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Opinion | Mar 26, 2016

Cutting The Baby In Two

By Alemna Sidsob
The angry chiefs of Bawku registering their protest
The angry chiefs of Bawku registering their protest

1 Kings 3:16-28
The Bible contains numerous stories to illustrate how God used his prophets to solve seemingly complicated issues. Any religious enthusiast will immediately realize the wise judgment of King Solomon in one such story captured in 1 Kings 3:16-28.

But this article is not a Bible Lesson. It has been provoked by a news item penciled by one Edward Adeti and posted online onto the website of Accra based Starr FM and subsequently onto Ghanaweb and other social media circles. The headline screamed, “Bawku: Chaos looms over Ethnic “biased” documentary”.

As someone who has been following issues concerning Bawku and as a concerned citizen of Ghana, the article immediately caught my attention. It concerned a press conference organized by chiefs in Bawku to protest the premiering of a documentary that in their opinion was biased to their cause. But the sad bit about their press conference is its content of threats, of violence, of war and mayhem that might befall the people of Bawku as a result of the premiering of a documentary that they honored.

According to the story, “It’s a recipe for confusion, for war. It has to be retracted. And it can bring conflict. That is why we are telling the nation that they should be aware of these unscrupulous people parading themselves around that they are documenting something for the future. They are trying to create war for the future,” the Chief of Binaba, Naba Akolburi Abaare IV, growled.”

Growled? Really? Like seriously? What could a man have said and in what manner could he have said what he said that a journalist finds no other adjective than “growled” to describe it? Is he a lion? Interestingly, the so-called Chief of Binaba, Naba Akolburi Abaare IV knew of “these unscrupulous people parading themselves around”. Those unscrupulous people came to their “palaces”, and mind you not in masks, but plain faced, sought permission and were granted such permission to interview some of the chiefs who appeared in the documentary. These “unscrupulous people were the same people who extended an invitation to Akolburi and his ilk to be part of the premiering of the documentary

Of course, the mass media has been used in times past to incite people to conflict. The genocide in Rwanda had its roots in unchecked media reportage and broadcasts that ridiculed one ethnic group against the other and eventually inciting and encouraging physical and lethal attacks that ultimately blew into a full genocide.

For this reason, it is important that any work of art presented for mass consumption be done professionally and in a balanced manner. And professional, balanced and fair is what the producers of the documentary sought to achieve by including these chiefs in a documentary about Naa Gbewa in the first place. A professional, balanced and fair piece of work is what the producers sought to achieve by ensuring the chiefs who organized the press conference were given a voice and were present for the premiering in the first place. If you were given a voice and you chose to speak in a manner that gets it abridged and others seize the opportunity to talk “plenty plenty” why must the producers be blamed?

So when people threaten violence anytime something in the media goes against their interest and turn around to use that very platform of the mass media and in a similar or worse manner, leaves much to be desired. What these chiefs failed to realise is that, by their very action, galvanizing their supporters and holding a press conference that eventually got carried on the mass media, they were also guilty of the same crime they are accusing producers of the documentary of. They failed to realize that by their very action, they were inciting their supporters against producers of the documentary by way of their vile threats. They forgot that the producers of the documentary also belong to some ethnic groups whose tribesmen may read reports such as arising from their press conference and act.

The organizers of this press conference are supposed to be chiefs. Chiefs who are representatives of their people. The custodians of their culture and tradition. The protectors of the peace. That is why the story in 1 Kings 3:16-28 immediately came to mind when I read the article. It is a story about two women who claim to be true mothers to one live baby. One of the women had rolled on her baby the night before and killed hers. She then, under the cover of darkness exchanged her dead baby with the live baby of the other woman. King Solomon who presided over this case tricked the two women into believing that he would cut the baby into two and give each woman a piece. The true mother of the baby immediately protested and asked the wise King to keep the baby alive and give it in whole to the other woman. The other woman on the other hand insisted the baby be cut into two. By the actions and intentions of these two women, wise King Solomon knew the true mother of the baby and your guess is as good as mine as to how the story ended.

