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Opinions of Sunday, 10 June 2018

Columnist: Benjamin Akakpo

Number 12: When the monster called greed runs amok

Wake me up! Somebody wake me up! Is this some kind of a dream? Alas, it is not! How embarrassing! How utterly shameful! These were the thoughts and emotions raging through me as I looked at the screen on which the images rolled last Wednesday at the Accra International Conference Centre.

I watched in utter disbelief as the jaw-dropping, mind-boggling events unfolded – as scene after scene revealed the putrid, maggot-infested carrion that is Ghana’s, not just the Ghana Football Association’s, leadership.

I expected the exposé to expose stuff – but not to the jarring extent I witnessed. I was simply stumped into silence. So had all this been going on right under our noses? A picture of football fans getting baked in the sun suddenly sprang to mind together with the thought that, even in recent times, some fans’ hopes may have been dashed because some football administrators and match officials had already manipulated match results, with the reason usually being a wad of cash – or, as we saw in the case of referee Annor, a hefty sum of money (GHS3,200) as well as a sheep and some cooking oil.

I bet that made a tasty meal he would be eager to puke out now if he had the chance!

Innocent victims of a mafia organisation (the GFA) tampered with by our dirty brand of politics, our hearts are wrenched time and again. Our emotions are toyed with. Our hopes are dashed. And all this on our blind side! We did not even know how institutionalised the rot was! Oh, Mother Ghana! Your tears must have been many as you watched these greedy, self-serving bastards bleed the nation dry, all the while claiming to serve it.

Like unsuspecting lambs, we were led to the slaughter; we pumped our hard-earned money into the game, not knowing all the while that all we were doing was lining people’s pockets. Why will we not turn to the European leagues, especially, for comfort? I am by no means saying those leagues are whistle-clean; but they are miles ahead in terms of discipline, transparency and accountability.

In Anas’ exposé, mention is made of the fact that when, say, the German national team participates in a tournament, anyone (including us) can access the team’s financial gains by simply keying in the right words in the Google search engine. Not so with Ghana! Over the years, the GFA has become notorious for being opaque in information terms, creating an umbra that has stifled the free flow of information to the media, and by extension, the general public. Why, you may ask? Is the reason not all too obvious? So money can be siphoned into undeserving pockets!

After seeing what I did last Wednesday, I am beyond convincing that the leadership of this country, right from the head of the fish to the very tip of its tail is not corrupt. How did we allow this to happen? How did we become so greedy? Ghanaians, trusted ones, from Kwesi Nyantakyi to other executives of the GFA to match commissioners and referees, both male and female, sold their dignity for sums ranging from GHS300 to around GHS4,000. Is that all we are worth? Have we any self-respect left as a people? And how about those politicians implicated in this entire matter? How do we address the conundrum of dealing with them? Of course, the executive is highly overweening in Ghana; how does one get under the carpet to sweep out any filth that may be there in connection with them? Will CHRAJ take on this matter? Will it be the Special Prosecutor’s office instead? Will anyone put this debacle to rest and restore our confidence in the executive arm of government? “Why should that be necessary?” you may be asking yourself. Well, for one, to find out if there is any culpability in any quarters. Again, it would help clear any niggling doubts that may have taken up residence in our minds. I am also forcing home this point because in that perhaps equally mind-blowing exposé preceding this one which put our judiciary under the microscope, the third arm of government was caught pants down - with its hand right in the cookie jar. Now the executive is also mired in some scandal because, at least, as it stands now, the president and vice president of this country together with other members of this administration, have been pointed to by Kwesi Nyantakyi. This has proven to be a very difficult pill for our country to swallow as it is a double whammy - a double slap to you and me who pay taxes and vote politicians into power to serve our overall interests, not their own.

So how are things likely to turn out? That is a complicated matter to wade into especially as I am not a soothsayer. At this point, at least, we know Kwesi Nyantakyi has been provisionally suspended by FIFA’s Ethics Committee for a period of 90 days with the possibility of an extension of an additional 45 days as the football body investigates allegations made against him; that the GFA has been or is to be dissolved (you can blame my uncertainty on the vacillation of government, specifically the Sports and Information ministries who have churned out conflicting reports); that investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, has sued loud-mouthed Member of Parliament for Assin Central, Kennedy Agyapong, to the tune of GHS25 million for defamation; that Anas’ lawyer will be representing him and he will not, as per what information is available now, have to reveal his true identity in a court of law; and now, that Kwesi Nyantakyi has resigned as the boss of the GFA. These are sorrowful yet interesting times. The integrity of our country as a whole has taken a massive hit; all the same, I believe like the legendary phoenix, we shall arise from our ashes much stronger and much more united as a people.

