Sunday, June 24, 2007

Kumasi’s Best Brains Unveiled

Photo: from left Thelma Ohene Agyei, Manuel Gadogbe and Kwesi Boadu Mensah

At the recently held 41st Congregation of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) Kumasi, a lot of students shone like a million stars among their peers. I was there and bring you a profile of some of Ghana’s future newsmakers.
Report for STAR, Accra.

Thelma Ohene-Agyei, 22

Pharmacy First Class
In the stormy field of Pharmacy, Thelma beat all comers to the title of best Pharmacy graduate. She went on to grab the title of best graduating tudent in the College of Health Sciences.

22 year old Thelma in her own words is “not the typical smart student”. So how did she do it? She says she only studied for three hours everyday while making sure to attend all her lectures.

The beautiful cum brainy lady’s childhood ambition dream was to become an engineer like her father but decided on Pharmacy later on. An outgoing person, she never allowed her studies to get in the way of her social commitments. Her friends say she is very loyal and loves to go out.

The future for her is in the academia. She is set to do her national service as a teaching assistant at KNUST. She also wants to write.

Manuel Gadogbe, 22

Chemistry, First Class
In his valedictory speech, 22 year old Manuel Gadogbe said, “Irrespective of our class of degree let us do whole heartedly whatever we find our hands to do”.

First class graduate and best graduating student in the College of Science, Manuel is the quintessential intellectual. There were times he says he felt like giving up but always took solace in the words of his father who told him that with determination he could achieve his aim and purpose in life.

Manuel believes it is not how much one tries but how much love one puts into one’s work. He would definitely be in the academia for a long time.

Kwesi Boadu Mensah, 23
Pharmacy First class
What else could a young man ask for after bagging a first class in Pharmacy? But for Kwesi Mensah who has an elder brother that graduated with a first class in Accountancy, success means being at the very top of the pyramid. The 23 year old missed the top notch by less than three points.

He wanted to study Medicine but was offered Pharmacy instead. The lad’s life consists in books, football and more books. The next step for him now is to make money.

He is also passionate about agriculture and would want to own a big farm someday.

Naa Okailey Adamafio, 22
Pharmacy First class
Brainy. She does come in a very beautiful package too. 22 year old Naa made good of what the system threw at her and bagged herself a first class in Pharmacy. She claims prayers; hard work, discipline and determination saw her through.

The Accra born young lady has set her sights on the world and as things look, she seems destined for the top.

Albert Akpor Anteh, 23
Integrated Rural Arts & Industry, Second class upper
Suave artist Albert Anteh made hay during his sojourn at Kumasi. He set up a successful clothing design firm called 2kpin with a friend. He recounts that it was not easy combining the busy schedule of arts with business but is glad that it is now all over.

23 year old Albert has decided to defer his national service by a year to see his fashion line take proper root. The Textile major has already seen much progress in his life and would surely be a force to reckon with in future.

Samuel Annoh-Quarshie, 24
Biochemistry, Second class upper division
Confident Samuel had to stay tough and focused in his quest for ivory tower honours. He described his lowest point on campus as his second year when he thought he was going to “throw” a course having not performed up to his own high standards in the exams.

Luckily, he passed the course and is today smiling as he looks back at the tough times. Samuel hopes to get a PHD but would like to work in a multinational. He doesn’t count himself as very social. He likes to watch a lot of movies while hanging out with his girlfriend.

Oladayo Idris Bolaji, 22

Mechanical Engineering, Second class upper division

This young Nigerian brother felt strangeness when he first came to Ghana. He said he was baffled by the new culture of his host community when he arrived in Kumasi. But four years down the road, Dayo has come to cherish the beautiful experience which KNUST has given him.

He plans to go home to get a job with any of Nigeria’s several oil exploration companies.

Doreen Adoma Antwi, 22
Law Second class upper division

Newly armed with a Law degree, Doreen says her first year was the most difficult. For someone who wanted to become a newscaster, her father’s preference for Law led to a new path for her.

She says she’s now in love with her chosen field as she can count herself among the few “learned” ones in society.

I am a shy guy- Omar Sherif Captan

He’s been described by the media and avid TV fans as one of the sexiest men to grace TV screens in Ghana. A lot of young men crave his good looks and smooth flow. Omar just describes himself as a simple everyday dude who goes about his daily chores diligently.

After almost two decades doing movies and soaps, this young father of two has resorted to doing what many others like him with a famous face have done in times past, corporate marketing. Well, it is not hard to figure that a familiar face like his would throw open doors easily.

A career that started with the movie, My Sweetie and built up over time with big parts in hit soaps Tentacles and Broadway, Omar reveals that he used to be a shy guy but that acting has made him come out of his shell.

