Prime News Ghana

An evening with the President

By Vincent Ashitey
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The message from the Presidency was brief. “Your meeting with the President will be on Wednesday, 5 p.m. at Jubilee House.”

Even though it was long in coming, I could not resist the excitement of the meeting with the President of my host country. I thought of what to wear.

My native Agbada, a three-piece English suit, my newly purchased Ghanaian smock or an adire top with a pair of jeans trousers...the list was long and varied.

As I prepared for the meeting, it suddenly dawned on me that after Presidents J. J. Rawlings and John Kufour, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo would be the third Ghanaian President that I would be visiting.

In addition to the above statesmen, in my long and modest careers as a Writer, Member of Parliament and Medical Doctor, I have had the privilege of shaking hands with a sizeable number of African Heads of State.

Presidential acquaintances

Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Muammar Ghadaffi of Libya, Yakubu Gowon, Ibrahim Babangida, Shehu Shagari, Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, all of Nigeria, Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia, Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti and Muse Bihi Abdi of Somaliland are among the names on my still evolving list of presidential acquaintances.

From the mercuric Ghadaffi and J. J. Rawlings to the self-effacing Shagari, Jonathan and Abdi on to the boisterous Obasanjo, Babangida and Jammeh, as well as the avuncular John Kufour and Omar Guelleh, each ‘numero uno’ were alike in different ways. To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina, “All happy Presidents are alike; each happy President is happy in his own way.”
Perhaps my most memorable, if not disturbing visit, was to the then President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia. As a member of the team working on a USIS Project on HIV/AIDS, I visited the President in Banjul in 2008. 

To my utter chagrin, Jammeh informed my team that we were not needed in the country since he had invented his own miracle cure for the virus using a mixture of herbal medicine and spiritual healing techniques. 

Even more bizarrely, he said the cure only worked on Thursdays and Mondays. Expectedly, an unknown number of HIV-positive Gambians later died from the phoney prescription, sparking off a worldwide condemnation of the then President.

Accra visit

Unlike my Banjul trip which I undertook as a Medical Doctor, on this visit, my call at the Seat of Government in Accra will be in my position as a Writer, more specifically as the current Secretary General of the Pan African Writers Association (PAWA), the umbrella body of African Writers Organisations. 

In line with this, my gift bag to the President was filled with books and magazines authored by African writers. 

Also included was the PAWA’s medal of the Grand Patron of The Arts (GPTA), which had been previously awarded to the President in absentia at the PAWA Congress that took place in Nigeria in 2022. I planned to formally decorate the President with the medal during my visit.

Twilight was setting and the Accra skyline was bathed in a golden luminous glare of the receding hot afternoon sun when I arrived at Jubilee House that glorious August evening. Built on the site of the demolished former Presidential palace called the Flagstaff House, Jubilee House was said to have been built to mark Ghana’s 50-year independence in 2007. 

As I made my way to the entrance of the Presidential Palace, my mind went back to the time when the Flagstaff House, which was made famous by Ghana’s first President, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, was still standing on the same grounds. History has it that on February 24, 1966, soldiers stormed Flagstaff House as part of a military coup that ousted Nkrumah, who was away for a meeting of the Non-Alignment States in Vietnam.

Arrival at Jubilee House

After a series of security checks, I was ushered to the top floor Presidential waiting room. “The President will see you, shortly”, an aide informed me as I sat in the Spartan waiting room.
Unlike my previous Presidential encounters with crowded waiting rooms usually full of security men, political party faithful, contractors and diplomats, I was surprised that only three people were in the spacious waiting room. Tucked in a corner of the room was a television set from where the evening news was being relayed. 

The news items were not too good. They were mostly about global inflation, unemployment, floods, migrant problems, high food prices, riots, as well as the military coup which took place in the Niger Republic just about two weeks before my visit. From Asia to Africa and Europe on to the Americas, it was one bad news after the other. It was as if the whole world was in the grips of a violent economic and social earthquake.

I was still reflecting on how difficult it must be to be a President of a country at such a time when I heard my name being called.

“Dr O-k-e-d-i-r-a-n, is that right?’’ a tall, middle-aged lady said, struggling with my name. “Perfectly pronounced,” I replied as she broke into a smile and asked me to follow her.

After a short walk along a labyrinth of corridors, she opened a door and ushered me into the presence of the President. He was alone in the cavernous office, sitting behind a large table piled with files and documents.

To be continued


By Dr Wale Okediran