I did not have an appointment. And my name did not ring a bell. I did not have the fame that would open doors on an impromptu visit. All I had was an idea. And wavering confidence, the kind of confidence that would not impress the most sympathetic panel of job interviewers. But I sat in a bus and headed for Cape Coast. To Wesley Girls’ Senior High School.
When I sat in the headmistress’ reception area and waited for my turn, I witnessed the most civilized behaviour among young people in my life. Each student who came in greeted me politely, with a slightly bent gesture before proceeding to the headmistress’ secretary. That courtesy was definitely not acquired from their training at home, for their pleasant attitude was uniform. And they all couldn’t be from the same home.
When I was finally being ushered into the office of the headmistress, the modicum of confidence left me at the door as I entered to face Mrs. Betty Dzokoto.
“My name is Manasseh Azure Awuni,” I told her. That I was sure. What I could not guarantee was the coherence of my thoughts and how she would react to my mission. She was the first person I was encountering since I hatched the crazy idea. With a faltering voice that was further dented by the uncertainty of how my message would be received, I told her the reason I was there.
I was there to interview her for a feature story.
To be published which newspaper?
In The Secondary Times, a newspaper yet to be launched?
Who is the publisher?
Are you a journalist?
No. I’m a second-year student of the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ).
I was one of those visitors any serious and busy person such as the headmistress of Wesley Girls’ Senior High School could easily turn away. I would have counted myself lucky if the refusal to deal with me was a polite one. But Mrs. Betty Dzokoto did not turn me away.
She granted me the audience. Her smiles encouraged me. I regained a bit of confidence. And proceeded to spend about an hour of her time, asking questions whose answers would later become the first feature article about a school in that newspaper.
When the interview was over, I asked her permission to photograph her. She obliged. We reviewed the shots together. The camera’s flash on her glasses had distorted the images. So she posed again. And I shot again. It could have been better, we agreed. But I did not blame the cheap camera. Neither did she.
Before I left, she invited me to the next Speech and Prize Day of the School. It was at that ceremony the head prefect, Gloria Boye, captivated the audience, including Ghana’s first female Chief Justice, Mrs. Georgina Theodora Woods. I was convinced further by events of that day that Wey Gey Hey was (and is) the best high school in Ghana.
That was the day I made a silent vow to myself, “If I don’t marry an old student of Wesley Girls’ High School, then my daughter will surely go to that school.”
That was before I met an old girl from Ghana National College whose love got me too drunk to remember the first part of that vow. And that was long before a certain free SHS policy with its double-track system and concomitant problems kept me wondering how long the likes of Wesley Girls’ could keep their sanity intact in the decaying public education system in Ghana.
On Sunday, January 20, 2019, when I closed from work and stepped out of the office, I saw Rev. Albert Ocran walking into the studio of Joy FM to do his Springboard show. With him was a woman I could not recognize from afar. When I got closer and saw her, my heart leaped with joy.
“Mrs. Betty Dzokoto!” I screamed her name. She was the guest for the show that evening. I proceeded to tell Rev. Albert Ocran my first encounter with that amazing woman and how her warmth and smiles boosted my confidence when I needed it most.
Like many who have touched hearts in unforgettable ways, Mrs. Betty Dzokoto, now retired, had forgotten about that first encounter. She was happy to see me. She had heard my name and works. But she had no idea the invaluable role she played when I started my journalistic journey in obscurity and needed people like her to show me, through their encouraging actions, that I was on the right track.
My newspaper folded up after four or so editions due to lack of funding and time. (I was still in school and had to travel from Cape Coast to Bolgatanga to do stories). But the lessons and experiences I accumulated from being a reporter, editor, publisher, and distributor of a newspaper for senior high schools was an important launchpad for my career. My Letters to My Future Wife write-ups, which would become a well-partonised relationship column was born out of this newspaper.
That column would earn me a wife ten years later. That is a different tale for another day.
But today, I recount this in the midst of the intense interns’ controversy. Social media have not known peace since news broke about the sanitation minister’s refusal to grant an interview to an intern at Adom FM. The minister, Madam Cecelia Abena Dapaah, said she felt disrespected that an intern was asked to interview her. “Get off!” she screamed at the poor lady before ending the call. When the news editor called her back, she repeated her grievance. Why should they allow an intern to call her, a minister of state? That was disrespectful to her office, she said.
As predictable as NDC’s defeat in Ashanti Region in next year’s election, opinions are divided on the matter. And since the protagonist is a political player, it would be easier for Satan and Jesus to reach a consensus on every matter than for the two main sides of the debate to agree whether or not the minister erred.
