by Dele Momodu
“It seems to me, you lived your life like a candle in the wind never knowing who to cling to when the rain set in.
You had the grace to hold yourself in these painful moments whilst most grassroots, and those around you throughout the country crawled. Moments I can’t ever forget in my life.
You changed the pace and image of NDC politicking, your demeanour, language, humour. You are my model. You’re my hero.
From Bole, you rose to become teacher, Assembly man, MP, Deputy Minister, a Minister, Vice President and finally a President.
An accomplished man on our land. In our contemporary politics, nobody had clocked that feat.
To me there exists a certain STAR on your birth. I yearn for your Presidency again…”
Fellow Africans, please, let me confess that I do not know the author of the above quote but I have taken the liberty to adopt and adapt it to the story you are about to read. It is a tale of a man who virtually rose through the ranks and climbed the ladder of success from bottom up. His trajectory would naturally read like a fairy-tale or, more appropriately, a stuff of fiction. That simple poem represents and encapsulates the view of those who have been able to meet, interact and know the enigmatic leader known as John Dramani Mahama, popularly called JDM by his teeming admirers.
It is almost impossible to encounter JDM and not fall in love with him, sooner rather than later. My experience of him is somehow surreal. My relationship with him began through a mutual friend, Victor Smith, the current Ghana High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, shortly before JDM was selected as Vice Presidential candidate by Professor John Evans Atta-Mills. We had visited him at home and met him and his friendly wife, Lordina. Victor and JDM had wanted my support in terms of media exposure for the candidacy of Atta-Mills/Mahama. Ovation International had played similar roles in the past by giving publicity to the stellar works of former Presidents Jerry John Rawlings and John Agyekum Kufuor. But there was not much we could do for their candidacy at the time other than project their personality profiles since they had not held executive positions to enable us assess their capabilities properly. It is always easier to rate the performance of a sit-in leader than that of an opposition challenger.
Prior to meeting JDM, I had also met Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo through his cousin, Adelaide Olagbaju who was at the time married to a prominent Nigerian, Sammy Olagbaju, now of blessed memory. Mrs Olagbaju, as she then was (she is now a Queen mother) wanted media exposure for the man I often called the ‘Great Nana’. We managed to do a profile of him on the cover of Ovation magazine but couldn’t meet one-on-one thereafter to develop a greater rapport.
About the same time, I had received a call from Pastor Temitope Balogun Joshua asking me to support the candidacy of Atta-Mills, at a time all pundits placed their bets on Nana. I did play my modest part in the manner requested which proved effective. Thereafter I moved on.
My robust relationship with Ghana started in July 1995, when I was forced to flee Nigeria and managed to escape to the beautiful city of Accra. For me, it was a case of love at first sight as I enjoyed and savoured the tranquillity of Ghana during the regime of President Rawlings who had metamorphosed from military to civilian government. I spent a few nights in Accra before finally continuing my journey to London where I would be in exile for three suffocating years. Throughout that period, I had Ghana in my thoughts. It reminded me of the peaceful life we lived on the campus of Africa’s most beautiful University of Ife (now renamed Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife) popularly called Great Ife.
After exile, I would later take partial abode in Ghana. Many would even think, erroneously, I had abandoned Nigeria totally because of the way I promoted Ghana to high heavens. I developed very healthy relationships with many Ghanaian leaders across different political parties. I met President John Agyekum Kufuor in the home of shipping magnate, Alhaji Asoma Banda, barely five days after he came to power. We later lived on the same street in Airport Residential and I had easy access to him as he went to work from home. I also developed very close friendship with his Vice President, Alhaji Aliu Mahama, of blessed memory. Ghana at that time was not yet polarised and I was able to interact with whoever I wanted. As close as I was to the Kufuor government, I was able to do positive stories on Rawlings and even invited him and his entire family to Nigeria to which he duly obliged.
Prior to that time, the image of Nigeria and Nigerians in Ghana was abysmally poor. We were generally believed to be hopelessly fraudulent but Ovation came in and showcased some of the brightest Nigerians making giant strides in all fields of human endeavour. We also reported some Ghanaian newsmakers and they became popular in Nigeria and beyond. I was merely pursuing my dream and vision as a pan-Africanist in the mould of the great Osagyefo, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, whose seminal works I had encountered and devoured as a student. While there was really no money to be made in Ghana compared to our country the giant of Africa, we were happy to make the place our production hub because of the better infrastructural facilities. I believe we cemented and improved the bond that had always existed between our two countries.
Unknown to me, JDM was a keen follower of the Ovation adventures in Africa and he was delighted to see Africans telling their own stories, in a positive manner. I met him at a Globacom dinner for Professor Wole Soyinka one evening and we exchanged greetings. He wondered why I had disappeared from his radar. I answered that it was not easy to visit a big and important man like him and we left it at that. Fate would soon force the Presidency of Ghana on him after the death of his boss and mentor, Professor Atta-Mills, and Mahama became even bigger in stature.
