An Encounter That Changed My Life
In the early days of 2009, during the second term of the 2008/09 academic year, a very popular, influential political figure and activist in Ghana whose face is seen regularly on our television screens visited his alma mater, Tema Secondary School, to engage and interact with the students. Fortunately for me, I was one of the form one students.
Our population then was a little over 2000 students. At the time, meeting and interacting with this political icon was a moment many ambitious students silently prayed and waited for. We had many other nationally influential anchorites who graced the school from time to time to engage students anytime they were invited to their alma mater. That they did without hesitation.
As part of preparations by the then Temasco Management Board to celebrate the school's 50th Anniversary in 2011, in a grand style, many old students were brought on board way before the year for the school's Golden Jubilee Celebration. It was fantastic drawing inspiration from the experiences many great anchorites shared with us.
Apparently, our Guest Speaker was invited by the then headmistress, Mrs. Elizabeth Ama-Asare. Our headmistress who is currently on retirement is an embodiment of all that we needed as students. We are proud products of her grooming. And we're grateful to her and the entire staff of the school for training us to become responsible citizens, not spectators.
After the "big" man confirmed his preparedness to come despite his busy schedules and the late notice, and official announcement made, campus instantly was electrified by the good news. The news of his coming swept through the school like wild fire in harmattan season in Kwahu Afram Plains where I was born, bread and raised.
If not all, and if not majority, at least, for those who watched him on television severally and wanted to meet him in person were happy, very happy! I was one of those students. Because I couldn't hide my joy, I quickly went to the phone booth and phoned my dad. I told him about the development and he was happy about it, too.
The day finally came, a fateful wednesday morning. At the scheduled time, we gathered at the school's multipurpose dining hall where most of such gatherings and interactions are held.
Our dining hall is multipurpose because it was and still is, the biggest hall within the four corners of Temasco, a school situated close to the Greenwich Meridian, also known as Longitude Zero Degree, an imaginary line that divides the globe into Eastern and Western Hemispheres, passing through Community 5, unarguably, the center of Tema, the harbour city of Kwame Nkrumah's Ghana, in West Africa, on the continent called Africa.
The hall doesn't just accommodate students for dining purposes, it is the venue for mid-week morning service and all other important school programs. I sat glued to my seat and was ready with my ear, pen and diary to listen and write down salient points our guest was going to share with us, however, I never took any note. Shocker right?
When he finally mounted the podium to speak after he was introduced, the auditorium went quiet, as quiet as my village cemetery at dawn and dusk, and one could hear the drop of a pin from within the corners of the hall irrespective of where they sat. Without being told, one could realize how ready and determined the teenage boys and girls were, to listen to their mentor or someone important.
Without hesitation, he thanked management for the opportunity granted him, and showed his deepest appreciation. He acknowledged two other dignitaries he came with, after which he asked us ONLY THREE questions.
It is on the back of our responses to these questions that he preached. I am sure he was given a topic to speak on, but I suppose the big man ignored it and decided to do his own thing when he got the platform.
He started by saying, "Let me see your hands and I want to see only those who mean it because the questions I'm about asking you are not questions you should joke with". He repeated it twice more with much emphasis. He sounded very serious!
I noticed that our guest was there for business, something unusual, an encounter that may be memorable, and I needed to listen with rapt attention than I initially thought.
There was momentary silence, a long pause, and then he proceeded to ask, "How many of you want to be President of Ghana in the future?". He counted up to five (5) hands in the air, and then stopped counting.
He asked further, "How many of you want to be Regional Ministers in the future?". He counted up to fifteen (15) hands, and then stopped counting. Lastly, he asked, " How many of you want to be Members of Parliament in the future?". Again, he got over twenty (20) raised hands.
There comes another long pause, another momentary silence lasting about fifteen seconds... He slowly and effortlessly turned 180 degrees right, making it possible for him to face and address the dignitaries at the high table... And these are the words he uttered.
