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Opinions of Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

Mahama’s PhD, Otumfuo’s Edict & Atta Mills’ Blasphemy

Savannah View: John Mahama’s PhD, Otumfuo’s Edict & Atta Mills’ Blasphemy

By Manasseh Azure Awuni

It was the MC, Alhassan Suhuyini of Radio Gold, who started it. He said a certain Nigerian comedian said he adopted PWP as his official title because he had taken a “Picture With the President.”

Then when Vice President John Dramani Mahama was about to address the audience, he said he also knew someone in Naija who had a business card bearing the designation: “Office of a Friend of the President.”

Before a Deputy Minister of Information, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, gave the vote of thanks, he announced he would henceforth go by the title STVP because he had “Sat at a Table with the Vice President.” Anyway, they shared these jokes with due apologies to our Nigerian brothers.

But what prompted this seemingly well-rehearsed comedy about official titles? The occasion was the closing ceremony of the 3rd Ghana Policy Fair at the Accra International Conference Centre. I have heard some people criticise the annual fair, saying it is one of those platforms purposefully created for government propaganda. You can’t rule out some level of propaganda from government programmes, but there is more to the fair than that. I took time to interact with officials at some of the over 100 exhibitions mounted by ministries, agencies and departments (MDAs) at this year’s fair, and I think there can be only two reasons for such outright condemnations: ignorance about the fair or political mischief. The fair was opened to the general public, and officials at the exhibitions were willing to share whatever information one needed, or take complaints against them. It was an opportunity for the ordinary person to learn about or question the actions of the MDAs, especially those whose services were not very known but remained critical to the public. Participants, irrespective of their social standing, had unrestricted access to the MDAs without the usual annoying maze of bureaucracy. This year’s fair also had a new innovation. The National Health Insurance Authority, for instance, registered 350 new members into the scheme while 215 persons had their NHIS cards renewed. The Vehicle and Driver Licensing Authority (DVLA) also issued 240 new driving licenses and converted 71 foreign licenses to Ghanaian ones. The Public Relations Officer of the Ghana National Service Scheme, Mr Ambrose Entsiwah Jnr, also told me 500 National Service Certificates were issued during the period. And this was despite the fact that the services were not advertised. So Vice President John Mahama was right when he said at the closing ceremony that the 3rd edition of the Ghana Policy Fair was the most successful and directed all district, municipal and metropolitan assemblies to take part in the regional fairs.

But before the vice president spoke, the ministers and deputy ministers who rose to speak addressed him as “Dr John Mahama.” To some of the audience, this sounded awkward because the Vice President had not gone through the turmoil in academia to obtain a PhD. But the ministers emphasised the title with their usual praise-singing tone. They were not entirely wrong.

The Vice-President had been honoured with a Doctorate Degree in Public Administration by the Ekiti State University in Nigeria a few weeks ago. The ministers and deputy ministers stressed that title as if to tell the opposition NPP that “we have a Professor as our Yutong bus driver and a Doctor as his mate.” Our politicians can be petty, you know?

But some whispers seemed to have taken place at the high table and Alhassan Suhuyini announced shortly that the Vice President wanted to be referred to as John Dramani Mahama. As intelligent as he is, he had to find a politically correct way of announcing it in order not to embarrass those who were so obsessed with the title. And that was how the Accra International Conference Centre was turned into a political comedy theatre with titles as the main subject.

In fact, Africans, and for that matter Ghanaians, do not play with titles. Any MC who forgets to add the appropriate academic title is often embarrassed by the holder of the title when they have the opportunity to speak. Some carry their love for titles to bizarre levels.

The Vice-Chancellor of the Valley View University, for instance, is addressed as Prof. Dr. Dr. Daniel Bour. I haven’t heard or seen this anywhere. And I’m not sure you’ll ever come across it anywhere outside our seemingly accursed continent.

A few years ago, the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, came under serious criticisms when he directed chiefs within his domain to drop academic titles which they used with their chieftaincy names.

In Ghana, chiefs are not called by their real names. For example, the current Asantehene’s real name is Barima Kwaku Dua. Otumfuo Osei Tutu II is his stool name. So if he were Prof. Barima Kwaku Dua, it would be inappropriate to use the academic title with the stool name, which is not his real name. There’s no stool name in Asanteman which goes by the title “Otumfuo Professor.” Besides, an academic title has no significance in the hierarchical placement of chiefs. But this simple and common sense explanation attracted condemnation because we live in a country where titles are worshipped, and not the expertise of the individuals who own them. Outside Asanteman, however, we have titles such as “Nana Professor” and so on.

