“If you don't want the job, Ghana is not a Police State. Take your passports and get out of this country and don't destroy the country for us. If you cannot sacrifice like what some of us have done, then get out. If the kitchen is too hot for you, get out.” (Brigadier-General Nunoo Mensah Rtd)
A lot of unsavory commentary has been run about what I term the, 'Put up or Shut up' speech made over the weekend by the President's National Security Advisor but for many Ghanaians it struck a sweet and timely nationalistic chord. In a time where political visibility and panache have contrived to drown out the nostalgic feelings of nationalism, it had to take the booming voice of a retired Army officer to overthrow the status quo ante.
And as it was expected the effervescent band of pleasant political commentators and a motley collection of interest groups have weighed in from very angles and persuasions with some taking umbrage at the comments and others calling for the dismissal of Brigadier-General Nunoo Mensah.
For me personally, the sting in the tail was the reaction of the New Patriotic Party (NPP). As the most credible and the most well organized political alternative to the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), one would have expected the NPP to beat a strategic retreat from open commentary on this issue and rather use its tremendous clout to engage in more behind the scene jostling.
It is a shame because in a nation issues that affect our collective interest are expected to be tackled from a nationalistic perspective with an eye on promoting and protecting generations coming after us instead of just playing to the gallery.
However 'in this Ghana that we are living in it' (apologies to 'Woes of a Kwatriot', Professor Kwesi Yankah), we have entertained a situation where in our analysis of issues form have trumped over substance and sadly this sub-culture has waltzed ever so menacingly into the thinking and the posturing of the educated political elite as well.
It was to be expected that organized labour led by the Ghana Medical Association, Ghana National Association of Teachers, National Association of Graduate Teachers, CLOGSAG etc who were directly in the line of the Security Capo's fire would work themselves into a lather to fire back a response just to set the records straight.
Therefore when the GMA, CLOGSAG, NAGRAT et al took to the airwaves to defend their interest or to wrest back their tarnished reputation, many were not surprised at all.
Indeed discerning people would have even accused them for being callous if they had not fired a riposte in the forceful manner that they did. And credit to them for exercising their mandate.
Now it is my turn as a journalist to exercise my mandate and my social contract which is to hold all those who hold public office accountable to the people of Ghana in accordance with Article 165 (5) of the 1992 Constitution.
But let us begin by re-producing the portion of the statement that the distinguished Brigadier-General was reported to have made at the function last weekend.
“If you don't want the job, Ghana is not a Police State. Take your passports and get out of this country and don't destroy the country for us. If you cannot sacrifice like what some of us have done, then get out. If the kitchen is too hot for you get out.”
I agree that on hindsight, the comments might appear a bit harsh and that if it had been well calibrated it wouldn't have come under the virulent criticism it has been subjected to.
That notwithstanding, I believe the moral in his commentary cannot be lost on all discerning people. It has become apparent that at this present moment, the spate of labour unrest has catapulted Ghana into a crisis mode. For a country that began the year 2012 with great economic prospects, the reality today is that our economy is in a tailspin or sorts.
In 2013, due to the unsustainability of our public expenditure we have been downgraded from a credit rating of B+ to B. We miraculously spiraled downwards from the heights of a robust economy to one that is in freefall and this is partly due to the inordinate amount of resources that goes to reward public service workers.
From the foregoing, it is obvious that the budget cannot support or sustain a situation where less than 30 per cent of the population gulps up 70 per cent of recurrent expenditure. This is the height of callousness which cannot hold up anywhere in the world and definitely not in any country where leaders are generational in their approach to thinking and planning for the future.
Need I remind the nattering nabobs of negativity (apologies to Spiro Agnew), that in our country Ghana, 2000 people die annually from road accidents alone. If you were to do the math over a 20 year period, all things being equal, this would translate into 40,000 able bodied men and women this nation has lost just to road fatalities alone. And this is just those who have died. Several thousands have become unproductive as a result of the varying degrees of injury they suffered as a result of road accidents alone.
