by Dele Momodu
“Every person in Ghana, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, religion, creed, or gender, shall be entitled to the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual contained in this chapter but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for public interest…”
The Ghanaian Constitution, Section 12 (2)
Fellow Nigerians, let me apologise for my sudden absence from this page last week. It is not in my character to abdicate my responsibility at any time and if I do so at all, you can be sure that it must be with cogent reason. I’m actually totally addicted to writing Pendulum but my itinerant existence sometimes gets in the way and I’m not able to fulfil all righteousness to you. Last week was one such exceptional occasion that I just couldn’t do anything about. By the time you read the article I started on our flight to Banjul last week in the company of eminent ECOWAS leaders past and present, you will understand and appreciate why I couldn’t deliver. Please, forgive me… In the meantime, let me continue where I left off last time.
Fellow Africans, as I was saying last week (a couple of weeks ago now), the former President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, has decided to retire to his farmlands in the Akosombo area, about one hour from Accra by road. I had worked closely with him in the last couple of months and discovered a leader who was not desperate for power but passionate about developing his country at the speed of light. No challenge was too big for him to tackle. It was as if he knew he had little time to do the gigantic projects he had embarked on – a mere four years!
He was bold and courageous in his decisions and execution. He did not play the game of typical politicians who would lie through the teeth just to grab votes by all means. He would later suffer the consequences of not speaking the political language despite being a consummate communicator in his real life. He offended the unemployed youths by not promising to give them jobs that would never come unless certain infrastructural projects were in place. He would not borrow money to pay certain personal allowances that would have endeared him to selfish interests. However what he was prepared to do was that he would rather ensure the roads were tarred, the airports were upgraded to international standards without disrupting normal activities and modern and well-equipped hospitals where doctors and nurses and others can be gainfully employed were built. For him development was not stomach infrastructure but the electrification of Ghana including the rural areas, industrialisation of Ghana by resuscitating moribund and comatose industries, and such similar large program development projects.
What is more, JDM, as we fondly call him, is a true pan-Africanist who threw the doors of Ghana open to all Africans, particularly Nigerians. I found his affection for Nigeria and Nigerians, and his great respect for our leader, President Muhammadu Buhari, most refreshing. His was not a non-productive competition or bickering against Nigeria and Nigerians. He grew up in Kano when his great dad, a Ghanaian politician in the Nkrumah days, was forced into exile. Mahama has fond memories of Nigeria and has made many friends along the way.
He awarded a great and enigmatic Nigerian businessman, Dr Mike Adenuga Jnr., the Globalcom Chairman, the highest civilian National Honour in Ghana. Under his leadership, he gave us access to his developmental projects and Ovation International became a veritable part of his media campaign. Our team worked assiduously to showcase his phenomenal infrastructure projects which were previously under publicised for whatever reasons. It was a work that brought us into collision with some powerful forces but we were determined to promote one of the few great leaders doing wonderful things in Africa. We did what we had to do not just because of the elections but mainly because we saw it as an opportunity to permanently record the gargantuan efforts of a true patriot. Mahama’s simplicity is truly infectious. It made our task even simpler. He performed his duties without fuss, and almost effortlessly. He made us proud as Africans.
Just as he feels very much at home with Nigerians, he regards all Africans as one and is committed a united and democratic Africa comprising African States that look out for one another and champion each other’s causes.
Despite the unexpected outcome of the Presidential election, JDM was never grumpy. In fact he comforted those of us who felt sad at the results letting us know that that it was the will of God and certainly not the end of the world. His cheerful disposition lifted the initial gloom around our team and we subsequently held our heads up high because of the great work that we had all done. JDM bore the loss with uncommon equanimity and chose to hand over power and move on quietly with his life when he could very easily have taken the long road and either manipulated the election results or challenged their validity. But it has not been as simple as that and the solitude, anonymity and relaxation that he craved have been taken away from him.