"Madam Headmistress, we have a very big issue on our hands as a country to urgently deal with. The earlier we start confronting and addressing it, the better it will be for us all, else 20 to 30 years from now, Ghana wouldn't be a good country to live in. Maybe, some of us will not be alive to witness the happenings of that era but we have to start talking about it now."
And then he slowly redirected his focus on his teenage audience. According to him, before December 2008, he'd visited more than 50 of the nation's top notch senior high schools, 10 public and private universities, 15 teacher and nursing training colleges, 5 polytechnics (now technical universities) and some other vocational schools. The trend, the statistics, his observations make him get worried each passing day.
"I asked these three questions in each of these schools that hosted me, and had very similar number, almost the same number of response from my audience, and this to me, is a very worrying issue that needs attention - same questions, different audiences, almost same number of response in each category", he observed.
He revealed that from 1957 to 2009, fifty-two (52) years post independence, Ghana had had only 10 Heads of State and Presidents. Sixty-two (62) years after independence, the country can boast of only 12 Heads of State and Presidents. In every 4 years, there are 230 (now, 275) Members of Parliament in Ghana. And most of them have and will serve for more than two terms!
We have only 10 (now, 16) regions in Ghana. Ideally, in every 4 years, Ghana should have 20 (now, 32) Regional Ministers and their Deputies except only when the president decides to do otherwise by changing them all or firing some and replacing them with others in the middle of the 4-year-political journey.
He argued that evident by his observation, if in Temasco, out of every 2000 students, the school can truly churn out 5 potential presidents of Ghana, 15 regional ministers, and 20 MPs every 3 years (because it's a gathering of form 1-3 students), then one can imagine how many presidents, regional ministers, and MPs Temasco alone out of the over 700 senior high schools in the country, will be producing for Ghana.
Same and higher statistics were observed in almost all the schools he was privileged to have visited. It is therefore not a Temasco problem, it's a national problem.
His concern is not only the unrealistic goals of the students but the greediness, wickedness, evil desires that accompany such unrealistic dreams when desperation sets in. His concern is, in a country where the younger ones dream of only becoming politicians, that country has no future. His concern is, politics is not a career as they were deceived to believe, and people should not go to school with the sole aim of becoming politicians.
His concern is, not all that glitters is gold. His concern is, scenes behind the political scene are not good enough scenes. His concern is, politics should and must not be anyone's primary occupation. His concern is, in the developed world, training people to become politicians is not the priority. His concern is, the increasing thievery and corruption in the political space in Africa specifically is because most politicians have no other job aside politics.
To drum home his message, he used himself as a reference point. A nostalgic feeling of his high school days brought him on his knees, literally. On stage, he started losing his composure. To him, the worst decision of his life was made just after completing high school. And that's his decision to pursue politics as a career. For him, leaving politics now is not an option because his life and that of his nuclear and extended family depended on it for survival.
When he mentioned the total number of unsuccessful assassination attempts on his life, and explained how he narrowly escaped some of them, I was alarmed and had goosebumps all over my body and my heart skipped beats. I had tachycardia lasting several minutes.
He disclosed how most of his friends, top notch politicians confided in him how they cry in their closet almost daily, how they regret making politics their primary occupation, how their lives are in danger, the number of assassination attempts they narrowly escaped, how bitter and unhappy they are inwardly but appear cheerful and better outwardly because they ought to. How the game they play is survival of the fittest by whatever means!
If he had received any proper guidance earlier, if he had studied harder, if he had met truthful people in life earlier to tell him about life's journey and particularly politics, he would have been better informed, he would certainly have chosen a different career path.
"What is the use of being a top politician when you continually live in fear of dying the next moment, morning or each passing day because you don't know where the next attack on your life is or may be coming from? Is that the life you wish to live?" He quizzed.
He touched on the countless number of times they (politicians) turn lies into truth and truth into lies just to score political points! And then asked whether we (the students) are interested in living such lives.
