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Opinions of Saturday, 10 October 2009

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

Why They All Want to Date Michael Essien

Prior to Ghana Black Stars’ match against Sudan recently that saw their historic qualification with two more matches to be played; I saw an interview of some of the players on one of our local TV stations. As usual, the reporter’s job could not have been complete without a word from Michael Essien, the midfield engineer of our team. The camera man gave a close-up shot of the most expensive African footballer while he spoke. Characteristically licking his lips and with eyes wide open, the sweaty Michael Essien with his mpesenpese hairdo did not present a very handsome image on the screen. I smiled quietly to myself when one thought crossed my mind. He is dating one of the most beautiful movie stars on our continent. His attempt to disentangle himself from another lady met stiff resistance and the shy footballer was even in court recently. Why do they all want to date Essien?

I once heard one of Blakk Rasta’s songs play in a trotro, and though I cannot remember the lyrics word for word, there is a guy asking his lover whether she would love him if he were a carpenter, or a mason etc. Would they love Essien if he were a teacher, a lawyer, an “honourable” member of parliament or a university lecturer, who does not fail to remind his students that their destinies are in his hands? Probably not? Why? They are not stars, period! Michael Essien is a star. If any of the proud professionals I have mentioned above happens to embezzle an equivalent of Michael Essien’s weekly earnings, they will have to go and do their national service in the dungeons of the hellish Nsawam Prison. If wealth, fame and admiration are anything to go by, then Michael Essien is better than the prestige of all these professionals lumped together.

My elder brother once told me a story about his tutor at Tamasco who had gone to do his masters overseas and was returning to Ghana, expecting a heroic welcome back home. According to this tutor, he was in the plane when there came an announcement: “With all due respect, shall we be on our feet. We are privileged to have in our midst, the maestro Abedi Ayew Pele.” Those were the Abedi’s hey-days and the tutor stood there biting his lips. He had taught Abedi at the senior high school not long ago.

“Why this silly analogy?” you may wonder. Let’s now go to the reason for the equally misleading headline.

Law graduates of the University of Ghana, Legon, and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) who were not admitted into the Ghana Law School recently threatened legal action against the school. The General Legal Council has stated that it has allocated 100 places for University of Ghana law students, 80 for KNUST law students and 40 for foreign and external degree holders. This means that hundreds of qualified Law graduates will not have the opportunity to enter the Ghana Law School and come out to be called “learned fellows”. (Only God knows how learned some of these people are). The frustration of these young and enterprising men and women is justifiable. Passing through the hands of Law lecturers, some of who see themselves as next to God, is worse than hell.

The Ghana Medical and Dental Council and the General Legal Council are the tarred with the same brush. They have put artificial barriers in the paths of many intelligent people just to keep that so-called prestige in their professions. If that was not the case why the Ghana Law School can’t be expanded to take in more students, after fifty-one years of its establishment? After all, it is not everybody who wants to read Law and go to the courts.

As for the Medical and Dental Council, I blame the whole nation for our inability to just utilize the content of our skulls a little. Medicine is now made to be pursued by only the rich in our society. It is the products of the Wesley Girls, the Mfantsipims, the Prempehs and those in that category who gain admission to read Medicine. Those who gain admission to these first class senior high schools are not pupils from Kete-Krachi Local Authority Basic School where I enjoyed the shift system – the morning and afternoon schools in the same structures. The child of the ordinary worker cannot enroll in Roman Ridge, Christ the King or any of the first class basic schools where admission into equally first class senior high school is assured. Finally, even if they fail to make the grades, the fee paying system is there to favour the rich against the poor. This is the trend. And we sit down unconcerned!

The question we need to ask is whether the Cuban medical doctors we import are only those who got aggregate six before going to read medicine. The facilities should be expanded to increase the intake to fill the empty hospitals across the country. The cut off points should be relaxed and instead there should be strict sieving in the medical schools. It will not be surprising to see students with 8As trailing several miles behind their counterparts with aggregate 15 from deprived senior high schools.

