27 November 2012

Ghana: Aliu Was More Than a Friend


I was just settling in at the temporary press gallery at the first floor of the hotel in Tamale, where the first Presidential Debate took place on October 30, this year, when I saw former Vice-President Alhaji Aliu Mahama sitting in the front row at the main auditorium.

With the debate still a few minutes away, I quickly made my way downstairs and settled by my very good friend and Godfather. We had a very animated conversation. I had gone to his residence a few hours after arriving from Accra to cover the debate. The security guard had told me that the master of the house had gone out.

After an animated conversation with the former Vice-President, I rushed to my seat at the press gallery with Alhaji Aliu Mahama asking me to call him when I got to Accra. Unfortunately, that was the last time I heard from him. I was busily composing the next day's editorial in the office on Wednesday, when Joy FM, one of the most reliable information outfits in the country, announced that the former Vice-President had passed on at the Cardiothoracic Centre at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital.

I was totally confused. My instinct was to disbelieve the story. Then Citi FM followed suit with its own rendition of how Alhaji had fought for his life without success at the same centre. At that stage, I decided to check on the story, and called Prof. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, the man who set up the centre.

I know that the good old heart surgeon is no more welcome at the centre he founded. All the same, he commanded a lot of respect from the surgeons running the place. After all, most of them were trained by him.

Prof. Frimpong-Boateng asked for a few minutes to check with the doctors at Korle Bu. He came back to me barely five minutes later, and assured me that the former Vice-President was not dead. He was on a life-support machine though.

From his analysis, I braced myself for the worst. I did inform my deputy, Mr. Emmanuel Akli, that from the analysis given by the veteran heart surgeon, I got the inclination that my good friend would be pronounced dead on Friday.

I told a section of my staff that from what I had been told, Alhaji would join his ancestors on the Muslim Holy Day. I was not surprised to hear on Friday morning that the man who led the campaign against indiscipline from the very top, had indeed, joined his ancestors.

When I arrived at Alhaji's residence at Cantonments in Accra, and greeted Hajia Ramatu, my spirits were lifted. She appeared to carry herself with dignity, in spite of her predicament. "Your friend is gone," she told me.

I got to know Alhaji Aliu Mahama in 1978, through football, a passion both of us shared. Real Tamale United (RTU) had just gained promotion into the then national first division league, and were performing wonders. Mohammed Choo, the star striker, led the goal king chart from the onset, and eventually won the Sports Writers Association of Ghana's award.

As a sports writer with an eye for scoops, I itched to be the first journalist to capture the story of the Pride of the North. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised when I got an invitation from Alhaji Gbadamosie, then Headmaster of Tamale Secondary School, to go to Tamale and do a detailed write up on RTU.

When I arrived at the Tamale Airport, I was initially taken home by Alhaji Razak El-Alawa, then Northern Regional Correspondent of the Daily Graphic newspaper. I was later transferred to a bungalow in town. In the evening, I was visited by the triumvirate, comprising Alhaji Gbadamosie, Mr. B.A. Fuseini, then headmaster of the Ghana Secondary School also at Tamale, and Aliu Mahama, then Regional Manager in charge of the State Construction Company.

I did a series of stories on RTU, including a profile of Mohammed Choo, the man who was to become the goal-king of Ghana football in 1978. When I returned to Accra, I kept a link with the club and its officials.

When the New Patriotic Party (NPP) won power and Alhaji Aliu Mahama became the Vice-President of the Republic, he immediately sent for me.

Many Ghanaians may not know this. But, I had applied to become the General Secretary of the Ghana Football Association, when the position became vacant in 2001. The only other contestant was Major Yaw Larsen (rtd), one-time Chief Executive of Kumasi Asante Kotoko.

The new Vice-President of the Republic of Ghana had invited me, because he had read from the dailies that I wanted to be the chief scribe of Ghana football, and wanted to offer his assistance. At that time, the in-coming administration of President John Agyekum Kufuor was based at the State House, where the State Protocol has its offices.

I went with Mr. Ken Bediako, a veteran sports journalist who is the author of The Complete History of the Ghana Football League - 1958-2012. After a few minutes at his office, Alhaji took me to President John Agyekum Kufuor, who advised me to remain in the media. In his considered opinion, I was made for the media. I do not think I was happy with the presidential prescription though. Somehow, I went to the offices of the Ghana Football Association and withdrew my application and Curriculum Vitae. I headed for the Public Agenda as Editor, instead of directing football as the chief scribe.

Barely one month after visiting the new Vice-President, I got a call from the Presidency inviting me to see the Vice-President. When I went, Aliu told me he was making his first official visit to the north, and that my friends up there would like to see me.

The long and short of it was that I became a member of the Vice-Presidential mission to the north. Thereafter, I was a regular member of his delegation to many parts of the country. When former Inspector General of Police Mr. Peter Nanfuri was enskinned the Paramount Chief of Jirapa, I was a member of the official delegation to the ceremony, courtesy of the then Vice-President.

After the function, the newly-installed Chief paid a visit to the Vice-President at the Residency at Wa. When he saw me chatting with Alhaji Mahama, he asked whether I was his friend. When the Vice-President answered in the affirmative, the new chief told of how I had tormented him when he was the Inspector General of Police.

Mr. Nanfuri told the then Vice-President that as Editor of The Chronicle, I had always used his picture anytime a policeman misbehaved, and that I even nicknamed him Nanfuri the Batman.

The nickname followed the posture of the then IGP, when the order came from the Accra Metropolitan Assembly for politicians to remove their billboards erected along the major highways in the city, on the premise that they were obstructing visibility, and thus a danger to drivers.

When the IGP was asked why the police had not taken action against the National Democratic Congress, which owned most of the political billboards, Mr. Nanfuri's response was that he had not seen them, because he was always coming to the office very early and leaving late, and therefore, never saw those billboards.

Instantly, The Chronicle named him 'Nanfuri the Batman.' Only the bat flies without seeing around it, The Chronicle explained. As it happened, I was the only senior journalist who graced his installation. The write up I did on him - Nanfuri sits on the Jirapa Skin'- did a number of rounds in the local and international media.

As for Aliu, he was more than a friend. I was a regular visitor to his East Cantoments residence, and a permanent addition to his delegation on official visits to many parts of the country. I was a member of his Campaign Team, when he bid for and failed to secure the right to represent the New Patriotic Party as presidential candidate for the 2008 elections.

I accompanied him in the company of Campaign Co-ordinator Yaw Buabeng Asamoah, Mr. Aremayaw (alias Folio 48), and Mr. Isaac Edumadzie, one-time Central Regional Minister.

There was a strange addition to the Aliu Campaign Team. Owula Mangote, who was flirting with the National Democratic Congress, was an on and off member of the campaign entourage. When Aliu lost the NPP presidential primary, he took the campaign team on a cruise on the Volta Lake, before officially disbanding it.

I have lost more than a friend. Generous to a fault, the late Alhaji Mahama would send for me, on a number of occasions, just to motivate me financially. It was one exercise he carried out dutifully until he joined his ancestors.

When I sat in front of his huge portrait at his residence trying to compose a befitting tribute to his memory, my mind went blank. I am still trying to pick up the pieces, nearly 10 days after Mother Earth received the mortal remains of the Gentleman who rose to become the second in command of the political evolution of this country, and led the fight against indiscipline from the front.

Alhaji, you have paid your dues to Mother Ghana. May Allah, the benefactor, keep your soul until we meet again in his Kingdom!

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