Ebo Quansah in Accra .
Going to Tamale for the first time was an exciting experience. I was a young sports journalist with the Ghanaian Times in 1978, when a call came through from Mr. Razak El-Alawa (that was before he went to Hajj and became Al-Haji) Northern Regional Editor of the state-run Daily Graphic at the time.
The Regional Editor’s message was simple. He was acting on behalf of now deceased former Vice-President Alhaji Aliu Mahama, who was the Northern Regional Director of the State Construction Company and that the man who was a king-pin in the management of Real Tamale United (RTU), would call later.
Two days after El-Alawa’s call, the much-awaited call came though. Alhaji Aliu Mahama asked if I would like to be the guest of Real Tamale United, which was making waves in Ghana football after gaining promotion to the National First Division League.
I jumped at the invitation, and barely a week after agreeing to the deal with the RTU Director, I was on a Ghana Airways flight to Tamale for the first time in my life. I love travelling as a person. As a matter of fact, what I enjoy most as a traveler is the take-off and landing of the aircraft. The sight of objects shrinking as the aircraft lifts itself into the air is a sight to behold.
Naturally, when the pilot announced that we should fasten our seat belts in readiness for landing, I was agitated. Throughout the flight, I was looking through the window to see how the ground looked like. I saw this beautiful flat landscape of grassland with isolated trees all over the place. The topography was a sight to behold.
I asked for guidance and was told that the trees standing in isolation were shea nut trees. As a school boy growing up at Ekumfi Ekrawfo, shea butter was the favourite cream, especially during the Harmattan season when the skin dryness was in its worst condition.
As a matter of fact, only shea butter could moisture the skin effectively. Observing shea nut trees which produce the cream from the window of an aircraft had its own reward.
Since my maiden flight to Tamale, I have visited the Northern Regional capital on a number of times. The late Aliu Mahama almost always had me in his entourage to the north when he became the Vice-President of the land. Invariably, the first activity I usually indulge in on arriving in Tamale is to visit a guinea fowl joint.
The Confederation of African-football organised African Cup of Nations in 2008 staged in Ghana offered me countless number of occasions to visit Tamale as a member of the Ghana Bid Committee on inspection tours with CAF officials, and as a member of the Media Sub-Committee of the Local Organising Committee.
Regrettably, the unfortunate demise of the former Vice-President has affected the frequency of my visits to the Northern Regional capital. If Aliu were alive, I would most certainly been in Tamale on the 62nd Anniversary of Ghana’s independence.
Yesterday, I learned for the first time, watching the television broadcast of the 2019 independence parade, that the name Tamale means the site for the shea nut tree. Naturally, I am fascinated by the idea of linking shea butter to the Northern Regional capital. I have always believed that the shea butter industry holds the key to the development of the north generally.
That is why I am disappointed that an experimented plantation developed by the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana during the era of Mr. John Agyekum Kufuor as President of Ghana, to domesticate the shea nut tree in Bole, has virtually been abandoned.
Developing the north is sine quo non to nurturing peace and tranquility in the country. That is one reason I was thrilled at the idea of moving the 62nd Independence Anniversary ceremony to Tamale for the first time.
From all indications, the ceremony was a huge success. The patronage was superb. The 20,000-capacity Aliu Mahama Sports Stadium was filled to the brim, and many spectators, who could not gain entry into the main bowl of the stadium, lined the streets of the regional capital and cheered the dignitaries as they made their way in. There was brisk business in local items, l am told.
When President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo announced that the 62nd Independence celebration had been moved from Accra to Tamale, he said it was a means of rewarding the Kingdom of Dagbon, which has finally embraced peace after virtually being at each other’s throats since March 2001, leading to the assassination of Ya-Na Yakubu Andani, the Overlord of the Dagbon Kingdom.
It took nearly 17 years of tact and diplomacy to bring the feuding Andani Royal Family and the Abudu Royal Family, incidentally brothers and sisters, to smoke the peace pipe.
Nana Akufo-Addo believed that the idea of getting the two sides to agree to a road-map leading to the funeral rites of the two departed leaders of Dagbon – Ya Na Muhamadu Abdulai and Ya-Na Yakubu Andani II – and the eventual installation of a new Ya-Na, Abukari Mahama II – was worth recognising by the entire nation.
Yesterday, Ya-Na Abukari Mahama joined thousands of Ghanaians to mark the 62nd Anniversary of the declaration of self-government from British colonialism from his backyard, instead of watching television feed from Accra, in his palace.
