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Opinions of Saturday, 16 December 2017

Columnist: Inusah Mohammed

The Nima girl that shook Washington DC

Today, I want to tell you a story. It is not an Ananse story. Neither is it the story of the tortoise and antelope. It is also not the hackneyed tale of the dancing frog.

Once upon a time, I mentioned the story of how tribal marks came into existence as captured by the great writer Ousmane Sembene in his Tribal Scars or the Voltaique. I am sorry to say I am not repeating that in this piece. This is a different story altogether.

This is a very powerful story. It is a story of hope in an atmosphere of hopelessness. A story that will put a smile on your face despite the anguish and agony many of our people are mirred in. A story that makes you believe in the potentialities of our communities albeit the thuggery and foolhardiness of a few. It is the story of Nima. The story of a young girl who crossed seas and oceans and left an indelible mark where she landed.

Few days ago, the Zongo Youth Chief, Alhaji Salisu Maude stated in a Facebook post that we should disregard those wet blankets that are working dishonorably to bedaub the image of our communities with objectionable behaviors. He subsequently mentioned those who are working honorably to raise high the banner of knowledge, industry and commerce in our communities. He subtly gave them a shot in the arm though he did not speak many words. I agree completely with him.

One looking from afar might think that our community is filled up with those hoodlums whose actions twang on the peaceful, harmonious and progressive atmosphere prevailing; but that is far from the truth. The community is made up of a majority of reasonable inhabitants who are unfortunately silent. However, the atmosphere is what Chinua Achebe reminded that “this majority of reasonable citizens are like sane people who in some bizarre and unexplained way find themselves trapped in a dangerous and rowdy madhouse. The lunatics may be outnumbered but they own the place.”

The silent majority must, therefore, rise up to own the community and also highlight every singular honorable act before the ‘loud minority’ begins encroaching on our borderlines.

We must therefore highlight such stories. They may not be grandiose in the real sense of the word but we know a single spark can light up the darkness. The poet Max Ehrmann tells us in his Desiderata that however humble our pursuits are, they are real possessions in the changing fortunes of time. I therefore move to tell you the story of a small girl called Zulaiya Sakibu, a reliable altruist (as she describes herself) who was born in the town described by Kwame Nkrumah as “ a city within a city.” That city is Nima of course. The Presidential city.

In the early part of the year 2000, before the euphoria surrounding the world-spread jargons “new millennium, Y2K” died out, this young lady was birthed into this seemingly accursed world on 19th January. An extrovert and outspoken girl who is a final year student at Achimota Senior High School studying Economics, Geography, Government and Elective Maths, she has interest in what she calls the 3Cs. She savors the time she watches cartoons, relishes the time she reads comics and enjoys light and humorous drama with a happy ending. The English label that as comedy.

Her insatiable desire for reading is beyond reproach. And she is not just a passive reader; she tries to actuate what she reads and endeavors to bring everyone she knows to rally around the quest to brighten the corner they find themselves in.

This is evidenced in her membership in organizations such as Star life Foundation (a foundation established to educate and train young children like her on manners and etiquettes, the honors of education, how to be courteous and also the improvement on sanitation) and Success Book Club, an organization established to give the youth a platform to develop themselves and make monumental impact in their communities. She acts as the secretary in the absence of the substantive.

Interestingly, I got to know her those days at Tafsiliyya School for Training and Education when we were still wearing the green and white uniform with pride. We needed a young girl to play the role of an acolyte to a fetish priest in a Drama competition organized by One Ghana Production.

She played the role par excellence and catapulted us into becoming the eventual winners of the competition. Funny it is that we began calling her ‘mei tuuru’ (fetish priestess); a name she later told us she loves not.

Like the famed Zuweira Baba Mohammad, she also sat in my English class at the Ghana Muslim Academy Annual Vacation classes in the year 2015 and won the best student.

On July 3rd 2017, at exactly 10:14 am, I posted a picture of two young students of Achimota School and captioned it “watch out for these two budding intellectuals from Nima.” Little did I know that a monumental achievement beckons our young girl few months after. She got selected with four other students to represent Ghana in a leadership exchange programme in the United States of America later in the year. Perhaps I should let her speak for herself. Our elders say that a flute player must sometimes stop to wipe his nose. I therefore pause here.

Zulaiya Sakibu:

“I wanted to see a different life which was nothing like I had for the past fifteen years in Ghana. I was seeking new experiences, new discoveries and new concepts. Hence my overwhelming elation when I got selected for the Pan-African Youth Leadership Programme in the United States of America in August 2017. My head was spinning like a rubber ball out of happiness as we flew from Ghana, transited in Amsterdam and finally landed in Washington.

In Washington DC people walk fast, they hardly smile or speak to others. It’s a city of business, everyone is on the move. America only seen through a television screen is very different from the one experienced in person. An exchange program to the U.S can help you better understand yourself and the world around you. Each city has a unique quality and nature.

I engaged in many activities in Washington D.C, Austin, Texas and Chicago. And I remembered what I had read earlier that Washington D.C was designed by an African called Benjamin Banneker. We visited the memorials of the man of the 20th century, Albert Einstein, 3rd President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson and also 1st President George Washington. My behavior was more than that of Osuofia in London when I got to the prominent building in the United States, the White House.

I participated in sports, brainstorming and other activities. I also did a voluntary work by going to Life Works (an institution were young teenage mothers and abandoned children are trained and educated)to give a presentation about my country and enlighten them about our great and wonderful African culture.

Another interesting part of this program was having lectures on social entrepreneurship, team building activities, the Pan-African Youth Leadership Programme News and Leadership series at the University of Texas.

The most stressful part of the whole enterprise was preparing for our Action plan. We had to work diligently, sit into the wee hours of the night to work on our PowerPoint Presentation. I had team-members who were so co-operative and industrious. I describe it as “the best team ever”. The memorable moment for me was when we were adjudged the best team in the inter-country competition. The competition was based on our Action plan among 26 African countries.

We won the competition in a grand style. I was so happy we made because it made me appreciate all the efforts we put into it. We were very excited and proud of our success.

Another thing worth talking about is how my experience was enriched by my interactions with my host family-which included my host mother, father and two lovely younger brothers, two dogs and two cats.

I believe I was extremely lucky to have spent my three weeks there.

I was their first exchange student but I'm 100% sure they were impressed by my utmost disposition. I hope they'll visit Ghana one-day or in another case I'll go to see them in America.

I really appreciate the opportunities the Pan-African Youth Leadership Programme has given me. I learnt not only about American culture but the culture of other African countries. I even learnt a little bit of French

I'm very thankful to every single person I met during that time and was part of my exchange program. I don't regret anything about what I've done and have a feeling it could not have been better than it was.”

Fly higher, Mei Tuuru!

Inusah Mohammed

Okoromaazi@gmail.com