Before I sign off, though, I would like to leave you with my takeaways, a few lessons I have learnt from the Anas exposé.

Lesson number one: learn to hold your tongue; your words can and will be used against you - either in a court of law or in the court of public opinion. Kwesi Nyantakyi must be the quintessential example of one who has learnt very harsh lessons concerning the consequences of running one’s mouth. Beware!

Lesson number two: your actions, good or bad, can affect many more people than you now imagine. The GFA is now to be dissolved, a likely ban from FIFA will follow and it is almost inevitable that Ghana will miss the AFCON qualifiers in September owing to the processes to be gone through by our government on one side and FIFA on the other side. That would imply not featuring in the AFCON for the first time since Tunisia 2004! The hope of other national football teams (both male and female) at different levels of playing in upcoming and near-future tournaments also is in limbo at worst and uncertain at best. Why? Thanks to the irresponsible actions of people like Kwesi Nyantakyi.

Lesson number three: don't make a creed of greed. Per Lord Acton's aphorism, "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." If you will permit me, I shall alter this quote slightly to suit the point that I would like to make here: "Power corrupts; when power combines with greed, corruption becomes absolute." Be very wary when you are placed in a position of power. Even more, be chary of the vile beast called greed; added to power, greed is like fuel to an already-devastating fire. I have been to places where people who were formerly content with their salaries at the end of the month suddenly changed when they were "tipped" a number of times and, soon, started expecting gifts before they would do what they were being paid for. They started feeling entitled, not only to their salaries, but to financial or other benefits from clients in order to do what they ordinarily should have been doing without the need for any additional influence or encouragement of any sort. That is the point at which we are as a country; in many public offices today, I am often told, most recently by a coconut seller who tried to secure a passport, if you do not grease someone's palm, you will often wait donkey’s years for something which you could have secured in a week or two at worst.

Lesson number four: while blood indeed is thicker than water, a wad or more of money may be even thicker than blood. Why? Well, per Nyanatakyi's theory of fraternity, $65,000 is what it takes to forge blood ties. Interesting theory, don't you think?

Lesson number five: walk away while you still can – when the applause is loudest. I recall some of the lyrics in Kenny Rogers' famous song, ‘The Gambler.’ The chorus goes like this:

You gotta know when to hold ‘em,
Know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run.
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealing’s done.

Know when to walk away. Know when your time is done. Walk away with some pride before you are pushed out in a humiliating manner.

Lesson number six: Be wary of the birds-of-the-same-feather theory. Why has the executive branch of government, most prominently the president and vice president, been mired in all this? Because some, including Nyantakyi himself, have pointed to the very strong links - stressed the ties between the president of Ghana and the president of the Ghana Football Association, Kwesi Nyantakyi. Nyantakyi, in the Anas documentary, even goes as far as underlining his financial support for the president of the land while his party campaigned in the 2016 elections. From what has been seen and heard even before Nyantakyi's assertions, it would have been difficult to state categorically that Nyantakyi was or wasn't the president's bosom friend. One thing, however, is clear in this bizarre turn of events: we all should watch the friends we keep as just being associated with certain people could bring us to the very doorstep of ruin.

Lesson number seven: corrupt practices in this country, as in others, go far beyond the people implicated in the Anas exposé. The problems we have to grapple with are systemic; this means that if we are to bring corruption to its barest minimum, we ought to, as a people, get our hands on deck and get past our hypocrisy, admitting that we, too, are a part of the problem.

Lesson number eight: jealously guard your character, not your reputation. Your reputation may just be a façade; your character is your true self; your reputation may point to one thing, but your character will expose you for what you really are someday. How do you intend clawing back your credibility after it has taken the sort of massive hit that Nyantakyi’s and some politicians’ have taken? Human beings can be very unforgiving in this regard, especially because they reposed faith in you, so watch it! Those words or actions could undo a lifetime of hard work. Build your character, not your reputation.