This reflection is premised on the funeral of Nenyi Nkensen II (my former Senior House Master), I attended two weeks ago. He was enstooled the Tufuhene of the Senya Beraku Traditional Area following the abdication of his predecessor Nenyi Kow Nkensen Arkaah, who had gone into full-time politics. As I sat through the funeral, I deeply meditated on how we (as a country) have looked down on the contributions of certain individuals. The more I thought of this, the more I got an inkling that this country and its political actors in particular have not been kind to the memory of persons such as this country’s second Vice-President – Nenyi Kow Nkensen Arkaah.
As a Harvard graduate, Kow Arkaah had worked as a Director of Mobil Oil Ghana Ltd, Principal Secretary (Chief Director in today’s parlance), Managing Director of the state’s Ghana National Trading Corporation (GNTC), Managing Director of Ghana Airways airline as well as Managing Director of the Ghana National Procurement Agency. He also worked as a Business Consultant in The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Yugoslavia and Ethiopia all before the advent of multi-party politics in 1991.
In 1992, a party called NCP went into an alliance with NDC. Thus, its presidential candidate, Nenyi Kow Nkensen Arkaah campaigned and became the Vice-President of Ghana under Jerry John Rawlings, the President. The alliance soon fell apart and the political opposition heavily led by the NPP fanned and greatly benefited from that fall-out.
We had a Vice-President who’d attend Cabinet and come out leaking details to the opposition and the private press, a Vice-President who’d attend state functions and take on his own government on its inadequacies, etc. The private press was heavily tilted towards NPP and it received good fodder to chew on. One time, for instance, UTAG went on strike and government was unyielding in their demands of the lecturers. As the strike continued, the President (J.J. Rawlings) travelled out to a neighbouring country on official business.
Once in acting capacity, Vice-President Arkaah instructed Hon. Harry Sawyerr as Minister of Education to meet with the lecturers on their grievances. Within that short period, he forced the Ministers of Education and Finance to agree to a settlement with the lecturers and have a deal signed before the return of the President. You can only imagine the demeanour of the President upon his return.
Then, from nowhere, the Vice-President alleged that the President had beaten him at a Cabinet meeting held on 28th December 1995. He addressed the Presidential Press Corps to narrate the scandal after which he drove directly to the Police Headquarters to lodge a formal complaint to the IGP. Considering that the Veep himself was Chairman of the Police Service Council, the entire Police hierarchy felt very uncomfortable to handle the case. Of course, most of the Ministers refuted the claim (even though they all much later acquiesced to its occurrence) while the President made sure the case did not travel anywhere inspite of all the bravado displayed by his Vice and the heavy media coverage by the international media.
In no time, the learned Attorney General (Dr Obed Asamoah) had on the orders of government hastily passed through Parliament Constitutional changes to remove the mandatory provision that ensured that the Vice-President chaired the Police, Prisons, Fire and other Service Councils. Nenyi Arkaah had overnight been reduced to a powerless Veep and started attending opposition rallies and yet sitting at state functions next to J.J. Rawlings as his Vice. He was mocked as a ‘Simpa Panyin’ by his political detractors but he was not to be deterred. Traps were set for him and ministers used to malign the sitting Vice-President with grievous scandals but he managed to scale through each of them earning himself the tag, ‘Stubborn Cat’. The Veep was the gentleman’s gentleman to the very end always defined by his fashionable suits and bow-tie, but one who did not suffer fools gladly.
Towards the 1996 elections, Veep Arkaah’s party (NCP had been renamed PCP) went into alliance with NPP and the determination of who became the candidate and vice was that thorny. The PCP argued that their candidate was already Vice and could only move up as President while NPP argued that they had the most experienced candidate in John Kufuor. Having fifteen members apiece in the special Electoral College, they voted on two occasions and both results were split evenly. At the third vote, the Chairman of the PCP, Al-Hajj Asoma Banda did the unthinkable by voting against his own candidate thus breaking the tie to enable NPP’s John Kufuor to become the alliance candidate. Unfortunately, the long negotiations had deprived both parties time to do effective campaign and Kufuor received just above 39% after undertaking only three months of campaign. Alas, Kow Arkaah had sacrificed his political future to the political opposition at the time and NPP in particular at the expense of his Vice Presidency. Once out of government, the Rawlings administration (2nd term) ensured that Arkaah was ridiculed at every opportunity but he took all of it in his stride. Towards the 2000 elections, he campaigned for Kufuor again in both rounds of the election, and Kufuor did win. Unfortunately, Kow Arkaah’s solid Mercedes Benz car was rammed into within his Cantonments neighbourhood by an unknown vehicle sometime in April 2001 and claimed the life of the former Vice-President. Interestingly to date, no one seems to know who did it or what happened to the investigations. Some three years down the line, his wife, Mrs. Marian Arkaah also died and Ghanaians quietly allowed that to slide into oblivion without any ceremony.
Nenyi Kow Nkensen Arkaah indeed sacrificed so much towards the development of this country as well as have this democratic experiment to be firmly rooted. Yet we seem to have deliberately taken a decision as a country to forget about him – no monument, no street, no institution named after him…. nothing, how?
This is simply not good enough, Ghana!
Credit: Eric Atta-Sonno