We did not see again for several years until President Muhammadu Buhari won his election visited Ghana on a short visit. I was pleasantly surprised when JDM introduced me to my own President as someone who has virtually become Ghanaian. Buhari smiled at that jocular revelation and responded that I was true ambassador of Nigeria. We drove to Aburi where the leaders held bilateral talks. I met JDM while they were on recess and we exchanged numbers. We chatted briefly on WhatsApp the following day and he told me he was happy to receive Buhari who appeared very relaxed in his company. I noted his humility as he showed maximum respect to our visiting President.
Within the same year, in 2015, I ran into an old friend, Saratu Baby Atta, Femi Fani-Kayode’s baby mother, at a funeral. Saratu a hardworking lady informed me that she was now the personal secretary to Nana Akufo-Addo. She asked if she could set up a meeting between us as I could be of some help to their campaign. I agreed to honour any appointment she could arrange. At the appointed day, I visited Nana’s office and had a private discussion with him. However, we only discussed politics generally including developments in Nigeria and I left.
In February 2016, I was invited to a personality radio interview on Starr FM by my friend, Bola Ray. I never envisaged what would happen thereafter. Towards the closing part of the chat, I was asked my opinion of the performance of President Mahama. My candid response was that he was doing excellently well, especially in the area of infrastructure development and gave copious examples that I had encountered. I returned to my base in Nigeria but I had the tiger by the tail. The news media in Ghana instantly exploded and gave massive publicity to my views. Some liked what but majority of the opposition media hated my guts.
Interestingly, I got a WhatsApp message from Saratu on February 13, 2016, and it captured the feeling of Opposition towards my innocent interview. She wrote: “Hi Chief Dele… I thought you were going to help us…” to which I responded that “you didn’t request for my help…” She fired back “But now they say you are Mahama’s chief supporter…” I told her there was never a follow up to my meeting in their office and that I had remained neutral and since returned to Nigeria. Saratu lectured that there’s no such thing as neutrality in politics and I responded again:
“The two candidates are great personalities and Ghana is blessed to have them…I have the highest regards for your boss that is why I call him the ‘Great Nana’ always. I do not promote any politics that engender bitterness. Whoever wins should be supported to succeed. Africa is bleeding and we must build it together…”
If I thought that settled the matter, I was dead wrong. I continued to receive a barrage of attacks for expressing a factual opinion. However, on the other side, President Mahama was apparently very happy about my unsolicited intervention. On Valentine’s Day, 2016, he sent me a WhatsApp message:
“Thanks Dele. Many thanks for the interview. It went down well with many people and opened their eyes to the job we have tried to execute over the last 3 years. I would love us to discuss how you can help us communicate the story of our achievements better…”
This coming from a President deeply touched and humbled me. I responded, calmly: “Your Excellency thank you Sir for the appreciation …. We can take up the project and wake up the entire country to see the great work…”
Due to his very busy schedule and my own itinerant job, we couldn’t meet for several months. Fate then had a hand in our eventual meeting. On one of my visits to Abuja, I was in the executive lounge when a beautiful and aristocratic Kenyan lady strode majestically in and a friend introduced her to me as Ambassador Phanice Mogaka. I was stunned when she said I needed no introduction because she follows me religiously on social media. We exchanged contacts and that was it. We hit it off instantly and it seemed as if we had known each other forever. Phanice and I met again the following day and I discovered her great passion for Africa. She knew some African leaders and wondered if I was close to President Mahama. I told her we were close enough. She volunteered that Mahama was having difficulties selling his amazing developmental projects to Ghanaians as a result of some serious conspiracy. I stated that I was willing to help and she promised to assist in getting Ovation to promote the uncommon transformation in Ghana…
She did as she promised and the President told me several people had suggested to him that Ovation could make a huge impact by telling the staggering stories of his great work in transforming Ghana. We met and discussed in June, just a few months to the presidential election. Ovation was convinced the story needed to be told. We accepted the task and approached it with every sense of humility. It would transport us to every region in Ghana, at great risk but we were undaunted. We worked very hard, against all odds.to deliver on the Project. JDM is a rare being who believes so much in Africa and he therefore refused to be persuaded that Ovation is a Nigerian or “foreign” product. Our friendship blossomed.
Though he lost his second term bid, he never lost his composure and sense of patriotism. There were so many lessons I learnt from him. His tolerance is remarkable. He conceded defeat pronto and congratulated Nana Akufo-Addo. In all our recent encounters since the election, he promised to give his maximum cooperation to the new administration. He has also speedily worked out his future plans already.
I was honoured when he invited a few of us days ago to his expansive farmland in Akosombo. We toured his poultry farm and we could see the fire of readiness in his eyes. He hopes to have one of the biggest in Ghana. Knowing him now and what he achieved with the Ghanaian economy and society, I know it will be easy for him to fulfil his vision.
JDM is such a wonderful soul. May his tribe increase in Africa…
– This article was first published in ThisDay Newspapers