Adieu, Old Major!

Tue, 26 Jan 2010 Source: Sodzi-Tettey, Sodzi

Tribute to Major (Rtd) Courage Quashigah

He’s a hero, now that he' s dead

When he was alive, he didn’t get this love

You never miss your water, till your well runs dry

Give thanks and praise all the time

Lucky Dube

For me, it is quite atypical to do multiple pieces on one man. And yet, as it is, with the sad passing of Major Courage E.K Quashigah, my friend and former Health Minister, it would appear that I am left with no choice in the matter of bidding him a fitting farewell.

And yet as far as tributes go, I am able no longer to examine his legacy in health, having done that to great depths many times already. Beyond the trap of monotony however, it really is the little memories, those personal moments, the buried reflections and funny recollections that come readily to me more than anything else. Also, if Major’s death is going to be accompanied with so much public sorrow, if the Daily Graphic is going to be describing him as “one of the country’s most respected politicians” and if Citi FM’s Shamima Muslim is going to town with superlatives like “a Minister who was dearly loved,” then why succumb to the regrettable trap of withholding love till the event of death? Why wait for the man to die before telling him how much you loved him? Maybe it is a reflection of the fact that perhaps, we don’t celebrate people enough, don’t tell our friends and relations we love and appreciate them enough and then all too soon, they drop dead and then we either find ourselves gushing with praise or inwardly cursing ourselves with profound regret for withholding affection.

I am very sure Major Quashigah would have lapped up every bit of the lavish public affection being showered on him in the event of his demise. Henceforth, as far as possible, I will refrain from writing tributes with a new policy of celebrating people before they die. In any case, writing tributes almost always leaves me a little depressed.

As far as the memories go, perhaps it is best to start from the very beginning in 2005. I had at the time led a delegation of Junior Doctors to congratulate him on assumption of office as the Minister of Health and to use the opportunity to advance certain pressing concerns from our ranks and in the interest of the larger health sector. What won Major Quashigah immediately over was the forthrightness with which we spoke. We had also done some serious background check on his commendable initiatives and activities in the Agricultural Ministry which also impressed him no less. Midway through the delivery prefaced with the caveat that what I was going to say was purely factual with no intended flattery, he took one look at a senior Professor invited to sit in and said, “I wish the President could hear you say these good things about me.” He then commended us for coming very highly prepared with detailed information beyond what he had come to know as courtesy calls paid to Ministers.

He later confessed, “You know what? Ever since I became Minister of Health, I have been sitting here in this chair, receiving delegations upon delegations coming to pay courtesy calls and to congratulate me. I am really beginning to wonder how much time I would get to actually do the work given to me by the President.” With that he revealed a deeply insightful side and an ability to stay in the present while not losing sight of the big picture in the future.

Of course, my harsh criticism of his handling of certain aspects of doctor-employer relations is all a matter of public record. Typically, he would watch silently while the health labour front boiled and then in a later meeting, critique the harsh tone used in an interview or of some letter which we had written to him. He would then call for greater caution in the future concerning what words we chose to document our concerns. He was often very calm about these things and considered himself a father of all the health labour unions. “Have you ever seen a father fighting publicly with his children before?”, thereby providing insights into his philosophical basis for not yielding to endless opportunities to respond publicly to our real concerns. Other times, he would make somewhat controversial public statements clearly undermining our cause and yet actually act surprised when he was taken on. Like a great tactician however, you could never tell from his visage whose argument from the health labour front was swaying him most. Inevitably though, he would always try to put a fine soldier’s face to it. Nothing was personal. Everything was business.

The celebrated ranger and fine military intelligence officer that he was, Major Quashigah had this panache of strolling into the lion’s den of the Annual General Conference of the Ghana Medical Association and delivering his own brand of bombs. For me, these were most pleasurable experiences for he provided ample canon fodder for my trade craft as master of ceremonies. For three consecutive key note addresses over the same number of years, the role of introducing the Honorable Minister of Health fell to me. Not being one to miss a good joke, Major Quashigah would laugh so hard before powerfully delivering an often well-researched and spicy speech. He would speak so well and be similarly so well received by the doctors as if we had never before fought in our entire lives. Afterwards, he would come and whisper to me that perhaps, I was better off considering another profession besides medical practice.

I teased him publicly more than anybody that I can remember. I made fun of the fact that he had mastered “War Studies” of all things at Sandhurst, that an avid admirer had splashed him with superlatives in the Daily Graphic and over his initials “E.K” which I pretended to have great difficulty deciphering. Then in 2007, I said the Ghana Medical Association shouldn’t have invited him seeing how he demolished us in 2006 with his “collective action is the hall mark of professionalism” speech. Come to think of it, the 2006 AGC had had its focus on Environmental Sanitation, Law and Order and Health and yet the old ranger had succeeded in smuggling in a call for doctors to look beyond the confines of advancing their personal welfare and adopt “an activist” approach in addressing the health concerns of the general public. If he could say this when asked to speak on benign sanitation, then he would be far more devastating on Medical Ethics, I reasoned.

O! He was amused! He said he won’t “give it to us” seeing that the GMA by choosing that theme was already giving it to itself. At the November 2008 50th Anniversary AGC with President Kufuor in attendance, Major Quashigah attracted a huge and sustained round of applause after his introduction and after I had roundly lambasted his spies within the medical fraternity who were always at pains to take me on in jest “for always being on the Old Major’s case.” He prefaced his speech with some introductory remarks which left a somber feeling that this would indeed be his last public appearance on the GMA platform. He said “This is going to be my last speech as Minister of Health. Frankly, I don’t know which President is going to appoint me a Minister of Health again.” He knew perhaps more intuitively than a great many others that it was time for him as a person to move on in more ways than one.

His remarkable punctuality always made me nervous. You gave him 900 am to start scientific presentations from the pharmaceutical companies and 1000am to commence actual official proceedings for the opening ceremony. Ever the disciplined soldier, he would be there a few minutes to 900am and actually sit through the presentations which more often than not, might have delayed by a few minutes. Knowing him to be a stickler for punctuality and moderating a delayed programme always made me most uncomfortable which is why where Major Quashigah was concerned especially, though not always successful, I always put in special effort to be punctual.

My last interaction was somewhere mid 2009 when I had a surprising telephone call from the Major after a radio interview. It is unfortunate I am unable to share the conversation.

I am going to miss my friend the Major. I pray the Lord to accept him into His eternal rest.

Sodzi Sodzi-Tettey


Columnist: Sodzi-Tettey, Sodzi

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