Digging deeper, he explained how some mighty men and women he knew fell along the way. Why they shouldn't have suffered such fate but politics made them suffer such tragic fate. At this point, one could feel tears in his voice.
People, people are not happy, don't ever be fooled, not all that glitters is gold!
It was a frightening solemn encounter. It was a sad teary day for our iconic guest. Before our very eyes, he broke into tears. He cried in front of us like a baby. He was consoled but appeared inconsolable. He couldn't stand on his feet.
His heart was heavy, his eyes turned red though he didn't sniff pepper or weed, his strong emotions weighed him down completely. An encounter that should have lasted for more than an hour, lasted for about only 25 minutes.
I know there's more he wanted to share, more he wished he could tell us but not at that time. It was a sad day for some of us the students too because a supposed interactive encounter turned into a "sober-teary" one.
No one expected such sudden turn of event and for a Guest Speaker of such calibre to break into tears, tears he couldn't control after several attempts, in the presence of his teenage audience left some of us in confusion.
I left the auditorium sad in my spirit and with many silently worrying unanswered questions on my mind. I exited the hall more confused than I entered. Why was he crying? Why can't he simply just stop if he doesn't like it? Why does he have to cry in his closet almost everyday?
Why do you have to keep telling lies if telling lies makes you feel uncomfortable within? Why would you exchange your inner joy, peace and happiness with politics? Why do you have to live your life in danger because of politics? These were but a few of the questions knocking each other in my frontal lobe.
Did my confusion continue for months? No, though it continued for weeks. Sometimes, the best way to teach people is to leave them confused! In their confused state, they will try to find out more, and by doing so, they will find answers to their worrying questions.
Aside from the politicians, there are many very frustrated, unhappy, mentally struggling professionals walking about looking happy on the outside. The politician cannot quit politics because other frustrated, unhappy, mentally struggling professionals have also not quit their job!
Before you take that entrenched position of venturing into that particular profession you're doing everything humanly possible to go into, try and make the effort to ask relevant questions, engage relevant people, and do a little relevant research.
Get close to them and you will hear things you don't want to hear and wish to experience any day in life. If people had exposed themselves to a little truth early and had had some proper career guidance encounters with truthful persons early in life, they would have felt much better on the inside and would not have ended where they are today.
Fast forward, a decade later, I read a research finding that was published in May, 2018, on Medscape. Medscape is a recognized site for updated, useful, important medical information. Within the medical community, Medscape is a popularly reliable site. It was a research that assessed suicide rate among all professionals.
Among the many professional groups sampled, the findings revealed that physicians are the professional group with the highest rate of suicidal attempts. And they mostly succeed in their attempt because of their exposure to lethal weapons. Theirs is not hanging themselves with rope or stabbing themselves to death with knife or sharp objects, theirs is usage of lethal weapons!
So you see it's not only politicians that are frustrated?
It is an encounter that changed my life because it was an encounter with reality, it was an encounter with uncomfortable raw truth, it was an encounter that prompted me to think deeply before making a lifelong career decision, it was an encounter that made me aware of the fact that it is my duty to ask relevant people relevant questions before venturing into anything, it was an encounter that revealed that my inner peace, joy and happiness are more important than money and fame.
It is an encounter that changed my life because it was an encounter which clearly showed that there are people we strive and aspire to be who think of themselves as big failures, it was an encounter that revealed that not all that glitters is gold, it was an encounter that showed that behind the scenes are many untold, unpleasant, uncomfortable stories, it was an encounter that made me know that behind the cheerful smiling faces are traces of tears day and night.
Before you force yourself, your ward or relative into becoming that which you want to become or what you want them to become, think twice, and if possible, thrice! Oftentimes, we chase after many things and only realise in the end that, it's actually the wind that we're chasing.
Wondering who this politician is? Thing is, he's still actively doing politics, and for this reason, he must remain anonymous in this piece.
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