Now back to Essien’s talent. If you ask those Law and Medical students why they are into those fields, most of them will probably tell you they were forced to read such courses because of the prestige associated with them. A minister of state will not understand why his son or daughter will go and do Visual Arts. Painting in our society is meant for people who have basic or no education at all. Our talents are not utilized.

In the world today, it is not what we read at the universities that makes who we are. We can only impact greatly on our society when we identify our talents and pursue them. The big names in the world did and are doing just that. There are times the whole world is talking about Barack Obama. Sometimes, Obama doesn’t become news enough when the whole world is watching Usain Bolt bolting like thunderbolt or Christiano Ronaldo weaving his way through pillars of defenders; or the whole world shaken by the death of Michael Jackson.

Anas Aremeyaw Anas did not receive an honourable mention in Obama’s worldly broadcast speech because he is the greatest scholar in Africa. Space explorers have left indelible marks in the history books but they cannot outpace 15th century Shakespeare who has a great say in our diction of today. It is talent and not what we crave for due to prestige!

I recently wrote about a rowdy behaviour of Katanga students at the NUGS congress and the “Fellows charged” with the usual comments that must follow. There was however an engineering student who was not satisfied until he wrote to my inbox suggesting that it is lame minded students who enroll into institutions like GIJ. He is among those who mock other students on campuses. But I would have been unwise to have repeated the same mistake twice.

In the rural junior high school pupils do not get enough coaching about choosing of courses to read in the SHS. Since the bank manager of GCB in Krachi happened to be the most successful professional (to us) in those days, I was determined to pursue business and become like him when I gained admission into Krachi Senior High School in 2001. I realised that I should have studied General Arts when I got to my final year. Though I managed to make A’s in Economics and Business Management and a B in Accounting, I knew Business was not my field. I could read and write for the whole day but if I tried calculating for half of that time, I would find my head throbbing like the rhythm of Francophone music. Why then should I have gone ahead for a business programme?

Even at the university, it is not too late to change if you find yourself doing what is not your field.

In 1948, Albert Chin?al?m?g? Achebe, the wizard of African fiction was offered admission at the prestigious University of Ibadan to study Medicine on scholarship because he had scored very high marks in the entrance exams. Chinua Achebe (if the other name sounds strange), according to his biography on Wikipedia, “after a year of grueling work, however, decided science was not for him and he changed to English , History, and Theology.” Medical students and those reading Business Administration treat such students with contempt in our universities. But Chinua Achebe remains one of the very few African names you type on your computer without it being underlined red, indicating that you have typed a wrong word. Perhaps Dr. Sodzi Sodzi Tetteh, the General Secretary of the Ghana Medical Association should have done what Achebe did many years ago. What an excellent writer he is!

Efo Kodjo Mawugbe, winner of 2009 BBC International Radio Playwriting competition will be flying to Bush House on Friday to see the recording of his play and to claim his cash prize of £2500. When he was studying Drama at the University of Ghana, many may have thought those programmes were a preserve of students who were not good enough, but he is among those who are making it big in the theatre industry. To him, writing drama is a hobby. What is more satisfying than being paid for doing your hobby?

The list is endless but the message is simple.

Pride and prestige have taken over our sense of reasoning. If the disappointed Law graduates will do a proper self-introspection, they will realise that they shouldn’t have gone to read Law in the first place. Law or Medicine is not everything. Which of our legal luminaries can claim to be more learned than Achebe or Essien? And so what? Let’s teach our children to develop talents, for he who imitates the left handed is bound to hurt himself.

Author’s Apology: By Essien’s analogy, this writer does not mean that one has to strive to be a star because of women or that women are opportunists. It was just employed to lure the target group of this article (the youth) to read. You need to be in the university today to see how relationships, beach parties and drinking sprees have taken precedence over academic work. The wretched state of affairs of our nation only begins to dawn on students like day when they have to move from one organisatoin to the other, with reams of application letters tucked under their sweaty armpits, in search of jobs that are as scarce as armed robbery incidents in Burma Camp.

Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni [azureachebe2@yahoo.com] The writer is the SRC President of the Ghana Institute of Journalism, Accra.