Reflections On P.V. Obeng’s Life
Irmo, South Carolina
25th May, 2014
P.V. Obeng has died. Death is often shocking, in its timing and manner. Even though a physician, death is always shocking to me. Indeed, despite the popular saying that “all-die-be-die”, all deaths are not equal.
I join all in wishing the bereaved P.V Obeng family God’s grace during this difficult time.
As usual, praise for the departed has general—except for a few discordant notes. This too, is in tune with the universal practice not to speak ill of the dead. In Britain when Margaret Thatcher was called evil in death, there was condemnation.
I was surprised by the warmth of President Kufuor’s feeling for Mr. Obeng and President Rawlings’ difficulty in offering undiluted praise for his former comrade in the 31st December revolution.
Mr. Kufuor’s remarks showed that the late P.V. dealt with people all across our political divide and that is commendable.
On the other hand, Mr. Rawlings’ posture and comments raise certain important issues.
First, it is astonishing that the man who avoided justice for the misdeeds of the PNDC is so obsessed with investigating others. If accountability for one’s conduct is such a good thing, Mr. President, why did you insert the indemnity clauses in our constitution? Why did you campaign—ultimately successfully—to stop inquiries into your wife and 31st December Women Movement’s acquisition of state assets? Is it that, as you once put it, “etua wo yonko ho a etua dua?”
Second, it is interesting that instead of reflecting on the advice Mr. Obeng gave him in his nearly two decades as his top adviser, he chose to only bring up his purported advice to President Mills regarding the NPP’s conduct in office. Did Mr. Obeng offer Mr. Rawlings similar advice on persecutions that he ignored?
Third, if the NPP had done bad things, since we live under the rule of law, it seemed a little surprising that it was left to the President to decide whether to investigate them or not. Would the former President’s comment mean, for instance that when he was in power, even under the 1992 constitution, prosecutorial decisions were made based on political considerations?
Co-incidentally, President Kufuor once told me that when he became President, he decided, based on very mature advice, that he would focus his tenure on development instead of revenge against the PNDC/NDC. It was in the context of this that he instituted the national reconciliation process to help the country heal itself and to move forward.
Fourth, President Rawlings comments seem to validate the feeling of many Ghanaians that President Mills had sound judgment—unlike some of his predecessors. It is ironic that the NPP never gave the late President Mills the credit he deserved for ignoring Mr. Rawlings vindictive urgings.
Finally, the comments by President Rawlings seem particularly cruel in the light of comments Mr. P.V. Obeng made to me during the IEA forum at Atimpoku that ultimately led to the passage of the Presidential Transition Bill by the Mills administration. Mr. Obeng and I were the keynote speakers. He spoke on the 2001 Ghana Transition while I spoke on transitions around the world. That evening, after dinner, I found myself sitting across from Mr. Obeng. He invited me to come over and over the next hour or so, we had one of the most illuminating conversations in my life. When I asked him why he had followed Mr. Rawlings for so long, he said he admired Mr. Rawlings because he was humble and was not afraid to say he was wrong. He referred to a reported fall-out he had with Mr. Rawlings after a bitter argument, after which he stormed out of the President’s office and vowed never to work with him again. To cool off, he went to live on the farm of one of his friends. According to Mr. Obeng, it took President Rawlings about a week to find his whereabouts. When he did, he drove himself to the farmhouse to meet Mr. Obeng. When he asked him why he was there, the former President, according to Mr. Obeng, stated that he had gone there to apologize because he believed he had not treated Mr. Obeng fairly during their fall-out. He concluded that “it will be difficult for any of our contemporary leaders to behave that way.” He was loyal to Mr. Rawlings, in his bones, right till the end. That is why he deserved better than what the former President said.
To return to Mr. Obeng’s life though, the very circumstances of his death undermine the loud praises of his life. After all his years in public life, why did we not have a healthcare system that could have prevented his needless death and the many others – like his that occur daily in our country?
I lived through quite a bit of the PNDC era with its curfews and executions and whippings in the streets and confiscation of properties on political grounds. Was that era a good one? Was that necessary for our development? If it was an unfortunate and tragic deviation from our development, which is what I believe, does Mr. Obeng—together with Rawlings and others bear any burden for those days? Philosophically, could a German be a member of the Nazi Party who helped Hitler implement his agenda and still be a good or even great German? Can a Nigerian be a member of “Boko Haram” and still be a great Nigerian? We must, as a nation, be circumspect about what we celebrate because we will get more of it. For the avoidance of doubt, I do not raise these issues to darken Mr. Obeng’s reputation—I do so as a question of principle and national interest.
May P.V. rest in perfect peace while we seek ---- for the good of our country—eternal truths together.
Arthur Kobina Kennedy