Ghana: Brigadier-General Nunoo-Mensah and the “hot kitchen” (Part I)
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
It is rare for Ghanaian soldiers to be well-fated as has happened to Brigadier-General Joseph Nunoo-Mensah, National Security Coordinator, and former President Jerry John Rawlings. Placed in the circumstances that have shaped and shaved their military and civilian lives all these years, they come across as really plucky beneficiaries of Lady Luck’s magnanimity.
Jerry Rawlings’ journey into the limelight is known and I won’t belabour it. Brigadier-General Nunoo-Mensah’s is mired in inexplicable circumstances. We remember him as a member of the Acheampong-led Supreme Military Council that metamorphosed into SMC II after Acheampong’s overthrow in a palace coup masterminded by his own henchmen, including Joshua Hamidu and Nunoo-Mensah.
When Rawlings and his AFRC stormed the corridors of power, Brig-Gen. Nunoo-Mensah found favour and was “grafted” a member only to resign later under murky circumstances. He resurfaced in the camp of Rawlings’ political opponents and became the National Security Coordinator under ex-President Kufuor. It didn’t take long for him to turn coat, which benefited him when ex-President Mills rehabilitated him as the National Security Coordinator to be retained by President Mahama as such. Which other military officer has been so lucky to serve across varied political divides of this sort?
What about Nunoo-Mensah has made him so indispensable to all these governments? Certainly, a fulfilled career under a military title that is itself controversial in the nomenclature of the Ghanaian military establishment? Calling him BRIGADIER-GENERAL is disputable because the Ghanaian system has nothing of the sort.
The ranking at the senior level is from Colonel to Brigadier and to Major-General, Lieutenant-General, General, and Field Marshall, in that ascending order of importance. Where is this “Brigadier-General” from? Where does it fit in?
I don’t want to be part of this controversy and will, therefore, simply call him Nunoo-Mensah (because he is neither a Brigadier nor a Major-General. I know he hadn’t attained the status of Lt-General or General before retiring from active service).
Anyhow, National Security Coordinator Nunoo-Mensah is now the cynosure of all eyes, apparently because of what he has brought upon himself, all of a sudden becoming the most controversial public figure. The cause? He is reported to have “taken a swipe at workers in the country for consistently using strikes to get their concerns addressed”. He made the comment when he spoke at the commissioning of a nine-classroom block that he built for the O’reilly Senior High School in Accra.
His utterances have a heavy political dose; and it will take a brave politician to support him. In the current situation, there are few of such brave politicians who can do so without any fear of being “punished” at election time. Only the evergreen diplomat and politician, K.B. Asante, has braved the storm to support him. All the rest have chosen silence to be golden or joined the bandwaggon to condemn him for political capital. The NPP is in the forefront.
I see much sense in Nunoo-Mensah’s effusions, going beyond the aspects that have nettled his critics (“Every Tom, Dick and Harry gets up and is calling for a strike. If you don’t want the job Ghana is not a police state, take your passport and get out of this country” and “If you can’t sacrifice like what some of us have don’t then get out. If the kitchen is too hot for you, get out”).
For one thing, I don’t consider Nunoo-Mensah as a heartless monster parading the corridors of power to the detriment of organized labour or Ghanaians, generally. He is a professional soldier charged with ensuring national security, stability, and progress; and he has performed his duties meritoriously.
Thus, launching verbal attacks against him and calling for his dismissal should be done with circumspection. He must have been overwhelmed by frustration and unmitigated anger to say what he said; but the implications of his utterances should be weighed carefully and the bitter truth isolated from the raw, petulant faux pas. I will unpack his utterances to tease out their true implications.
Some salient aspects of his utterance must be made clear upfront. Nunoo-Mensah spoke his mind and not that of the government whose National Security Co-ordinator he is. He spoke for himself, having assessed the situation from his own perspective and satisfied himself that there was something worth saying about the industrial actions and national development issues.
As he made clear in his observation (“As I walk in the sun here from morning till evening sometime I only drink orange juice to build a school for the future of our children. Then some teachers say that they won’t teach them because they are on strike! It is very sad that we toil with the future of our children”), the rationale behind industrial actions is intricate and should be understood as such.
This is a genuine outpouring of frustration that must be appreciated in its proper context. He might have gone overboard in making other utterances; but the substance of his effusions shouldn’t be missed. He did touch on some essential elements that have been overshadowed by the irritating aspects.
In the haste to tear his reputation into shreds, his opponents have side-stepped the import of his utterance at other levels (for instance, “Government must take immediate steps to address the incessant strikes in the country” and his claim that the many strikes on the labour front are signs of a high-level indiscipline in the country). Thus, it is no exaggeration to say that there is too much indiscipline in the system, which negates efforts at national development.
Who will dispute the fact that there is too much indiscipline in the country? Which country can develop in such an atmosphere of indiscipline, especially when there is no respect for the laws of the land?
Unfortunately, the good aspects of Nunoo-Mensah’s utterances are disregarded and the bad ones uplifted for petty politicking, especially considering how opponents of the government have latched on to the matter for peculiar purposes. Such is the situation when everything tends to be politicized. In the heat of condemnation, all that his critics are looking for is his blood!
Of particular importance is his claim that “Until Ghanaians learn to sacrifice for the nation, Ghana will never develop.” The attention that he drew to “sacrifice” for the sake of nation building is clear and shouldn’t be missed. If for nothing at all, he has revealed “sacrifice” to us as one major factor that is crucial to nation building. The problem, however, is that if government functionaries live in ostentation while the poor workers are forced to tighten their belts, tempers will flare up when Nunoo-Mensah and others in positions of privilege make such utterances.
Regardless of whatever form this “sacrifice” might take, we need to know that self-denial for the sake of the public good is an imperative, which we must take note of. For that matter, I am prepared to pardon him and will advise all those tearing him apart with their tongues to hasten slowly.
If for nothing at all, the man himself has demonstrated that spirit of sacrifice, building a 9-classroom block for the O’reilly Senior High School in Accra, which he is not boasting of but standing on to exhort Ghanaians to emulate as an instance of sacrifice. Of course, he is not asking anybody to build schools as he has done; but the thrust of his effusions is to point us in a direction to see sacrifice for the public good as beneficial. We may want to be told the source of funding for the project, though!
Other Ghanaians have made huge sacrifices and can be cited and appreciated for that gesture. Though they might not stand on their philanthropy to say what Nunoo-Mensah said, they could also silently be sending the message on sacrifice for the common good. We can say that Nunoo-Mensah only carried his candidness too far.
Of course, Ghanaians know the value of sacrifice and wouldn’t expect to be so brazenly “abused” as Nunoo-Mensah did. Thus, his harsh reminder might be least expected, especially within the context of the genuine demands by organized labour for better remuneration.
I shall return…
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