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General News of Thursday, 5 April 2018


The little known lecturer who saved Martin Amidu

When Martin Amidu was being sworn in as Ghana’s first ever Special Prosecutor back in February 2018, ushering in what many hope will be the new dawn that turns the tide in our failing fight against corruption, he dropped a nugget during his acceptance speech that further expanded the portrait of the man who is an aberration of integrity in such cynical times.

Amidu, while unsurprisingly ruffling the feathers of the under-fire General Legal Council, revealed that Ghanaians were somewhat lucky to have the man christened Citizen Vigilante and that he had almost, as he put it, would not have become a lawyer.

But that was not all.

Amidu proceeded to declare his gratitude, before the Head of State and before the nation, to a little known former tutor at Commonwealth Hall and a French lecturer at the University of Ghana, Professor John Nii Djan Dodoo. Prof Dodoo, decades ago, planted a seed with a simple act of diligence that likely ensured that Amidu continued on the trajectory that saw him become the tormentor-in-chief of Alfred Woyome, an icon of Ghanaian popular culture and the Special Prosecutor.

This public display of gratitude to an ordinary lecturer was Amidu’s way of affirming the power that resides in merely doing the job assigned you with all integrity.

During his acceptance speech for the Special Prosecutor job, he recalled the support of his former hall tutor “without whom I may not have been available for this [Special Prosecutor] job.”

“He ensured that I was not cheated out by the exclusion of my name from the LLB class list at the Faculty of Law after my first university exams when I had qualified for placement on the programme by merit… His actions almost 43 years ago contributed in no small measure to my position, my passion for the defence of truth, fairness, integrity, transparency and merit in public life, and he must be publicly acknowledged for once,” Amidu stated.

I found this fascinating, not only because this flap of a butterfly’s wings 43 years ago sent such seismic ripples in Ghana’s political history, but because of the subtle juxtapositions buried in Amidu’s words of gratitude to this lecturer.

Amidu is not exactly an open book, especially with things about his private life. But when he has spoken about his influences and inspirations, he has only reserved such reverence for two people in the past; his parents and the founder of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), and former Head of State, Jerry John Rawlings.

The influence Rawlings has had on Amidu is apparent, at least on the surface. They share core socialist ideals and disdain for corruption and injustice. They met for the first time some months after Provisional National Defence Council’s (PNDC) December 31, 1981, revolution, where Amidu joined then-Flight Lieutenant Rawlings’ side as a likeminded contrarian to the normalised ills of society.

“It [the revolution] was a call to help our fellow human beings in the country which we felt were being taken for granted,” Amidu shared on the Citi Breakfast Show last year during one of the few interviews I have heard him give on personal matters.

Jerry Rawlings is known as one of the few men whose disdain for corruption matches that of Martin Amidu “I am consistent as a contrarian because I remain on the side of President Rawlings because that is our character, that is our being, and you can’t let me leave what brought me into politics to do the bidding of others, particularly when it is against the constitution I helped to draft, when it’s against the principles that brought me into politics and deprived my family of any benefit, and when it is against the interest of the nation.”

Amidu had just turned 66, on September 6, 2017, when he granted this interview and in his reflections, while acknowledging Mr Rawlings, he also explained that the foundation for the man he now is was laid by his parents, through their sacrifices to see him and his brother get an education.

“I have since secondary school dedicated my life for always speaking for the voiceless… that is because of the background of my parents and how they suffered to see my elder brother and me through school,” he said in a manner that resembled a mission statement.

But as it were, there was at least one more building block to the Martin Amidu story, was added in an office in the University of Ghana’s Modern Languages department, where Prof Dodoo worked for about 43 years from September 1969 to 2012.

Prof Dodoo was kind enough to revisit his experience with Amidu, from virtually his first year as a lecturer, when got in touch with him. His account evoked a man just playing according to the rules and following protocol; something many Ghanaians can attest has always been an alien idea.

“That is why you are a tutor, and maybe my Christian background to is part of this, that if somebody is not getting what he deserves, it is your role to find out what is happening.”

Indeed, Prof Dodoo was frank about the fact that his encounter with Amidu was anything but spectacular. It was just a Tuesday for the French lecturer, and he was only doing his job.

He did not have a special relationship with the man. He did not even carry the whole Amidu situation in mind. He only began to recall the matter when he started receiving calls alerting him to the fact that Amidu had thanked him for his actions on live TV, in the presence of the State hierarchy.