Interview by Ololade Adewuyi for STAR Accra

How did TV and movies begin for you?
I started as a production hand in 1989 with one William Akuffo. He actually started video production in Ghana. He was the first person to make a video production.

Do you mean music videos?

No video production. You know we were shooting on celluloid in times past but he was the first to shoot with a video camera. When he started it was really tough but today it’s everywhere. I started as a production assistant.

So how did you get into acting?
After being a production hand, I then became a soundman and later a cameraman and then an editor. That was in the space of two years. I started real acting in 1991. My very first movie as an actor was My Sweetie.

What role did you play?
I played the role of a lover boy (laughs).

Is that how you became typecast in the lover boy role?
Yes, you know us Africans, when they see you can do something very well they tend to just give you that same role all the time. It is typical of African casts. Once you’ve performed a role well, they feel they must as well give you the same kind of role to perform.

But gradually you’re emerging as a bad boy.
The first film I played a bad boy was Dark Sands in 1997. It was my first lead role as well as first bad boy.

How would you describe your love making roles? Are they as intense as you portray them on the screen?
Some of these girls are not actually experienced. When you’re playing a love scene with them and you want to kiss them, they think you’re taking advantage of them. A lot of things go on through their minds. So what I normally do is to sit them down and tell them we’re making belief. It’s impossible to do anything because the crew are there, you know what will you feel? So I tell them that it’s just make belief and after that, it’s over. Then they’ll end up coming out of their shells. Most times my colleagues ask how it is that my love scenes come out very well. It is because of the pep talk I give to my love opposites.

Which one of your opposite ladies would you say has been the best kisser and that you liked.
I wouldn’t even go there because the kissing on screen is not like passionate kissing. There are no emotions involved.

Which love interest would you choose as your favourite?
I don’t have any favourite, not at all. It’s just acting and there are no strings attached.
Have you ever had any bad press in your career?
Not exactly, but I had an interview with a lady from one of these press houses which I asked her not to publish because she was rude. She went on and published it. I didn’t want to take the matter up because of personal reasons. If I had taken it up, it would have blown up beyond proportions so I decided to leave it.

Do you feel the pressure to live up to your image as a lover boy in real life?
In real life, as an actor, people think you play the same kind of role outside of the movie. Come to think of it, wherever you go, you’re seen. So you can’t pick on this girl and that girl. You don’t have the privacy to be yourself. What’s the use? Sometimes, I’m in the car, I drive in the night and people stop to wave at me. When they mention your name you try to hide but you can’t do it. You don’t even have the chance to do certain things. We’re rather protected, you understand me.

Are you in any relationship?
Yes, I’m married.

Do you have children?
Yes, I have two children. I’ve been married for seven years now.

What particular aspect do you enjoy most about making movies?
I like directing.

Have you directed any movies before?
I’ve done one but it’s a documentary. I did it for the AIDS Commission.

How much does acting pay you?
It’s nothing you want to know. (Laughs)

Would you say it’s comfortable?

I’d say it’s picking up. It’s not something to write home about but I can say it’s picking up.

Tell me about your personality on set.
I’m the type younger actors can approach on set. They look up to me and ask me if they portrayed their roles properly because I like advising them. I have the passion for teaching my fellow actors.

What or where do you derive your inspiration from?

It’s God.

You must be very religious.
Yeah, I’m a religious person. I believe everybody is religious. I believe in God so much. And even when I’m about to act, I pray to God for everything.

What has been your greatest achievement in acting?
To me I haven’t gotten there yet. I always look at my mistakes and try to correct them. That’s what I look out for in my movies so that I’d not repeat them a second time. I tell myself I shouldn’t have done it this way. There are some things in your normal life that you don’t have to portray in movies. I’ve seen several mistakes of that type in my movies.

Is there anything you would like to achieve as an actor?
Everyone wants to act in Hollywood or let’s say foreign movies. That would earn you good money and at the end of the day it might earn you fame. People would know that this guy is also good. Apart from that, the situation in Ghana is very terrible.

I see that you’re not into acting full time
I was in it full time but I just switched. I just added more work to it.

What are you doing now?
I’m into corporate marketing.

But you still do soaps.
Yes, I still do soaps. I’m doing Broadway presently.

How has acting changed your life from being a normal every day person to being a famous face?
It has really helped me. I used to be a very shy person. If you watch my early movies like My Sweetie, Outrage, Scholarship and Beast Within you would see that I was a very shy person. But now I have really picked up. People had invited me to host or be MC for their events but I couldn’t because I was shy. But now it has helped me so I can stand in the presence of crowds.

