R. I. P. ISAAC OPOKU EDUSEI, KWABOTWE HILL STALWART
By CAMERON DUODU(PICTURE: Isaac Opoku Edusei (right) with his youngest son, Nana Kwame Adusei, in happier days.)Why do secondary schools seem to win a greater affection from their alumni than Universities and other institutions?I suppose it’s because secondary schools play the ‘midwife’ to a boy who is being transformed into a man, whereas, by the time one passes through a secondary school and gets into a University, one is already a man and one does not need too much of the gentle handling that only a midwife is qualified tooffer to those emerging into the dangerous world we inhabit.But how many secondary schools are aware that they are “delivering babies”? Not many, I guess. There is much ugliness in secondary schools — even the most reputable ones — world-wide. Perhaps, then, disappointment is also part of the mysterious allure of secondary schools? I suppose memories that do not include days of hardship — and even cruelty, such as initiation processes or, in Ghanaian parlance, “homoing” — are easily tossed into the rubbish heap that lurks within our minds.My brother-in-law, Isaac Opoku Edusei, or Yaw Barima as everyone called him, often talked to me about his secondary school, Mfantsipim. Once, when he saw me reading the autobiography of a former headmaster of the school, Mr F L Bartels, he “stood behind my neck” and silently eyed the book until I got the message, finished reading it in record time, and handed it to him to read.(By the way, that Bartels book is an extremely good one: it is very frank, and one can get a flavour of the battles some of our educationists of integrity had to fight during our days of one-party rule in the 1960s, from it. It isn’t bitter though; just matter-of- fact and replete with insights. Prof Adu Boahen also wrote a very good book about Mfantsipim, which was his alma mater. I suppose the fierce loyalty that Mfantsipim alumni have for their institution is partly caused by the fact that the Governments of our country tended to favour Achimota over it, despite Mfanstipim’s superb academic record.)Once, Yaw took me to a small gathering of his Kwabotwe Hill school-mates at a small club near the State Transport Corporation h.q. in Accra. Beer, kebabs and a great deal of laughter. It reminded me that people used to envy me when I took them to the Press Club in Axxra in the esarly 1960s: there, too, there was beer, kebab and a great deal of laughter. Plus an occasional live dance band.
Yes, Yaw loved Mfantsipim, but I seldom heard him talk about the University of Cape Coast, where he actually obtained his degree. I am sure, though, that his Cape Vars mates will mourn him as much as the Kwabotwe Hill lot – for he was one of the most lovable, generous, good-humoured and conscientious people anyone could have the good fortune to meet or befriendYaw left us, sadly, on 16th July 2013. How does one weep for such a man? How does one comfort those who loved him so much and whom he has left behind? Woe! Woe!! Woe is us! For Yaw, ‘The Man’, is gone from us for ever.I first met Yaw when he was a young lad who lived opposite my house at Osu New Estate in Accra (later Nyaniba Estate.) My beautiful sister, Elizabeth, often came and stayed with me when she was on holidays from Aburi Girls Secondary School.I was then a busy editor working for Drum Magazine, and a lot of things went on in my immediate vicinity that passed below my radar. And I happen to have brothers who are gifted with the most wooden of lips — they’d see things, which they should tell me, as the eldest of our clan, but never whisper a word about what was going on! I have learnt to write many of them off as secretive so and so’s — as far as sharing crucial information is concerned!
Almighty help me! I immediately melted like a mushroom left in the sunshine for several hours. Mushroom? No — shea butter, more likely.For, in truth, there was nothing I wouldn’t do for that young lady. She doesn’t know it but she was born in the year my maternal Grandmother –Nana Yaa Wusuaa – who was my very first and also my greatest-ever friend on earth, left us suddenly one afternoon, whilst I was in school. When I returned home that evening, chaos wasn’t the word to describe what I found there.My Mum was totally traumatised and couldn’t handle anything. The only food available was something my Grandma had been eating when she suffered her heart attack and died. Maame wanted me to eat it, but I was afraid of eating a “ghost’s food” and chose to remain hungry.There was oncessant crying everywhere. It was only the second time that anyone had ever died in our house. So everything felt weird to me; the whole scenario was just bizarre — beyond the comprehension of my 9-year-old mind.But, then, a few months later, my sister Liz was born, purposely (we all thought) to make up for our mammoth loss. Maame was so pleased with her lovely appearance that she named her “Ante” (Lady)! And as if to add sugar to her soul’s porridge, my father also named her after my dead Grandmother, Nana Yaa Wusuaa, herself. Nobody had the slightest doubt — not even for a second — that she was indeed my Grandmother reincarnated. To me, who was even then acquiring a taste for things literary, what was most remarkable was that her name rhymed: “Akwasua Wusuaa!”The years passed and then I became a teacher and had the good fortune of teaching Liz in Class Three. I saw how bright she was and was absolutely convinced that she would have a bright academic future. So when she later passed the Common Entrance examination and my father exposed the misogyny typical of his generation by muttering unhappily about “wasting” so much money to pay for “a girl” to go to Aburi Girls, I didn’t say a word but took matters into my own hands. Realising that my father’s hesitation had delayed her response to the offer of a place, I borrowed ba friend’s Jaguar and drove straight to Aburi and saw Miss Anderson, the headmistress. She agreed that Liz should come for the interview, late though she was.Of course, Liz sailed through. I wasn’t earning too much as a junior civil servant at the time, but I made sure that I didn’t disgrace myself before Miss Anderson — I never left her fees unpaid.Liz eventually got into the University of Ghana, obtained her degree, and went on to Britain to study French. Meanwhile, she’d also acquired secretarial skills, and on her return, she became the Secretary of the Registrar of the University of Ghana.She is, without doubt the greatest investment anyone could ever have made, for having already mothered four children, she then astounded everyone by enrolling at the Ghana School of Law, obtaining her lawyer’s qualification and succeeding in being appointed a Circuit Court Judge.Which, of course, goes to show what a good husband Yaw was to her, for how many men would stand by a woman with four children on her hands, and assist her to achieve her ambition of acquiring a law qualification in addition to her [already adequate] B.A. degree?
