Former Minister in charge of National Security, Mr Francis Poku, recently turned 80. The Daily Graphic’s Political Editor, Albert K. Salia, caught up with him at home to congratulate him on chalking up that great milestone.
During the visit, Mr Poku shared with the paper his personal life and long stint with the country’s intelligence and security services, where he eventually ended up as the National Security Coordinator and the Minister for National Security. Below are excerpts of the interview granted.Follow @Graphicgh
Albert K. Salia (AKS): Good Afternoon Mr Poku.
Congratulations on your 80th birthday. We pray for God’s blessings and continuous good health for you and the family.
Mr Francis Poku (FP): Amen.
AKS: Today we are here to have an interview and chit-chat with you to know more about the man Francis Poku. A lot of people have heard the name but we are here to find out the personality behind that name for the ordinary man and woman to know who he is.
FP: Well, thank you very much.
I was born in Kumasi and schooled in Kumasi. I went to Opoku Ware Secondary School from 1957 to 1963.
I was brought up as a Catholic. I was a Mass server (altar boy), the President of Catholic Youth Organisation and a member of the Legion of Mary. So I was brought up as a traditional Catholic. Then I went to the University of Ghana getting to 1967.
It was quite exciting looking back. Because that is where I met a lot of personalities who ended up in politics, like the current President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the late President Mills, Professor Kwesi Botchwey, the late Dr Kwame Amoako-Tuffuor and Professor Ivan Addae-Mensah and so it was quite exciting.
So you realise that the persons who moved around on campus, enjoyed each other’s company and we ended up in various kinds of political situations.
So in 1968, I joined the Special Branch, which was part of the Ghana Police Service. There were three divisions then, the Special Branch responsible for National Security, then of course we had the Criminal Investigations Department and then the uniform branch of the service. I worked with seven governments.
When I joined the national security service, the National Liberation Council took over from the Nkrumah regime. So I joined at a very difficult time of this country because it was a transition government preparing the country for democratic politics.
In 1982, I left for the United Kingdom and of course it was after 19 years that I came back to be the National Security Coordinator first, and later as Minister of National Security.
AKS: So can you share with us some of your family experiences and dreams while you were growing up?
FP: Well obviously, you have to combine so many things as a person. Your own personal life, your family, as a family person married with children, as well as your church. Spiritual and moral life also matter and then of course, the national security service; working to identify the challenges confronting the country and working with other security agencies to try and come out with policies and advice that will help the government.
In a way, you are seeking perfection for your country in the same way we seek perfection for our lives. So I can see that kind of similarity. In the church, we are seeking perfection for love, spirituality and moral life.
There are some challenges of disunity and instability and so we want the citizens to get on with their normal lives because with instability and disunity, they cannot achieve their temporal and eternal goals.
AKS: People have always said that hardly do you smile because they don’t see you smile often.
FP: It depends on situations. I smile in some situations but I think the profession calls for constant appraisal of situations and it in turn makes you a perpetual thinker, because it is ongoing situations that will make you to assess every situation as to what is going on.
AKS: So can you tell us some of your experience in your enlistment and work in the intelligence sector?
FP: Well, in the intelligence sector, you obviously have different experiences. It gives you the opportunity to serve in all parts of the country, an exposure to the normal life of the people and to appreciate them.
To succeed, you must live the lifestyle of the community in which you work. Very interestingly, I worked with Col. Agbenaza in Accra, and when I was posted to the Volta Region, he came and took me round and introduced me to people who could take me as their own child. That was my most enjoyable period in the Special Branch.
In Accra, I went through a lot of challenges and right after the 1979 Uprising, I was the officer in charge of Greater Accra. So again, that was a very difficult period in this country.
AKS: Can you share with us your experience as the man in charge of the nation’s security as National Security Coordinator and later the Minister for National Security upon your return to Ghana after 19 years in the United Kingdom?
FP: I started work in the most challenging period of the nation’s history after 19 years of J.J Rawlings. We still had to work to reconcile all groups in the country, to restore trust in public institutions and to make people know that the national security as a state service existed for all Ghanaians, that all people were called to serve the country.
And then of course, this applies to all institutions — the military, the police, the immigration and other parts of the security services and that these institutions existed to serve the whole nation.
We needed to establish trust not just among officers in those services but also to assure the government that the national security could serve all governments of the day. So, initially obviously, there was distrust but at the end of the day, we were able to bridge the gap of mistrust. And of course, the focus at the time was to promote good governance as a means of stabilising the country.
AKS: There is this school of thought that at the time you were brought in as the National Security Coordinator, there were fears that the late former President Rawlings, having been at the helm of affairs for 19 years, could also come back as he did in 1982, to upstage the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government and that you were brought in because of your special expertise to deal with such situation.
FP: For me, the major objective of any national security leadership is the winning of the hearts and minds of the people through good governance. And you can achieve that objective through the policy of trust and inclusion and that means that all persons in organisations should be able to have their grievances addressed.
So the national security adopted this policy of giving every citizen the chance to have their grievances addressed. Naturally, there were fears among many security personnel that they will lose their jobs or suffer some form of exclusion.
And it was important to address such fears. This attitude was critical to ensuring that all sectors of the security services were prepared to support the drive towards safeguarding of the security of the state.
