Sometime in the mid to late 2000s, I received a call from Akwasi Acquah (currently the Member of Parliament for Oda, and the man who gave me my first few gigs as a panelist on radio), that he wanted to see me. When we met, he said that a gentleman wanted to meet me. It turned out to be one Lawyer Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, then Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC).
It was a fateful meeting. It was my first time of meeting the folksy gentleman that many people know in Ghanaian politics as ‘Sir John’.
At that time, (President John Kufuor was in power) Sir John was going through a period of bad press, and being something of a radio impresario, he thought that by getting together with me and explaining how things were going on at GNPC, he would be able to make an input into my contributions on radio about the corporation.
It was the beginning of many years of friendship and unanimity between Sir John and me on the way forward for the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the nation.
The last time we met, was in his office at the Forestry Commission, where he had invited me upon hearing that I was contesting in a primary to become selected as the NPP’s candidate for Okaikoi North, and what he could do to forward that dream. And he did what he could to make the dream a reality.
He told people present in the office, “Do you know that guy sitting there? If it had been any other political party, he would not be put through the stress of a primary, because he has demonstrated that he is prepared to die for this party.”
Those were words that brought tears to my eyes, because I know that Sir John had made a similar sacrifice. That day in my house in 2013, as I sat behind my television set and watched Sir John being taken through a public excoriation and humiliation at the hands of Justice Atubuga and some members of the Supreme Court of Ghana then, I vowed, that when I finished writing a set of examinations I was then writing at the University of Ghana, I would take a stance in the case of Akufo Addo and Two others versus The Electoral Commission and John Mahama, that somebody ought to take a stance at the rank injustice that was being handed down to the NPP and its Presidential Candidate.
In between the first meeting with Hon. Akwasi Acquah, and the meeting at his office at Forestry Commission, where he finally unlaced his boots, there were other meetings. I remember when he invited me to lunch at the GBC Club House one day, and I went there to find him in conversation with one Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana (I will not mention his name for judicial reasons), and he introduced me to the gentleman as a journalist whose views he thought interesting even though they were sometimes excoriating of the then Kufuor Administration, with the hope that it would be wise if governments in power accepted the views of critics, once in a while, and acted on them, they would not go out of power so soon.
Sir John had a unique view of politicking in our country. It is a view that few hold, but which would be beneficial to Ghana if many can copy. You can discern this viewpoint of his from years of friendship with Johnson Aseidu Nketiah, the General Secretary of the National Democratic Congress. The opposition is the opposition in the discourse on the policy direction of the nation, but he is not necessarily the enemy.
And Sir John could see beyond the form of things to the substance of things. He knew to appreciate quality and strength, instead of a posture of quality and strength. He knew who were real friends, and who postured to be friends. And he knew about loyalty. He knew and appreciated quality and service. It is these qualities that separated him from many. It is these qualities that probably would have made him the greatest National Chairman of the NPP< if he had lived. But sadly, fate decreed otherwise.
There was a congress in Tamale of the New Patriotic Party. I was stepping out of an elevator at the Tamale Sports Stadium, where the congress was being held, when I ran into Sir John and an entourage. It was dawn and he had just lost an election, I believe for National Chairman, and he stopped upon seeing me for a word.
“Never trust a delegate,” he said. He was to repeat the phrase famously the next morning. I have come to appreciate the pain of the sentiment, having lost party primaries twice, the last due to deliberate fraud (but that is a subject of another day).
I may not share Sir John’s flat dictum not to trust a delegate, but I share his caution to be wise and not to take people at face value. And not to believe that loyalty is always mutual.
One day he told me, “I was ordered to close the offices of the New Patriotic Party when you came out of prison. Some people did not think that what you did in the Supreme Court furthered the interest of the party, even though I believe your intervention was crucial.”
A strange thing to say, but on hindsight, probably true, and certainly well-meant.
And Sir John had a sense of fun, to draw smiles even in times of great anguish. At the wake keeping of the son of a top official of the Forestry Commission, Sir John told the grieving mother, “Look, take my brother inside and comfort him. You know what to do. As for us men, there is only one true medicine for grief.”
Laughter all around. A smile on the faces of all present at the terrible loss of a young man taken too early from the hands of a loving family.
Sir John had views on how things should be done. He was not a poodle. And in political party administration, that can be a fatal flaw.
When I heard that he was dead, my first thought was that the party had lost one of its truest leaders. And no better words can be said in memory of a consummate politician.
Rest well, the only Sir in Ghana politics.
Kenneth Agyei Kuranchie
June 3, 2021.
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