I had passed in front of that building several times, but I didn’t know it housed a minister of state. My friend, Hamdia, lived in that house. I had been a friend of Hamdia and her husband to be since my day as an SRC President but I didn’t know she was the daughter of a minister of state.
Well, she didn’t behave like one. How could a minister’s daughter who had completed a tertiary institution and was working be boarding trotro? And why would a minister of state be living in that modest Agege suburb of Accra? I know such larger than life personalities live in East Legon and the plush suburbs of the capital.
It was when Hamdia was getting married that I knew she was a minister’s daughter. It was then that I realized that the house was owned by the Minister of Roads and Highways then. He is a sitting member of parliament for Sissala West Constituency in the Upper West Region, an engineer and former university lecturer. He had served as Regional Minister, Ghana’s ambassador to Egypt and held other high positions in government. Alhaji Amidu Amin Sulemana is his name. He is Hamdiya’s father.
When she was about to get married and said she wanted me to emcee her wedding reception, I went to the house. When I visited her one evening in the course of the planning, I realised Mahama had visited them. I mean there was power outage or “dumsor.” Everywhere was dark, including their house. When I asked why their generator was not on, she said, “Don’t mind my father. He said nobody has generator in this area so when there is no light, we should all sleep in darkness. He doesn’t understand why we alone should have light when all others are in darkness.”
When Alhaji Amidu Sulemana came home that evening, I realized he was not accompanied by a police escort. He was driving himself. And when he was leaving home to have a haircut, he opened the gate himself.
During the period he was the roads and Highways Minister, Alhaji Amidu Amin Sulemana lived in this house. Not even a pesewa was charged the state as accommodation allowance. No painting or renovation cost accrued to the state. He lived in his private residence and worked until he was transferred. It was when he was leaving the family for the Upper West Regional Minister that I learnt he finally bought a generator for the family because they were worrying him.
As a matter of principle, Alhaji Amidu Sulemana never applied for a state scholarship for any of his children to study abroad. Though his colleague MPs, Ministers and other top government officials often use their influence to get such scholarships, he said he could pay for his children’s education so he would not meddle in a scheme meant to help the poor.
I witnessed a similar act of modesty and high sense of responsibility by a politician when Dr. Epraim Avea Nsoh was the Regional Minister for the Upper West. Dr. Avea, in my opinion, was one of President Mahama’s best appointments. He wanted to make an impact in the lives of the people of the region. He said he was going to make the Upper West Region a model region. He drew up a development plan, and got donor agencies and other stakeholders to buy into his plan. He was transferred to the Upper East Region when he was about to take off.
He quickly set to work in developing a similar initiative in the region. He was still consulting stakeholders in the region when he was removed from government. For the first time in the Upper East Region, there was agitation in the region against his removal. The people of Bongo where he comes from demonstrated. When the MP for Bongo, Albert Abongo, was removed from being a minister, nobody raised a flag. So what was so special with Dr. Avea?
He was selfless.
When I first visited the Upper West Region while he was the regional minister, I realized that the saloon car that was parked in the Minister’s parking space was one of the smallest and probably cheapest cars parked there. The car was five years old, and had a serious dent. One of its front lights was broke. I was wondering who had parked in the Minister’s space until I was told that was the car the minister used. Didn’t he have any other vehicle?
As a minister of state, he was entitled to one Toyota Land Cruiser and a saloon car. The saloon car was obviously faulty but he still used it. His reason was interesting when I asked him.
The Toyota Land Cruiser consumed too much fuel, he said. The Regional Coordinating Council was facing financial challenges. Sometimes it was difficult to procure A4 sheets of paper for administrative work in some of the assemblies and government agencies there. Instead of spending the meager resources at the regional coordinating council’s disposal on his personal comfort, Dr. Avea said he was prepared to live modestly and use the money to develop.
He had been advised to buy a new saloon car or repair the existing one but that was not his priority. “When we tell the people we are leading that there’s no money, we ourselves should be seen to be making sacrifices. We cannot live like kings and expect the people we govern to understand us when we say there’s no money,” he told me. Some journalists said if he had to go to the hinterlands, he travelled with the journalists in the same bus in order to save fuel.
Alhaji Amidu Sulemana and Dr. Avea are not the only politicians who are making sacrifices in order to serve. Politicians have all been tarred with the same brush because some have muddied the waters of politics and want to stay there that way. The truth, however, is that not all politicians are heartless. Not all of them are crooks. Not everybody goes into politics to steal. Like any of us, they may have their bad sides, but there are politicians who mean well for their people. The arrogant and flamboyant ones have become the conspicuous mascots of the political class. But there are politicians worth celebrating.
Unfortunately, we tend to concentrate so much on the politicians, leaving the real crooks, the civil servants. Let me add that not all of them are crooks. As an anti-corruption journalist, I have come to realize that the corrupt politician is a temporary thief. They are relevant only when they are in government. A corrupt civil servant, however, is a permanent thief. They steal and sometimes set up the politicians. They create artificial barriers, and jam the system and profit from it.
To win the war against corruption and other ills in the country, we need to keep an eye on the civil servants and public servants who are not politicians. We need to celebrate the good politicians too in order to encourage those with good intentions to agree to serve. An irresponsible civil or public servant can hurt the society more than the politician. We ought to begin to look at the civil and public servants very keenly because a lot of those people think so much of what to make of the state, thanks to the weak institutions that harbour them.
When the former Commissioner for the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice, Madam Lauretta Vivian Lamptey, was questioned on Joy FM in the wake of her wasteful expenditure, she said something that I would never forget. One of her defences was that “it is the responsibility of the state to accommodate me.”
One of our biggest problems as a nation is that the working class seems to know the responsibility of the state towards us but we do not seem to care about our responsibility towards the state. We know our rights but we don’t seem to care about our responsibilities.
The sad thing is that such dedicated people who are not prepared to conform don’t often last in politics or public service. There is more incentive do the wrong things than to be good. The good thing, however, is that the benefits of such selfless dedication to the service of humanity always outlives the people who are committed to it.
Such virtues outlive the greedy and selfish thieves who destroy society in order to build empires and live like kings.