What would you like to be remembered for?
I haven’t even gotten halfway of where I’m looking at right now. I have a lot of things to do and I know at the end of the day by His grace I’ll reach there. I won’t even talk about it. You see, I personally don’t even talk about what I do or let people know that I’ve done this and that. You talk about it, tell me I’m good or that I should try to improve on this aspect. If I’m wrong or I didn’t do it right, tell me these are my mistakes. In fact, my dad also guided me because sometimes he just insults me and says “my friend look at what you did. Is that the way to act”? And I’ll say next time I’ll correct it. And that’s how I became better.

Were your parents in support of your acting sojourn?
Not at all.

When you started?
Forget it. They weren’t in support of it.

So when did they begin to like seeing you on TV?
When they saw that I was on the screen and I was picking up. And people were like “your son is good” and they kept telling my dad. So he said he’d rather advise me to do whatever I’m doing, well. That was when he began to build an interest in my job. Even my sisters weren’t fond of it at first. But all that has changed now.

So would you allow your children to do acting?
It depends on what they want for themselves. But I won’t force them to do anything.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Lepacious Bose: Large and In Charge: Big Lady Cracks Ribs in Accra

Story by Ololade Adewuyi for STAR Newspaper, Accra

“I don’t know why slim girls are so insecure,” she says as she pauses on the stage all the while making the audience kill itself with laughter.

Then she continues in the manner of a broken hearted girl; “He’s cheating on me, I can’t believe he’s cheating on me. What more does he want? I’ve got all it takes”. Still more laughter. Then the punch line; “Me I get three times extra, they still dey cheat”, in obvious reference to her round waist. Then the audience looses it and erupts in loud applause.

In a world where slim is the fad, Bose Ogunboye makes fat sound cool. She is not your average fat chick as she’s got a big mouth. Standing at 5’7 inches and weighing in at almost 200 pounds, she is a comedienne who knows how to throw her weight around. She rocked hearts of comedy lovers in Accra at the recently held Laugh and Rock show. Such was the power that the comedienne a.k.a Lepascious wielded over the crowd making them laugh throughout her ten-minute act.

A trained lawyer, Lepascious said in an interview with The Star that she has been doing stand up comedy since her undergraduate days at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. While no longer practising as a solicitor, she takes to the stage in the vibrant Nigerian comedy scene alongside her male colleagues like Basketmouth (who was the emcee for the event), Gordons, Malekem, and so many others.

In a business dominated by men, how does she survive? She says she decided to personalise her act to talk about her size due to “personal experiences” of hers. Some of those experiences have been less than amusing and would have weakened the faint hearted.

“As a fat person”, she explains, “I always get fat jokes thrown at me so I’d rather take it out of your mouth (audience) and say it for you to laugh”.

“I was wearing a curvaceous dress when a group of boys in the crowd started chanting H-I-P for the hip…for the hippopotamus”, she remembers thirteen years ago when she was still in college.

And did she feel embarrassed?

“For a second it was shocking. But you know the fun of stand up comedy is that you can always have a comeback. And so by the time I finished with them, the boys were all quiet and the crowd was behind me solid”.

She says it is harder for women making a head way in stand up comedy citing the sex appeal that the male comics can sell to their female audiences.

“As a woman, you need to have materials whether you’re good or not because it’s a very difficult terrain. There’s a lot of creativity required and there’s no one out there to hold your hands down the road. You have to fight your way through”.

How about her constant dissing of slim girls? Does she have anything against them?

“I have absolutely nothing against slim girls, neither am I insecure about being fat. Sometimes I just wonder what is wrong with them. They’re beautiful and gorgeous but they still feel insecure. On the other hand you see fat girls who really are comfortable with their bodies”.

Bose plans to make people laugh even into her old age.

The Laugh and Rock show brought together established funny men from Nigeria and Ghana to spice up the Independence Day celebrations. Live music was provided by Afro legend Orlando Julius and Latoya Aduke alongside the Afro Hi-Sounders. Obrafuor and Mzbel also performed to the delight of the crowd.

The show was organised by Nigeria’s comedy merchant Opa Williams of the Night of a Thousand Laughs fame for Point Blank Media.

My fight with Kufuor's Government - Prince Kofi Amoabeng

Interview conducted by Ololade Adewuyi for STAR Newspapers, Accra. All photos by Ben Dzaka for STAR Newspaper

You were recently quoted by a paper to have said that the Ghanaian economy is worse than it was at independence in 1950, What do you believe are the solutions to Ghana’s problems?
First, do you agree with that statement that I made?

