“It seems to me, you lived your life like a candle in the wind never knowing who to cling to when the rain set in.
You had the grace to hold yourself in these painful moments whilst most grassroots, and those around you throughout the country crawled. Moments I can’t ever forget in my life.
You changed the pace and image of NDC politicking, your demeanour, language, humour. You are my model. You’re my hero.
From Bole, you rose as teacher, Assembly man, MP, Deputy Minister, a Minister, Vice President and a President.
An accomplished man on our land. In our contemporary politics, nobody had clocked that feat.
To me there exists a certain STAR on your birth. I yearn for your Presidency again…”
Fellow Africans, please, let me confess that I do not know the author of the above quote but I have taken the liberty to adopt and adapt it to the story you are about to read. It is a tale of a man who virtually rose through the ranks and climbed the ladder of success from bottom up. His trajectory would naturally read like a fairy-tale or, more appropriately, a stuff of fiction. That simple poem represents and encapsulates the view of those who have been able to meet, interact and know the enigmatic leader known as John Dramani Mahama, popularly called JDM by his teeming admirers.
It is almost impossible to encounter JDM and not fall in love with him, sooner rather than later. My experience of him is somehow surreal. My relationship with him began through a mutual friend, Victor Smith, the current Ghana High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, shortly before JDM was selected as Vice Presidential candidate by Professor John Evans Atta-Mills. We had visited him at home and met him and his friendly wife, Lordina. Victor and JDM had wanted my support in terms of media exposure for the candidacy of Atta-Mills/Mahama. Ovation International had played similar roles in the past by giving publicity to the works of former Presidents Jerry John Rawlings and John Agyekum Kufuor. But there was not much we could do for their candidacy other than their personality profiles since they’d not held executive positions to enable us assess their capabilities properly. It is always easier to rate the performance of a sit-in leader than that of an opposition challenger.
Prior to meeting JDM, I had also met Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo through his cousin, Adelaide Olagbaju who was at the time married to a prominent Nigerian, Sammy Olagbaju, now of blessed memory. Mrs Olagbaju, as she then was and now a Queen mother, wanted media exposure for the man I often called the great Nana. We managed to do a profile of him on the cover of Ovation magazine but couldn’t meet one-on-one thereafter to develop a greater rapport.
About the same time, I had received a call from Pastor Temitope Balogun Joshua asking me to support the candidacy of Atta-Mills, at a time all pundits placed their bets on Nana. I did play my modest part as requested and I moved on thereafter.
My robust relationship with Ghana had started in July 1995, when I was forced to flee Nigeria under the cover of darkness, and I managed to escape to the beautiful city of Accra. For me, it was a case of love at first sight as I enjoyed and savoured the tranquillity of Ghana during the regime of President Rawlings who had metamorphosed from military to civilian government. I spent a few nights in Accra before finally absconding to London where I would be in exile for three suffocating years. Throughout that period, I had Ghana in my thoughts. It reminded me of the peaceful life we lived on the campus of Africa’s most beautiful University, popular called Great Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
After exile, I would later take partial abode in Ghana, and many would even think, erroneously, I had abandoned Nigeria totally because of the way I promoted Ghana to high heavens. I developed very healthy relationships with many Ghanaian leaders across different political parties. I had met President John Agyekum Kufuor in the home of shipping magnate, Alhaji Asoma Banda, barely five days after he came to power. We later lived on the same street in Airport Residential and I had easy access to him as he went to work from home. I also developed very close friendship with his Vice President, Alhaji Aliu Mahama, also of blessed memory. Ghana at that time was not yet polarised and I was able to interact with whoever I wanted. As close as I was to the Kufuor government, I was able to do positive stories on Rawlings and even invited him and his entire family to Nigeria and he obliged.
Prior to that time, the image of Nigeria and Nigerians in Ghana was abysmally poor. We were generally believed to be hopelessly fraudulent but Ovation came in and showcased some of the brightest Nigerians making giant strides in all fields of human endeavour. We also reported some Ghanaian newsmakers and they became popular in Nigeria and beyond. I was merely pursuing my dream and vision as a pan-Africanist in the mould of the great Osagyefo, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, whose seminal works I had encountered and devoured as a student. While there was really no money to be made in Ghana compared to our country the giant of Africa, we were happy to make the place our production hub. I believe we cemented the bond that had always existed between our two countries better.
Unknown to me, JDM was a keen follower of the Ovation adventures in Africa and he was delighted to see Africans telling their own stories, in a positive manner. I met him at a Globacom dinner for Professor Wole Soyinka one evening and we exchanged greetings and he wondered why I had disappeared from his radar. I answered that it was not easy to visit a big and important man like him and we left it at that. Fate would soon force the Presidency of Ghana on him after the death of his boss and mentor, Professor Atta-Mills, and Mahama became even bigger in status.
