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Opinions of Thursday, 5 February 2009

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

Zita will be zapped – Unfortunately!

Whiles dirt was being splashed on four of President Mills’ ministerial nominees, a fifth one was busily swimming in the mud – in the studios of a radio station.

A group calling itself Alliance for Accountable Governance is demanding that four of the nominees should be withdrawn because they had in the past broken the law – one way or another. Mohammed Mumuni (Foreign Affairs), Sherry Aryeetey (Environment and Technology), Hanna Tetteh (Trade) and Haruna Iddrisu (Communications) will find a way to extricate themselves from the allegations.

They are the lucky ones.

But for Zita Okaikoi (Information), washing off the muddy waters she willingly decided to jump in for a swim is really going to be an uphill task.

I don’t know who advised Mrs Okaikoi to agree to that interview on JOY FM but I will urge her never to seek counsel from that person again – not even on matters as trivial as which brand of T-roll to use. That interview was a big mistake and she’ll regret it for a very long time. To say she was a disappointment will be a gross understatement. However hard you try to put a gloss on her abysmal performance (maybe she was tensed), you would come to only one conclusion: she impressed very few.

She made very heavy weather of some of the easiest questions she was asked. In a few instances she seemed to be spot-on with her responses only for her to mess up with the follow-up questions. In some instances, the interviewer even seemed to be given her advice on how she would be expected to conduct herself if she takes up the job she’s about to take up.

“You will not be forgiven as information minister if you [say something and] come back and say it was in the heat of the moment that you said X, Y or Z,” the interview generously offered. So obviously, she’ll not be forgiven is she comes back to tell us that she performed so poorly in that interview because she was experiencing some cramps.

Many of those who listened to Mrs Okaikoi on JOY FM were left with one question: “is she really going to be the information minister?”

My answer is “yes, she is.” Unless a miracle happens, Mrs Okaikoi will get parliamentary approval and we are going to be seeing a lot of her. But not for long. She won’t be at the Information Ministry for more than six months. Mark it on the wall. I will be surprised if she does.

That interview exposed many of Zita Okaikoi’s weaknesses, the most glaring of which is her naivety or “political greenery”. I have no doubt that many journalists and politicians will never miss any opportunity (in fact, they will actively seek such an opportunity) to exploit this weakness – among the several others she gleefully advertised.

I really feel sorry for Zita Okaikoi. I was glad when I heard her names as the information minister-designate for the simple reason that I love to see women appointed to such high positions. I was even more delighted because I realised that she was so young – just about 35. But after that interview, I felt that in 30 minutes she undid some of the gains chalked by the feminist movement in the last 30 years.

But you can’t fault her. She’s got the basic intelligence and she seems ready to learn. But now is not her time. She’s just being needlessly thrust into the limelight and if I were to advise her (and I am not) I will urge her to decline her nomination. She needs to stay in the background for a little bit longer, understudy someone like Hanna Tetteh and get ‘groomed’ before deciding to show up on the frontlines of Ghanaian politics. But she thinks she is ready. And, sadly, parliament will approve her nomination only for her to end up with political bruises which will take a long time to heal.

When that happens, she will not blame herself alone. She will also blame the gentleman who decided to thrust her in the limelight with such a high profile political appointment without even bothering to speak with her to find out whether she is ready for the job.

“I met the president on a number of occasions although we’ve not sat down to have personal talks,” she says.

That is an admission that she and the president have never spoken about the job she has been offered. And since there is no indication that Mrs. Okaikoi put in an application for the job, a few questions easily come to mind. Was it the president who appointed her? If so, what was he thinking? How did he come to the decision that someone as ‘green’ as the giggly Mrs. Okaikoi should be the chief spokesperson for his government?

Ponder over these questions and you might be tempted to conclude (as I did that) something is amiss. It could be that the president is not making his own appointments. The NDC transition team had a nominations sub-committee, members of which were supposed to be scouting the right ministerial talent for the president. Maybe, they suggested Mrs. Okaikoi. If this is so, they did a very lousy job. They might have gotten it right with the likes of Hanna Tetteh, Betty Mould-Iddrisu and Ama Benyiwa-Doe. But Zita Okaikoi, clearly, is the wrong person for the job she’s been assigned.

If we decide to assume, however, that the president made his own appointments and he personally decided to give Zita Okaikoi the information portfolio, then an even more serious issue can be raised. And this has to do with the simple fact that he offered her the job without having a chat with her – in a sort of mini-interview – to find out a thing or two about his nominee.

That amounts to a very serious lapse in judgment, doesn’t it?

I think that it is imperative for the president to speak with each of his nominees before their names are made public – whether he made his own appointments or he got a team to help him out. If President Mills had taken just a few moments to talk with Mrs. Okaikoi, he would have realised that she isn’t ready even for the position of special assistant to the deputy Minister for Women and Children Affairs – much less the hot seat of information minister.

I really feel sorry for her. I can only hope that President Mills realises soon enough that Zita was a mistake and pulls her out as soon as possible. That will be her only saving grace – unless, of course, she decides to turn down the nomination. On the other hand, if she feels up to the task, she should go right ahead. I will be delighted if I am proved wrong.