There’s always a contention between those who earn their academic titles by copying and pasting and citing sources on the one hand, and those, who by dint of hard work and service to humanity, have titles conferred on them by universities. Those who got theirs in the classroom do not think it is appropriate for those with honory degrees to use them.

The fact of the matter, however, is that some of those who have the degrees conferred on them are more worthy of such titles than those who got them in the classroom. What is the essence of degrees when the knowledge which is supposed to go with them is not used for the benefit of humanity?

Vice President John Mahama is, perhaps, well aware of this title controversy and had to stop it before he became the next subject of attack and condemnation on radio like his boss, President John Evans Atta-Mills.

The flag bearer of the New Patriotic Party, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo had to concede defeat in the 2008 elections when he lost by the slimmest margin in Ghana’s presidential electoral history. But his concession was reluctant. The NPP even went to court to challenge the election result. And Ex-President John Agyekum Kufuor had to publicly prevail on the losing candidate [Nana –AkufoAddo] to concede defeat.

But even before the 2012 election campaign started, Nana Addo told party supporters that the election should be an “all-die-be-die” affair. Having tasted defeat once, he believes he must win the 2012 elections “at all costs.” And that seemed to have set a perfect tone for the acrimony witnessed so far. Compare and contrast this with the disposition of his arch rival.

Nicknamed born-loser prior to the 2008 elections, Prof. J.E.A. Mills is no stranger to defeats. The former Law Professor lost the elections in 2000 and again lost in 2004, but he did not challenge the results. Neither was he reluctant in conceding defeat. Even when the odds weighed heavily against him in the 2008 elections and he trailed behind Nana Akufo-Addo in the first round of the elections, Mills did not adopt an “all-die-be-die” posture, a disposition that presented him as a weak candidate to critics within his party.

“As for me, I want peace,” has been the President’s slogan. As a result some people have nicknamed him “Asomdwehene” which means the “King of Peace.” Even if you hate duiker, our wise elders admonish, you must not fail to acknowledge his swiftness.

But this has not gone down well with his critics, who seem to know the thoughts of God concerning every issue under the sun. They say it blasphemous to call the President by that title because it is reserved for only God. The bishop of the Obuasi Diocese of the Methodist Church, the Rt. Rev Stephen R. Bosomtwi-Ayensu, is the latest to have warned President Mills to reject the name ‘Asomdwehene’ or face the wrath of God. He said the title must be used for none other than Christ.

The Bishop told to Radio XYZ: “The title belongs to our Lord and God and if any man tries to use this title on himself then he is being blasphemous”

Good point, isn’t it? Well, I have few recommendations for Rt. Rev. Bosomtwi and those Christians who support this view:

First, the bishop should reject the title “Right Reverend” because Romans 3:10 teaches us that “none is righteous, not even one.” Only God is righteous.

That call should go also to those who use God’s attribute as official titles. They should warn judges not to be addressed as “My Lord.” They should also argue that there is only one Christ, so it was wrong for the people of Antioch to have called the disciples as CHRISTians. Christians must therefore reject the title. They should make sure all chiefs within their traditional areas abandon the titles such as Otumfuo, Osabarima, Ose-adeeye, Osagyefo and the rest. These are attributes of God. They should also tell Roman Catholic priests to drop the title “Rev. Father” because all Christians have only one “Father who art in heaven…”

This argument is illogical, isn’t it? Well, it is time we Ghanaian Christians preoccupied ourselves with saving the perishing souls and stopped duelling on trivialities such as titles. President Mills has not said anybody should call him Asomdwehene. Besides, it is not a title he writes or uses. Any legitimate call worth considering would be to impress on the president to live up to that name and call some of his subordinates perpetuating violence with impunity to order. It is hypocritical for the president to always publicly condemn foul language and violence while the main architects are with him in the castle.

That is what we should speak against. Let us not take the place of God and pronounce curses, wrath and judgements which the Lord may have no interest in. If someone is proud to be called Kwaku Bonsam, what’s wrong with someone being called Kofi Nyame?

Savannah View is a weekly column published in the Tuesday edition of The Finder newspaper/Ghana. Writer’s email: azurechebe2@yahoo.com