Whether he inspires you or you despise him, whether you love him or hate to even hear his name, whether you believe what he preaches or just the sight of him on the pulpit makes your tummy turn; there is one fact we can all agree on - Dr. Mensa Otabil is a ‘once in a generation leader’ who has made an extraordinary mark on this great nation of ours.
The empires he has built in the religious arena, education space and in Ghana’s business community will keep his name in the books of history written in indelible ink for a long time to come. For decades even long after he is gone, his sermons will continue to play from the pulpit to the lecture theatres to the libraries. His books will be reviewed by our great-grandchildren and they will come to the conclusion that this man was far ahead of his time.
The numerous young people whose educational dreams have been fulfilled through the scholarship schemes his church has established will continue to mention his name with a lot of warmth and gratitude. Just as those whose lives have been and will continue to be transformed thanks to the university he has established.
And off-course, those who have earned life-sustaining jobs through the chain of businesses he is involved with and the families built out of that will remain grateful to him forever. Including those workers of Capital Bank who will remain as staff of GCB Bank, as well as those who will be laid off.
By any measure, Mensa Otabil is not only a great man-of-God but a fascinating ‘man-of-men’ whose teaching, training, mentorship and direction has helped shape the lives of many across this continent and beyond. He is the kind of person every level headed individual will be proud to have as a family member, a friend or even a neighbour.
When news about two banks in distress emerged some weeks ago, I recall asking George Wiafe of Joy Business who first published the story without naming the banks to tell me the names of those institutions on the brink of collapse. He declined insisting he is doing the stories to help ensure the situation is resolved and not to cause panic.
In my mind, I pictured two banks that I thought the story was about. UT Bank was one, but I never imagined that Capital Bank which has Dr. Mensa Otabil who is unarguably one of Africa’s wisest men as board chairman will be hit by such a situation. So, when I woke up on the morning of Monday 14th August 2017 to news that Capital Bank was gone, I was shocked to the bone.
This is obviously an embarrassing situation for Dr. Otabil and his folks at the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC). And listening to him in church on Sunday, it was clear that the collapse of the bank which himself, his church and some of his pastors have vast shares in, has hit him hard. He obviously would have wished that this cup passed over him.
But the following question has been running through my mind since the story broke: clearly the bank was in distress but why did Dr. Mensa Otabil allow the bank to collapse? There are a thousand and one things he could have done to avoid his name being dragged in the mud as has been the case over the last few days.
We live in a country where influence peddling has virtually become normal in every facet of our society. Those the police arrest simply put through a phone call to someone in authority and they are left off the hook. People without any experience or expertise in business just walk into government offices with a note from one powerful human being and multi-million dollar contracts are handed over to them.
Associates of those in political authority just dip their hands in the national assets register and take over state entities they want, and turn them around for the good of themselves and their families. And if you want one of those positions of power, all you need to do is prove that you have even the thinnest connection with those at the helm of affairs already, and then you will be lifted up to the highest levels. In Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana, if you are highly connected, there is nothing you cannot do except turning men into women and vice versa. I don’t have to mention the specific examples, they are all there for us to see.
Now, whichever way you look at it, Dr. Otabil wields unparalleled influence and power. In a country where religion is the opium of the masses, there can be no more powerful a person in our land than a religious leader whose exploits cut across the business, education, health, and other sectors of our economy. No wonder over the last three years or so, the Ghana’s Most Influential Awards team has repeatedly named him the most powerful person in the country.
And there is no doubt that although a politically neutral figure, his influence in this country can be stronger if he so wishes with the coming into being of this new administration. On the day the President of the land was declared the winner of the 2016 election, Nana Akufo-Addo mentioned him as one of the religious leaders he can’t express enough gratitude to.
The Finance Minister who is the chief supervisor of the Bank of Ghana that took over Capital Bank in that hostile fashion and handed over to GCB Bank, sits at the feet of Dr. Otabil every Sunday to listen to words of wisdom. At least two members of the Bank of Ghana’s board are key figures in Dr. Otabil’s church, including the wife of Otabil’s second in command. Even the Chief Justice is a member of his church, just as several ministers and deputy ministers. What couldn’t Dr. Otabil have done to save the bank if he wanted to push his weight around?
Capital Bank had gone into distress because unrecovered loans to the tune of about 80 million cedis had caused the bank to struggle. All Dr. Otabil needed to do in church was engage in an emotional appeal for funds one Sunday and ask his flock to pay the bank’s debt and I am sure he would have raised more than enough money to offset that. But he didn’t do this either.
The point I am driving at is this; Dr. Otabil had all the power and space to engage in ‘influence peddling’ to stop the hostile takeover of the bank he is board chairman of. That’s what you would have expected any normal person to do under this circumstance. Even commoners who by virtue of knowing a constituency executive of a ruling party uses that to have their way in this country. But Dr. Otabil didn’t do any of that. He watched on for due procedure to take its course and today, he is now a laughing stock for many.
But I am not surprised. The man has always preached about the need for this nation to have leadership that has integrity. He has always pushed for the strict application of the country’s laws in a way that ensures that no one cuts corners.
When he spoke at the Grand Convocation of the 2015 edition of the human development event, Springboard, he said: "Ghana needs integrity. We need it. And we need it not from our leaders, we need it from every citizen." Obviously, he doesn’t only preach those principles, he lives by them. So, he allowed the bank to go down the drain without asking his friends in authority to favour him and treat him with kid gloves. Only to explain the problem away as a knock by the devil which he will recover from soon.
What is clear is that at ICGC, the dream for a better tomorrow never wanes. Professionals there apply their genius to make not only their lives but Ghana as a whole a better place. Followers behold to the rule of law and not the ‘fear of men.’ Sheep don’t see their shepherd as super humans who they should move heaven and earth to please; they see them as ordinary people, all subject to the will of God in heaven.
The integrity exhibited by Dr. Otabil is an important lesson the rich and powerful in our society should learn from if we can make our country a better place. God bless Dr. Otabil and God bless our homeland Ghana.