I had the shock of my life when I was working with the Nigerian Concord newspaper as a columnist in the early 1980’s. The popular newspaper, owned by the late Nigerian multi-millionaire, M.K.O. Abiola, had a very wide coverage and it was highly patronized. The CEO assembled columnists like Delle Giwa, Ray Ekpu, Awal Mohammed and of course yours sincerely, Eric Bawah, to make the paper number one in the media landscape of Nigeria.
Delle Giwa, the editor of the newspaper, was having his breakfast one ‘fine’ morning when a post boy delivered a parcel to him. Unknown to Giwa, it was a parcel bomb. In his attempt to open the parcel, the bomb detonated, tearing his two thighs into pieces and opened up his belly. Former President Shehu Shagari, who was in power, called for a probe into the gruesome murder of the journalist but sadly nothing meaningful came out of the probe. Delle Giwa had a trenchant pen and he ruthlessly took on the powers that be. He never spared oil magnates who were milking the state coffers and laundering money, for which reason he became a torn in their flesh. He received several death threats but he never took those threats seriously until he was murdered.
Barely a week after the murder of Delle Giwa, another colleague called Olu Peters who had his desk near mine in the newsroom and who was investigating some foreigners who were into oil deals was shot point blank on the head by an unknown assailant. The following day, I packed bag and baggage, said goodbye to my landlord and dashed to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, where I caught the next available plane to Ghana, never to return to that country again. Nearly two decades ago when Madam Gina Blay offered me the opportunity to write a column for the Daily Guide, I reluctantly accepted the offer because the images of the mutilated body of Delle Giwa kept lingering on my mind. In fact, I know the type of columnist I am. I knew when I started to write this column, no erring institution or public figure would be spared. As my style of writing seemingly became inane, insipid, boorish and bombastic, Madam called and advised me to tone down a bit. I told the lady who is now Ghana’s Ambassador to Germany that rather than being gagged for swearing the chief’s great oath, I will seduce his wife and be hanged. Journalists all over the world have not been safe and I will so why should I tone down? After all, whatever will be, will be.
The peril of the job is more severe than a soldier at the war front. Journalists too are killed at the war front but in addition, they are sometimes poisoned by the Mafia, slapped by bodyguards, strangled to death and dismembered like what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi-born columnist of the Washington Post. I had an opportunity to read a few pieces of Mr. Khashoggi and I feared for his life considering the brutal nature of the House of Saudi but I did not envisage that it would be so barbaric. The Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who is a prime suspect of the killing of Mr. Khashoggi does not know that freedom of the word is inseparable from freedom for individual. Wherever those in power believe they need to defend themselves against change and criticisms, the persecution of men and women of letters is a central component of oppression. Gifted writers like Mr. Khashoggi living in tyrannical societies like Saudi Arabia are often exposed to real oppression. When things get rough they are threatened with persecution, exile, imprisonment, torture and even death.
Writing is one of the noblest acts of liberty. The vehicle of this liberty is the word. Words themselves often become the target of despots: books are burnt, newspapers banned, texts indexed or censored. Frequently, however, those who feel threatened by free speech prefer to take direct action like what the Crown Prince did to Mr. Khashoggi. Because their power is built on injustice and despotism, they persecute not only the words themselves but they also persecute the bearers of the words: authors, journalists, publishers, writers and newspaper people. The Crown Prince and his cohorts who are suspected to have ordered and supervised the shameful insidious farce are afraid of the power of the free word. They fear the power of ideas, the power of the pen, the demand for social justice and human rights.
The cowards who masterminded the murder of Mr. Khashoggi must be unmasked and inexorably pursued. For otherwise, no one-whether in Ghana or elsewhere will be able to free themselves with the fear that settled over the world on the day Mr. Khashoggi was killed. When the news broke out, my mind and heart and soul felt an extreme need for silence. How can people be so callous? To shame those who are ever ready to harm journalists, those in the inky fraternity should not change their lives. We should remain what we are, for journalism is a profession worth defending. When you wake up one morning and you see all the newsstands empty and radio and TV stations closed, you will then respect journalists. We must not resign ourselves to fate. Resignation would be the worst of all possible bad answers. We only have to continue to say our prayers before we sleep for life must go on – threat or no threat. As for me if I see evil camped across the horizon, I will call that evil by its name, damn the consequences. Journalists, like endangered species, are under siege.
THE NAME OF THE GAME IS NOW SLANDER.
“Don’t find fault. Find a remedy” – Henry Ford
I have been following with keen interest the campaign trail of Mr. John Mahama and I feel sad for him. The man is always being misinformed and so anytime he mounts the dais to speak to the NDC delegates, he goofs without shame. The other day it was the Kwame Danso road which exposed him badly. As he hops from one region to the other, he tells naked lies and when the delegates clap for him he thinks they have swallowed everything hook, line and sinker. When a whole former Head of State behaves this way, it becomes worrisome. His handlers are not doing him any good.
When he visited Techiman in the Brong Ahafo Region recently, he called Nana Addo to make sure teachers and nurses’ trainee allowances are paid. Unknown to him, as at the time he was making that shameless comments the allowances had hit the accounts of the trainees. When he left town, almost all the radio stations in town took him to the cleaners. Some serial callers ridiculed him and called him a liar. In fact, some trainee nurses called into radio stations to say they have received their allowances and so Mr. Mahama should shut up. It makes one think whether his handlers are deliberately making him look ignorant.
Sometimes I try to avoid commenting on the former Head of State, but sadly he gives me more opportunities to comment on the lies he spews out on a daily basis. He provokes confrontation day in and day out. During one of his encounters with the NDC delegates, Mr. Mahama called on the President, Nana Akufo-Addo to ensure the fumigation of dormitories in senior high schools across the country. He said he encountered students (Like Joshua Akamba did) who complained of bites from bed bugs due to the congestion in their dormitories brought on by the free SHS policy. Good Lord, this man paa! From time immemorial, bed bugs have found their way into dormitories. Surely when Mr. Mahama was attending free secondary school in the Northern Region, there were bed bugs in his dormitory. Is Mr. Mahama telling Ghanaians that for the eight years that the NDC ruled this country there were no bed bugs in some senior high schools? From the very day that candidate Akufo-Addo mooted the idea of a free SHS, Mr. Mahama has never hesitated to demonize the policy and when the policy was rolled out successful, the man continues to demonize it. Is it jealousy or insensitivity because parents who would have been forced to go for loans in order to enroll their children in SHSs. And this is the man who wants to come back to rule Ghana again. Dreamer!
Somebody out there should do me a favour by informing the incompetent one that since independence, no government ever embarked on a comprehensive fumigation of all secondary schools in this country. Inform Mr. Mahama who continues to wear wooden sun glasses that this year nearly seven hundred public SHS dormitories have been fumigated. No wonder the sages say that no matter how well the hen dances, the hawk will never admire it. The President and his team should stay focused and leave the desperate guy to keep on dreaming. After all, everybody has the right to dream but as to the dream becoming a reality is the problem. Excuse me while I refill my fountain pen!
By Eric Bawah