I could not find a more elegantly written but poorly timed tribute at the weekend than All Progressives Congress [APC] National Leader Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s congratulatory message to Ghana’s new President Nana Dankwa Akufo-Addo and his Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, on the occasion of their inauguration last Saturday. Tinubu said, “The people of Ghana have chosen right. Akufo-Addo is a seasoned administrator, diplomat and hails from a strong political family in Ghana. With him at the helm, Ghana is poised for greater heights. He has been in government before as Foreign Affairs Minister and comes prepared for the office he has sought for two times unsuccessfully... Indeed, it’s a new dawn for Ghana.”
A new dawn for the old art of plagiarism is more like it. Within minutes of his being sworn into office, President Nana Akufo-Addo broke the Olympic record for plagiarism when, in his inaugural speech, he lifted whole sections from US President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inaugural speech as well as from US President George W. Bush’s 2001 inaugural speech. The first annoying thing is that President Akufo-Ado reversed the order of American presidents when he copied Bush’s speech before Clinton’s even though Clinton was US President No 42 while Bush Junior was No 43. I don’t think Americans will like that very much.
The new president inspiringly told Ghanaians, “I ask you to be citizens. Citizens, not spectators. Citizens, not subjects. Responsible citizens building communities of service and a nation of character.” It soon transpired that George W. Bush said 14 years ago, “I ask you to be citizens: citizens, not spectators; citizens, not subjects; responsible citizens building communities of service and a nation of character.” Disregarding the long tradition of political hostility between the Bush and Clinton families, President Akufo-Ado then quoted a passage once uttered by Bill Clinton. He said, “Though our challenges are fearsome, so are our strengths. Ghanaians have ever been a restless, questing, hopeful people. And we must bring to our task today the vision and will of those who came before us.” It turned out that Bill Clinton had said in 1993, “Though our challenges are fearsome, so are our strengths. Americans have ever been a restless, questing, hopeful people. And we must bring to our task today the vision and will of those who came before us.” The only thing he changed was to substitute the word “Americans” with “Ghanaians.”
When tech-savvy young Ghanaians quickly discovered the goof and went about spreading it on the World Wide Web, the first thing that annoyed me was why an African leader should simultaneously find both an American Democrat and an American Republican’s speeches to be inspiring. Their political philosophies are supposed to be different, unless where lording it over other countries is concerned. An American Democrat is one who has faith in public institutions to solve problems while a Republican has more faith in the private sector and civil society groups. I expected President Akufo-Ado to agree with only one of these mutually irreconcilable philosophies and not to be inspired by both of them to the point of plagiarising both.
Even if the new Ghanaian president is a social and economic conservative, I wish he had found a more consistent ideologue to plagiarise than Bush Junior. This is because, during the protracted legal tussle that accompanied the US’ 2000AD election, Bush Junior and his Democratic rival Al Gore completely reversed philosophical positions in the fight over recount and dimple chards in Florida ballots, according to TIME magazine’s writer Nancy Gibbs. She pointed out that Bush, who campaigned on the basis of having faith in people, now insisted that electronic counting was better than manual recount whereas Al Gore, who campaigned as a champion of technological solutions to problems, turned around and demanded manual recount of electronic votes.
Mixed up philosophies aside, many Africans were wondering at the weekend where this veteran Ghanaian politician has been that he did not learn a recent lesson from Nigeria. My own generation of Nigerians was taught in primary school that Ghana is the closest thing to Nigeria. In fact one teacher told us that “the opposite of tall is short; the opposite of water is fire; the opposite of Nigeria is Ghana.” Any pupil or student who plagiarises this line does so at his peril. I am only saying here that I expect Ghanaian teachers also taught their students how close Nigeria is to Ghana so that they pay attention to happenings in Nigeria.
Mr. Akufo-Ado must have missed that lesson. Where was he when his Nigerian counterpart President Muhammadu Buhari suffered serious embarrassment when a passage of his Change Begins With Me speech was lifted without attribution from an old President Obama speech? When you think about it, Buhari’s case was better because it was not his inaugural speech. He had already been president for a year, has a very busy schedule and could not possibly write or even properly check all his speeches, so it was easier to shift the blame to an unnamed speechwriter. While I do not expect a ruler to write every speech that he delivers, I certainly expect him to pay very serious attention to his inaugural speech. First impression is very important, even in matters of love and romance. Akufo-Ado had one month between his election and his inauguration. That’s seven hundred and twenty hours, and he could not find four or five hours among those to devote to his speech. What will happen now that he is president and he has much more to do than he had in the last one month?
Come to think of it; why do African rulers rely so much on speechwriters? For that matter, speechwriters that will not simply add “As President Bill Clinton once said” before copying an entire passage? Instead of hurrying off to an event and collecting a prepared speech just before mounting the rostrum, I think it is better if a leader sits down for a briefing first about what the event is all about. He can then deliver an impromptu speech highlighting only the essentials and tying it all up with his administration’s general program of rule. Since a minister or other agency head will also speak at the same event, he can leave the details to them. The president does not have to be the one laboriously reeling out statistics, most of them inaccurate anyway.
My other fear for President Akufo-Ado is, if he could not get his inaugural speech right, what else can he possibly get right? A man who did not find time to vet his inaugural speech is unlikely to have found the time to vet his program of rule very carefully. If his administration gets off to a slow take off, I hope he will not spend the next one year blaming former President John Dramani Mahama for a poor transition. Was it old man Mahama, a man judged by all Africa to be a complete gentleman, that told him to leave his inaugural speech to rookie speechwriters and not to go though it before reading it? Let us just pray that our Ghanaian brothers and sisters have not entered a One Chance taxi with this man.
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