And so, I thought that these chiefs, already knowing what the premiering of the documentary could do, (assuming this was even true) would caution their people against any acts of violence, chaos or war and then proceed to right the wrongs and correct the perceived bias against them as they claim is portrayed in the documentary and let Ghanaians be the Judge. But no, they chose to cut the baby into two. Could it be that these chiefs stole the Bawku baby under the cover of darkness and as they realize that the truth is catching up with them, want to cut the baby in half? Of cause no true son of Bawku would preach war, or violence or chaos at the least provocation. No true chief of Bawku would want to put the town in turmoil. No true chief of Bawku would paint such a picture of the town to the rest of the country. A country that is getting fed up with so much bad press of the town of Bawku as a result of a protracted chieftaincy conflict.

The chiefs who organized the press conference knew exactly what they were doing. Using the volatile situation of the town to disturb the peace and trick government and the security agencies into continually believing that all is not well so they (the said chiefs) can continue to enjoy government protection to the necglect of the rest of the Bawku township. Government must realize that this puts the town several steps behind from the modest peace milestones the town has chalked.

Now to the documentary whose premiere stirred the hornet’s nest resulting in this press conference. It is a documentary titled “The Forgotten Kingdom? Chronicles of the North…” It is produced by the Chaka Orleans Heritage Foundation (COHF). COHF is non-governmental organisation with keen interest in youth empowerment and the documentation of African history with the belief that when a people know their history they become bound by the past circumstances so they work together to solve their present predicament. Wondering who I am and how I know about Chaka Orleans Heritage Foundation? Well I simply googled them and their blog popped up.

According to the Foundation’s website, “The short term aim of the (documentary) project is to educate Ghanaians especially those from the north about their connections to each other there by promoting peace and unity. The long term aim of this (documentary) project is to raise funds to build a university for the people of northern Ghana to help accelerate development in the area.” And so if indeed they did any background checks on the producers of the documentary, perhaps their press conference would have been more circumspect.

The sad thing is that the alleged chiefs who “growled” rather than dialogue or simply make their case do not come from Bawku and are in no way related to the town except for paying homage to a shaky alleged paramount chief in order to consolidate their own positions.

Chaka Orleans Heritage Foundation had been working on this documentary for a long time and sought various opinions as well as researched the subject to come out with their final piece. They travelled far and wide within the country and across the border in neigbouring Togo and Burkina Faso in an attempt to tell a complete story. Considering the fact that they traced the roots of Naa Gbewaa, the ancestor of Mamprugu, Dagbon, Nanum and Moshie further buttresses the point that they sought to show how related we all are in the north. It therefore defies logic that these chiefs, supposedly identifying themselves as part of the larger Naa Gbewa family saw themselves apart from some others who were also featured in the documentary. They failed to see that the producers sort to portray them as one people along with all the rest who were featured in the documentary. They preferred to growl and break bridges rather than mend as the documentary intended.

There is a saying that, it is wise to listen before you talk or if you must talk at all, then think before you talk. According to Thomas Abilla, secretary to an alleged kusasi traditional council, “Someone also was introduced as Regent of Bawku. In traditional terms, when you have a sitting chief, the regent ceases to function as such. He could have gone in his personal capacity but not as Regent of Bawku. That constitutes an affront on the paramountcy. Once there is a paramount chief, nobody can pose as Regent of Bawku. When they (Mamprusis) went to Tamale, their position as regent was recognised; whereas that is wrong. They interviewed Bawku Naba. He spoke at length. Only a portion was covered. They interviewed Pusiga Naba. He spoke at length. It was abridged. But they allowed the other side to speak plenty, plenty. If you had the chance of watching the video, you would see Iddi Wuni speaking plenty, plenty, Akalifa speaking plenty. There was no fair play,”

Clearly, the agenda of this group of war hungry kusasis is exposed. They call a person “Someone” meaning they do not know the fellow and in the same breath they are able to identify that “someone” along with his entourage as they (Mamprusis). If this group of kusasis attended the premiere in their capacity as members of the larger Naa Gbewa family and shared in the vision of the producers of the documentary to forster peace and unity, why would they see themselves apart from “they (Mamprusis).

