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Opinions of Friday, 8 October 2010

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Let all gather at El Wak!

Books! Most folks here would rather engage in some other activity than read them. All the same for all it might be worth, someone may consider writing one, a novel whose star character will keep repeating at every opportunity, “Folks, stop politicizing everything.” In the meantime, this character would himself, be making the statement in a very strong political context, if you see what I mean.

Me, I speak with kindergarten innocence if I speak at all: The “good” in Goodluck Jonathan seems quite apt. The man does sound like a good guy: He paid President JEA Mills a courtesy call at the latter’s hotel in Abuja ahead of the ECOWAS summit this week.

The “luck” in Goodluck? He has been the surprising beneficiary of heavy doses of providential luck, having emerged from virtual obscurity in Nigerian politics to become Vice-President and now acting president of the country.

Someone appears bent on pushing Dr. Jonathan’s good luck to the limit: Having succeeded after a lot of agitation in getting him to be made acting President, some political forces now want him to be declared president.

March 7 has been fixed for the hearing in a federal court in Abuja of one of the most bizarre cases in all African political history:

An Abuja based lawyer with the impossible name Peremobowei Okele has instituted a suit at a Federal High Court in Abuja asking it to declare that President Umaru Musa Yar’adua is dead. Yar’adua is the defendant in the suit. How can a dead man be a defendant in a court suit, for Heaven’s sake? Darned if I have a clue, old chap.

The plaintiff is demanding that if the court cannot declare him dead it should declare him “incapacitated” or “resigned from office. Once that is done, Mr Okele is arguing, the Office of President becomes vacant within the meaning of section 146(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Goodluck Jonathan then becomes the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria! Anyhow, President Mills returned from the Abuja summit to continue drinking of his won cup of political intrigue and growing public expectation of a better life.

Some folks say Milles’s administration has had one too many committees of enquiry on the roll since assuming office. I do not know about that, but this much I know:

We stand in very urgent need of two public enquiries which if they turn out to be useful for resolving two perplexing national problems, should be followed by several more:

One should be a public enquiry into the allegation that the media who are supposed to be holding the authorities accountable for their actions and inactions on behalf of the people, have been ensconced in the cash safes of the government and the national security.

The rumour that some journalists have been on the regular payroll of the National Security establishment is a familiar one. Now the Auditor-General’s report for 2008 claims that the previous government set up a slush fund for bribing editors, journalist and commentators to defend government actions and inactions.

The revelation is that a tax was imposed on Ghanaians to raise money to pay off the debts of our national oil refinery in Tema. A huge chunk of the taxes we paid were diverted into an account operated by the Ministry of Information, which then used the money to pay journalists and commentators to continually engage in propaganda for the government on radio.

The idea quite clearly, has been to manipulate information in such a way as to distort public perceptions of the political administration’s quality of governance and enable the authorities to continually get away with wrong actions and inactions and omissions.

If this allegation is true and we have no reason to question the integrity of the Auditor-General, it is a very serious matter indeed, because it debases and corrupts the democracy we have sweated hot blood to build.

A bit of history might help us to re-establish our bearings, old chap: Attempts by successive governments on this continent to exercise firm control of the media have resulted in tensions between journalists and governments with the former often turning out the worse for wear, frequently losing limb, life and liberty.

When Dr. Kwame Nkrumah came to power, the pan African struggle was at its fiercest and emerging governments considered the media as an extension of government, its role being an unquestioning support for the political authority.

Journalists were expected to play down all bad news and news unfavourable to the government and play high up, news and information that portrayed the government in a good light before the international community. The argument was that our newly-won independence from colonial, rule needed to be consolidated.

Journalists who failed to see things from the perspective of our pioneer leaders paid a heavy price.

There was Dr. Nkrumah’s famous run-in with Daily Graphic journalist, Bankole Timothy. Timothy harassed Nkrumah unrelentingly in his articles until the Osagyefo had had enough. Bankole, you were born in Sierra Leone and to Sierra Leone you go. Immigration throw this guy out pronto!

Cameron Doudu versus Dr. K.A Busia: How can you dialogue with South Africa at a time when the world is screaming death to Apartheid? Oh, you dare argue with me over a matter of foreign policy, do you? Look Cameron, you are fired as editor of the Graphic.

Elizabeth Ohene versus Dr. Hilla Limman: Under the constitution, you have no business appointing editors of the Daily Graphic, Mr. President. Full stop.

JJ’s Rawlings’s problems with many editors are now a matter of history, but all tell tales of the tensions between the media and the political establishment over the years.

Times have changed and you cannot try gaining control of the media through threats, imprisonment and assassinations.

Now, like colonialism returning in the more decent garb of globalization with all its exploitative commercial, economic and political features, the new strategy for controlling both the content and flow of information to the public is by buying journalists with hard cash.

The other enquiry should be on fire disasters in Ghana which have become too many, too frequent and often mysterious and unexplained and it does not matter whether you are talking about domestic, industrial or office fires.

Last year, I counted four mysterious domestic and office fire outbreaks in Accra and Tema in a matter of a few days. It is a bit surprising that the national does not appear to have been baffled by the massive fires that have swept through the country’s traditional markets in recent times.

I find unbelievable that smoke detectors which are cheap but capable of saving lives and property cannot be found in most buildings in Accra.

I once heard JJ say to his missus Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings, “What having we been through {together} before, dear?” Yet even the former first couple must have been traumatized by the disaster that befell the them last weekend. To watch ally your possessions, the ordinary and the very highly prized, go up in smoke and leave you with nothing safe the clothes on your back, must stretch stoicism and human endurance to the limit.

I propose that the public enquiries be held where many can attend: The Black Star Square or better still, the El Wak Stadium.

http://times.fienipa.com/content/let-all-gather-el-wak

George Sydney Abugri is a prolific, multi-award winning, Ghanaian newspaper journalist. Read more of his articles at http://sydneyabugri.com/ or email him at georgeabu@hotmail.com