The first time I came into close proximity with John Mahama, he was Communications Minister and I was graduating from the Ghana Institute of Journalism. It was a bright, sunny afternoon in August 1999.
When I say “close proximity”, I mean he was on the glorified dais and I was sitting on the very back row of plastic chairs rather close to the main washroom at the tiny GIJ campus. From his speech, I took away one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been blessed with: always read in the toilet.
All the time I was schooling in GIJ I was living quite rough with no place of convenience of my own. Whenever nature called, I responded, like Moses, by heading to the bush. So on John Mahama's advice, I vowed to work hard, get me a nice washroom and do as much reading there as I can. I am happy to report that when nature calls these days, I don't rush to the bush but to one of my favorite spaces in my humble abode. And if I have to rush into that space without any reading material in my hand, I feel I am betraying him.
Sometimes, reading in the loo also means blocking or delaying other people's need to, you know, 'download'. They often don't take kindly to these delays, particularly if nature's call becomes insistent. I have been tongue-lashed for this habit by a good number of people but whenever they complain, they only remind me of that humid August day in 1999 when John Mahama literally told me to s*** and read!
So you can say that John Mahama pops up in my thoughts every now and then. But it's not all because of the advice he gave to my GIJ graduating class. When I first set eyes on him and observed his comportment and the easy manner in which he appeared to be schmoozing with everyone, I got the feeling that this was one gentleman who could one day become president. He is now.
But, I never imagined he would get into the highest office in Ghana so soon and certainly not in the circumstance of the untimely death of the man to whom he deputized. That doesn't matter much because now he is fighting to stay on as president in the way I imagined he would – canvassing for votes, selling his vision for the nation and testing his popularity. He is contesting against seven others but none of them matters as much as Nana Akufo-Addo.
I first came into close proximity with Nana Addo when I was reporting from parliament for Joy FM in 2001. He was Attorney General and his elegant suits made him look the part. He spoke so eloquently and carried himself like he was already president. He had certain airs around him and I felt he was snobbish. One day, he gave me a taste of his snobbery, proving me right. It was the day the National Reconciliation Bill was passed.
The acrimony in The House was palpable, NDC MPs staged a walk out and the NPP majority, as they say, had its way. As I was filing a live report on Joy FM from the corridors, I saw Nana Addo walk out of the chamber so I ran after him to essentially ambush him for an interview but he went into the washroom. I rumbled on with my live report until Nana Addo finally came out of the washroom. I signaled for him to stand still, in a “stay where you are” manner.
The Attorney General stopped in his tracks for me.
All this while, I was still talking on the phone and I'm pretty certain he knew what I was about. Then I introduced him and posed a question with a rather regrettable lengthy preamble. He patiently listened to it all but instead of answering the question, he just turned and walked away – into the chamber. I felt dazed. I almost collapsed. Granted that my question was probably a daft one but that was classic Nana Akufo-Addo, as he has helped his opponents to cast him in the eyes of the public – elitist, snobbish and arrogant. In my embarrassment, I took consolation in the fact that he had confirmed what I had always thought about him! But that incident, my embarrassment notwithstanding, didn't take away the distinct impression Nana Addo sowed in my head much earlier that he was a man who could also be president someday.
I never imagined that Nana Addo's ambition to be president would ever clash with John Mahama's. I thought they were on two completely different trajectories. In my mind, probably, Nana Addo was supposed to be president first, followed years later by John Mahama. But the destinies of great men are not crafted in my head and if the NPP had not screwed up in the first eight years of the millennium, I would have been proved right. Nana Addo lost the 2008 elections because the NPP were snubbing Ghanaians like Nana Addo snubbed me in parliament. I believe that 2008 was not a vote for Atta Mills but a vote against Nana Addo and his ilk.
Sadly, Atta Mills also messed up for the most part until he died. He was a well-meaning man, no doubt, but he didn't have a strong enough grip on power – probably because he was not in good health. May his soul rest in peace. Wherever he is, I'm pretty sure he wants John Mahama to win.
The problem, however, is that Atta Mills' loose grip on power (he was hardly decisive), his failure to rein in the hardline, belligerent elements within the party (Anyidoho was the proverbial bull in a China shop) as well as all the consequent chaos (the toilet seizures for example), the corruption ('Munkyinga' and Woyome) and the incompetence (Zita, please!) all combined to diminish the NDC's potential to retain power. To make matters worse, Mills who was touted as a unifier, a man of peace, ended up superintending the biggest schism in the party's history, alienating the one man all NDC supporters love to gather around – Jerry Rawlings. Where would the NDC be without Rawlings?
Mills' prospects for re-election were not looking very good when he died. If he were the one standing for re-election against Akufo-Addo I would offer every limb of mine in a wager that the NDC would lose. But then, suddenly and sadly, he died – primarily because both he and the NDC were not honest with Ghanaians about his state of health. The fortunate thing for the NDC, paradoxically, is that when Atta Mills died he gave the party a chance to re-sell itself to the Ghanaian electorate. Instead of being a blow, Atta Mills' death essentially became the best thing the NDC needed to stay in power. John Mahama has made the best of it and with incumbency advantage (and that Hassan Ayariga man) on his side he has every right to hope that he might win. I have my doubts, however.
From where I sit, freezing my ass off near the North Pole, I am yet to get any firm indication what John Mahama's vision for the country is – except that tired, stale, moldy slogan, “a better Ghana.” Mills messed that up big time and wasted all the political capital it brought. The only message I get from Mahama is his non-message – the counter-arguments against Nana Addo's ill-conceived promise to deliver free secondary education. I have also heard the non-issue of him being youthful. And that gives him an advantage how? Is it a marathon? I don't get it.
On on the basis of his lack of a cogent, believable message, I think Mahama is going to lose – even if by a smaller margin than I would have envisaged for Mills. Secondly, in the history of Ghana's Fourth Republican democracy no one (except Rawlings) has won the presidency at the first attempt. As for Rawlings, Ghanaians had little choice than to vote for him. But Kufuor had to try twice. Mills wasn't spared that ordeal and he had to try thrice, even when the electorate knew he wasn't in good health. And Nana Addo is making a second attempt. That's a lesson Ghanaians will not allow Mahama to escape. Plus, there is that little matter of electricity crisis, euphemistically referred to as “load shedding” to conceal the incompetence of everyone involved – including the president. Asking people to vote for you when they blame you for making them sleep in the darkness, the sweltering heat, tempering their libidos, is a really a tough sell and I don't think Mahama has done a good job dealing with the issue of the blackouts. At best, he and his campaign team have chosen to pretend that it doesn't matter. But it does. And he will be punished for that.
So, instead of sticking out all my limbs, I am prepared to wager only my two tiny little toes that this election will be won by Nana Addo. It will be close but he will win in the first round. This is more of a prediction and less of an endorsement. I don't believe in free things and I don't think Nana Addo can fulfill the promise to deliver free education. I can also recite a long list of promises the NPP made in Kufuor's time that they never even got close to fulfilling. I am, therefore, not endorsing Nana Addo in any way. I just think he would win this time because he has a message, albeit a populist one and the NDC has none. Nana Addo also has greater name-recognition than John Mahama, a first-time candidate and add the fact that the House of Rawlings is not in his corner and things are not looking good for Mahama.
He will lose on Friday but one day, someday he would be president. That's something I can stick my neck out for.