Of course, I couldn’t foretell that any of this was going to happen, whenYaw Barima’s sister came to me that day ages ago with her “provocative” request! Indeed, if truth be told, I haven’t let on what I really felt! I strongly wanted to throw the book at her: “ YOU go and tell YOUR father that your brother wants to get married to my sister, and urge HIM to go and see my father. That is the custom!”What a good thing self-restraint is, at times.
For if I had not eschewed formality and voted in favour of love, guess what a fantastic brother-in-law I might have lost. As it was, I took Yaw’s elder sister to my father. And he told her, “If this son of mine has brought you, then it means it is a good thing.” And thus was sealed a fruitful union that lasted all their lives — until Yaw’s untimely demise. As far as I know, they were good friends till the very last day — which is extremely unusual in the “normal” Ghanaian marriage, given the strains and stresses that our extended families, our harsh economic conditions and our propensity to gossip about each other, exert on all our relationships.
Yaw Barima never let me forget the “extraordinary” role he said I had played in making his marriage to Liz possible. Any time I wanted to thank him for some kind deed he had done for me, he would start, “Had it not been for you!…” And I would be thoroughly embarrassed and simply shut up. We used to play a game of “revenging” ourselves on each other with kindness — whenever possible!
Yaw was a stable character and his employment history is pretty short: he worked at the Ministry of Communications in Accra; then moved to the Special Action Unit during General I K Acheampong’s NRC regime; then to the Cocoa Products Division, CMB, Accra and later at Crocodile Machetes, Tema.
Now, this guy Yaw Barima, be it known, was a very astute observer of Ghana’s political and economic scene, and gave me many insights into how things really were, despite the gloss on the surface. He was a democrat through and through and never feared to express his opinions. His no-nonsense approach to issues was charming to some and distateful to others. If you didn’t mind hearing a spade being called a spade, then he was your man. Otherwise, you’d have to put some distance between yourself and him, for he hated hypocrisy. He especially despised those who gave excuses for the ineptitudes of politicians. He would ask the vaccilators pointblank: “You can see all the roguery going on with your own eyes and you are still saying that?!”
When I learnt, on my visit to Ghana in December 2012, that he was due to have a surgical operation, I tried to reassure him by saying that I had had a nasty, complicated one myself the year before, but had come through it successfully.
With that knowledge preying on his mind, I shudder to imagine what he went through in the few hours while he lay on a hospital bed, ALONE WITH HIS THOUGHTS, waiting to be operated upon. Our selfish and short-sighted governments have perfected the art of turning our hispitals into mortuaries, by starving them of facilities, and “dashing” the money needed to equip our hospitals to the most modern standards, to rogues like Alfred Woyome (who got C51 million for doing nothing for Ghana!), while the, the rulers, fly around in tax-payer-financed executive jets, to enjoy expensive and superb medical facilities abroad — whenever they are taken ill themselves, or need a medical checkup.
What great wisdom is needed to realise that if they put the money they waste in that way into our healkth services, they would not only save the lives of the many fellow-countrymen who voted for them, from a needless death, but also, most probably, prolong their own lives? Who knows the future? I mean, look at the mess that is reported to have occurred when our late President, Prof J. A. Mills, was stricken by his last illness.
Adequately equipped ambulance — baabu!
Adequately equipped emergency life-saving unit in hospital — baabu!
Up to today, the actual cause of the death of Prof Mills is hidden from the populace, because no-one wants to expose the inadequacies that were unearthed in the few hopurs leading to his death. Some aspects of his treatment are still being debated, one year on. That is a civilised nation for you. In some countries, the mere approach of an “important birth” is turned into world news and medical operatives hover over mum and expected baby like you-know-not-what.Here, fools that we are, we send Mills to spend huge sums seeing the best specialists in the USA, or South Africa, or the UK, or now ( so I hear) Equatorial Guinea! They forget that sooner or later, a ruler might be let loose into the hands of the local doctors we despise so much and whose intelligence we constantly abuse in the crassest manner by denyng them the modern equipment and facilities that they know exist and which they could emply to save so many lives. If only…. if only!
Yaw was a keen sportsman during his school-days, and excelled in football, cricket and the high jump at Mfantsipim School.O, Me nua Yaw, M’akonta Pa, Da yie! (My Brother and Good Brother-on law, Yaw, Rest In Peace!)