Ghana: Come again, Dr. Mensa Otabil
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
The General Overseer of the International Central Gospel Church, Pastor Mensa Otabil has responded to what he calls evil attempts to expose him to public ridicule “and the running harassment against my integrity.” (Myjoyonline, November 12, 2012).
He did so to diffuse the tension and controversy surrounding statements attributed to him and being propagated as his opposition to the free SHS education promised by the NPP’s Akfuo-Addo.
I am not impressed by Otabil’s public reaction to this matter. To me, he didn’t address the main issue. He failed to hold the “political bull” by its horns and hid behind needless strong language and anger. I am not persuaded, therefore. And here is why:
- Regardless of the manipulation of his pronouncements over the years, is Otabil denying that he ever made those utterances?
- Is he saying that the viewpoints raised in those utterances were fabricated?
- Is he telling us that what he quickly dismissed as “the doctoring and manipulation of his sermons over the years to give them political twists” amounted to words being put in his mouth.
- To give substance to his condemnation of that “doctoring and manipulation of his sermons over the years”—which we agree is “defamatory, unethical, criminal, malicious and evil” as he put it—has Otabil denied ever making such utterances, even if decontextualized or pieced together and placed in different contexts?
- Most importantly, why did Otabil fail to tell us his position on the controversy surrounding this free SHS promise from Akufo-Addo? In other words, Otabil failed to clarify the real issue at the heart of this conflict.
I am not impressed at all by Otabil’s comments because apart from lashing those propagating his pieced-together sermons whom he quickly identified as “a marauding and bullying force,” he didn’t touch on the real substance that generated the conflict. I ask again: Is Otabil denying that he ever made those utterances?
I have read the entire statement that came from him and listened to the audio version but not come across such a denial.
I know that some public figures strive to be politically correct in matters involving them, especially if there is a negative backlash to damage their personal interests. I am all too familiar with the shifting of blame to journalists whenever their reports trigger negative reaction toward utterances made by public figures. The usual defence is “I have been quoted out of context” or “those words were put in my mouth.” Fair enough, but such face-saving moves only worsen credibility problems.
Indeed, when news about Otabil’s claims concerning the free SHS education was published, some of us read deeper meanings into issues and took our stance therefrom. I didn’t have any cause to doubt that those utterances could come from Otabil, having known him for his public motivational speaking stunts and the audacity with which he raises and discusses controversial issues, be they of spiritual or mundane dimensions.
I even took up the matter in an opinion piece to draw attention to the hidden dangers involved in the Akufo-Addo promise. My intention was to sustain the conversation on the promise and to tease out the crucial aspects that were not being addressed by those making the promise and their followers spreading word about it.
I did so because that was part of the civil duty that needed to be performed. I wasn’t really interested in whether Otabil was anti-NPP or pro-NDC, which might be the mot5ivation for making any utterance of the sort. Where he belongs politically must be his own cup of tea.
The substance in the news item was what turned my crank. I used it and it helped throw more light on the debate.
Now, Otabil has come out to condemn those propagating the utterances without denying that he was the one who made those very utterances at one time or the other.
I am not impressed with his diversionary strategy to shift emphasis from the source of those utterances to the “doctoring and manipulation of his sermons over the years.”
Yes, we agree that it is unethical for anybody to twist somebody’s utterances out of context for political expediency. That is reprehensible and must be condemned by all.
But it leaves out the larger issue. Will Otabil own up that the substance of those utterances came from him? If he does, he will give us more material with which to dissect the matter. Otherwise, he will come across to me as a public figure who is desperately repairing his public image for reasons best known to him.
Of course, he is attempting to repair his public image to be in the good books of his followers, some of whom are NPP members who might have been offended by the news report announcing his condemnation of the Akufo-Addo promise.
When the news report was first published, the majority of comments on Ghanaweb and MyjoyOnline were condemnatory of him. Most were outright disparaging and threatening. Some of the comment makers didn’t hide their abhorrence for him on that score. And they threatened to desert his church.
You see, any threat of losing members must alarm a Man of God who depends on the magnanimity of his congregants to live his life in a grand style—as is characteristic of the one-man churches that have dotted every corner of the country since the craze for “prosperity sermons” took over the messages coming from the pulpit.
Those Ghanaian pastors who have turned Christianity into a “Tea Party” will always want to play it safe so that they don’t bite the finger feeding them.
Mensa Otabil is an established Man of God whose activities are well known and respected. He is recognized as a pillar in Christendom in Ghana and worldwide. He speaks with fearless abandon and imprints his intelligence and humility on his calling.
He has tried over the years to play it safe by not openly identifying himself with any political party, contrary to what some like the Rev. Samuel Asante Antwi of the Methodist Church have done.
From his approach to national politics, however, he betrayed his political leaning even though he had tried to keep it under wraps. When the NPP won the 2000 elections, he showed his sympathy toward that political front and participated in activities that didn’t leave some of us in any doubt that he was more inclined toward the NPP than any other.
Otabil was part of the group of Church leaders who converged at the Osu Castle in early 2001 to perform a purification ceremony, claiming that former President Rawlings had desecrated the seat of government and made it unclean for Kufuor to reside in.
After that ceremony of exorcism, they declared the Osu Castle “spiritually sacrosanct” enough for Kufuor to operate from. But we all know the secret behind all those claims. Apparently, the billions of Cedis spent renovating the Osu Castle at the same time that the state was refurbishing Kufuor’s private residence in the Accra Airport residential Area turned out to be the beginning of the looting that characterized the Kufuor era.
The so-called “Zero Tolerance for Corruption” ended up being what Kufuor impudently declared as corruption being with humanity since the days of Adam. We know what that attitude led us to and why some of us repudiate the holier-than-thou attitude that characterizes the politicking going on.
I have raised these issues to suggest that what Otabil has set in motion has very serious implications for him and his calling, especially now that he has boldly identified those uttering his pronouncements on the Akufo-Addo promise.
His attempt to clear the air doesn’t solve his credibility problems; rather, it worsens them and throws open other windows of cynicism. It portrays him in his true element and opens him to question.
For the last time, let me repeat my central questions:
- Is Otabil denying that the nub (the real gist) of the various messages that he delivered in his sermons that clearly condemned free education did not come from him?
- Is he saying that what he said in those “several years” are still valid today or not?
- Is he saying that the circumstances that prompted his saying that education couldn’t ever be free and urging parents not to allow themselves to be hoodwinked for political expediency still relevant?
- In any case, at the time he made those utterances, was there anything on the horizon touching on a promise of free education?
- How did he come by that topic, anyway?
- Could he have been speaking prophetically?
If so, then, he now faces a more arduous task of freeing himself from the trap into which that his self-fulfilling prophecy has pushed him headlong. I don’t sympathize with him. Instead, I see him as doing a kind of damage control that is more questionable in its intent and purpose than necessary. Until he comes out to deny the substance of the messages being propagated, I will write him off as pitiable. His vituperation amounts to nothing, after all.
The only good aspect of Otabil’s statement is his appeal to President Mahama to discipline those doing the electioneering campaign for him so that they don’t create problems for him, the government, and the country at large. Good suggestion. Anything else is moot.