My special 'father and son’ relationship with Sir John

Fri, 3 Jul 2020 Source: Godfred Opare Djan

It was sometime in June, 2004 that I met Mr. Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, who I later got to know was popularly called ‘Sir John,’ at Kumasi in the Ashanti Region. It was at an event organized by the Office of the Stool Lands Administrator at the Prempeh Assembly Hall and he was the chairman for the occasion. What attracted me, as a young man who was at the event as a journalist representing the ‘Ghanaian Times’ newspaper, was the manner he had dressed and I boldly walked up to him and told him that he was looking extremely good and moved further to introduce myself to him.

After hearing my name, he started a conversation bordering on my late uncle, Ohene Djan, and gave me his card to get in touch with him.

At the event which he chaired, he displayed in-depth knowledge in stool lands issues and interspersed with his presentation with Ghanaian proverbs and Biblical quotations. Eventually ‘Ghanaian Times’ published the event and he featured prominently in the story.

Sir John’s law firm was located at Adum and was closer to the offices of the Ashanti Regional Office of the New Times Corporation and that made me to become a regular visitor to the office and he was ready to receive me any time I visited him. As times moved on, junior lawyers and office managers of the chamber became close to me that I could walk in anytime I wanted to do so.

I lost touch with ‘Daa,’ as I called him, until 2007 when he was the Northern Sector Campaign Manager for Dr. Kwame Addo Kufuor, who was one of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) Presidential aspirants for the 2008 Presidential elections. I was on my way to Osu to meet with a source and at the time I was the News Editor for ‘The Enquirer’ newspaper. I saw ‘Daa’ in front of the Ampomah House on the Ring Road and quickly ordered the taxi driver to stop without thinking of the danger such crude order would pose to other motorists.

It was a reunion with ‘Daa’ and that eventually meant that I had become part of the media for Team Dr. Addo Kufuor, which I graciously accepted. Be that as it may, our candidate didn’t fly at the congress and we had to move on.

Sir John’s journey to become NPP General Secretary

I was constantly in touch with Mr. Afriyie and we always had political discussions which sometimes were very deep because of common understanding and trust between us and it was during one of such discussions that he told me that he wanted to contest to become the General Secretary of the NPP.

He asked me to think about what he had told me and whether I supported the idea or not and I, in turn, asked him to educate me on the permutations he had done and as to whether he will win or not and he straightaway told me that he was going to stage an upset in the race.

One person who was deep in Sir John’s journey to become the NPP General Secretary was Sampson Kwame Nyamekye of Despite Media. Kwame played a bigger media role in the campaign by virtue of the fact that the campaign headquarters were in Kumasi. I was doing the media ‘Mafia’ work in Accra.

The night before the congress at the Kumasi Sports Stadium that saw Sir John winning, he asked that I moved to Kumasi, which I did, Surprisingly, I never saw ‘Daa’ until the morning of the elections and he was exhausted to the core.

His first question was where did you sleep last night and before I could answer him, he had already concluded on where he believed I slept and we laughed. It was there that he asked if I came to Kumasi with a white shirt, as he was going to win the race and truly he won.

After that election, Sir John moved to Accra to serve as the Chief Executive Officer of the NPP and our relationship became tighter than ever. I had become the Deputy Editor of ‘The Enquirer’ and used my position to run stories for Mr. Afriyie, something that amazed top NPP persons because of the political position of ‘The Enquirer’ newspaper.

‘Daa’ did not have a house in Accra and was therefore accommodated at the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) Guest House, adjacent to the Police Headquarters in Accra. I was a regular visitor to the place until he moved to a hotel facility at East Legon and later properly settled at the same East Legon where he lived until he passed away on July 1, 2020.

His home became my home as I could move in and out at my own time because I was always welcomed by everyone in his home.

Sir John lost his bid to be retained as the General Secretary at the Tamale Congress in 2014, although he was sure of winning at that congress. As part of his team, we had done all the work, but the ‘Mafia’ work from the other contestants overwhelmed us just minutes to voting and he could not have said it better when he said ‘FEAR DELEGATES’

After General Secretary

Mr. Afriyie was now a full time Accra resident and a visitor to Kumasi, his birth place, and we were still in our finest moments. He was always with his cousin, Mr. Joe Baffour (Joe Bee), whom I also call ‘Daa.’

‘Joe Bee’ is a super Security Intelligence person and was always there for Sir John and Sir John was always there for him and they stayed together and they treated me as a ‘son.’

In all my discourses with Sir John, he was passionate about witnessing an Akufo-Addo Presidency and would not stop talking about his will to ‘fight’ for Akufo-Addo to become the President of Ghana one day and that came to pass as the NPP won the 2016 elections.

‘Daa’ was one of the first people to organize a victory party which I did not attend for some personal reasons.

When President Nana Akufo-Addo appointed Mr. Afriyie as the Chief Executive Officer of the Forestry Commission, he quickly informed me before it became public and we had lengthy discussions on how I could play my media role to help him to succeed.

