For someone, who has worked closely with the late Ghanaian Times reporter, Samuel Nuamah, it is with a mix of anger and immense frustration that I write this piece.
Unlike many, I wasn’t surprised when the event that led to Sammy’s death was told, because I have witnessed even more dangerous speed rage on presidential trips before. My anger stems from the obvious truth that “Kpanyaa’s” death could have been avoided if the presidential press corps was treated with just a little respect and dignity.
Let me first state categorically that disdain for the press corps is systemic at the presidency. It didn’t start with this administration. They are the least regarded and often treated like unavoidable ‘anchor babies’, like the Americans will say. Even the least-educated cleaner at the presidency feels more important than the journalists. They consciously make you feel like you are less human. There were countless instances where I saw some of my colleagues, who are married and have kids, curse themselves for being posted to the Flagstaff House; not many will have the confidence to openly speak about it though.
In many cases, the media is made to feel as though joining the convoy is a heavenly privilege for which one must be eternally grateful. There are numerous instances where the vans carrying the press corps had been missing en route to assignments, simply because some individuals felt too big to allow them into the convoy. They see the least of every favour at the Presidency. They are sometimes treated like ‘The Plague’. Many of them are, however, comforted by their belief that the President may not be aware of what they go through to project his presidency. I am not sure when he will be. I am aware how the media begged to meet the president after his victory in the 2012 elections. I don’t know if they have yet met him, since I walked out with pride, in spite of the so-called ‘privileges’.
Until recently, the van for the media was rickety and poor, to say the least. We complained of bodily aches and discomfort for several years and the cries got the corps two new ford vans. They were strong and robust. We were told Stan Dogbe played a key role in that; his gratitude was given him by the ‘anchor babies’. For the records Stan Dogbe is not as mean as the narratives have held over the years. He was never rude to me as a journalist who represented the now struggling Radio XYZ at the presidency.
My senior colleague Rafiq Salam, in his recent piece, makes reference to the difficulties the press corps goes through during trips outside Accra. Rafiq, I can too well identify with those frustrations. I remember so well how I had to fight for a sleeping floor at Nkwanta in the Volta region during the 2012 electioneering. My colleagues and I had to beg to be allowed to sleep on the floor in an uncompleted premises of a school. And when day breaks, the media is ordered into the convoy like some stubborn school kids who must be controlled. Even more nauseating is the fact that every Tom, Dick and Harry in the security detail feels powerful over the media. But I don’t blame them; they seem to have been psyched up to think that the media is a parasite leeching off their master.
However, I don’t entirely blame those individuals at the presidency, I blame, also, those media owners who throw their reporters at the presidency to fend for themselves. With my stint as a presidential correspondent, I realised that many of the reporters working with private newspapers were not on salary, thereby making them extremely vulnerable and dependent on the benevolence of the system. Such individuals behaved as though they had no rights and were willing to consume and tolerate any kind of abuse just so they could obtain favours. And yes! There are many favours that are sometimes used to ‘numb’ the conscience of the media at the presidency. Perhaps, the biggest among them is foreign travels, for which many of the reporters are willing to surrender their independence.
As I visited the 37 Military Hospital on Thursday after the accident, I asked myself: For how much are my colleagues dying for? Oh yes, they are given perdiem per trip depending on how long they stay outside Accra. While I was there, a day’s trip outside Accra merited Ghc50 perdiem per reporter. While others grumbled over them, others were jubilant about it.
Truth be told, reporting from Ghana’s presidency as a journalist is not a privilege; it is more of a task that dwarfs one’s confidence as a human being.
To my colleagues William Gentu, Napoleon Ato Kittoe, Pascaline Adadevoh and Patrick Biddah, who are still recuperating at the hospital, I wish you Godspeed. You deserve better.