The tragedy is that in this country called Ghana with our peculiar challenge with high road fatalities, we don't even have a national trauma center where ambulances (in our case taxis, trotros, KIA trucks etc) could ferry the critically injured for a holistic emergency assistance.
In our nation Ghana, the ambulance to person ratio is 24,000 to 1. Isn't this pathetic? This means that as a modern nation-state, all we can boast about is a National Ambulance Authority that has a little fewer than 1000 ambulances for a population of 24 million.
And this is just a cursory look at a segment of the health sector vis-a-vis emergency response and the outlay needed to sanitize the sector.
Until we have come to a point where majority of our people are encouraged to coalesce around nation building issues like promoting and protecting the national economy; promoting and placing the national interest over personal, parochial and political interests, this nation would continue to stagnate and we would not need the respected Brigadier-General to read us the riots act-we would all advise ourselves and leave for pastures further afield.
At the rate at which things are escalating in this country, there is a clear danger of the situation sliding inexorably into a full blown crisis. And this could happen if all the actors empowered by the 1992 Constitution to govern our democratic enterprise (experiment in our case) fail to rise above sentimentalism and parochialism in their analysis of national issues.
We are collectively mandated to encourage and to create space and latitude in this constitutional enterprise for hard hitting commentary of the kind that was made by Brigadier-General Nunoo-Mensah.
Such commentary is meant to shock the system in the short term but then provide a cathartic value in the long term. Due to several truncations of civilian rule, Ghana is barely recovering from years of institutional decadence that has promoted and rewarded a culture of mediocrity and entitlement and until there is a shock in the system, the status quo we are all not proud of would continue to fester.
We all thought that the notion of coups in Africa had been consigned to the dustbin of history until we witnessed the people led uprisings in the name of the Arab Spring and other armed insurrection in other countries. Ghana is not immune to these situations and it is in the interest of the political elites on both divides of the political spectrum to get off their high horses and work for the people.
We live in interesting times. And the demands of the time call for clear heads and not befuddled reactions to an honest commentary of the state of the nation made by one of the nation's most experienced political actors.
Befuddled reactions only tend to further stoke the already charged political atmosphere in a country that is barely holding together from the aftermath of a closely fought electoral cycle decided by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision.
To all the nattering nabobs of negativity in this country let me address you guys personally. This is not a lesson in civics neither is this article aimed at only stirring up some nationalistic fervor in you. It is about protecting the future of our children.
It is about building a nation that we can all be proud of. A nation we can call home. A nation because we are a people who believe that what we have belongs to the ancestors, the living and the yet to be born.
For this reason we should not just sit back and watch our nation crash and burn on the altar of political expediency and the personal comfort of the few at the expense of the majority.
To the political elite we demand that you make sacrifices for the sake of the future of our dear nation. Something must give and we expect the downsizing to begin at the very top of the political pyramid.
If the people see sacrifices at the very top of leadership and same is demanded of them I am sure they would gladly oblige. We want our leaders to tell us the truth about the state of the economy. President Mahama should develop the courage to mount the Truth Express bus and to tell it as it is.
We are all tired of leaders who cannot bite the bullet and only paper over the cracks. The culture of short-termism is not sustainable and it is killing this nation. A developing nation like Ghana with all its challenges with health, education, infrastructure, unemployment, high maternal and infant morbidity rates etc cannot afford this kind of leadership.
We have deluded ourselves for far too long. We have swept the rubbish under the carpet for God knows how long and it is time to pull the rug from the floor to see the severity of the mess we have contrived to create over the years so we can collectively deal with it.
If tough talking is what would provide the rude awakening we need to rise up to do the job we have sworn to do for the people of this country let us not be in a hurry to silence it. Rather we should encourage it.
Remember that there would always be consequences for work left undone. The lessons are in a history book near you. God bless our dear nation Ghana.
*The Writer is a freelance journalist, an author and the Executive Director of the Center for Investigative Reporting Ghana (CIRGHA). ([email protected])