This is how it always starts; a little here, a little there. Then, the entire system gets caught in the web, and it spirals out of control.
Corruption. If it starts with the head of the house, the battle is lost. It’s where Ghana finds itself at the moment. John Dramani Mahama, the president, has admitted lately that he receives bribe. Well, he didn’t put it that way; he said he received a gift. It wasn’t yesterday. It was in 2012. He received a $100,000 Ford Expedition vehicle from a contractor in Burkina Faso. The contractor had said the president did call to offer thanks for the gesture. Ghana’s agency responsible for investigating cases of impropriety by government officials said it received petitions on the matter from Ghanaians.
Mahama’s government didn’t deny. All it had to offer in defence was that the vehicle was eventually put into the pool of vehicles at the presidency; it was never at the disposal of the president. This line of argument shows that the president and his officials don’t have a definition of what’s appropriate for a leader to receive, and from whom. Considering the thoroughly corrupt and consequent bloody past Ghana had had, I’m convinced the gift Mahama got wasn’t a Ford Expedition vehicle; what he got was a plague that could once again devastate his country.
Whilst he was speaking at a High School in Ghana sometime ago, former Ghanaian leader, Jerry Rawlings, commented on the corrupt past of his country. He admitted that some of the military officers who were extrajudicially killed in the 1979 uprising were innocent. But they had to go because the rage against corruption by citizens was too high. That year, his military government’s “house-cleaning” exercise against corruption led to the execution of former military rulers: Lt. Gen. Afrifa, Gen. Acheampong, Lt. Gen. Akuffo, Maj. Gen. E. K. Utuka, Gen. Frederick William Kwasi, Rear-Admiral Amedume and two other senior officers. According to Rawlings, the action of his military council had the support of the ordinary people. He said Ghanaians had been humiliated by their corrupt leaders: “When you humiliate people to that extent, you take away their dignity and respect, the day they explode, you can give them the diamond…they will kick it right back in your face and they’ll want your neck, your blood. That is what we witnessed in those days in ‘79”, Rawlings explained.
Meanwhile, Rawlings handed over power not long after his first coup to a civilian government led by Hilla Limann. But he took it back in December 1981. He ruled as a military Head of State until 1992 when he retired from the military and set up a political party. He approved the formation of several other political parties, and organised presidential and parliamentary elections. This was in response to demands for a more democratic process, pressure coming from internal and external sources. Rawlings’ party won the election which observers declared to be free and fair. He won again in 1996. When his second term ended in 2000, his vice-president, John Atta Mills, took over following an election, and regular elections has been part of the Ghanaian political landscape ever since. From time to time during that period, international figures and organisations hailed Ghana as a nation where transparency and accountability had assisted it to enjoy a positive economic turnaround. But its recently-found oil wealth had also made many to worry if the well-known oil curse would be its lot too. The gift Mahama got from a Burkinabe gave one reasons to worry the more. What contract did the Burkinabe execute for Ghana? Was it in the oil sector? For how long has the president been collecting gifts?
Has he been taking gifts from every contractor – local and foreign? Important questions because we know that the leader who collects gifts from contractors can’t make unbiased decision anymore. Have his officials been taking gifts too, and for how long? If the head of the house doesn’t consider a gift from a contractor a bribe, his subordinates can’t do otherwise. Ghana has begun to fall back into its messy past.
Rawlings’ wasn’t the first military coup in Ghana. Some army officers had ousted Kwame Nkrumah, the first president, a few years after the 1957 political independence. One of the excuses was that his administration had become corrupt. A few other coup d’états followed before Rawlings arrived on the scene. The point he made about the feelings of the people of Ghana by 1979 with respect to the corrupt activities of their leaders should resonate. Anyone who has read anything about the qualities of a leader must understand why Ghanaians had clapped at the time Rawlings put his nation’s corrupt leaders out of action. To be so oppressed without a leader to turn to for justice, one who would ensure that things were done right, could be a harrowing experience.
The matter reminds me of an occurrence. I was driving from Lagos to Abuja a few years back. Some police officers stopped me somewhere in Osun State in the middle of the bush. They asked for my vehicle particulars, the same set I had always shown to uniformed officers in Abuja and after they had looked at them would say, “Oga, you can go.”
But these officers in Osun State, led by a sergeant, said my papers were not complete. The sergeant sat in my car as he made me drive to the station, a Divisional Police headquarters, in one of the towns that was totally off the main road where he and his officers had stopped me. These police officers took me and a few other people that they had also stopped into a room, and there they began to collect money. Everyone else paid. I refused to pay, ready to drag the matter.
They collected my car key, my car papers around 12 noon. Around 5:30pm, I walked into the office of the Divisional Police Officer, a highly-educated officer, to lodge my complaints. His officers involved in the saga had gone out on patrol with my car key and my papers. He said I should wait for them.
These officers returned from patrol and promptly informed their DPO that I had falsely alleged that they were collecting bribe. The matter became noisy. A crowd had gathered because I didn’t make it easy for them. They spoke and I spoke back. The DPO collected my car key and papers from his officers, and explained that he had always informed his officers that the paper they complained about was something they needed not delay a road user for. He said he had explained that the right thing they should do under the circumstance was to enlighten the concerned road user that he would need to collect such paper. The DPO returned my car key and papers to me, apologizing for the delay, and how his officer had made it impossible for me to continue with my journey that evening. I left the DPO thinking of how his subordinates had done all they could to frustrate me because I did not bribe them, and how he, the leader, had done what he thought was right under the circumstance. It was a big relief for me, one that made me think, as I drove away that if I ever had the opportunity to do what was right as a leader, what was right was what I would do.
I wonder how the president of Ghana could collect a gift from a government contractor and justify it under any guise. If any government contractor of Ghana extraction sent a petition to his office that his officials were asking for gifts before or after they issued contracts, I wonder if the president would take any action. I doubt it. This is how a nation slides down the slope, travelling back into an unenviable past. If Ghana catches this plague of corruption once more, especially with crude oil flowing, will it ever recover? In the past, Ghana had had to shed blood in order to start afresh. I think a leader whose actions can make Ghanaians desire a repeat of that bloodshed shouldn’t be in the government house. The responsible agency in Ghana should investigate this matter and hold Mahama accountable.
By:’Tunji Ajibade, email@example.com 08057109819