Interestingly, I had established ‘The Inquisitor’ newspaper and Sir John was often at the front page of the paper. There are serious debates within political circles as to why Mr. Afriyie was often on the front page of ‘The Inquisitor.’

There were certain personalities at the Presidency who had gone to the extent of peddling falsehood that ‘The Inquisitor’ was for Sir John, something he laughed over. Of course, I as his ‘son,’ there was no way I could set up a newspaper without informing ‘my father.’

As CEO of the Forestry Commission, he was driven by passion to get things done and was a team player as he was ever ready and prepared to work with the last person on the organogram of the commission who should not be in direct contact with him as the CEO.

Visibility of the Forestry Commission was important and crucial to him as he saw that outfit as one of the tools for national development. He was equally mindful of the largest stakeholders he was going to deal with and was ready for the task.

Fatherly role

Mr. Afriyie on every occasion would introduce me as his son to everyone and I was always around him and ready to respond to his call to serve. He had a special way of addressing me and it was sheer delight to receive a call from him.

When I was called in February 2017 that my grandmother, Madam Grace Efua Bedford, was dead at my hometown, Aburi, Sir John was the first person to call me and typical of him, he asked that I come to see him without any delay.

He contributed financially towards the funeral and would not stop asking how far I had gotten with preparations towards the funeral of my grandmother and told me to fall on him in case of difficulties.

Sir John made me form strong ties with the people around him and it was not for nothing that his son, Kwaku Yaw (Strange Name), sees me as his elder brother.

One special thing about ‘Daa’ was the fact that he would not engage with me without quoting copiously from the Holy Bible and speaking with proverbs. He told me that was the best way he could build me morally.

There were times that we could go for weeks without talking to each other because we couldn’t agree on certain things, but, as usual, as a ‘son’ I would crawl back to him.

I hid my terrible cigarette-smoking habit from ‘Daa’ for ages and only confessed to him after I had quit smoking and he saw some changes in my physical appearance and his joy was uncontrollable. He was, however, shocked as to why I could hide that bad habit from him for years.

Sir John signed a cheque for me when I later told him that I had quit drinking alcohol some four years ago and gave me a bear hug at his hall for making him proud, because, to him, cigarette-smoking and drinking of alcohol were debasing.

My last days with ‘Daa’

‘Daa’ called that he had lost his elder sister in Kumasi; I knew the sister as I had encountered her on a few occasions at his home in Accra and he had always been fond of his sisters and spoke of them in our interactions.

Sadly, week after the sad incident, Sir John’s mother also died and so he decided to travel to Kumasi for the “one week” ceremony, something he had hesitated not to observe because of the COVID-19. E tat as it may, he asked that I see him before he travelled to Kumasi for that family assignment, which I did.

At that meeting I told him of how to stand firm as a man because his family and the people of his hometown, Wonoo, were looking up to him. He was astonished with the direction of our conversation that evening at our usual sitting place in his hall. Before leaving his home, he entered his chamber as usual to bring me money and said “expect me back on Sunday” That encounter was the last time I saw Sir John, as I could not see him on the Father’s Day for my usual homage, as he was sleeping when I went to his place and so I left my parcel with his daughter, K.K.

It was the next day that K.K. called that ‘Daa’ was not well and that she told him I was there the previous day. I was constantly in touch with K.K. and Charles Owusu, who were around him, and they assured me that he was getting well.

I was ecstatic when upon my constant checks, K.K. told me that Sir John had eaten and was doing well and responding to treatment.

I slept early this Wednesday, July 1 2020, with my phone on silent only to wake up at about 1:37am to realize that I had missed some 57 calls, I quickly checked my SMS and there was the message that Mr. Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie was dead; I pissed on myself instantly and did not know what to do, as it was not good to call at that ungodly hour. I came to terms that Mr. Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie was gone when I started reading various news items on the internet.

The reality dawned on me that indeed Sir John was gone to his maker and I needed to put myself together and face the day as a man.

Things that Sir John taught me

With the years I spent ‘serving’ Sir John, he taught me how to be closer to God, irrespective of the fact that nobody was righteous. He made me aware that God has purpose for every human being and that I never throw my hands in despair in time of need but rather play.

For him, humility and respect were extremely crucial in all endeavours and he made me understand that humility and respect bring dignity and good things in life.

Sir John taught me to always do things that are within my reach and let go of what were beyond me.

He was fashionable and was always there to appreciate my fashion sense too, claiming that good taste for clothing created opportunities in life.

Mr. Afriyie taught me how important to keep my family together, as the family is the greatest asset to every human and I should be ready to forgive if offended by a family member.

He told me to be mindful of friends who do not share what I was about in life and not to believe and trust friends so much.

Mr. Afriyie was wise, kind and caring to the extent that he would give his last ball of kenkey out and sleep on empty stomach; besides he never had issues with anyone as he was always ready to let go.

Me Wura Papabi, I am forever grateful, you were ‘my Father’ and I will always remain ‘your Son.’

Columnist: Godfred Opare Djan