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Opinions of Thursday, 30 September 2010

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

Re: Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh: “I Am No Politician”

BY Manasseh Azure Awuni

Our Elders say if you hate a duiker, one thing you must not fail to acknowledge is its swiftness. It is for this reason that I commend those who have subjected Mr. Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh to a barrage of criticism in recent times, for their sincerity in acknowledging the fact that he’s been an inspiration to them through his writings. Though some of those rejoinders to Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafoh’s articles were bitingly critical and sometimes with unpalatable tones, the Daily Graphic has not withheld them from publication and Daily Graphic must be commended for always giving readers their right of reply.

It was during GIJ SRC’s Akwaaba Week Celebration in 2006 that I first met Mr. Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh. I was then a fresher and he delivered an informative lecture at the British Council on media ethics. And since then I have been following his writings because there’s always something to learn even if I have no interest in the subject.
I have also followed the allegations leveled against Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafoh for his perceived political biases in recent times. There have been number of rejoinders and counter rejoinders from him until his last piece in the Thursday September 16, 2010 edition of the Daily Graphic titled “I am no Politician” which I think the time is ripe to share my thoughts on “war” his his perceived biases.
In the article cited above, Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafoh explains extensively why he writes what he writes and stated that his criticism of government did not start yesterday, and certainly not with the NDC government, which his accusers think he is implacably opposed to.

