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The Messiah who never was

It was a Wednesday and the date was the 28th of May, 2014. I had just taken breakfast at the office canteen and I sat there watching the world go by. Then my cell phone rang. It was a colleague of mine who was related to a prominent son of the motherland I’ve always admired.

She said, “Village Boy, where are you?”

Before I could reply, she added, “The ‘old man’ wants to see you.”

I was speechless. A billion excited thoughts flooded my ‘faculty of thinkology’. Please don’t go looking for that phrase because it doesn’t exist in any lexicographic manuscript.

“The old man wants to see me? Eeeeei! Why, when, where?”

“Now!” she exclaimed. “Can you make it to his office in thirty minutes?”

“Tell him I’ll make it in fifteen,” I blurted out.

“When you get there tell the…” I was too excited that I didn’t hear the rest of what she said.

I jumped into my jalopy I had christened ‘Mimi’ and I sped towards the old man’s office. I couldn’t believe my luck. This was a man I’ve always admired since I was a little boy. And now I was on my way to meet him at his invitation.

“Today be today,” I said to myself. That’s a slang meaning ‘a day of reckoning.’

As I pushed Mimi to the limit, I kept thanking my stars for such a golden opportunity. I recalled a joke I used to share with my friends that the day I’ll get the opportunity to shake hands with the ‘old man,’ I’ll feel so honoured that I’ll wrap my hand in a bandage and not wash it for a whole year. I made it to the oldman’s office in record time – in ten minutes. I greeted the guard on duty at the gate and told him of my mission there.

“Oh yes, the old man is expecting you,” he responded and opened the very high black metal gate.

I drove into the compound. Then it dawned on me where I was. This is the oldman’s office bordered by high walls and the gate guarded by armed soldiers. Counter thoughts started running through my head. There have also been dishonourable characteristics attributed to him in several quarters. In fact some of those less-than-flattery allegations pointed towards a brutish person. I queried myself what I had done to deserve such a prompt summoning. Then it dawned on me that I should have asked my colleague why I was summoned. I guess I was too excited that I had lost my natural sense of curiosity.

As I waited patiently at the reception area for the secretary to inform the ‘old man’ that I was in, my heartbeat had reached a galloping rate. I believe at that instant the rate of my heartbeat was probably fast enough to shatter the speed of light.

Then the secretary returned and said, “The ‘old man’ will see you now.”

I rose up and for a moment my legs almost gave way. But I managed to drag my wobbly legs to the old man’s office.

As I entered, the towering figure of Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings, the former president of the Republic of Ghana stood behind a large office desk with outstretched hands, “You’re welcome chief.”

The grip from President Jerry John Rawlings was firm and comforting. I was so consumed with emotions that I couldn’t respond with the usual courteous “thank you.” I stood there stupefied.

“Have a seat, chief,” he said warmly.

“Is this really the great Jerry John Rawlings I’ve adored since my childhood?” was the thought that filled my village mind.

“Me paa me nie.” I couldn’t believe my luck.

“Have a seat, chief,” he repeated warmly.

This jostled me back to reality. I sank into the sofa with my gaze fixated on President Rawlings.

The next set of words that flowed from his mouth swallowed me with emotions.

“You’re a breath of fresh air,” he eulogized.

My eyes become watery. And I’ll explain why in the subsequent paragraphs.

“I watched your programme on TV yesterday and I was impressed,” he continued with his praises, “you asked very intelligent questions. You’re the kind of journalist I love to watch on TV.”

These words cooled my heart as if they were living waters flowing from the fountain of life.

Were these words of adulation really coming from the lips of President Rawlings who had a notoriety for being a very critical person and hard to please? Wow! Then I was doing something right.

My emotions were not from the fact that I was being exalted by the former president of Ghana, but rather because of the vile criticisms and pull-him-down mechanisms employed by my own colleagues.

At this juncture, I’d crave your indulgence to digress a little to give you a brief backdrop to what I’m talking about.

About five or so months earlier I had approached my boss to proofread an article I wanted to post on my blog. I’ve always loved penning down my thoughts but I wasn’t a trained journalist. I trained as a filmmaker and I think I’m quite good at it.

Oh yeah, I can hear you say, “There he goes trying to blow his own horn.”