The intern, who wrote about her encounter with the minister, said she was demoralized by the response she got from the interviewee. Some have said how she felt after the snub means she wasn’t good enough to interview the minister. But that is not always the case.
There is a point in life when one does not need external validation to keep doing what they do. There is a point in a journalist’s career when the effect of the minister’s comment is less potent than the effect which the venom of a viper has on the hard shell of the tortoise. It is, however, different with beginners. If Mrs. Betty Dzokoto had been like the rude headmistress I later encountered at Osu Presec, I might have aborted the idea of the newspaper. That other headmistress treated me like a piece of trash.
Could the minister not have behaved like Mrs. Betty Dzokoto? What would she have lost if she had spoken to this young lady the same way she would treat her daughter? Could she not have touched a life in a special way and encouraged her to learn hard and become a top journalist? What a lasting impression she would have made on this young lady, who looked up to women achievers like the minister!
I am very disappointed because the minister is my friend. Since I started talking to her in 2016, she has been extremely nice to me. If she misses my call or text message, I always know Cecelia Abena Dapaah will call or text back. And I would not have believed the intern’s account if I hadn’t listened to the video.
Madam Cecelia Abena Dapaah, please, don’t lend credence to the saying that the true character of a person is how they relate with the less fortunate in society. I speak to your personal assistant with the same politeness I speak to you. I don’t need to know her qualification to accord her respect. She is a human being like me. And deserves to be treated with dignity.
The recording and publication of the encounter without her permission are unethical. And the minister is damn wrong in looking down on an intern. She should apologise just like Adom FM has done and move on.
I have said elsewhere that there’s nothing wrong with an intern interviewing a minister of state. This was a simple interview, which sought the minister’s view on a sanitation programme. It was not the Kwaku One-On-One kind of probing interview. It wasn’t an interview about a very complex subject in rocket science which required an expert to do the interview. Interns are not generally dumb.
With the help of my broadcast journalism lecturer, Tim Quashigah, I got the opportunity to have an internship at GTV when I completed Level 100. When I applied, some of my colleagues said GTV was not a good place for interns. They said the old men and women controlled everything and that the usefulness of inters was limited to errands to buy roasted groundnut and plantain. I ignored them.
I was asked to go on an assignment with a “senior” reporter the second day of my internship. When I returned, my senior from GIJ, Derick Romeo Adogla, who was also an intern there, advised me to write a report and show it to the editor even though the “senior” reporter I went out with was doing the script for the bulletin.
To my dismay, my script was used for the story that went that evening. The editor on duty, the late Judith Brifo, took my script to the editors’ meeting that afternoon and spoke highly of me. Within a week, I was sent to Akwatia to do a story. Two weeks later, the head of TV News, Mr. George Crentsil, called me and asked whether I was already a journalist before going to GIJ. When I told him I was coming from secondary school, he asked with surprise, “Which secondary school did you attend?” The shock heightened when I mentioned Krachi Secondary School (KRASEC). I was given the opportunity to continue my internship on vacations until I completed GIJ in 2010.
In the 2010 GJA awards, I won the Best TV News reporter, the Best Human Rights Reporter and the Most Promising Journalist of the Year. These stories were more complex than interviewing a minister. I was an intern. And I’m not an exception. There are very brilliant interns who can outperform some s0-called senior journalists on the job.
Human beings should be judged by their competence and not the longevity of their service. The size of an animal, our elders say, does not matter. What matters, in the wisdom of the sages, is the taste in its soup. If the minister had complained about the competence of the reporter, I would not have had issues. To duel on her status as an intern is unfortunate and disrespectful to the young woman and all interns.
The minister is a public servant. Next year, the sanitation minister and the president and other untouchable “honourables” who commanding respect with their words and courting disdain with their actions, will park their V8s and pour into the markets and street corners across the country like flood waters. Sweating profusely and “savouring” the stench of chocked drains, they will beg beggars, cajole street hawkers, head porters and homeless people to vote for them. Why should they win and suddenly think an intern is unfit to ask them questions? Does it make sense to beg an intern to vote for you but consider him or her unworthy to interview you?
A minister is an intern’s employee. A minister of state, like anyone else, deserves to be respected. But they should earn that respect. One way of earning that respect is to show respect to those they encounter, whether high up the social ladder or those still trying to find their feet in life.
Every mighty achiever was once an intern of a sort. The world’s fastest runner once crawled and struggled to walk before perfecting the art of running. A little act of kindness can cause a significant change in someone’s life. And long after the doer of the kind act forgets, the receiver remembers.
Madam Cecilia Abena Dapaah, be like Mrs. Betty Dzokoto. You won’t carry that post to the grave. When you cease to be a minister, how do you want to be remembered?