Those who helped along the way

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
Elizabeth Ohene
Elizabeth Ohene

This past week I heard about the death of two people who played significant roles in my journalistic life.  The death was announced on Tuesday of Alistair Sparks, the venerable South African journalist of Rand Daily Mail fame. On Sunday I attended the 40th day Adua of Abdul Rauf Alando, better known in his early life and certainly to me as Nicholas, (Nick) Alando.

I am ashamed that I hadn’t made any contact with Nick for a long time and  only got to know about his passing away last Thursday. And yet, but for this man, I suspect I wouldn’t have become a journalist, or  would certainly not have been with the Daily Graphic and The Mirror. Nick Alando, who was responsible for me getting the name “Grandma .”

I have been known and called “Grandma” long before I had a child, never mind grandchildren. It was mostly always “Grandma,” but before long, variations emerged and some people were calling me “Grannie” and inevitably their children started calling me “Auntie Grannie” and then “Ma Grannie.” Unsurprisingly, my grandchildren have come up with “ Grandma”. 

It is a long story and have never really felt that I needed to explain how the “Grandma” story started but I think I have a good reason to narrate how I came by this phenomenon. 

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I got a job with the Daily Graphic straight from the university. A few weeks later before I had served out the period of probation I was sacked. 

Working on Sundays and the sack 

For reasons which I cannot quite work out now, I said I was reluctant to come to work on Sundays. I pleaded,  argued to no avail. I am afraid I do not now remember what reasons I found to offer as to why I shouldn’t work on Sundays. 

The Editor of the Daily Graphic, Henry Ofori, made it clear working on Sundays was obligatory. On the fourth Sunday of my working life, I came to work and realised it wasn’t such an intolerable idea at all. It turned out to be an interesting and memorable day as Eddie Agyeman (was he the Features Editor?) asked me to write the editorial for the paper. He did not make any suggestion about what subject I was to tackle in the editorial. 

This, after all was the Daily Graphic, the state owned newspaper and Ghana’s largest circulating paper. I should have been daunted but I wasn’t. I wrote an editorial about the Accra City Council; gave it to Mr Eddie Agyeman and at the first opportunity, I left the office and went home feeling I had done enough work for the day. 

The next day I came to work, took a look at the newspaper and discovered my editorial had been published without a single word being changed. I was still feeling quite pleased with myself when I was called into the office of the Managing Director and handed a letter and told that since I was still under a period of probation, I was being sacked summarily because I had refused to come to work on Sundays. 

I was shocked and so angry I did not bother to point out to him that I had been at work the previous day, on Sunday and had the paper’s editorial to prove it. I took the letter and went home. About two hours later, Nick Alando arrived in my home. He knew where I lived because he had given me a ride home on two previous occasions. 

Back to Graphic

To cut a long story short, he took me back to the office of the then Graphic Corporation and got the Managing Director to take back the letter sacking me. Nick Alando had got to the office that Monday morning and heard about me having been sacked and without even knowing that I had in fact been at work that Sunday, he went to the Managing Director and argued I should be taken back. According to Mr Mathias Ofori, the Managing Director, Nick Alando told him: “This girl will be good for the Graphic.” 

A few weeks later I decided to write something for the Sunday Mirror, as it was then titled. I wrote a piece and handed it to Nick Alando. He said he liked it and  we should make it a weekly column. 

We needed a name for the column. From the tone of what I had written, he said we should call the column CHAT WITH GRANDMA and that is how the column was born, which appeared in the Mirror for many years whether I was working on the Daily Graphic or on the Mirror and that is how I got my name “Grandma” at the age of 22 years.  

Nick Alando saw something in me and was brave enough to take a chance on me. Was I good for the Daily Graphic as he had predicted? 

He himself certainly made a mark as editor of The Mirror, but did not edit the Graphic for any length of time for a judgement to be made. But as for The Mirror, he had very clear ideas about what identity he wanted for the paper. 

We had arguments because I said he appeared more concerned with the look of the paper than the content. “People have to be attracted to the paper before they will buy it and read your nice article,” he would say. With Francis Bordor, as the paper’s photographer, the Mirror was the place to be for the fashion conscious and pace-setters. Nick moved on from the media scene when President Hilla Liman appointed him as the Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

That was when he assumed, no, he resumed the name Abdul Rauf and dropped the Nicholas by which he had always been known. Have I mentioned that he was half Dagomba and half Frafra and was fluent in Ewe? Indeed, he told me Ewe was his first language as he had grown up and gone to school with an uncle who was stationed in the Volta Region. 

We had a long conversation when he came home once from Saudi Arabia. I was the editor of the Daily Graphic and was having a lot of trouble. He said he wasn’t surprised. “Your middle name was always TROUBLE,” he said. I think I made him proud.

I had read a lot about Alistair Sparks before I met him in October 1989 on my first visit to South Africa. I had been sent by the BBC to South Africa on a reporting trip and  wasn’t sure what to expect. 

Our meeting was at the first durbar that was held at the stadium in Soweto to welcome home Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada and the others as the first wave of prisoner releases that would mark the end of apartheid. 

I was having a little difficulty with a policeman who did not and would not accept that I could be a BBC correspondent. Probably had something to do with the policeman not wanting to believe that the BBC would have a black correspondent. (This was 1989, mind you and Nelson Mandela was still in jail). 

Alistair Sparks was driving into the stadium, took in the situation, got out of his car and told the policeman: “you should ask this lady for an autograph; she is the most famous journalist on the continent!!  

He walked with me into the stadium. We became friends and he helped me understand South Africa the way only a critical thinking white South African could. He understood and spoke Xhosa and he loved his country with a passion that was infectious. He made my various stays in that country a most pleasant experience.