The countdown begins

BY: Zadok Kwame Gyesi

But age gives to a man some things with the right hand even as it takes away others with the left. The torrent of an old man’s water may no longer smash into the bole of the roadside tree a full stride away as it once did but fall around his feet like a woman’s; but in return the eye of his mind is given wing to fly away beyond the familiar sights of the homestead. CHINUA ACHEBE in Anthills of the Savannah.

The Good Book says that to everything there is a season and so it is with me that as we begin the year 2018, unless Providence wishes otherwise, this will be my last year of active service with the Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL) where I have devoted my full working life, except for four years when I served as the executive secretary of the National Media Commission.

My encounter with journalism began in 1981 as a student of the School of Communications Studies, University of Ghana. My first publication was a letter to the editor in the prestigious Legon Observer. It was my reaction to an unfortunate comment by the late President Hilla Liman about the death of some Ghanaians in Nigeria, who were taken to court in a vehicle without ventilation. The incident was referred to as the Black Maria.

In a public comment about the chilling episode, Dr Limann remarked that those Ghanaians would not have died if they had stayed home. I considered the comment as inhuman and wrote the letter telling the President to have human feeling and sympathy for the lost souls.

My second publication, a full feature article on stemming examination malpractices by the West African Examination Council (WAEC), was again published in the Legon Observer. It was indeed a proud moment. A copy of the publication had been sent to me through my pigeon hole and the porters gleaned through it before it was handed over to me.

In class, Prof. P.A.V. Ansah commended me for the piece and encouraged me to write for the national newspapers, especially the Daily Graphic. It was thus a delight when I was admitted to do my attachment with the Graphic Corporation, as the GCGL was then known. After the attachment, I was employed as a staff writer. I was stationed in Kumasi for just three months and transferred to Tamale, upon personal request.

My first feature article in the Daily Graphic was about developments at Bibiani involving two companies, the Bibiani Metal Complex and the Bibiani Wood Complex. While the government was the majority shareholder in the Metal Complex, it was the minority shareholder in the Wood Complex. The Metal Complex was profitable but the Wood Complex was a failure. This article was later to bring me closer to Mr Appiah Ofori, the anticorruption crusader and Member of Parliament for Breman Asikuma.

In Tamale, I remember having gone to Bole after which I wrote an article asking why the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) had virtually neglected the shea nut industry which was as much a part of its mandate as cocoa. As is notable in the country, COCOBOD, through its public relations department, did not understand why I wrote such an article.

However, within a year, it set up an office in Tamale. Another article of significance which I wrote from Tamale related to the witches homes in the Northern Region.

There had been an outbreak of a strange disease in Bimbilla. A medical team was dispatched to the area to see what could be done. In the night, I heard a gonggong being beaten for the first time and my enquiries revealed that it was inviting mainly old women suspected of being witches to gather and be sent to the witches homes.

The next morning when I asked about the response rate, I was told a substantial number of suspected old women witches had been sent to those homes. Startled about the human rights implications, I wanted to know more but I met a blank since no public official was willing to speak to me.

With the little information available, I decided to write a feature article comparing how witches in the Ashanti Region have to own up personally as against what I heard in the Northern Region where old women were arbitrary classified as witches and banished to witches home.

The day after the paper got to Tamale, I was nearly lynched by a mob who felt that I had undermined the sensibility and sensitivity of the people of the region. Thankfully, I managed to escape the wrath as I quickly descended the steps that led to the office of the Graphic Corporation even as the mob was climbing because they did not know me personally.