columnBy Ebo Quansah
Accra — "That was when I realized I was dealing with a marauding and bullying force that was bent on impugning my name and integrity without shame. This is defamatory. This is unethical. This is criminal. This is Machiavellian. This is evil. It is a violation of my person and integrity."
Pastor Mensah Otabil, founder and leader of the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC), is certainly unamused by those who sought to play mischief with the voice and words of one of the most renowned preachers of the gospel in this land of our birth.
What is intriguing about the whole drama is that those who misrepresented the pastor in such a derogatory manner have not shown any remorse. Rather, they have mounted a media offensive against Dr. Otabil, as if the preacher has done something terribly wrong by calling the media and complaining about how he has been bastardized.
I have heard spurious arguments that once Dr. Otabil preaches the word of God, his voice and words could be used in any manner by any person or group of persons for the public good. That is precisely where the problem is. Dr. Otabil is not complaining about the use of his words. It is the misuse of it that prompted him to lodge his complaint.
Simply put, the founder of the ICGC is saying that those who have put up an advertisement on radio and television, seeking to create the impression that free Senior High School Education is inimical to the state of Ghana, fraudulently picked and chose words from various sermons given by Dr. Otabil to make it look like the ICGC head has descended into the realm of partisan politics and spoken against the flagship policy of the main opposition party in Ghana, the New Patriotic Party.
The advertisement doing rounds on air, and supposed to be sponsored by a spurious organization, calling itself Education Watch, a so-called independent organization seeking to educate Ghanaian on the dangers of a fee-free second cycle education.
The irony is that the more they try to assert their so-called independence, the more the surrogates of the ruling party expose themselves as one of those pseudo organizations the National Democratic Congress has been funding from various deals conjured from misuse of state resources.
When Tony Aidoo, for instance, descends into the gutter and heaps insults on decent Ghanaians on behalf of the so-called Education Watch, that organization cannot, in the name of decency, be an independent organization.
That is even beside the point. Dr. Mensah Otabil was forced to defend his integrity in the face of a consistent misuse of his name, voice and words, in the name of condemning a concept that has catapulted the Presidential Candidate of the NDC, to rise to the highest office of the land.
Fee-free education is the policy that has made it possible for John Dramani Mahama to rise to become the Head of State of this Republic.
A large chunk of his ministers - Haruna Iddrisu, Minister of Communications, Mohammed Mumuni, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alban Kingsford Bagbin, Minister of Health, Moses Asaga, Minister of Employment and Social Welfare, Dr. Benjamin Kunbuor, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice and a host of Deputy Ministers, I dare state, would never have gone beyond basic education, if the opportunity has not been presented by the First President of Ghana, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah for one-third of the country to access free-second cycle education.
As you read this piece, the state of Ghana still foots the bill to enable students in the Northern half of the country to benefit from second cycle education, including meals at school.
All that the New Patriotic Party, the Convention People's Party and the Progressive People's Party are championing is that the fee-free second cycle education should be extended to cover the whole country.
If President Mahama and his ministers from the north believe that the rest of Ghana do not deserve to benefit from a policy that has aided them to lead this society, which is their problem.
To mischievously join pieces of sound-bites from various representations that someone has made on different platforms, to make it look like the person has kicked against the policy outlined by a rival political party, is disingenuous and fraudulent.
I have heard apologists of this mal-administration arguing that there has been no breach of the law by what the surrogates of the NDC, whose General Secretary trades with an organization of which is the Board Chairman, have done in the Otabil tape scandal.
I am not a lawyer. As a journalist, I can state without any fear of contradiction that the Otabil tape is defamatory. It lowers the image of Pastor Otabil in the eyes of right thinking members of society.
What the so-called Education Watch and its NDC apologists tried to do was to present Pastor Otabil as clergyman who uses the pulpit to attack the policies of a political party, while in fact, the venerable preacher has never done anything of the sort.
What does the NDC fear about a free second cycle education, for the whole country to sponsor spurious organizations to malign Pastor Mensah Otabil? This society has funded the second cycle education of a third of this country for nearly 50 years. What is wrong with extending the range to cover the whole country?
I have heard the crap about this nation being short on facilities for the venture and that Ghana should build more second cycle schools before implementing the policy.
While conceding that this nation would do with the construct ion of more facilities, I would like to submit here that those facilities could be built as programme takes off. Is there anything wrong with beginning the policy from somewhere?
When the Nkrumah regime began implementing the free secondary education concept in the north, the only established secondary school in the entire North, comprising, the modern day Northern Region, Upper East and West regions, was the Tamale Secondary School, fondly remembered by old students as TAMASCO.
If the Convention People's Party administration, at the time were to wait for facilities to be available before rolling out the policy, they would have waited for infinity.
I would like to believe that once the initial costing has been done and there is evidence of the possibility of state resources to carry it through, the fee-free policy could take off, meeting the challenges as they come.
As it is, the President and his ministers who are themselves beneficiaries of the concept of fee-free second cycle education are telling us that under their watch, equity should not feature in national discourse. It is as if we are being told that poverty is the preserve of the north.
I do accept that poverty is more pronounced in the north as a result of the geographical conditions prevalent. But there are equally poor people in the south. I sat the Common Entrance Examination in the 1960s with a classmate and a very good friend of mine.
Bansah passed and was offered admission in one of the prestigious secondary schools in the Central Region. But when the chips were down, his parents could not afford the fees. The last I heard of him, he was farming in a hamlet which could only be accessed through a foot-path.
Millions of Ghanaians in the south have been denied the opportunity to be educated beyond the old basic level because their parents could not afford to pay their school fees.
A number of boys and girls competing with vehicular traffic and putting themselves in danger by selling all manner of wares on our streets would tell you that their education was truncated at the basic level because there was nobody in the family to fund their education beyond the Junior high School.
On the day, Vice-President Paa Kwesi Amissah-Arthur failed the litmus test in the Vice-Presidential debate, a group of boys poured onto the streets in Takoradi jubilating into the wee hours of the next morning.
In their simplistic mind, Dr. Mahamadu Bawumia of the New Patriotic Party won the debate and that meant free second cycle education would become a reality, which was an indication that they could all benefit from Senior High School education without their parents breaking the bank.
I have implicit faith in the state's ability to fund a free second cycle education policy. In my next articled, I intend to show why I hold on to this believe. In the interim, it is my intention to advise Dr. Mensah Otabil to leave those bringing his name into disrepute over a policy that has the potential of helping to transform the society to the court of public opinion.
Like Jesus said about his persecutors, Father forgive them, for they know not about the harm they are bringing onto themselves!