Well, why not? After all if I don’t blow my own horn, it might get rusty and rendered ‘unblowable’. That’s my own word oo, so please don’t write back lamenting that you went looking up ‘unblowable’ and didn’t find it.

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Ok, where was I before I rudely interrupted myself? Aha, after my boss had proofread my article, he summoned me to his office.

He said, “This is good, let’s turn it into a TV programme.”

Anyway, my boss was the channel manager for the digital TV channel GBC 24 (now GBC News). I was very excited about the idea that my blog was going to be turned into a TV programme.

Before my elation could sink in, my boss dropped the ballistic missile, “You’ll be the host of the show.”

I froze. Why me? I’ve always been very content with my work – a director – behind the camera not in front of it. Well, I guess my boss knew what he was about, though I never had an inkling of confidence in myself being a TV host.

Tried as I could with my protestations, he stood his ground, and the programme – I Blogger – took off with me as the host. Then the vituperations started pouring-in in torrents.

“Who the hell does he think he is to be on TV?”

“Oh, we knew it, he’s an ‘arse-licking’ pet of his boss that’s why.” Pardon my vulgar use of language, but that’s just how poisonous it was.

“He’s never had any journalism or TV presentation training so why is he on air?”

My boss also had to answer a barrage of queries for putting me on TV. But he stood his ground. Feeling choked by the smoke of negativity engulfing me, I went to my boss almost in tears with the intention of quitting. He wouldn’t hear of that at all and urged me on.

What depressed me the most was the fact that all the verbal abuse aimed at me was not because I was a bad host or making mistakes on air. As a matter of fact I was beginning to carve a niche for myself as a prolific TV host. So why? I kept asking.

I reckon you now understand why I was overcome with emotions by President Rawlings’ praise.

“I have arrived,” I said to myself. Trust me the feeling was very good.

I have since interviewed the crème de la crème in various fields. From ministers of state, to the big shots in industry, down to taxi drivers, petty traders and the ordinary man on the streets. I’ve also treated subjects ranging from agriculture, to politics, to economics, to everyday bread-and-butter issues…, you just name it.

President Rawlings chatted so freely with me as if I was an old friend. As we conversed, he expressed his thoughts without equivocation on various issues he was passionate about. I kept staring into his eyes as he spoke. He spoke with such burning passion that he occasionally became animated especially when he touched on pressing national issues. I could see in his eyes this childlike innocence.

“This is an honest man,” I said to myself.

You could tell from his countenance that this was a man who had so much love for his country and his people. It was infectious. I can authoritatively say there is no way you will have an encounter with President Rawlings and not become more nationalistic.

Yet this was a man who has been so badly misrepresented and vilified in sections of the media, and even by some of his own close associates. I really identified with him because most of the vile attacks on my personality because I had become a TV host were from my own colleagues.

My encounter with President Rawlings lasted for about two hours, and I can describe those two hours as being amongst the most fulfilling moments of my life. I was proud I had learned under the tutelage of one of Africa’s greatest political icons of all time.

As I bade him farewell and drove out of his compound in my ever dependable jalopy Mimi, my mind flashed back to the time when he first emerged on the Ghanaian political scene in 1979.

Don’t ask me whether I was born then, because I will surely not tell you that I wasn’t born. Oh, did I just spill the beans? Hmmmmm!

Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings sprouted out onto the political arena as a ‘messiah’. I remember his initials ‘J.J.’ were affectionately turned to ‘Junior Jesus’. He was a man of the people. Of course he remained so until his untimely demise, but just like me, the pull-him-downs wouldl never let him be.

I will say without any shred of doubt that President Rawlings can arguably be described as the greatest leader Ghana has ever had after Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. But I guess he is the messiah who was never allowed to be.

And please don’t ask me whether I wrapped my hand with a bandage to prevent water from washing away the handshake of the ‘messiah’, because I won’t tell you. However, after the encounter described in this piece, I virtually became a member of his family and spent almost every afternoon in his house.

The writer is a broadcast journalist and a development communication expert. He is currently the host of the social activism radio show, ‘Citizens’ Court’ on Uniiq FM.

Source : Ghanaweb

About Sadat Muniru