I would not have an opinion on that.
Ok let me explain what I meant by that statement. As part of our ten-year anniversary celebrations at Unique Trust, we organized a seminar to empower SMEs (small and medium scale enterprises) who are our main clients. At that seminar, we got the services of EMPRETEC, which Unique Trust paid for, to give them expert insight into how to manage their small businesses. We had to chat to that group about our own experiences at Unique Trust and where we are coming from and how we have been able to reach where we are in ten years. Therefore, I had a special session with them at the closing and told them about my three principles for guiding anyone doing business. The first principle is the fact that one needs to be realistic, seeing things as they are and take away all the fantasies and emotions that go along with it and see things as they are. In addition, under that topic, what I said is that for example, with the redenomination of the Cedi, we say one cedi to replace ten thousand cedis the value is the same. When in life did one become ten thousand or one become the same as ten thousand? It is not true. We can say the value is enhanced, what do you mean by the value is the same? If we were changing one-cedi note to another one-cedi note then you can say the value is the same. However, this is something Ghanaians are living with and we sing it all the time. In addition, I said under the same breath that our economy has deteriorated because the major measure of a country’s performance is the GDP capita. I said it is a fact that our GDP per capita was around $400 at independence fifty years ago. Point number two is that $400 fifty years ago in today’s terms is about $2,500. If you want to challenge that fact, you can go ahead and challenge it, otherwise I am telling you that our present day GDP of between $400 and $500 means we have deteriorated. It is a fact.

The government has not disputed that.
Nobody can dispute that fact except that Ghanaians themselves do not even see it. That is one aspect of not being realistic.

So seeing all the negative facts on ground, how would you change Ghana if given the opportunity to become leader seeing how easy it is to criticize other people, how do we make things right? Can you give concrete measures?
If I should become leader, that is extremely hypothetical. I would not be in a position to change things because I would never venture in active politics but the problem has everything to do with our culture. I believe the most important ingredient for development is having respect for all. Our culture is a culture where you respect somebody because you feel you can get something from that person or you think you need that person in your life. Giving respect for all is not an African thing. Africans believe in worshipping the authorities even bothering on the edge of sycophancy and raising those in power to the highest level in order to get what you want from them. In Africa, the moment somebody enters a room, everybody is trying to find out ‘who is he?’ and if they do not see that you have some power of influence or they need to cultivate your good side then they just trample on you. I am saying that does not bring development. That leads to retrogression. That is the reason for Africa’s lack of development. By saying that we do not give respect for all, the question should be what would ensure that we have respect for all in order to bring development. That is putting in place systems and procedures that are quite transparent and enforceable in its totality. It does not matter who you are the laws should apply. For example, we have broken all the systems that we have down intentionally. Our police system is steeped in corruption and cocaine deals; our court system is not delivering justice on time even though we are making efforts to improve it. Our public sector has broken down and our state institutions are not working. If anything would happen, it is selective. If the government does not like you, you can be sent to jail in two weeks. If the government likes you, you can be hanging around for several years for worse crimes. That is not justice for all. It is not respect for all. Furthermore, what selective respect as the African culture wants is that you appoint people into places based on their connections with the authorities. This means it not the best of the capable hands that gets there. Therefore, the person who gets there does not know the job and feels that he is being pursued or undermined by other people because he has inferiority complex, as he knows he is not the best for the job. Instead of doing the job and being measured by palates, his relationship and not his performance is what ensures he stays thereTherefore, it brings everything down. Whereas if you put the right person there with targets to meet, to be evaluated and judged, he then delivers and everybody gets a benefit out of that. For me, it is very clear why we are not developing.

So what must we do?
Well, that is very difficult. The culture of the people is their way of life. Moreover, even though we want to believe that it is dynamic, it changes very slowly more so in Africa where we still chew chewing stick and kocha. We have not changed from that way. Our chiefs will sit atop twelve people and be dancing. We have not seen a need to replace that with donkeys and chariots. The worst thing is that if you should try to change that system for the benefit of the so-called ordinary person, that same ordinary person will be the same one who will revolt because it is their way of life. So the solution even though you can talk about it, its implementation is very far off.

Let me take you a bit backwards to when you said the whole economy has gone backwards, there is progress as there is sufficient evidence to prove that the banking sector has grown.
The banking sector has grown by relation to twenty million people compared to independence when you had about six million people. It is only one sector. The sectors that have grown in Ghana are the telecommunications sector only because the technology was not there at the time of independence because we did not have the colour TV and the mobile phone technology that we have now. The banking sector also has ridden on the back of technology to grow. If Unique Trust is doing well then what would we mean by depression in the banking sector. Look at education; it is the vehicle for development. When I went to university in Ghana, I got a letter in my village; got there, was received and given a room, three meals a day, ice cream, tea, coffee, exquisite lecture rooms and allowance to study. Final year I had one room to myself. Now what does the Ghanaian who enters university have? The very room that I had to myself now has about eight or ten students to that room and it is for ‘in out out and out’. No meals, student’s loan is hard to get and now we have people going to school under trees even in Kumasi. A mate of mine teaches in a school in Kumasi where the blocks have been blown off so the students learn under trees. Here in Accra, there are places where you have fifteen JSS schools in one compound. So education has run down. Under transport, what do we say? The rail transport is non-existent. Where is Ghana Airways? Black Star Line, which Kwame Nkrumah brought about, is gone. We constructed a few roads but look at the majority of our roads presently; they are in dismal shape.