AKS: But we have this situation where when a new government takes over, all the personnel at the National Security Secretariat are replaced. So you believe that with this kind of inclusiveness and addressing the fears of the security personnel who were already in the system, it turned out to be a magic wand more or less?
FP: That should be the key policy of the national security system. You identify challenges such as fears of victimisation and equalisation of policies by new governments.
If such policies are successful, naturally it truncates any negative or evil intentions of enemies of the state. But I think, generally the appropriate balance was achieved.
AKS: But we still have this current situation where, for instance, a government moves or leaves office and a new one comes, virtually almost all the personnel are moved away or reassigned because they are said to be party operatives.
FP: I believe that this challenge is being addressed.
AKS: How is it being addressed?
FP: The Ministry of National Security has just issued a four-year national security strategy document. In the foreword of that document, His Excellency the President stated that the national security service should be considered as a state institution, which should not serve any particular regime but should be enabled to serve all regimes. I hope the objective as stated by His Excellency will be taken seriously.
AKS: So far, how will you describe the country’s democracy since we returned to that path in 1992?
FP: Well, we have seen years of stability and we can congratulate ourselves on the achievements so far. But stabilisation is always an ongoing process and this is the case in all democracies. What is interesting is that Ghana is able to find its way through challenges it faces.
For me the greatest challenge now is the management of the electoral process. I am always disturbed when parties or stakeholders adopt entrenched positions.
So my recommendation is that all parties must initiate dialogue with the Electoral Commission and address any concern about the electoral process. In particular, there must be a search for appropriate technology to ensure a transparent process. We have enough time to address all concerns before 2024.
AKS: What could be contributing to this entrenched position by stakeholders?
FP: I believe this is a leadership issue. The leadership initiative is aimed at addressing the concerns of the rank and file of a party who may have misunderstood the electoral process. Where there has been misinformation, leaders must be able to tell their supporters what the truth is.
On the other hand, where there have been genuine concerns, consultation with stakeholders must be initiated as soon as possible.
AKS: So how will you describe the current security situation in the country?
FP: I think generally Ghana is doing well. The security services are working hard to ensure the stability of the country. I am pleased with the constant engagement that takes place within Parliament. In my own interactions with parliamentary committees, especially that of Defence and Interior, it has always been a search for a national solution as compared with partisan interests. I believe that the culture of national approach to security matters in Parliament has contributed immensely to the nation’s stability.
AKS: There is this element of protocol and party recruitment into the security services, which people believe is creating a lot of indiscipline and contributing to the crime rate in the country especially when it comes to the recruitment in the various security agencies. Either we are recruiting party boys and girls or there is protocol enlistment, which turns not to be the best for the country. I do not know how you think about this.
FP: As I said, there is the constant search for sound policies in such sensitive areas. And I have reason to believe that there is engagement in such sensitive areas. Again, this is where I would encourage constant engagement among political leaders.
The attitude has always been that he who is without sin, let him cast the first stone. So let all political leaders initiate engagement to find a way out of the apparent equalisation.
AKS: So what does it take to be a national security coordinator?
FP: Well, a national security coordinator must have a clear vision as to the challenges facing the country, both internally and externally. You must be objective in the assessment of situations. You must have empathy and understanding of the various leadership structures of the national security organisation. You must also be able to reach out to the various interest groups and to all who may even be against the government of the day.
AKS: Is that all the qualities one needs to be national security coordinator? I mean are these all the qualities or attributes that one needs to become a national security coordinator?
FP: Well obviously, in every profession, you must carry your own personality; the way you deal with other persons in life and other personal qualities.
AKS: So what piece of advice will you give the security apparatus?
FP: Well, it is essential that you realise that the service is towards the peace and stability of the nation. Then the wrong analysis of situations could potentially cause the destruction of lives and property. In this, the allegiance must be towards Ghana as a nation. So all members are confronted with moral and spiritual challenges.
AKS: We have situations where let’s say the IGP is politically appointed and there seems always the suspicion that they hold allegiance to the government and not to the country.
FP: I think such suspicion exists in all the democratic countries, especially when it comes to public service appointments. We are all witnesses to the appointment to the Supreme Court in the United States of America, where the suspicion has always been that the appointment has been on the values of the government.
But my own belief is that sometimes the government can get it wrong, because whatever our perception, many appointees are guided by their professional and moral outlooks.
AKS: On a lighter note, what are your favourite sports, food and other pastimes.
FP: Well currently I like walking. It has become so much a part of me that I never feel breathless when I am walking. With food, I like “apem” and “kontomire” stew.
AKS: So how many children do you have?
FP: I had six children but I lost one in 2020. So currently, I have five children between the ages of 39 and 51.
AKS: Any other comments you want to share with Ghanaians?
FP: I think on my birthday, I am rather excited that I have reached the stage where you can only advocate the truth for the country, because I believe that we came to this world for a serious purpose — that is to make ourselves accessible to our country and people to make us enter the kingdom of heaven and for this we must be ready to defend our moral and spiritual values. We should beware of any contrary value that can endanger these serious goals of life.
AKS: Thank you very much for sharing your life history with us. We are most grateful.
FP: Thank you too.