Speaker Prof. Oquaye Pays Tribute To J.H.Mensah
Busia was my hero from childhood. I wanted to be like him in every sphere of life.
When he died, I later shifted to Uncle J.H. I admired him to the pith and marrow of every attribute.
He was neat, decent looking every time, manifestly knowledgeable, committed to discipline and dependable as a man.
He never changed his ways nor sought to sup from bowls he disapproved of. His 'yea' was 'yea' and his 'nay' was 'nay'. He was well-trained, well-brought-up and an achiever via knowledge and by dint of hard work.
No wonder he would not suffer fools or opportunists nor bow to the pittance of any ruler but would stand to his principles at all times, even at the real peril of his life.
Uncle J.H. essentially and initially saw himself as a technocrat “trained to serve” mother Ghana/Africa.
In his student times, J.B. Danquah had seriously objected to the colonial authorities establishing only ONE UNIVERSITY for the whole of British West Africa in Nigeria.
At long last the British caved in and the University College of the Gold Coast was established. J.H. Mensah was among the first batch of students who enrolled in October 1948, having completed Achimota School with Grade One in 1947.
He did both the Intermediate (akin to the Sixth form) and graduated with BSc., FIRST CLASS Hons. in June 1953. Notably, he was a man worthy of emulation.
He was elected President of the Junior Common Room in Legon Hall (Premier Hall).
The motto of the Hall is: “Quod Multum Datum” – Because much has been given unto you much is expected. Uncle J.H. surely embraced this and indeed he gave back to Ghana his all.
Despite his brilliant performance and degrees from London, Stanford (USA) and many others, our hero did not stick to the ivory tower at a time when nation-building and development were beckoning.
He served in the Civil Service as Tax Inspector, Economist at the UN, and during the Nkrumah Regime, in producing Ghana's Seven Year Development Plan.
While serving his nation with formalistic impersonality as a civil servant, he was invited by Dr. K.A. Busia into party politics.
He was the one man the visionary Busia wanted as Minister for Finance and Economic Planning at all cost.
At that time, the 1969 Constitution provided that Ministers of State had to come from Parliament.
Busia virtually had his Cabinet in mind (including J.H. as Finance Minister, Prof. Sai for Health, A.A. Munufie for Rural Development etc). Tragically, Prof. Sai did not win his seat at Osu and that chance was lost.
Busia spoke with two leading Sunyani politicians who were contesting the seat to step down for J.H. They did. One later was made Ambassador and the other, another high position. J.H. was on the way to chalk one of the most brilliant political careers in Ghanaian history.
There are times when a visionary leader, clearly identifying which square pegs must be put in unique square holes, must be listened to, in the process of political shuttling, processing and placements.
Busia was great indeed and he could identify talent from afar.
Uncle J.H's sterling performances in Parliament and in government are presented in other letters of gold in other tributes and I do not intend to belabour the points in that connection any further.
But let me engage in reminiscence awhile. It was the latter part of May 1967. I was a final year student and immediate past JCR President of Akuafo Hall. I had been invited by Prof. K.A. Busia to High Tea late afternoon at Ford Foundation Flats where the Professor had an apartment.
When I got there, the Professor was with his wife Naa Markor, who called me “mi nyemi” – my young brother – a title I acquired till her death and J.H. Mensah who instantly preferred to punctuate his discourse with me in Ga, and continued till death.
Indeed, one day I will meet him in heaven, I believe, and he will speak to me in Ga.
What had occasioned this visit? During this period in Ghana's history, the NLC was in power and Busia and others had called for a return to civilian rule. In the first week of April one Kuduadzi wrote a scurrilous article against Busia for calling for a “pre-mature” return to civilian rule.
Others joined in and the Editor of the Ghanaian Times Mr. Amamoo wrote a strong editorial against Busia's views. The debate was heated. Together with a classmate and hallmate Ayisi-Okyere, I wrote an in-depth reply upholding Busia's position: “Busia, His Critics and Reason” published in the Ghanaian Times 10 April 1967.
Busia discussed this at length with J.H. for their reasons and the meeting followed.
Exactly one week after the publication, on April 17, 1967, the abortive Arthur coup was staged killing Kotoka. There was an attempt to arrest me in Legon though I knew nothing of the coup attempt.
The important thing is that I had the opportunity to sit at high tea with J.H. Mensah who schooled me on issues of development from A-Z.
A day I will never forget! Very soon Pro Danquah-Busia lectures were held in Legon and it was a joy to be a central figure and with Uncle, J.H. doing the main lecturing with Dr. Jones Ofori Atta et al.
Next, it was the year 2003. I was Ghana's High Commissioner to India. India had formed Team 9 as a group of nine African Countries to be given special assistance by India.
Team 9 had started on bi-lateral terms and Ghana was having a special favour. It appeared that a multilateral approach was now emerging where African nations will take from a common pot donated by India.
I did not like this development at all, for the sake of my Country Ghana. I was known for telling people – I talk for Ghana, please. I am not a High Commissioner for Africa. President Kufuor asked Hon. J.H. to come and lead the Ghana delegation, great decision.
When my boss arrived I was at the airport to meet him. I took his briefcase. You know his response? “Excellency, you are not holding my bag?” I replied: “I am waiting to polish your shoes”. He laughed.
The following day I reached his door 15 minutes before the agreed time. The “Good Old Boy” was fully dressed, shoes already polished and ready. We shared breakfast in his suite and discussed matters arising. The central issue was: “Bilateral or Multilateral”. He got the issue at once.
The Indians had arranged 5-minute private meeting per nation with their side before the meeting. J.H. took the bull by the horn and made it clear that bi-lateral was the way to go because not all the nations supported India in all their global politics in the same manner.
To treat unequal equally could be unjust etc. For the time being at least, Bilateral won the day and Ghana benefited tremendously including Jubilee House of today.
My wife who knew the family of Uncle J.H., his brothers and sisters (including Mrs. Kufuor) very, very well, and did live next door in Kumasi, told me of the discipline and Godliness imparted in their home.
Their Colonial civil servant father and mother were committed Christians. You could tell the time when you saw Madam Mensah pass by every morning. She was returning from 6 am mass.
A good Christian home with discipline produced very fine children, all of whom have been successful in life.
Parents have your eyes on your children and train them up especially in Godliness.
Goodbye, my master and leader. Your life is indeed worthy of emulation. You are an inspiration indeed to greater works. Those who burn the mid-night candle while others slumber must learn from you. Your heights indeed were not attained by sudden flight.
Rest in Perfect Peace.