It is possible to go on and on counting the inadequacies of the system.
Now do you see how far backwards we have come? I just want you to have a better glimpse of why I said those things. In industry, we used to have a match factory, a corned beef factory, a tomato factory, a glass factory, etc. they are all gone.

Do you not think that most of the problems Ghana is experiencing like other developing countries are because of the economic policies of the stronger western powers?
No way, absolutely no way. I genuinely believe that the advanced countries would want to see one or two African countries develop so that the attention of African immigrants going to Europe will be redirected to West Africa. I believe they genuinely want to put money down so that one or two West African countries develop.

You think the West is sincere enough to want us to develop seeing that there have been revelations as to how Europe engineered Africa’s underdevelopment and its policies today still entrench for our lack of forward movement.
The whole world is about exploitation. If you expose yourself, people will take advantage of you. It is up to you to know what is happening in your environment then strategize to improve your lot. Then people will respect you. When Singapore, Korea and Malaysia were developing, they were not stopped by the advanced countries. The West did not become poorer because they became richer. So it’s not true. We are the cause of our own failures. Do not look anywhere for your own problems. We should blame our leaders. When the black man (Ghana) woke up to demand for independence, they accounted for their governance and packed up leaving our country to us. They handed over to us railways, universities and so many other things that were working. They also handed over to us reserves running into millions of dollars with no debt. That is a foreigner running your country for you. Since the white man left, every that has come government has accumulated more debts for us. Then the NPP declared an emergency enabling us to have our debts written off, which is quite disgraceful. We have started piling them on again. If you talk about the woes coming from the white person, I personally will say no, it is not true. We gave them some opportunity to abuse us a bit but what have we done for ourselves since independence?

You do have friends in influential places, politicians and ministers…
(Cuts in) No, I do not.

You don’t.
I know them but they are not my friends.

Oh well, when you meet them what do you tell them?
I do not talk to them because they always misconstrue what I say. If you do not say something in their favour then you are against them. Ghana has now been polarized everything is looked at in political terms. When I started Unique Trust in the 90s and people saw we were doing well, they began to say, “He’s NDC. He’s coming from the military and they gave him some money with which he’s now doing business”. Then the NPP came and they said, “Now the man’s NPP”. Others said “no he’s NDC” then the NPP began to come after Unique Trust. Even in football, Hearts of Oak is supposed to be NDC while Ashanti Kotoko is NPP. What kind of a country is this? I do not waste my time talking to politicians because it all is ignored. People ask me why I even talk when I have built a company and I am okay and things like that. I am not after bread and butter. It’s when you leave your house in the morning, you meet the first traffic light, and you see your fellow human being begging among the traffic. You see the look of desperation in some of their eyes. You look around and see filth and you imagine the opportunities that we have. You can’t just say you won’t do anything. Your hearts bleeds for the people. That is why some of us talk. Unfortunately, for some people if it’s not in favour of the government of the day then you’re against the government. It is sad. Ghana is even better than some other African countries because I know their cultures are worse and they abuse their people more than we do ours. Nevertheless, ours is still very bad.

You seem to have a feeling for the underprivileged, what have you done to alleviate suffering among the underprivileged populace.
I don’t think there’s much that I can do. Most times, I’m not even sure I’m doing the right thing. One of the few things that give me pleasure is when I look at the faces of my staff and see that the about two hundred and fifty people who I employ have a means of livelihood, self-respect and are able to feed their families and relatives. I look at the investments that we’ve made and the interests that we’ve paid higher than treasury bills. We’ve paid pensioners and organizations we know that we’ve added more valuable to them. I look at the people we have given loans to and the numerous businesses that we’ve saved not withstanding what anybody says. And I know the individuals who are benefiting from our services so that gives me some satisfaction that I’m putting something back into the system. I look at the taxes that we’ve paid; for 2005 we paid c10 billion in taxes that were supposed to go into the Consolidated Fund to help the government disburse as it deems fit. Even though I have my problems as to how it is disbursed. I look at the corporate social responsibility work that we do whereby we give to orphanages. If you look at what the average person is suffering, then the underprivileged people need to be pitied. Even those of us who have jobs are complaining then I say what about those who are crippled, blind theirs would be pitiful. So we try to give something to them in the special homes. We went to the National Trauma Centre where people are lying on the floor and spent about c600 million trying to rehabilitate it. We also adopted it because it’ll be rundown again before you know it. How much can one company formed under just ten years do? There should be more companies like us if the system is functioning properly so that there would be lots more taxes for the government to collect and take care of its citizens. But there are only a few success stories.

