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Opinions of Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Columnist: Frank Apeagyei

The death of Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey; the nation is poorer for it

When a person is devastated by a sudden loss of a loved one, in circumstances of helplessness, writing a eulogy to honour his memory comes as a tortuous assignment. In such a situation, one is lost for words.

Ghana, our glorious nation has over the last few years lost many of her champions and pathfinders. Anytime one such catastrophe occurs, it hits me like a bolt from the blue and any attempt to write a eulogy fails because the ink in my pen refuses to flow.

Given my association with him, both in the professional and political space, a few people placed calls to me last week to make a contribution to the many tributes that are pouring out to honour the memory of our dear Jake Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey (obroni to the core).

Undoubtedly, like many well-wishers, there is so much grief and anguish in me over Jake's untimely exit from our midst, presently, yet I have to do this piece, willy-nilly.

These calls included one from JOY FM Station. Presenter and editor of Myjoyonline, Malik Abass Daabu, wanted me to talk about PR and Advertising activity involving Jake-as I knew it.

After all, for ten years, I was the Vice President of the Public Relations Association of Ghana (1978-88), now Institute of Public Relations.

In the political arena, Nik Amarteifio, himself a celebrity, a business mogul, owner and bankroller of Citi FM Station and a former Board member of the Bank of Ghana, woke me up from bed at precisely 6 am on Saturday, 26th March 2016 and with a gravel voice, tersely commanded:

"Frank, we worked together with our brother and friend, Jake from the days of PFP (Popular Front Party) and upon his demise, let's have a few words on him by your very self in print. I'll send to collect my copy tomorrow-good morning".

It's been almost two weeks now since the breaking news filled the air with Jake's death which occurred on Palm Sunday, 20th March 2016 in London. And now eulogies from all shades of politicians and other associates keep pouring in to celebrate his deeds.

One from the NPP, a political party that needed his hand to sow its seed and his skills to sprout and flourish it, succinctly lamented "A great Oak Tree has fallen".

This sums it all up. Yes indeed, when an Oak Tree falls, it carries with it the sorrows of a whole generation as those whose tradition of living have depended on its acorns for fruits or its timber for furniture.

The Oak, as a deciduous tree, even though evergreen, would shed off its leaves at the end of a period of growth, providently to remind mankind about the transitory status of our existence.

However, Jake's death, occurring at the majestic age of 70, in prime time of blossom and in a period of need by his country's electoral process to calm nerves, if only to remind us of our impermanent status on earth, it is dastardly cruel.

In the immortal words of St. Paul: "Death is swallowed up in our victory... " (1 Cor. Ch 15:55).

Jake was a man of peace and always preached peace and good behaviour to the rank and file of NPP members as Chairman of the party. He carried himself with calm and dignity at all times. He stood tall and huge but the stature was rather inviting than intimidating and not repulsive but accommodating.

He gave his all to the party and bonded well and intimately with many. He worked hard but also made time indulging himself to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of life.

A noticeably admirable trait in him was his sense of humour, eloquence and wit. As a political activist, he was courageous, outspoken and bold in exposing the ills in our society. His outpouring deliveries matched his weight and size to drum home his point.

Blessed with good looks and buoyed by polished mannerism, Jake's persona exuded a particular charisma that was much endearing.

As a Minister, he was action oriented and did a few things to create new sinews to enhance the national fibre. The paragliding enterprise for instance, that has lifted rural Kwahu unto the national tourism agenda has his signature.

But as a normal human being, Jake was not insulated from criticisms. For instance, some political opponents found everything wrong with his decision to purchase a government bungalow, allocated to him whilst in office, as a serving minister of state, even if it was permissible, by government policy, to do so.
In this regard, he was sued in court but won his case against those individuals who made bold to deprive him of his purchase.

Candour was his weapon.

Then again, in a country that makes fetish of degrees, Jake was mocked, not a few times, at what some perceived to be his scanty level of classroom education, his manifestly pervasive and penetrating levels of self-tutored education, notwithstanding.

The proven fact, however, is that Jake's brilliance, exhibited in all his undertakings which could not be overlooked, was publicly acclaimed.

He was widely-read and providentially endowed as well with intelligence, deep thinking faculty, innate skills, intellectual understanding and appreciation of intricate issues.

These enviable qualities of Jake gave a demonstrable proof that classroom education could also be seen as a mere acquisition of mechanical knowledge (a swan song of Ambassador Kwesi Armah, High Commissioner in London).

My own view is in sync with those who depose that the sum of knowledge accrued through classroom education by scholars, is only one of the alternatives offered in the realm of refined learning.

The other is self-tuition.

Jake and I go way back to the 70s. He became the head of the giant Advertising Agency, LINTAS Ghana Ltd, after the likes of the Omaboes had captured controlling shares in that famous British Firm had then established CONTACT LTD, a PR and Advertising Consultancy with top notch staff imbued with expertise. They included Mr. G. Adali-Mortty, former senior lecturer, University of Ghana, Legon, Mr. M. Therson-Cofie, former editor-in-chief, Graphic Corporation, Hon. A.A. Abedi, former deputy Minister of Information in the Busia regime and Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, now Minister of Trade and Industry. Our paths crossed many times and on a few occasions, I snatched the account from the portfolio of LINTAS, in competitive open bid.

On one such occasion, an officer of his who didn't like what happened, took one look at me and instinctively told me to 'piss off'; "why are you taking the bread from our table?", he queried.

The portfolios of Messrs R.T Briscoe, (Mercedes Benz and Volks Wagon dealers) and GOIL Ghana Ltd (an oil marketing Company) competitively contested for in 1975 are referenced.

Jake was so upset about the uncouth behaviour of his officer that he invited himself to my house in the evening to share a simple meal with me, over dinner, an act he considered as a way of rendering an apology. What a wise man!

Affability and camaraderie in full display from a refined and well-bred individual, wasn't it?

In the days of the Popular Front Party (PFP), in 1978 and 1979 the precursor party of the NPP, an inner circle of activists and confidants was put together and attached to the flag bearer, Victor Owusu that took responsibility for plotting strategies in 1979.

These party enthusiasts included: J.A Kufuor, Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, Nik Amarteifio, Agyenim-Boateng, Kwadwo Antwi-Agyei, Tom Oduro-Kwarteng, Mrs Cecilia Johnson and Nana Akuoku Sarpong (both now with NDC) and myself as Chairman of the Publicity and Fundraising committee.

These individuals always led the flag bearer's convoy that toured the length and breadth of Ghana, campaigning in the 1979 elections.

But it was at the NPP that the fullness of glow cast its shadow on the efforts of Jake, having become organiser, strategic planner, communications director, spokesman, regional chairman and finally national chairman.

His efforts were rewarded with victory after he had taken direct charge of the electioneering machinery to lift the party into government in 2001 after 30 years or so, in hibernation.

In all, Jake the master planner, a prolific orator and an iconic pathfinder, who together with his ancestry bled for Ghana, paid his dues to party and country. His name and deeds need forever be immortalised.

May mother earth lie gently on his remains and his soul committed to God.