Three centuries ago, American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote his way into the ranks of philosophers. Asked to distinguish between idiots and the wise he replied, “Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are.”
The night Professor Naana Jane Opoku Agyeman was inaugurated, on July 27, 2020, I remembered Emerson’s words. She may not have come away as a philosopher but she spoke wisely. Against the backdrop of all that had been said about her and with the character of Ghanaian politics in mind, she surprised many. She saw no evil, spoke no evil and incited no-one to evil. Un-typical of a Ghanaian politician, there was not a single mention of her party’s most implacable opponent, the NPP, and though there were criticisms of the NPP, they were so veiled, couched in words completely robbed of anger. I am very certain she would have received a standing ovation even by an NPP crowd.
It was said of Houphouet Boigny that audiences gave him standing ovation yet as they drove home, or a day after, they would be asking themselves what the man said: high sounding words full of nothing. Very much the opposite of Naana Opoku Agyeman’s speech. It took you a day to realize how much you have been criticized. Words that break no bones.
That is why I was sad that less than a week later, she did not remember to stay in character when journalists asked her about her 2015 petition to President Mahama for the release of the ‘Montie Three’. That was a perfect chance to apologize and keep the sleeping dogs lying. It will bear reminding her that the Ghanaians who appreciated the words of wisdom in her inaugural are the same Ghanaians whose sensibilities were shocked by her words in the petition.
The interview taught me something and Chinua Achebe put it better in his novel, ‘Arrow of God’: “The world is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well, you do not stand in one place.”
Well, that is by way of welcoming Naana Jane to politics made in Ghana. Welcome to ‘Realpolitik’, not in the sense of power politics but the type Ghana does not need today; that is, politics based primarily on considerations other than moral and ethical premises. Aunty Jane, here’s my advice: whenever the pressure is on you to either lie, insult or take a bribe, remember the politics the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church was at pains to warn you against – Realpolitik brewed in the Ghanaian pot, totally amoral.
I refuse to classify Ghanaian politics as necessarily Machiavellian. Machiavelli did not prescribe dishonest gain and thievery. We all heard the Minority Chief Whip, Mohammed Muntaka this week. According to him, out of 275 MPs, only about 100 of them actually show up to work and that “those who are usually absent get others to sign their name for them”. That leaves 175 MPs in Ghana’s Parliament whom we are doling out GHc10,000.00 a month for doing nothing. Their qualification is that they stood in NPP or NDC strongholds, where even brainless idiots will win if they are bold and ambitious enough to decide to run for political office.
Pardon my language but this is worse than dishonesty: it is an action that represents a total repudiation of all that leadership is about. And so, because of dishonesty, Parliament is considering looking for money to procure and install a bio metric system for logging in and out of the House – to prevent cheating, in a revered chamber of supposed Honourables!
He was not done. According to him, some of his colleagues “are not willing to go through the painful process of learning the art of law making and doing research”.
No wonder, some MPs hardly open their mouths in Parliament; not necessarily because they are absent but because there is nothing in their head and they are too busy throwing their weight around in their V8s, paying school fees and hospital bills to make the time to read and learn the process of law making.
So to what noble ends are our politicians bribing delegates, muscling their way into registration centres and shouting themselves hoarse with insults, paying money to mediums, mallams, jujumen and prophets! Just to get elected to earn cheap money.
I am not done on the issue of absentee MPs getting others to sign their name for them. To Muntaka, Haruna Iddrisu and Kyei Mensah Bonsu, I ask. If this practice is so prevalent, why, after four years, is the public hearing about it for the first time? Isn’t it lending itself to suspicion that it is simply “honour among thieves”, a code of honour among people operating a system of scratch my back?
You may cite the 2008/2009 cash-for-rent scandal in the UK Parliament to claim that “after all, it’s not only in Ghana”. At least, in the UK the MPs were named, tried and jailed or made to refund the loot.
In Ghana, we scratch backs.