Let me take you up on that. You started ten years ago and are now the second best indigenous company in Ghana, how then did you develop so well if you accuse the same system of being so unruly?
You might say I’m a bit crazy but I teach people and say be realistic. Don’t listen to what people tell because that’s not the truth most of the time. Our upbringing in Africa is even wrong because we were brought up to fear authority. The father is coming to the house and the children have to run and hide. The father is never wrong even when he’s being stupid. Moreover, even if there is any misunderstanding you have to beg your father. You see that we grow up fearing authority, not challenging the status quo and being timid. This is our way of life. When I was growing up people believed I was a truant who didn’t respect authority and all supposing things. But the good side is that if the boss is wrong I can say so. He can fool all of us but even though I can’t do anything I’ll tell him that he’s wrong. Most people take it that the government is trying but I believe the government is doing absolutely nothing. If you want to develop a people you start with information about the people. This is a country where we don’t even have addresses so the government doesn’t even have a clue where the people live. How do you say you develop such a people? So the tax man is limited and the government doesn’t know what is required where; it doesn’t know what to take from where and therefore is not capable of developing the people. I was realistic about the country’s situation so I did my own investigations by going to the markets and knew how they were suffering when it came to accessing loans. My own experience put me in touch with the banks and I knew that the banks weren’t treating clients properly and were not responding to the needs of the people. It hit me and I said I’m going to do what the banks are supposed to do in a different efficient way. In those days you had to listen to people and try and solve their needs because business is about trying to satisfy the needs of people. If you don’t respect people you can’t even think of what is worrying them to determine what their needs are. When you look at someone, you should be thinking about how to improve his life. That is when business starts nurturing. We started with these goals in mind. I said I was going to do loans for 15% a month and people thought I was crazy but I knew that people were given loans in the market at 30-50 % a month. So I said if I can give loans to people at 15%, I’ve saved them something. People said nobody would take a loan at 15% but I knew it was possible. I started giving out money at 84% per annum and I knew that with discipline I would still have a margin. As situations improved, I narrowed down interest to a situation where we now give out loans at between 3-8% per month. You have to be realistic and stay focused on the job. The problem is that our culture will always take you away from your job. As soon as you start making some money, employing one or two people, everybody will zoom on you. They will want to make you chief, there is a funeral here you should attend, you want to look after your brother, your mother wants this and the money you have to invest in the business is being frittered away. You have to know this culture is wrong. I would not spend the money that is supposed to grow the business to do something else. People even borrow money to satisfy cultural demands or societal pressures. That is wrong. That is how we have been brought up. Only a few people would be realistic and say “what is happening to me is wrong and I wouldn’t go that way”.

Do people come to ask for loans to do burials?
Yes, people come to take loans for so many frivolous things. A guy came here to borrow money because every summer he has to go to Europe for summer with his wife, three kids and a help. Therefore, that year he came here to borrow money to buy tickets because his money was not ready. It was what was expected of him so he needed to take a loan to fulfill his obligations. I asked myself what are their priorities. We always want people to see us in a certain respectable light. I do not care what people think about me. I just focus on my goals. The society makes unnecessary demands that people unfortunately cave in.

How difficult is it retrieving loans from defaulters?

It is very difficult. However, in giving loans, you just do not give money to everybody who walks into the office seeking one and then you go after them after a month to collect the money, no. it requires understanding the person, getting the truth about the need for the money and if they will use the money for that. Once you establish contact with a client and he/she tells you exactly what their situation is, and then you are at the beginning of trying to give a good loan. Then you have to use your better education and knowledge of the business to evaluate the business the client has told you about. Factor in the cost of the interest to the business and ensure that the client will make a profit or his position will improve. You have to agree with the client that this will be the result if he agrees to do what we say we will do with the moneys. The client says yes I am happy with it, I will abide by it thank you very much before we go into giving the loan. There is some mutual understanding about how much money we are giving out, what the money is supposed to do and the probable problems that will occur. Many people after doing the type of business they wanted to do and making the money start having ideas different ideas. Therefore, you have to be there to monitor and pick up the money when it comes in. if your monitor and evaluation is good, you will do good loans. However, you still have people in the system who will come in and lie or people who tell the truth but as soon as they leave the office, they turn around as need that is more urgent arises and they divert the money. In that situation, I really do not have a problem. My issue is that when they have disrespected you and the cause for which you gave them the money, they should come back and tell you that something went wrong and I could not stay by what we agreed. The typical Ghanaian would put off their phone and not stay in their house trying to avoid you. I have put my telephone number at all of our offices saying if you have a problem, you should call me directly. You do not call me; we call you but get no response, we have a responsibility to the owners of the money then we come after you.