In the last couple of weeks, JDM has started what looks like a new assignment, foisted on him by ECOWAS and our President, Muhammadu Buhari. Two days after leaving office, JDM was invited to join a few African leaders from Senegal and Liberia in Abuja. Their purpose was to discuss ways of resolving the logjam in The Gambia following the decision by former President Yahya Jammeh to renege on his previous laudable acceptance of defeat and congratulations to the victor, President Adama Barrow. I was pleasantly surprised when JDM invited me along on the trip even though he knew I was desperate to return to Nigeria to deal with urgent business and personal matters. For me it was a call to service and I knew it was imperative for me to make some personal sacrifices if it meant I could help in some way. I saw it as a vote of confidence in me by JDM. Though we had succeeded in establishing some enviable chemistry, I still did not know the extent of our relationship. He had spent two days in Lagos last December and attended the Ovation Carol at Eko Hotel Convention Centre. I found it ironic that it would take JDM inviting me to my own country for me to enter the Aso Rock Presidential villa again. That is another story for another day, anyway.
It did not end there. Following the deliberations in Abuja, President Muhammadu Buhari, for the second time in a week, invited JDM and a few other leaders to join him in Banjul to broker a peace deal with the former strongman of The Gambia, Yahya Jameh. Again, JDM also invited me along. In fact, I began writing this piece on the plane, on our way to picking the President of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in a country where I was gowned nearly ten years ago and was given the Chieftaincy title of The Kiazolu of Grand Cape Mount County…
This was the point at which I stopped writing in the hope that I would complete the article on our return journey. But The Gambia proved a naughty nut to crack. Right from the airport, it was obvious President Yahya Jammeh had no plans to quit power. After a meeting between Presidents Buhari, Sirleaf and Mahama, they decided to head to Jammeh’s Palace. When we got there, he came out to welcome them before they all retired behind closed doors. When they emerged from their meeting, he saw them off again. We headed back to the hotel earlier used and that was when the leaders decided to meet with the then President-elect of The Gambia, President Adama Barrow. News later came that neither opposition nor government had agreed on anything tangible and a press conference was arranged and addressed by Nigeria’s Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, who should be credited for creditably coordinating the elaborate peace initiatives deftly and adroitly. He was a picture of charm, calm and diplomacy and he made me proud to see a Nigerian Minister who clearly knew what he was doing and who succeeded in doing it well to the admiration of all.
Once the negotiations collapsed, it then became a matter of “to thy tents Oh Israel.” We headed back to the airport. Adama Barrow and a few others, including the Chief Justice of the Gambia, Nigeria’s own Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle, and his wife, joined us on the trip to Liberia where Madam Sirleaf disembarked with Barrow. I did not realise the significance of the presence of the Chief Justice on our return trip until this Thursday when everything clicked into place as the Chief Justice swore in President Adama Barrow at the Gambian Embassy in Senegal.
By the time we got to Monrovia, a second time on the same day, it was too late for me to finish Pendulum. But in view of the Gambian debacle and the failure of diplomacy that was the least of my concerns. What was uppermost in my mind was the peace that had eluded a once tranquil nation known for its beaches and as a great tourist attraction and I was truly sad. Unknown to me then, the only option left was to swear in President Barrow on foreign soil which has now transpired and then return him to the Gambia with the aid of foreign troops including Nigerian soldiers and Air Force which is ongoing. The rest is now history.
Before we left The Gambia, I had tried to check the mood of President Jammeh by chatting briefly with him. I had known and met him a couple of times since the year 2000 when we were invited by Ms Isha Tejan Cole to establish Ovation’s presence in Banjul. Jammeh and his beautiful wife were very receptive at the time with their popularity rating still high enough. I never expected him not to quit while the ovation was still a bit loud. The Jammeh I spoke to last week Friday was a shadow of himself. He was not as confident and assertive as he used to be. He appeared jumpy and fidgety. Like a thief whose hand has been caught in the cookie jar. As we shook hands and I left him, I could not but remember the proviso to section 12(2) of the Ghanaian Constitution that I have cited above in so far as it relates to “respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for public interest …”. I was seriously convicted and compelled to pray that God would mercifully rescue the good people of The Gambia from the ambition of one man who failed to realise that he must properly respect the rights and freedom of his people to freely choose any leader that they want and the attendant public interest in doing so. Yahya Jammeh should have known that whatever has a beginning must have an end. That is the simple lot of Man. It is my fervent hope that it does not end in tragedy for him and that he will indeed quit today as he now seems to be saying having seen the noose tightening around his neck! God let wisdom and uncommon sense prevail! Amen.
– This article was first published in ThisDay Newspapers.