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01.06.2019 Feature Article

The GJA At Seventy (1)

Affail Monney
JUN 1, 2019 FEATURE ARTICLE

“Institutional memory” is sometimes embarrassingly short in this country. So much so that even the organisation that groups together, those who should record our social history — the Ghana Journalists Association– occasionally become guilty of that social vice.

For instance, at the GJA’s first event to launch its 70thanniversary celebrations — gracefully performed by ex-President J A Kufuor — some of the people who played a great role in starting to organise journalists in this country were not publicly mentioned. But there should have been a “libation” poured in their honour, as per tradition.

Martin Therson-Cofie (founding editor of the Daily Graphic) was one of few names that brought back memories of those early days. To be sure, the martyrs of Ghanaian journalism – Tommy Thompson, John Kugblenu and the recently -murdered Ahmed Saule – were acknowledged and mourned.

But they represented journalism in general, whereas there were others before them who specifically contributed towards organising journalists into a coherent group. I value them greatly, because journalists are not the easiest people to pry away from self-interest, egotism and indiscipline into trying to achieve a common goal.

In that sphere, I remember the genial Carl Reindorf (who flitted effortlessly between journalism and public relations) and was a most energetic organising secretary of the early “Press Club”.

Then there was that other very sociable gentleman, Eric Adjorlolo of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, who was our Treasurer.

But the man who was the most visible official of the Press Club was Henry Ofori, our long-term Secretary. He was clubbable, even-tempered, and provided with the ability to dissolve tension by creating laughter. For, he was, of course, “Carl Mutt” of the Graphic and Sunday Mirror; and also, the great humorist known as Cassius Nimbus.

Henry Ofori’s good nature hid a widespread knowledge of world affairs, which impelled him to position the Ghanaian Press Club in the post-colonial world by affiliating to international organisations, such as the International Organisation of Journalists.

Our subsequent exposure to the world at large brought immense rewards: important visitors to Ghana made it a point to come see us at the Press Club. We hosted Malcolm X. Many great African freedom fighters came and drank with us. And we played host to some of Africa’s most distinguished exiles – Sam Ikoku, and Olu Adebanjo, from Nigeria, a guy called Damz from (I think) Niger, and South Africans like Tennyson Makiwane and Alfred Hutchinson.

You can read about foreign countries as much as you like, without getting to know how it feels to be from a foreign country. But sit down and have a chat and that country will annex part of your psyche – especially if its story of struggle was exciting enough, as was the case with South Africa and many others.

By becoming international in outlook, we also strengthened our status at home. For the Ghana Press Club was the venue where the Attorney-General of the time, Geoffrey Bing, exposed a story the London Daily Express had published, which wrongly described a group of prisoners chained together, apparently in Togo, as Ghanaian political prisoners. My guess is that the Daily Express was led astray in a sting operation perpetrated against it by a double agent acting as its stringer in Lome! “Fake news” wasn’t invented yesterday!

It was also at the Press Club that Geoffrey Bing’s successor, Bashiru Kwaw-Swanzy, announced that the Government would not accept the “dichotomous” judgement rendered by the Ghana High Court in which it acquitted Tawia Adamafio, Ako Adjei and others, of treason. Following that statement the Chief Justice, Sir Arku Korsah was sacked, alongside Mr Justice Edward Akufo-Addo (father of our current President) and Mr Justice W B Van Lare.

Yes – the Press Club was often the centre of earth-shaking activity in Ghana, and our Secretary, Henry Ofori, managed to accommodate it all.

By sheer force of his personality, Ofori even turn the so-called “Socialist Boys” whom everyone erected into cardboard figures to be feared and/or detested (Kofi Batsa, editor of the Spark) T. D. Baffoe (editor of The Ghanaian Times) Eric Heyman (Editor of The Evening News) into humans of flesh and blood who drank beer and ate kebabs with us.

Powerful “party media men”, such as the Minister of Defence, Mr Kofi Baako, regained their journalistic love of fun when they were with us. Such men as Yaw Eduful (Press Officer to President Kwame Nkrumah); Cecil Forde (Member of the Publicity Secretariat at Flagstaff House), Kojo Addison, Director of the Ideological Institute.

That did not deter journalists ostensibly “hostile” to the party in power from also frequenting the Press Club. One of these was Sam Arthur (former editor of the Ashanti Pioneer), who got on so well with his erstwhile political enemies that they appointed him the first Director of the Ghana Institute of Journalism.

Others who come readily to mind were Francis Awuku, E K Asilijo, Goodie Anim, K B Brown, Bob Okanta, Regina Addae, Akua Asabeah, Edith Wuver and Patience Carboo-Sumney.

Now, please remember that these were times when Preventive Detention was visited upon anyone suspected of being “subversive” (what an inelegant term!) Yet, we could argue, at our Club House, over almost everything. There was anger at times, and even threats of physical violence. But there were always people good people around to defuse tension and use laughter to prove that man is not made of argument alone.

Journalists today don’t seem to value the virtue of socialising. I go to the International Press Centre often, but there are many journalists I have never met face to face. Well, let me tell them that it was in T D Baffoe’s house that I first heard a record of Dusty Springfield and in Kofi Batsa’s house that I first heard a Beatles song. But if you read what we wrote, you’d think we were eternal antagonists!

TO BE CONTINUED

From Cameron Duodu

Cameron Duodu
Cameron Duodu, © 2019

Martin Cameron Duodu is a United Kingdom-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor and broadcaster. After publishing a novel, The Gab Boys, in 1967, Duodu went on to a career as a journalist and editorialist. Author column: CameronDuodu

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