Ever heard of ‘rent-a-crowd?’ It will soon be taking place in Ghana — if we are not careful.
Now Read on:
BEWARE THIS ‘THEM’ AND ‘US’ DIVISION IN OUR SOCIETY
By CAMERON DUODU
One day, I was coming out of the studios of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, having delivered one of the news commentaries for which I was well known, when a gentleman who was also going to do a programme accosted me.
He said: “You can say all the things in the world that you like, but it won’t come to anything. Things will always remain what they are.”
He was in a hurry so I could not retort. But I could have told him that arousing public opinion does work. For instance, when I was editor of the Daily Graphic between February and November 1970, I used to name and shame organisations that were letting the public down.
This annoyed those organisations, but they did wake up to their obligations, after the Graphic had named and shamed them.
Two examples will suffice. On one occasion, one of my photographers brought a picture of a heap of soil and gravel that had been piled on the side of a major road, waiting to be used in repairing the road. The pile had become unpacked and had fallen on the road, rendering it very narrow. This was creating a traffic hazard for drivers. They ran the risk of colliding with other vehicles, as they negotiated their vehicles past the pile, and causing an accident to happen.
My photographer said he had “watched it aaa” for one month, without seeing any sign that the work was about to commence any time soon.
“Chief”, he elaborated, “they put the gravel and soil there and then go and collect their ’down-payment’ money from the Government. Once the money is in their pocket, they forget about the main contract. They share the money with the PWD officials, and then go and look for another contract. So it is not only on that particular road that there is a pile of earth and gravel. You will find it all over the place, especially when the financial year is about to end and the officials and their contractor friends want to use the money that has been voted for them, before the year ends and it is taken back into government chest!”
Now, I trusted my cameramen. That’s because they are the most socially-conscious of a newspaper’s staff. Their services are in demand everywhere (when they are ostensibly ‘off duty’) and so they hear and see things that reporters and editors never hear about. So I decided that we would use the picture.
I gave it to our Art Editor, the late George Aidoo. (Aidoo and the late Sarpong-Manu were two of the best layout subs I’ve ever worked with. They could make up a page and make it palpably capable of talking.)
We printed the picture on the front page and in 144-point font, added the headline: “PWD WAKE UP!”
The very next day, the PWD began work on the road! We all laughed at the editorial conference when it was reported to us that they had begun to work on the road. Then the idea occurred to me: let us show them our appreciation! So we sent the cameraman back. And he brought in a picture of the PWD men repairing the road. We again put it on the front page, under a 144pt headline that said: “PWD WAKES UP!”
It made quite an impact, and for some time, the stupid, deceitful practice of piling gravel and/or earth by the side of a road when there was no intention of working on it, was halted. I believe the practice us back in full swing!
Another bone I had to pick with our road engineers was the way they erected lamp-posts very close to our city roads. At night, drivers can be blinded by the badly-adjusted, undimmed lights of oncoming vehicles and momentarily go off the road. If a lamp-post is close by when that happens, they almost invariably drive into it. But the road-makers always rationalise that it is “only drunken drivers” who “fall asleep at the wheel” and knock down lamp-posts.
But I don’t buy that argument. It is the duty of road-makers, in my view, to observe the maxim, “Safety first”. That means they should eliminate risks and hazards from the roadside, not put them there and blame those unfortunate enough to be caught by the hazards. So I started a campaign: whenever a vehicle knocked down a lamp-post, or fell into an open drain, its picture appeared in the Graphic, with words appropriately describing what had happened.
It wasn’t only roads that caught our attention in those days. One day, we got information that some agricultural machinery that had been imported from the Soviet Union, had been left in their crates unopened, and were lying at the agricultural station at Pokuase. In a country that was striving to end food importation, this seemed to us ridiculous, and I sent my News Editor, a guy called Lovelace-Johnson, himself, to go and check the story out. He brought a report confirming the story and we published it.
In an editorial, we urged the agricultural workers to find a good use for the machines, for even if the officials, being mainly Western-trained, were prejudiced against Soviet machinery, they should at least recognise that at least the Soviets were able to use them to cultivate food for themselves. They did not need machinery manufactured by, for instance, Massey-Ferguson, and other Western companies, which we knew Ghanaian agricultural officials preferred to Soviet-made machinery.
No sooner had we published the report than the Minister of Agriculture, the late Dr Kwame Safo-Adu, wrote to us, denying that imported Soviet farming equipment was lying unopened at Pokuase. Any idle equipment our informant had seen was there “for repairs,” his letter chided us.
So, this time I joined Lovelace and we went to Pokuase with a cameraman. True enough, I saw the equipment lying in its crates, fili-fili. The Ministry of Agriculture in Accra hadn’t even bothered to remove it before getting the Minister to sign a letter denying our story. We opened some of the crates to see whether it was old machinery that had been re-crated to be sent for repairs. We found that it was all brand new — with grease smeared on appropriate parts, to ensure that the machines did not rust.
Then we published the pictures on our central spread, alongside the Minster’s letter. The caption to the pictures was this: “THE AGRICULURAL MACHINERY THAT IS BEING ‘REPAIRED!’.
It was then that I understood what the man had said to me at Broadcasting House: “You can talk and talk, but everything will remain the same.”
He knew the attitude of Ghanaian officials. So long as something did not affect their pockets, or their families, or (sometimes) their social group, it didn’t matter. “Country broke o, country no broke o, we dey inside!” is how many of them look at the national interest.
And who can blame them when they see what our elected representatives do with the people’s taxes? Whilst there are hungry mouths to be fed all over the country, we are commissioning a luxurious presidential jet and ordering some more official aircraft at great expense. Someone told me that the explanation given for the additional aircraft was that since oil companies have begun to operate in Ghana, they would need to have their installations “protected.”
So I asked the chap: Have you heard that Tullow Oil or Kosmos has asked for protection?”
“No!” he answered.
I asked again: “Do you know that Equatorial Guinea produces a lot of oil?”
“Yes”, he said.
“Has Equatorial Guinea got warplanes to protect its oil installations?”
“No”, he answered.
“Ok; have you heard that anyone has attacked the oil installations there?” I asked.
“No”, he admitted.
I said, “What you just parroted out is what is called a ‘straw argument’. Usually, someone in a Government gets the Government to order the aircraft, gets his commission on it — probably paid upfront — and then helps the Government to begin to find a rationalisation for the purchase. But the main objective is to obtain the order so that the commission will be paid on it.
“We have crying needs — decrepit school buildings, health facilities without equipment, homeless people whose houses have been destroyed by floods, as well as millions of unemployed youth whom we should be engaging to work in all sorts of development projects. We aren’t doing any of that, and yet we have money to order aircraft and build ‘white elephants’ like Jubilee/Flagstaff House (!).
“If we don’t take care we shall create a ‘Them’ and ‘Us‘ society in which the unemployed youths and the lowly-paid will become available for politicians to ‘rent’ them!” I added.
tags: them-and-us society,road repairs, executive jet purchases, oil, equatorial guinea, tullow, kosmos