We did not see again for several years until President Muhammadu Buhari won his election and he was on a short visit to Aburi, Ghana. I was pleasantly surprised when JDM introduced me to my own President as someone who has virtually become Ghanaian. Buhari had smiled at that jocular revelation. We drove to Aburi where they held bilateral talks and I met JDM while on break and we exchanged WhatsApp numbers. We chatted briefly the following day and he told me he was happy to receive Buhari who appeared very relaxed in his company. I noted his humility as he showed maximum respect to our visiting President.
Within the same year, in 2015, I ran into an old friend, Saratu Baby Atta, who had had a baby for Femi Fani-Kayode, at a funeral. Saratu is a very hardworking lady and she informed me she was now the personal secretary to Nana Akufo-Addo. She asked if she could set up a meeting between us as I could be of some help to their campaign and I agreed to honour any appointment she could arrange. At the appointed day, I visited Nana’s office and I discussed one-on-one with him. We discussed politics generally including developments in Nigeria and I left.
In February 2016, I was invited to a personality radio interview on Starr FM by my friend Bola Ray. Little did I envisage what would happen thereafter. In the course of the chat, towards the closing part, I was asked my opinion of the performance of President Mahama. My candid response was that he was doing excellently well, especially in the area of infrastructure development and gave copious examples. I returned to my base in Nigeria but I had touched the tiger by the tail. The news media in Ghana had instantly exploded and gave massive publicity to my submissions. Some liked what I said while majority of the opposition media hated my guts.
Interestingly, I got a WhatsApp message from Saratu on February 13, 2016, and it captured the feeling of opposition towards my innocent interview. She wrote: “Hi Chief Dele… I thought you were going to help us…” to which I responded that “you didn’t request for my help…” She fired that “But now they say you are Mahama’s chief supporter…” I told her there was never a follow up to my meeting in their office and that I remained neutral and that I’ve since returned to Nigeria. Saratu lectured me that there’s no such thing as neutrality in politics and I responded again:
“The two candidates are great personalities and Ghana is blessed to have them…I have the highest regards for your boss that is why I call him the great Nana always. I do not promote any politics that engender bitterness. Whoever wins should be supported to succeed. Africa is bleeding and we must build it together…”
If I thought that settled the matter, I was dead wrong. I received a barrage of attacks for expressing a factual opinion. But on the other side, President Mahama was very happy about my unsolicited intervention. On February 14, 2016, he sent me a WhatsApp message:
“Thanks Dele. Many thanks for the interview. It went down well with many people and opened their eyes to the job we have tried to execute over the last 3 years. I would love us to discuss how you can help us communicate the story of our achievements better…”
With this coming from a President, I was deeply touched and humbled. I responded, calmly: “Your Excellency thank you Sir for the appreciation. I should be in Accra on Tuesday for one night before heading to Abuja. We can take up the project and wake up the entire country to see the great work…”
Due to his very busy schedules and my own itinerant jobs, we couldn’t for months. Fate again would have a hand in our eventual meeting. Something strange happened to me on one of my visits to Abuja. I was in the executive lounge when a Kenyan lady walked in and a friend introduced her to me as Ambassador Phanice Mogaka. I was stunned when she said I needed no introduction because she follows me religiously on social media. We exchanged contacts and that was it. We met again the following day and discovered her great passion for Africa. She knew some African leaders and wondered if I was close to President Mahama. I told her we were close enough and she said she knew Mahama was having difficulties selling his amazing projects to Ghanaians as a result of some serious conspiracy. She promised to add her voice to getting Ovation to promote the uncommon transformation in Ghana…
She did as she promised and the President told me several people told him Ovation could make a huge impact by telling the staggering stories of his work. We met and discussed in June, just a few months to the presidential election. We were convinced the story needed to be told. And when it came, it was with every sense of humility that we approached it. It would transport us to every region in Ghana, at great risk but we were undaunted. We worked very hard, against all odds. JDM is a rare being. He believes so much in Africa and refused to be blackmailed that Ovation is a Nigerian or “foreign” product. Our friendship blossomed.
Though he lost his second term bid, he never lost his composure and sense of patriotism. There were so many lessons I learnt. His tolerance is remarkable. He conceded defeat pronto and congratulated Nana Akufo-Addo. In all our recent encounters, he promised to give his maximum cooperation to the new administration. He has worked out his future plans already.
I was honoured when he invited a few of us days ago to his expansive farmlands in Akosombo. We toured his poultries and we could see the fire of readiness in his eyes. He hopes to have one of the biggest in Ghana. Knowing him now, I know he can achieve it.
JDM is such a wonderful soul. May his tribe increase in Africa…
TO BE CONTINUED…
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