So you enforce retrieval of the loans.
The point is that these very disrespectful crooks and cheats in the system know that the system can be manipulated, because if you take them to the police station they can bribe their way, the court system is slow and adjournments can last up to three years. They misapply the money and try to use the weak system to their advantage. we have our own problems but I believe we are one of the companies who deal with them better than the others.

How do you go to bed at night knowing that you have taken away a family’s livelihood while retrieving a defaulted loan?
I sleep very well. I am a very happy person. The only time a relationship will start between a client and us is when we have analyzed the client’s desperate situation and taken other people’s money to give to this client. For such an action, nobody can say we are bad people for giving money fast to people in desperate situations with feeling and respect. Ninety five per cent of the people pay back and are grateful. The other 5% who lack respect for civility want to abuse our trust and say we are bad people. However, I sleep very well at night knowing my God is behind me. When people walk in here and ask us for a loan bringing along a guarantee, they are simply saying you can liquidate this thing if do not pay you.

At the end of the day if this person cannot pay and they ask for a little more time, what do you do?
I am saying that come back and tell us you have a problem. I welcome all of them. I respect people because I have a soft side that most people do not know. I want people to be truthful about their conditions. If you come back and tell me about the situation then I am ready to help you figure something out.

People respect you for what you have achieved in the country because you have turned adversary into something great. Don’t you think that people like you ought to stand up for positions of leadership in this country? Why are the good men standing down when they should be counted?
You need to listen to some opinions about me before you make such conclusions.

The young people look up to you because you inspire them.
They are in the minority. Ghanaians do not like the truth. If you say the truth too much and you are disrespectful and do not like the party or the big man, they take you as the enemy. I would not venture into politics by myself, ever. I know that the way I talk and say the truth, majority of the people will not want to vote for me. I am smart enough to know that. In a situation where the majority of the Ghanaians cannot stand the truth, I know it will be a waste of time. If I have to put myself up to serve the people, I know I will put in my best so you bet that I will never bribe anybody to vote for me. You cannot win elections in Ghana without paying and telling them lies.

In essence, you would run for president if a party adopts you.
No party would adopt me. I do not think like them. I have found it refreshing that somebody like Professor Frimpong Boateng will put himself up for president. I’m praying and hoping there will be some miracle from somewhere to see that he’s a genuine guy who can change Ghana.

Many people were surprised that you supported him.

He is the only person worth my support. People are not realistic anymore. Here’s someone who has excelled in the medical profession, in the cardio surgical field, with a high IQ and he says he wants to replicate his success for his people. he’s been named a bad person because Ghanaians always call a good person bad. If we’re realistic, there’s not another candidate who can stand up to him among the lot. We say we are developing so we don’t need him but if we realize we’re not developing but going backwards then we’ll realize we need a different person and not the usual breed of politicians because they have only succeeded in bringing us backwards.

You think the political jobbers are just wasting our time.

I will not say they’re wasting our time but that they don’t know what it takes to develop people and they get side tracked by the cultural demands on them. For example, the president has to go to a funeral every weekend. We have only 24 hours in a day, how can you go and spend hours at a funeral? I do not get it. In addition, he has to go with a convoy of about 40 cars in a show of strength because that makes him popular.

In essence, you are not friends with the president.
I have not met him before and have never shaken hands with him. I only see him from afar.

What if you had an opportunity to have an audience with him, what would you tell or advise him?
The presidency is an institution you cannot but respect. I am a trained soldier and we take seriously rank and position. I do not think the president will need my advice because he has many people around him who he has trusted for so long and would not now come to ask for my advice. One thing I assure is that if he ever asked for my view, they will not be dressed up at all. They will be as raw as I am talking to you.

So if you ever came into a position of authority, how will we know that you would not sing another tune?
Then they would have to listen to hard truth all the time. Moreover, I know I will not last because they would probably sack or kill me.

Metaphor of the Beard

I remember growing up and wanting to have beard on my chin. At fifteen, all I ever dreamt of was having a face covered with hair. Why? Just so I could be respected by everybody around, most especially by the other kids in school.

As a teenage boy growing up in Akure, Nigeria in the middle of the tumultuous Abacha years, a hairy face and a baritone got you some measure of respect from the little boys. Plus you were exempted from the big bully’s whipping list. A lot of other perks went along with it; you would be looked upon by the teachers as mature enough to be placed in a position of authority. There goes the Class Captaincy!