What Thomas Abilla failed to say at the press conference is whether his master was introduced at the event or not and if he was introduced how was he introduced. What Thomas Abilla also failed to say at the press conference is why in the first place they were invited and they agreed to participate in an event whose organizers they describe as unscrupulous. What Thomas Abilla failed to tell Ghanaians is whether, apart from Akalifa and Iddi Wuni who spoke “plenty plenty” there were other interviewees in the documentary from outside Bawku who also spoke. What he also failed to tell Ghanaians is what the “plenty plenty” Akalifa and Iddi Wuni spoke was about and the “abridged” interview of his master was also about? Otherwise, it beats my imagination how “plenty plenty” can be “a recipe for War”

Could it be that Thomas Abilla, the person he speaks for and their supporters have decided to make a u-turn and are refusing to aid the filmmakers to achieve their aim of fostering peace and unity among the children of Naa Gbewa or that it was a mistake on the part of the filmmakers to have sought permission from Thomas Abilla and the person he speaks for before interviewing them to speak in an “abridged” manner and include them, an alien tribe as far as Naa Gbewa is concerned, into a story they have no part in?

At the premiering of the documentary, many chiefs and traditional rulers were invited including the Overlord of Mamprugu. Other chiefs represented was the regent of Nanum and none of these chiefs went back home, organized a press conference, threatened war and predict “horrific” outcome for such a war. Why is it that only chiefs from a particular town and his allies feel this way about a documentary whose soul intention is to foster unity and peace?

Perhaps it is high time Thomas Abilla expends his energy into learning and helping the persons he speaks for to understand what it means to be a chief. An example has been set by the other chiefs who attended the documentary premiere. They know that bringing about unity and peace is not in organizing press conferences and threatening war and chaos. They know that speaking the truth is all that matters and are comfortable no matter what part of their interview is “abridged”.

The other sad part of the article is the way and manner in which the newly appointed Regional Minister of the Upper East Region reacted to the press conference organized by the so-called chiefs.

According to the minister, “We would call for the withdrawal of this documentary and for the producers to re-examine it and to come out to apologise if they find that the documentary indeed had touched on the sensibilities of some ethnic groups in the Upper East and Northern regions. I say so because my understanding is that the documentary was not fully played because it could not roll out fully at a SADA (Savannah Accelerated Development Authority) programme in Tamale. I will urge the people of Bawku through the Traditional Authority, the Bawku Naba, to remain calm whilst we take up the matter within SADA and within our region,”

Albert Abongo unfortunately already concluded that what was carried in the press conference was true and joined Thomas Abilla and the perosns he speaks for in their chorus by calling for a withdrawal of the documentary and asking the producers to apologise.

Let me use this opportunity to say that for a member of BONABOTO, a reputable organization that identifies with the larger Naa Gbewa family, to react this way to a press conference leaves much to be desired. I do not know the kind of briefing he got from his predecessor about Bawku and its troubles but such knee-jerk reactions is a huge disappointment. Let Albert Abongo be cautioned about the trickery of Thomas Abilla and his master. Let Albert Abongo wear a father-for-all hat of a regional minister and do his work devoid of partisanship and any other external machinations. Albert Abongo should ask his predecessor about Bawku.

In fact, he should read Thomas Abilla and his master’s press conference again and next time he is in Bawku he should try and ask of the “plenty plenty” speakers and the “Somebody” who was introduced as regent at the said event. He should engage them, listen to what they have to say and then he would be very well informed about Bawku and its dynamics. Albert Abongo, until you do this, you will think yourself chairman of the regional Security Council but in actual fact remain a piece of wood on a chessboard. Remaining a piece of wood on a chessboard does not augur well for a town that has some of its inhabitants like the organizers of the press conference screaming war and chaos anytime something goes contrary to their agenda.

Albert Abongo, be well informed that an election is around the corner and everyone is praying and preaching peace across the length and breadth of this country. Beware of those who see violence and war as a means to legitimizing their illegitimacy. Do not, in an attempt to sympathize with these chiefs, ostracize yourself from the other party in Bawku. They must be commended for their composure and show of maturity in the face of such open vileness and provocation. I shudder to think what your reaction and that of the security agencies you chair would have been if it were that other side that organized this press conference and made all these threats. Do not fall for the theatrics. Beware, Albert Abongo! Beware!

And to Thomas Abilla and the persons he speaks for, true sons and daughters of Bawku know and value the peace they fought hard for and no amount of vile threats will deceive them into your trickery. You will not be allowed to cut the baby in half. The baby will stay whole and alive.

Alemna Sidsob
a lemma Siddons

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