“To be frank, I don’t really remember him because I was teaching French and he was doing something else. He graduated in law. But I happened to have been his tutor. Those days, every tutor had about 50 students, and during your tutorial period you had to go and sit in your office and then when a student had a problem, they come over to you.”

“I had forgotten completely [Amidu] what happened because I was just doing my work as a tutor. So it was Martin who reminded me of what happened. It appears that he [Amidu] was a good student and he wanted to do law but missed the cut. When the list was published, there were two lists; one was for LLB with only students. The other was BA Law, which had another 40 students and his name was in neither of the two groups.”

Amidu felt he had well enough to warrant admission to the LLB programme after taking the First University Exams, an entrance exam of sorts. In those days, this entrance exam determined where students were placed based on, performance and course choice.

I would have thought the Amidu we have come to know now would have stormed his tutor’s office and raised hell at the university registry over what he viewed to be a miscarriage of justice. But no. Prof Dodoo said it was Amidu’s roommate who sought his intervention in the matter.

“He [Amidu] himself did not come to see me. It was his roommate who felt that something must have gone wrong. So the roommate came to see me as the tutor of Martin Amidu, and I asked the roommate to go and call him.”

Prof Dodoo had no idea why Amidu didn’t come himself. “Maybe he thought that, well, this is a big university and when the big people have taken their decisions, I don’t want to go and rock the boat and all that,” he conjectured.

The 20-something-year old Amidu was summoned to discuss the matter with Prof Dodoo and the next day; they proceeded to the law faculty for further checks. The dean of the faculty at the time was at the late Dr Richard Turkson, who later became Ghana’s High Commissioner to Canada.

“I went to talk to him about this problem, and then Turkson must have said: give, me some time, let me go and check. It appears they looked through the record and they didn’t see one of his papers. So they had to go to the registry to retrieve that paper, and on the basis of that, they thought he had done well enough to be selected to the LLB.”

When it was all said and done, the idea of a man merely doing his job and making a difference must have impressed on Amidu, Prof Dodoo surmised.

“So I think Martin was grateful that in those days when he was a nobody, a lecturer took him all the way and fought his case for him before he got into the law school. Once the faculty checked, and his marks were within the cut of point. They just asked him to come. He even tells me that for one week or so, they were waiting for him to come but he didn’t show up and he said he didn’t know that they had now selected him.”

Though Amidu, true to his quasi-pugilistic fashion, described the whole matter as almost being cheated out of the law school, Prof Dodoo felt that assessment was a bit harsh.

“This one, it was not really cheating. It was a genuine mistake. I have been a dean of the faculty, and every year [because of rotations] a new dean is on the admission board, and you see that certain people who deserve to be there for one reason or the other have not been taken,” he said.

Some 43 years down the line, and after his actions were acknowledged before the entire world, Prof Dodoo said the recognition simply humbled him. He had run into Amidu multiple times in previous years and harboured some admiration for him and his methods, but the issue with the missing paper never came up.

“I felt humbled by the things that he said and where he said it because, as I said, I had forgotten about this completely. I had just done my duty as a tutor and as a lecturer. But for him, it left a mark; that if this lecturer who did not know me had not intervened, maybe I would not have been where I am.”

“The citizen vigilante and all that. I was very impressed, and I didn’t see the link between him and me until he said that but for my gesture, he would have been where he is”

For Prof Dodoo, the lessons from this are simple: “do your best, your very best all the time, even when human beings do not see or do not appreciate. The God we serve will certainly notice.”

“If for instance I had taken a bribe and said give me this before I do this for you, he would have remembered. Oh in Legon, Prof Dodoo even took money from me before doing his job, and people are doing that in the ministry and other places. If you don’t add a brown envelope and all that, you will not get the service you deserve.”

The euphoria that met the passing of the Special Prosecutor Bill into law and the subsequent appointment of Amidu has died down, and a sense of disappointment seems to seep into our minds given the lack of activity over a month from the day the Special Prosecutor officially began work. The broken systems of Ghanaian governance have broken or frustrated many a man who tried to rise above the low standards of civil service.

But Amidu has survived permanently being exiled by his party. Ironically, he was given a lifeline and a renewed mandate by a rival party, the New Patriotic Party. The more optimistic observers view this as a good omen.

Prof Dodoo showed similar optimism when confronted with the question of Martin Amidu’s prospects as the Special Prosecutor.

“From his track record and his zeal to make sure that corruption is done away will and all that, I would say yes. But let’s give him a chance, let him start and let us see whether he will be just casing his former NDC people because of the way that they treated him or he will do the right thing and be fair to all manner of people. I am praying that he will do [the latter] in the interest of Ghana.”