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Opinions Fri, 16 Sep 2016

Pastor Mensa Otabil, where are you ?

By James Kofi Annan

Dear Vice President Paa Kwesi Amissah Arthur, a while ago, while you were addressing the 42nd General Council meeting of the Church of Pentecost, you charged Christians in the country to criticize your government if they see that things are going wrong.

I am currently far away touring the globe, and I initially wanted to have an excuse not to have published Simpa Panyin today. But I’m utterly inspired to stake a claim to your comment. For obvious reasons I am going to go straight to the point, and to make your reading very simple, unlike the complications Simpa Panyin has been noted for.

I am not sure if you spoke with your party men before making that statement, because I don’t think they heard you, I don’t think your party people get it. They don’t, and I believe we need a lot of real reflective education, the kind of education that will purge our souls of the filth of thoughts, selfish intents, that which will rid us of the depth of madness, and empower us with the purity of governance, of nationhood, of citizenship; that is what we need.

I will like to ask you one question, before I proceed. Do you think I qualify to criticise your government? I am asking you this question because since resuming writing, there have been some people who feel that I should not involve myself in pointing out the wrongs in government, and that that terrain is too dangerous, it involves character assassination, blackmailing, and so on.

In my inaugral Simpa Panyin publication I did mention that I am waiting for whoever wins this year’s election, then I will put the spotlight on that particular government. It is because I want to have a fair starting point by forewarning the would-be government, and surely it will be either NDC or NPP.

I am not sure if I have critised your government that much, you can go for all my publications and read things for yourself. Any objective minded person will agree that I have been very fair so far, of course except that those extremists will see only the things that go against them, not the things that go against others.

It appears to me, Your Excellency, that, in the next few years, and those years will soon come, that our governance and politics will have to be left to people of low substance. We face a real threat, a threat of seeing our Parliament occupied by people who would have insulted their way there, all the way up, to occupy our legislature.

And since Ghana’s constitution demands that the president appoints two thirds of his ministers from Parliament, we are nearing a point where the majority of our government ministers will be of no substance, and I predict that that day will soon come.

In recent times, the persons hardest hit by these political attacks have been Reverend Professor Martey, Reverend Dr Opuni-Frimpong, and Pastor Mensa Otabil. And I get so disappointed that their own members, members of ICGC, members of the Presbyterian Church, the Church of Pentecost, members of the affected church, who together can boast of millions of followers, can boast of thousands of schools, hospitals, universities, colleges of education, their own members are not rising in their defense; so disappointing.

I am not a member of any of those churches I have mentioned. I am a proud Methodist, but I feel utter pains when I see these men of God washed ashore by political communicators, and today I will focus only on Pastor Mensa Otabil.

Previously, I had made reference to an article authored by a supporter of your party, one Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor. Your Excellency, that article described Pastor Mensa Otabil in some unprintable terms, including being described as a charlatan, self-seeking, noise maker, and that he spews pure garbage and nonsense. That he speaks senselessly and loosely and unconscionably. That Pastor Otabil stoops so low in his madness. That Pastor Otabil is a rogue, is a crooked character, irritant, and ingrate. His crime was that he had criticized your government, the very thing you have asked him (Pastor Otabil) to do.

But if I may ask; I am a private person, and I don’t hold public office, so if my light goes off, who should I ask? If water is not flowing through my tap, who should I hold responsible? If I am feeling the pains of economic hardship, should I go to the opposition to ask why? Who exactly do I hold responsible for the failures in society?

People expect always that Pastors criticise the opposition parties in much the same way as they criticize the government. No, that is not how it should work. It is the work of the politicians to criticises each other, it is not my work to do so. My work as a non politician is to criticise the government, that is my role. I don’t care about any opposition party, they are not the ones holding the purse, and they are not the ones with the duty to solve my problems.

Of course during elections, I can say I will vote for party A or party B based on their offerings, policies, and the issues they are campaigning on. But that is only related to election, it is not related to government business.

Currently I could be said to be one of the leading private employers in Winneba. With all of my companies together, I am nearing 200 staff on my payroll. Each year my organisation directly impacts over 1,000 children, youth, and women.

Your Excellency, do you think it will be fair for you to tell me that I should keep quiet over governance issues that affect Winneba? That I should not have a say in how the Effutu Municipal Assembly is governed? That I should sit down for the mess to be created, then I come back to lament? I should be okay, while I watch some people whose only experience has been how to upload pictures on facebook, I should watch such people to decide how to waste our money?

I promise you I will not involve myself in partisan politics, never (and I hope politicians understand the meaning of partisan politics). I will not offer myself for any partisan political elections, I don’t even like it. But I will, wallahi, air my views on the rot, the loot, the bad governance, the shameful rape of our economy; that one I will say it, regardless of the political party in power, and I hope memebers of the opposition parties are listening too.

I used to shrink on these issues for fear of attacks. I used to want to please people by refraining myself, and keeping my thoughts to myself, but I believe sitting on the fence is not helpful, and what you have said has greatly encouraged me, to offer you constructive criticism to better govern me.

In the last few weeks, Pastor Mensa Otabil has been quiet. I am not sure if it is because he feels the insults are too much. But let us reason this way; that if I, a nobody, if I can speak on issues of national concern, why can’t Mensa Otabil do same?

That man, from where he has come, he is deserving not only of national awards, but he has earned himself a position that when he speaks, the answers to his questions must come from those who have the moral turpitude, those who have the requisite knowledge, his answers must come from the likes of Seth Terkper (who holds the purse), Kwesi Nduom (a demonstrable industrialist), Ibn Chambas (a world class leader), Osei Kwame Despite (from zero to a mogul), the answers must come from people with deep thoughts, people who truly have Ghana’s interest at heart.

Pastor Otabil’s answers should not be coming from those who all they have achieved in life has been the amount of money they have stolen from the state, all that they have achieved has been using their political colors to rape our economy.

We have examples all over the world, of leading pastors who have helped shape the politics of their countries. We have classic examples in Reverend Jese Jackson and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr both of America, and we have Africa’s example in Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

If Pastor Mensa Otabil, a person who, despite humble beginnings, has achieved so much for himself, and for his country, established a fully fledged university with thousands of youth benefitting, giving employment to thousands of people across this country, being followed by hundreds of thousands of worshipers across the globe, giving relief to hundreds of individuals, if such a person cannot criticize a failing government (if he thinks so), then who else does deserve to criticize the government?

Martin Luther King Jr once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. When good intentions refuse to speak, the goats will dance, the pot will fall, the soup will spill, and our lives will end.

Columnist: James Kofi Annan