The reasons given by Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafoh in his last piece for his criticisms are all correct, but I also think his critics are justifiable in their conclusion that the 1995 Journalist of the Year and immediate past Editor of the state-owned Daily Graphic is now a Dankwa-Busia traditionalist in the pastoral cloak of journalism. But subjecting Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafoh’s writings, one must look at the issue of journalists and political opinions broadly.
First, it is not true that a journalist must not write on political issues or take a stance. The media has been left in the hands of politicians for far too long. While political speeches are reproduced by the newspapers, party boys are also sent to radio and television studios to comment on any issue as Mr. Kofi Akordor lamented in his column recently. They discuss floods, find solution to congestion in the cities, and pretend to know everything about medicine and all issues that come up in the media. When it comes to politics and governance they profess to have more knowledge than the best political scientist in the world.
Technocrats on the various issues are forced to sit behind their screens and watch these boys, some of whom speak grammatically-handicapped English language, advertise their ignorance. The only effort of these “political analysts” worth applauding is their enormous skill in politicizing everything including the amount of rain God gives the nation.
The main bane of our national development is ignorance and that ignorance will continue to plague the nation if informative and educative writings such as those of Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafoh are not done to fetter the systematic spreading of malicious lies and vile political propaganda. And as stated by Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafoh in his last piece every writer must take a stance on a particular subject. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a stance on an issue.
South African Nobel Laureate and one of Africa’s most respected statesmen, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu once said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” And I don’t think there is any worse injustice than the thousands of people who are starving and dying of diseases when the monies meant to better their lot are swelling accounts of politicians, their cronies and girlfriends. One cannot therefore pretend to be neutral when writing about such instances.
A situation is or action of government is either right or wrong. There is no midway in character. And it is only a hypocrite who will be neutral in such circumstances. One must not abstain from writing what ought to be written for the fear of being tagged as pro or anti-government, not when the policies of government and our leaders are detrimental to the survival of the nation. Martin Luther King Jr. warns us that our lives begin to end the very moment “we keep silent on things that matter.” And we must not keep silent because a particular piece of writing is likely to make a government or a political party unpopular. In the words of Chinua, Achebe, “a man may swallow phlegm for the fear of offending others, but not poison.” We cannot fear death and refuse to sleep and any journalist worthy of the name “journalist” must be able to analyse issues making news in articles and commentaries. Journalists are not programmed robots tasked with turning political speeches into reported speech just to fill the pages or air time. We must from time to time, hold such politicians accountable in write ups after the funfairs and vain speeches that are usually punctuated with applauses at functions. In short politicians must be held accountable to the people.
Besides, politicians are not the most learned creatures ever to crawl on planet earth and their utterances and actions cannot be sacrosanct. They are the trustees of what we all own and if the chief director of a ministry cannot openly criticize the government for the fear of being booted out for “incompetence”, then that constitutional mandate falls on journalists. What is more, our old sages say the one who cuts the path does not know that his back is crooked, as President Mills admitted when he met members of the National Media Commission recently. The government must therefore be criticized and Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafoh cannot be said to be wrong for criticizing the government.
These justifications for criticizing government notwithstanding, I think Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafoh’s critics are right in alleging that he is biased against the NDC government. In May 2009, I wrote an article titled: “What ruined the NPP would ruin the NDC” [published on ghanaweb, myjoyonline.com and can be retrieved by googling the title] in which I made mention of Mr. Boadu Ayeboafoh’s consistent criticism of the Mills-led government. He is one writer whose articles do not miss and when I read his writings consistently for four months into the Mills administration, I noticed a sudden turn of tone and a stance. I had been following his writings in the evening of the NPP rule the difference was clear. His later writings were to confirm my observations. So after one year, if some readers are saying what I said barely four months after a change of government, Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafoh must not rubbish them. He should accept them in good fate and work to cement his reputation as one of credible senior journalists in the country.
It is true, as he stated in his last, article that it is his duty to hold the government in power accountable. It is, however, also true that for the almost two years of resuming power, the NDC government has done at least one thing worthy of praise. And that is what I’m yet to read from Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafoh. In addition, the “mob” actions of the opposition NPP at BNI offices, the courts, and police stations cannot be said to have escaped the critical eye of any advocate of the rule of law. Both the NDC and NPP are tarred with the same brush. They say the same thing, mean the same thing and do the same thing. Neither of them is a saint. The only difference is that at one point in time, one is government and the other is in opposition.
Like every journalist, Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafoh cannot be neutral. It is impossible to be neutral because we all have the political parties we support. Even the Chairman of the Electoral Commission is entitled to vote. It is his constitutional duty and since all of us vote, we’re bound to have soft spots for our various parties so the issue of neutrality is the preserve of hypocrites with PhDs. What we can, however, do is fairness. In whatever we do, say or write, we can be fair and objective. It is on this basis that Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafoh can be accused of biases against the NDC, especially when he blamed the Mills’ government for not being able to provide accommodation for the four-year senior high school programme in his article “When You Cheat Ananse.”
In a reactive article, Getting a Hearing, Mr. defended why he said that and went ahead to state that “those who criticize the government on available facts cannot be said to be biased no matter how extreme their observation.” And this is where he got it all wrong. Our elders say, “He who tells the truth is never wrong.” It is truth and not facts. The fact may be that a man and woman spent the night together in a room. But the truth is that they slept on different beds and did not touch each other. Even there are ways of arguing based facts that are biased. A glass of water can be said either half full or half empty. They denote the same thing but carry different connotations. We also know how some journalists-turned social commentators in this country claim to have documents and facts regarding every issue under the sun, but they always twist those facts against some political parties. Must we say because they speak based on facts they cannot be said to be biased, when all their arguments are factually malicious?
In 2004 I wrote my mock examination under trees because Krachi Senior High School was among the thirty-one (31) senior high schools selected to benefit from the noble Model School Project started by the NPP. Today, the Krasec project is yet to be completed. Will one therefore be fair to the current administration to suggest that it has failed because of the inability to provide additional accommodation in all the senior high schools in the country?
As for the extension of the SHS to four years, one does not have to be a Nobel Laureate in Education to know that it is not the solution to the educational woes this country. Why were students of the Mfantsipim, Prempeh, Presec and Wesley Girls outperforming others? Were the years not the same for all schools?
Mr. Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh has not committed a sin – neither will anybody do – for criticizing the government but in my estimation, his consistently one-sided and seemingly antagonistic stance is a bit disturbing to some of us who do not only savour the beauty of his writings but also regard him as a great teacher of Law and Journalism through his writings. We his critics may be right or wrong but like every human being, his conscience is the truest judge.

Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni [www.maxighana.com] Email: azureachebe2@yahoo.com The writer is a freelance journalist based in Accra. To read more of his writings, visit www.maxighana.com