not his by-line (the name that appears against a reporter’s news story) to fish out that this or that article was written by the prolific writer and journalist.
Far back in 2009, this young journalist became my source of inspiration when I was posted to Wamfie, a town off the Berekum-Dormaa road, as a trainee teacher.
As a young man, I had developed the passion for journalism during my Junior Secondary School days. So, listening to the then “Manasseh Azure Awuni, a student-journalist at the Ghana Institute of Journalism” repeatedly on Radio Ghana inspired me more to pursue my dream.
I must seize this opportunity to however say sorry to the then class one pupils, whom I taught, for always pausing when it was around 1:40 pm. I guess you are asking why? Radio Ghana would read its news commentary around this time and I would not miss it no matter what.
When it happens for me to tune in late to Radio BAR, in Brong Ahafo-who took the feed from Accra, it was not difficult for me to tell that, a script was written by the man I admired secretly.
His use of African proverbs, anecdotes, humour and vivid descriptions were enough a brand that set him aside from the masses. It is therefore not surprising that Manasseh says his mentor is the all-time bestselling author of the novel, ‘Things Fall Apart,’ Chinua Achebe.
The 27 year old, started journalism exactly two weeks upon his admission into the Ghana Institute of Journalism in 2006. Not only did he write for Radio Ghana’s news commentary, on campus, he posted his write ups on trees and on the doors of lecture halls to as well serve his hungry student-readers.
As industrious as an army of ants on hunger alleviation mission, he did not relent in his effort after his first degree education at the Ghana Institute of Journalism. While on national service, Manasseh worked as a freelancer which eventually awarded him three awards just after school.
Somewhere last year when I paid him a visit at his then abode at Mamprobi, it was as if we were re-shooting Sarkodie’s, featuring Obrafour, “In this life” video. At the tail of his bed stood packed books like a great iroko tree in a virgin forest. “Go to the library (GIJ’s) and borrow this book to read,” there he pointed to one of the best journalism books: “Journalism Today.” After setting an ECOLACK bag free of books, he began bringing out his three plaque cards of 2010 for my feel of how being an award winner is.
Unlike how Obrafour pulled his crown from the grips of Sarkodie, I had a feel of the awards until he once again ‘buried’ them back in the bag. “You only need to read wide and write more and very soon, ‘Solomon Mensah’ would become a household name,” he told me, “but remember that it is little by little that a bird builds its nest.”
A very popular Yoruba proverb has it that “no elephant is burdened by the weight of its head”. Having won the Best Human Rights Reporter, Best Television Reporter and the Most Promising Young Journalist (all at the 16th edition of the GJA Awards), such honours did not become weights upon his head. He managed between success and complacency.
While pursuing his MA in communication studies at the University of Ghana, Legon, he apportioned his time to include covering of stories. He would travel to Banda to write, “A boys suffering, a father’s pain,” on Kojo Njorfuni, a pupil of the English Arabic Primary School in Banda who had classroom block falling on him in November 2008, or take the opportunity to put pen on “Behind Legon’s bush canteen: maggot in the soup” to tell Ghanaians the deteriorated state of sanitation at one of the Legon students’ eatery joint.
Perhaps the contour lines on your face suggest that I have left one important write up that won Mr Awuni Adaboro’s son with a lot of admiration this year. Is it not the “Writings in the toilet?” Hahaaaaaa...! Yeah. There you are. I knew you would like to be re-told of that. Do I therefore need your permission to extensively quote excerpts of that article which put smiles on your face?
“Riddle, riddle! There is a room that anytime you enter, you automatically get mad. What is this room? This is one of the commonest children’s riddles, and you would often be told that that room is the bathroom. Irrespective of your level of sanity, you strip naked when you enter the bathroom, don’t you?”
This was the captivating introduction my mentor wrote in one of his humorous features. He told his cherished readers to wait for a minute while he showed them one other room in which people get madder. This room, we were told, was the ‘toilet.’
The writings in the toilet looked at the inscriptions we over look on the walls of toilet rooms. At the mentioning of toilet, one would expect the other to grimace but I can bet with my last penny that you would rather munch your groundnut.
“I am currently standing in the male toilet of the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ). The scent here is not very good for my nose,” Manasseh wrote, “but this is one of the occupational hazards of this thankless job of a toilet correspondent. And I must bear it with the highest level of stoicism...
“Everybody dies famous in a small town.” This person has no comment to his proverb because no one seems to have time for those who make good use of the “limited space” here. Then bellow this, someone writes, “I think GIJ is proud of me.” He gets replies, “Foolish boy, what about me the womanizer?” someone again replies, “Idiot, have you broken the record of 500 women yet?”
For sure, I know you would like to read more of the writings in the toilet piece but space won’t permit me. “Maybe by now you’re questioning the point in reporting toilet graffiti. And you may be asking which of the two is madder: the one writing in the toilet or the journalist who goes to report such writings. But I want you to add a third person before deciding – the person who reads the report on the mad writings.”
Manasseh Azure Awuni started life on a hard note. Whereas his classmates would mention the occupation(s) of their parents with ease, he felt as though that Edmund Hillary’s Mount Everest sat on his lips.
In our society in which he who has a personal car and a white colour job is respected and accorded privileges, it was not easy for him to say that “my father is a night watchman.”
But on that day, the 25th day of August, 2012, the mere toilet reporter and the Night Watchman’s son was given a new name; “The best journalist of the year 2011.”
If I would not be (mis)taken for blaspheming, I would liken his brother carrying him on his back with Jesus on the donkey to Jerusalem. On that platform of the 17th edition of the Ghana Journalists’ Awards held at the State House, Manasseh delivered a speech that got everybody motivated. The story of the Night Watchman’s son.
Since that night, my mentor whom I jokingly call “my small boy” has become a news maker. From the Ghana Television through to the information centre at my Dodosuo, my village, he has been, positively, the subject of discussion. Isn’t it wonderful how God has turned the tables?
To the youth, Manasseh the toilet reporter is telling us that with determination and perseverance and with God on our side, our names can be changed for the better. “Difficulty is not a synonym to impossibility,” so says Manasseh Azure Awuni on Ghana Broadcasting Corporation.
I cannot conclude on this piece to my mentor without asking the question people have been asking me; “Who was that beautiful lady with him. Is she not his Serwaa?” Over to you the boy from Bongo.






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