Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Listening to Ghana

by Ebow Daniel

As a people, Ghanaians love to intervene where there is no need, has anyone noticed? It shows in our everyday discourse. The transitive verb frequently takes over where the intransitive will do, or even better. We have lately retired from the public service a good many people who would normally retire at sixty. Several times in the past, we have toppled governments which would probably have toppled on their own. We used not to, but suddenly we have taken to dispatching from the surface of this earth categories of malefactors who being mortal were bound some day to betake themselves away. It shows the interventionalist in us, resorting needlessly to the transitive verb.

Some effort at the transitive takes some doing, though. Some of us would never dare "collapse" anything, least of all the national economy, or accuse others of doing that, although we are aware of a few braves who, since January 13, 1972, have proved equal to both. Where the verb "collapse" is concerned, our experience suggests that it is best to leave the initiative to others. Could there be room for doubt that it is safer to leave people to collapse (from exhaustion, perhaps), than to "collapse" them ourselves? The point is this: We break too many rules (linguistic, moral, legal) "collapsing" other people especially.

On their own momentum or lack of it, humans collapse, so do national economies, and often from an unusual word-usage, grammar too. There are compatriots who ask that we "borrow" them things we would rather "lend", others who want us to "learn" them things we can only 'teach'. And before the tyres under our jalopy finally gave way, we approached a dealer who promised relief; could we "remember" him from time to time? But for his preference for "remember", we would have liked merely to "remind" the dealer. In spite however of obliging the dealer his rather odd word-preference in the matter (we did "remember" him, didn't we?) the tyres collapsed without the promised relief ever coming.

Like all games, word-games also have their hazards. Happily, Budget 85 assures us (page 8) of "disablement relief" which set us wondering. Whatever happened to good old "disability"? Who disabled (allow!) "disability” to warrant its being substituted by the unfamiliar (but by no means wrong) "disablement"? "Disablement" is a North American favourite; does that say anything about the inspiration for the budget?

Whatever its inspiration, Budget '85 disappoints, failing to disclose where claims for "disablement" are to be lodged. We imagine however that such claims will come before the "College of PNDC Secretaries". We know of the existence of this college from the People's Daily Graphic. In an editorial of April 12, 1985, we are told that the "College of PNDC Secretaries does not make policies by heart". We are naturally happy to hear that.

Considering, however, that the Revolution spurns "minister" (for being rather high-and-mighty sound-ng) and prefers "Secretary" (for being more down to earth), we wonder whether PNDC Secretaries themselves favour "college" to designate the collectivity. In the sense of an institution of higher learning, "college" is disturbingly suggestive of ivory tower- ism, of Common Room babble. On the other hand, the only other meaning of "college" known to some of us, refers to an assembly of highly-placed ecclesiasticals.

When they meet in conclave, Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Establishment are a "college" and from the College of Cardinals, pre- sided over by the Pontiff of Rome, emanate encyclicals which the faithful know to be the stuff of which infal- libility is made. Is it possible we are laying similar claims (infallibility), when we say we are a college, "a college which does not make policies by heart"?

"Committee of PNDC Secretaries" suggests itself, considering the names taken by the other "organs of the Revolution": Committee for the Defence of the Revolution (CDR), Interim Management Committee (IMC), Interim Management Consultative Committee (IMCC), Joint- Consultative Committee (JCC), Citizens Vetting Committee (CVC), National Investigation Committee (NIC), National Defence Committee (NDC deceased), Peoples Defence Committee (PDC deceased), Workers Defence Committee (WDC- deceased) Ours indeed is a Committee-managed Revolution. "Committee of PNDC Secretaries" is only one more committee, one which in the context of the Revolution radiates more light than any college can.

And it is a fair request that light is shed everywhere else that darkness reigns: "With immediate effect a one mile poultry-free zone has been declared at Pomadze," reports the People's Daily Graphic of April 30, 1985.

We are familiar with "nuclear-free zones" referring to areas where nuclear devices are not welcome, but "poultry-free zone" presents difficulties. The Winneba-Cape Coast road lies in front of Pomadze less than a mile away. Is it seriously suggested that no one may travel this road again carrying a chicken? As a poultry enterprise, state owned Pomadze is already full of chicken, so what possible harm could one more chicken do? Or is it possible Pomadze has been evacuated of all chicken, why?

Like policies made by PNDC Secretaries, the decision to declare Pomadze a "poultry free zone" was not arrived at "by heart", we can be sure, but of immediate interest is "by heart". Whatever the meaning elsewhere, the phrase has also a uniquely Ghanaian meaning which refers to things done without care, plan or calculation, "by heart"! The phrase even lends itself to adjectival use as in "that by heart man", Before the image changed for the better, which is only recent, certain categories of uniformed personnel severally went by that description, if we remember.

But in its uniquely Ghanaian meaning, "by heart" used to be merely spoken, hardly written and if written only in quotation marks to signify its special place in the national vocabulary. We are only now beginning to see the phrase so bold in print, also stripped of its quotation marks, so irreverently laid bare, and without apology. O tempora, o mores!

"And now the winning numbers in this week's lotto: eighteen, twenty, two, four and single-one", Radio Ghana does not seem to appreciate its influence on young minds. Imagine a pre-school child who is now exposed to Radio Ghana having to recite the numerals on his first day at school, two years hence: "single-one, two, three, four..."

While the now numerate school child is yet to reach "eleven" (double-one?) we should sum up all that has gone before, namely that from listening to Ghana all these years, it becomes clear that we never allow things to take their natural course but must intervene everywhere, often to our detriment. It is again clear that we are enamoured of novelty, often to no advantage at all. At least in the matter of speech, the commonplace seems too drab and unexciting for some of us, yet we risk a lot being too innovative or adven-urous. He could have asked for the lady in spectacles, but the lady's paramour wanted to sound impressive: "Call me that spectacular lady." The lady heard but would not have any- thing to do anymore with one who had become a laughing stock. That's how risky.

talking drums 1985-07-08 nigeria's security boss writes - we reply