The Senior Prefect, if you ever attended Aquinas College, was usually the most brilliant boy in school. And he also had a lot working for him if he possessed a chin full of hair. This would ensure he gets the necessary measure of respect from the other ‘big’ boys in school.

I never wanted to be class captain though. Why I wanted beards was so as to be able to fit into the clique of the older boys. I wanted to be able to ‘ride’ with them and share jokes in their company. I wanted to be in the mix of things with the big boys. It was the greatest respect anyone my age could ask for. You could talk freely in their midst about life, boy love, and any other thing that was in vogue; fashion, music, parties, clubbing, etc. Plus you still get exempted from the bully’s list!

Looking back, I’m not sure if they did ever talk about life, as I know it now. When you talk about life I guess it includes girls, love, fashion, music, clubbing and all the rest. But now I know that life is more than all that.

Sure life is a bunch of so many seeming incongruities. It all depends on what phase in life a man is. Life is the dew that drops on the grass at dawn; the scorching sun that sucks the dew up at daybreak; the cool breeze that blows in from the Atlantic at eventide, and the sweet sleep that sets in to caress one’s eyelids at night.

Life is the smooth feeling you get when a mother smears dusting powder on the buttocks of a baby after bathing it and seeing the baby smile, while watching herself unfold in its eyes. O what great affection between mother and child.
Life is also that piercing scream that upturns silvery fountains when the child’s buttocks encounter heat rash. That unsightly fellow that brings pain and anguish to a mother’s heart while watching her baby writhe in pain.

O Life!

Life it is that crawls on fours at the break of a new day when the cock crows the household awake. Crawling fours are aided by time to tottering twos. Twos stagger and swagger and wobble to rise up strong and healthy to run around and play football. Twos become grown with beards, gets a good job, a good girl, plans a great home as the babies start coming. Life lurks around in the shadows and goads twos on, cheering, clapping, laughing and generally making merry.

It’s been a few years hence my first beard and I have come to learn so many different lessons about life. I now realize that life is not only about riding with the big boys because you have a jut of hair on your chin. I know now that to be a big player myself entails lots of responsibility. You must be able to take care of your beards. It must be well groomed. And if one decides to leave it bushy, it’s their cup of tea.

But the greatest lesson I have come to appreciate is that when you have beards you must be able to handle the bumps that come with it.

Friday, June 1, 2007

What are they watching?

Last Sunday evening I took a stroll down the neighbouring streets to clear my head (feeling low?) for the week ahead. Sometimes one needs to get away from all human and computer contact in the quiet of the evening and hit the road to commune with that part of nature that we so often overlook.

As I stepped out in my shorts and trainers, I suddenly felt like the average obroni that prowls the street at dusk looking for God knows what. True to my thoughts, curious eyes followed my every step as I made my way through the side streets.

On passing by a neighbour’s back yard, I saw a young lady who sat by herself listening to a transistor radio. The radio blared out in French so I stopped to chat with her. I introduced myself and we quickly struck a friendship. I promised to come check on her more often so as to be able to ameliorer my French.

I then proceeded towards my goals of trekking five kiometres to keep body and mind together. As I turned a corner where a rail line crosses the street about 800 metres into my promenade, I suddenly noticed a large group of over fifty people, young and old, babies strapped on mothers’ backs, all watching a TV screen that was placed out there under the view of the moon.

I wondered what show could be on TV at that time that would draw the attention of all those people. Curiosity got the better of me so I made my way to where they were huddled together to satisfy my interest. I have realized that curiosity, like temptation, is only fulfilling when satisfied.

On approaching where the crowd stood, what I saw amazed me. Not in its origin but in its content. The crowd stood there ogling at a Nollywood movie and it seemed so moved by it. There on the screen was a young tall pretty lady dressed in a gorgeous attire begging to be accepted by this four and a half inches tall dude popularly called Aki (Chinedu Ikedieze). And the midget refused her advances citing some previous wrongs done by her.

It was interesting watching the crowd being swayed by the love story. I soon continued my walk without bothering to ask for the movie’s title because I wouldn’t be looking for it anyway. I dismissed it as pure fiction, a figment of the imagination of the screen writer.

But as I walked on, I pondered the reality of the scene in the film. Do things like that really happen? Do midgets like Aki and Pawpaw (stripped of their fame or money) find love? If they do, do they get gorgeous girls when there are taller men out there?

Do girls ever fall in love with guys the height of Aki and Pawpaw? Is love really blind? Would people like that be able to satisfy their lovers during lovemaking? Would desperation lead one into such a decision? So many questions but few answers. Think I will seek out a psychologist and ask how attraction works.
That’s just one of the things I saw during my evening stroll. Do you know of an interesting situation of the sort I described? Why not send me an email. You can also tell me about some interesting experiences you had during your stroll or jog. Readers’ rejoinders will be published.