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Exhaling for ‘Napo’

The messages and phone calls that came my way with the announcement the other day that Dr Matthew Opoku Prempeh (aka Napo) had been confirmed as Dr Bawumia’s running mate for this year’s election almost confused me. 

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Given that I have worked with Dr Prempeh as his press secretary since March 2017, the fact of these calls and messages was not a surprise. However, it was their congratulatory, almost personalised nature that almost suspended me in the giddy conviction that I, rather than he, had been thus elevated – even if the giddiness was only momentary.    

Code of silence

Dr Prempeh’s confirmation has released me from a self-imposed code of silence that had been in operation since public speculation about his possible choice to partner Dr Bawumia surfaced.

 Right until the party’s National Council confirmed him, I did not, and could not breathe a word publicly on this matter. Given our working relationship and the fact that he had not publicly declared his interest, nor authorised anyone to do so on his behalf, I was keenly aware that any attempt to project him as a potential running mate could be seen as campaigning on his instructions, which could have its own ramifications.

With the shackles now mercifully removed, I am, therefore, able to exhale fully and in top gear on the subject matter now and in the times ahead. I first met Dr Prempeh in February 2017 after a friend, Kwame Kyei Baffour, had introduced me to him as a potential press secretary following the 2016 elections when he was nominated as Education Minister.

Even though we entered secondary school in Kumasi the same year (he, Prempeh College, I, Opoku Ware School) and my Kumasi home is in his Manhyia South Constituency, our paths had never crossed prior to our first meeting.

As soon as I took my seat at the Ministry of Education, I became acutely aware of the sense of urgency the new minister bore as a man on a mission to deliver the new patriotic party’s (NPP’s) flagship Free Senior High School programme at the start of the 2017/18 academic year. That was barely six months away.

As his press secretary, I sat in on several meetings he presided over on both Free SHS and other key policy initiatives of the government. He was relentless in his focused drive to deliver, with endless rounds of meetings almost on a daily basis with various stakeholders, listening attentively to all manner of perspectives, taking in every detail and firing off both questions and directives as if he had been an educationist all his life.

He was unrelenting, and an unprepared official who turned up for meetings with him would end up learning important lessons on taking responsibility. There were no sacred cows as far as he was concerned.

I have no doubt that the many successes he chalked up at the Ministry of Education came down to his personal style of focused leadership and a determination to succeed in spite of public apprehension, whether over double track or reopening schools during COVID-19, among others. Panic was not in his dictionary.

Deputy Director-General of the Ghana Education Service, Dr Kwabena Tandoh, describes him as “the most consequential minister of education in the Fourth Republic, overseeing the most transformative educational and social intervention in our nation’s history – Free SHS.”

At the Energy Ministry, he has again demonstrated his knack for grasping and understanding how things work in the sector, able to hold his own in engaging his technical staff both at the Ministry and in the various sector agencies.

Beneath his workaholic, almost granite-like public perception of him lies a keen awareness that human beings are not robotic machines. ’Work hard, play even harder’ seems to be his guiding philosophy, and at the Energy Sector Games in Akuse last year, he delighted many by joining in the hearty ‘jama’ sessions, no doubt a carryover from his youthful ‘aluta’ days at Unity Hall in KNUST.

The ‘tag’

Almost as soon as confirmation of Dr Prempeh hit the airwaves, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) machinery sprang into action, with its social media activists frothing at the mouth.

Their charge? That he is arrogant. All manner of invectives followed as they clawed out from news archives twisted narratives and outright lies that they brandished excitedly as their smoking gun. 

I am not sure if I have witnessed such a feeding frenzy in this republic over the announcement of a running mate by any political party, whether in government or opposition. Anyone who has encountered Dr Prempeh will confirm that he is quite assertive in his convictions and has very strong opinions that he does not run away from.

He is certainly not one to be shunted around easily, and for some, his alpha-male personality rubs the wrong way and in turn colours their perception of him.

If after being in frontline politics for this long and running two major ministries, all Dr Prempeh’s opponents can throw at him is a tag hurled about wildly in the vain hope that it will stick, then clearly that says a lot in his favour.

At the risk of sounding biased and/or self-serving, I think Dr Bawumia has made an excellent choice in a running mate – a man with a record of achievement, and I am confident that Napo will help him ‘break the 8’ come December 2024.

Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng,
Head, Communications & Public Affairs Unit,
Ministry of Energy.
E-mail: [email protected]

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