I would like to believe that the new Overlord of Dagbon was a proud king yesterday. The rendition of the Damba Dance, symbolising peace and unity, as well as other northern dances from the dome of the Aliu Mahama Stadium to mark the 62nd Anniversary of the declaration, must have set his soul at peace. The long road to peace in the Dagbon Kingdom has been worth the effort.
The ceremony began with the pouring of libation in authentic Dagomba tradition. Unlike the Ga and Akan versions, in which schnapps from a bottle is poured on the ground accompanied by incantations, this one involved the calabash and pito, the authentic northern-brewed beverage. In the northern experience, the person pouring the libation squats with a number of aides, and pours out the liquor as another recites the incantation. It was quite an experience yesterday.
Contingents from the Ghana Armed Forces -Air Force, the Navy and the Army – joined those of the police, the fire service, prisons and Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority to march together with students of the Ghana Education Service, drawn from the Tamale Metropolis and Savelegu Municipality.
The mass bands of the Police Service and the Ghana Armed Forces provided the marching songs. There were four high schools and six basic schools on the march.
Before the marchers were called to order, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, flanked by the Chief of Defence Staff, Major-General Obed Akwa, and Inspector General of Police David Asante Apeatu, reviewed the parade.
The Head of State then lit the perpetual flame to loud acclaim. It was obvious that Tamale residents were happy to see independence celebrated nationally for the first time in the northern regional capital. Every mention of the President’s name was cheered widely. It was obvious from the way things went that the people were generally happy with the entire ceremony.
A few people appeared to be unhappy with the President addressing Mr. John Dramani Mahama as the 2020 presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), and not as former President.
There has been no reaction from Jubilee House so far, but I will like to believe that that is the most fitting title of the man who handed over the mantle of leadership of this country to the current occupant of Jubilee House.
In his desire to return to Government House after the disastrous election defeat of 2016, Mr. Mahama has assumed the full mantle of the opposition leader of Ghana. He appears to be more interested in issues affecting the NDC and his personal electoral fortunes, than the posture of statesmanship which he is expected to portray, for which he is paid from the Consolidated Fund as former head of state of the Republic of Ghana.
Of course, there was time for a little bit of politicking in Tamale as well. For instance, contingents drawn from the six new regions -Ahafo, Bono East, North-East, Oti, Savannah and Western-North – came marching with a thank you message to the President.
Also on the march were Nation Builders Corps (NABCO), National Youth Employment and Youth in Afforestation, who are helping to restore our forest cover after years of plunder and degradation.
The President of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, was the Guest of Honour for this year’s celebration. He might have left with one or two lessons in nation-building. He expressed his nation’s gratitude to Ghana and its leadership for the pioneering role the country played in the independence struggle.
He obviously felt intrigued by the choice of Tamale to host this year’s celebration, citing it as an innovation in the African way of honouring historical events. A nephew satirically remarked that the head of state’s satisfaction could not be unconnected with bus loads of Nigerien beggars that might have followed their president’s route to Ghana.
As the Ghanaian dignitaries-and there were many in tow, left the stadium to wild applause it was clear that Tamale had put its best foot forward. My only regret was that the sight of the turf at the stadium did no justice to the millions of foreign exchange poured in to make the stadium fit to host the 2008 African Cup of Nations.
I will like to believe Minister of Sports Isaac Asiamah recognised the job at hand in getting the Aliu Mahama Stadium back to where it truly belongs. For the records, there is a 40-room hotel built it there to accommodate sportsmen and women in camp. The irony is that this nation still forks out huge money to house sportsmen and women preparing for national assignments.
The tartan track though, is in perfect condition. Why then is the Ghana Athletics Association still whining over what it claims are lack of camping venues in preparations for games. Tamale is very much an integral part of the country. The Aliu Mahama Stadium must not be left to rot while we cry for cash to camp our sportsmen and women in hotels.
For the records, there were Mr. Vice-President Alhaji Dr. Muhamadu Bawumia, his wife, Samira, First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo, former President Jerry John Rawlings, Chief of Staff Akosua Osei-Opare and many ministers of state of the Republic of Ghana, all enjoying themselves in Tamale yesterday.
With the huge success of the Tamale anniversary out of the way, many regional capitals are likely to lobby for their turn in hosting subsequent anniversaries. Tamale was a huge success. Apart from the ceremony that show-cased the metropolis into people’s living rooms, business tourism was at its zenith.