By Kwasi Adu
Last week Wednesday, I was having my lunch when the newspaper vendor brought in the Daily Graphic. As I scanned through the pages, I saw on its page 18, a headline reading “I am ready to serve in Mahama Government – Haruna Atta”. I nearly choked on my food. I could not believe it. I looked at the calendar to check whether it was 1st April and that, maybe, the Graphic was playing an April Fools Day prank on its readers.
. I asked myself whether it was the same Haruna Atta, who in 2002, fabricated a story that a “senior member” of the media, “not generally known for solvency has recently been discovered by a close associate to be in possession of one hundred and twenty five thousand US dollars in cash”. Later, those behind the rumour, through a carefully orchestrated drip-drip strategy of text messages and dubious phone-ins to radios stations pinned Mr. Kwesi Pratt Jar, the Managing Editor of the Insight newspaper, as the recipient of the alleged $125,000 bribe.
Readers may recall, that in 2002, during the early days of President Kufuor, it was blasphemous and almost a crime to criticize the NPP government. In those days, anyone who criticized the NPP was labeled as NDC or “has been bribed by the NDC”. The only discordant voice in the media against the NPP government was Mr. Pratt. There was therefore a decision to fix Mr. Pratt and damage his reputation for good. That was when the Editor of the Accra Daily Mail, Mr. Haruna Atta, then a member of the dreaded Coffee Shop Mafia, decided to hang Mr. Pratt. The objective was to make him a pariah for saying things about the NPP which they considered only inured to the benefit of the NDC.
By a publication in the 7 October 2002 edition of the Accra Mail, Mr. Haruna Atta splashed a banner headline: “Whose $125,000” in which he alleged that he knew the name and phone number of the “bribed” journalist. This was immediately followed by carefully orchestrated text messages and radio-phone-ins which claimed that Mr. Pratt was the unnamed culprit.
Within two days, the leadership of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), in their eagerness to expose the “bribed” journalist and probably throw him out of the association, charged their Ethics Committee to investigate the matter. All this while, Gina Blay’s Daily Guide was fanning the embers while Mr. Freddie Blay himself, was reported to have informed a friend that indeed, the money to Mr. Pratt was $200,000 and not $125,000. At the same time, other members of the Coffee Shop Mafia were defending the story, saying it was all right for the character assassination to fester without coming out with a name. It was hoooo! in Ghana at the time.
At some stage, Mr. Haruna Atta agreed to reveal the name to the GJA Ethics Committee. When the time came, Mr. Haruna Atta refused to attend the Committee’s hearing to reveal the name.
Earlier, when Mr. Pratt formally wrote to Haruna Atta to mention the name, he replied in his paper: “We have also noted Mr. Pratt's subsequent radio and television hysteria. In our own interest and in the public interest we will stick to our own timetable and methods.” (See Accra Daily Mail, 10 October 2002)
I remember sending an email at the time to Mr. Haruna Atta that it was unethical not to reveal the name. He fired back an angry reply in which he described me as “an intellectual dimwit”.
In March 2003, when the CJA Ethics Committee submitted their report, they concluded that Mr. Haruna Atta had fabricated the bribery story. Angry that Haruna Atta had sent them on a wild goose chase, the CJA asked him to apologise. However Haruna Atta refused to apologise with the comment: ''I am treating it with the contempt it deserves because these people are inured in provincialism and cannot even understand modern techniques of communication. ….. And even if their call for apologies are genuine, they will still be treated with contempt''.
This was ten years ago. Up till now Mr. Haruna Atta has either refused or failed to mention the name of the “bribed” journalist. The least he could have done was to have published that the name and telephone number that he had was not that of Mr. Pratt. He is still walks about in the deepest conviction that he did a great job for the cause of the NPP using what he called “modern techniques of communication”.
Now the same person is not only wanting to say things that would inure to the benefit of the NDC (something he considered as heretic ten years ago), he is prepared and ready and happy to serve as Director of Communications in the office of the President of an NDC government? That was why I nearly choked on my food.
In the days when Haruna Atta was busily assassinating his character, Mr. Pratt could have died of a heart attack out of worry and anxiety. Even worse, a die-hard “all-die-be-die” NPP fanatic could have physically attacked and killed Mr. Pratt. Now the same person, whose activity against the NDC could have ended, not just the reputation, but also the life of Mr. Kwesi Pratt, is going to explain and defend NDC policy and programmes?
I now firmly believe that if I do not die early enough, I will, one day, surely see the cat and the mouse, playing in the same musical band with the cat playing the lead-guitar while the mouse is playing the conga.
Even though President Mahama has decided to form a Union Government, I would be amazed if he would want to have in his top communication team, an unrepentant character assassin and an outright roguish scalawag and liar. In the event that Haruna Atta gets appointed unto the NDC government, can we expect the same sort of mischief-making concoctions that Mr. Haruna Atta is known for? So far, there is no confirmation from the President himself apart from Mr. Haruna Atta’s own attention-seeking “appoint me” propaganda.
Mr. Haruna Atta is reported to have told CITINEWS following the rumour of his intended appointment: “Since morning my telephones have been busy. What I make of it is yes all inclusiveness is something we have all been looking for and so as a principle I think I will support all inclusiveness not because my name has been mentioned in-connection with anything but just as a principle,”
What principle? The same “principle” that propelled him to invent stories that Mr. Pratt has been bribed to the tune $125,000 to support the NDC? If he ever gets paid a salary for being a Communications Director of the President, will Haruna Atta, in his conscience, ever be able to spend that money without having gritty teeth while eating the food that he uses that money to purchase? Will he find it sweet? Will he sleep easy when he thinks that he should falsely malign people whom he considers as NDC?
Obviously Mr. Haruna Atta realizes that, now that the snake that has been cooked, it is now meat, fit for eating. Mr. Haruna Atta says he would serve in an NDC government because he loves the nation “dearly”? No! It looks as if he loves more dearly, the money that he would be hoping to get from the government as a Communications Director. What is it that makes Mr. Haruna Atta not to have the strength of his convictions to stay away from the NDC since he considered them as “evil” only ten years ago?
Mr. Haruna Atta has to be reminded that the current government is not just a “Mahama Government”; it is an NDC government headed by President Mahama.
All I can say is that, the NDC government may want to take note of something that the people say in my village, that “if the big tree allows itself to become moldy, the mushrooms grow on it”.