Today I write with so much solemnity; this day should have come several years ago, life has had its share of those in my kind, and nothing is able to undo the things that never was.
I graduated from Life Corps/ACM School, Winneba, in 1991. The 1987 educational reform program had just graduated its first batch of BECE candidates, and I was among the second batch that had left school, having graduated with confidence, but uncertain about the future, although I had had some sponsorship promises from my senior sister, and a missionary group I belonged to.
After I wrote the BECE, I cultivated a tomato farm, and realized C15,000 (now GHC1.5). I put the money inside a covered plastic bowl, dug a deep hole at the back of the family house, hid the bowl in the hole, and I left to Lake Volta, in search of work, just so that I avoided the risk of spending the money I had saved.
I returned from the lake a few weeks after, just in time for the announcement of the release of the BECE results. I heard the announcement on GBC Radio One, and we were asked to go to our respective schools to check them.
That day, on my way to the school, I walked pass a few of my mates, and by the school’s celebrated mango tree, straight to the headmaster’s office. Mr. Ackon, on seeing me, rose to his feet, looked straight into my eyes, reached for my hand, and shook it as he continued to stared deep into my eyes; failing to let out the words meant for me, and engulfed with emotions, he briefly took off his eyes, to hide the tears he had began to fight.
I stood in front of him, in his office, the same office in which he nearly decline my admission to the school some years back, I stood there as the man went in search of words to honor me, and finally he found one; congratulations! The man had no other words, but unending repeat of congratulations, as I stood there, palm in his palm, as I kept responding; thank you, thank you, in an unending cycle.
Mr. Akon kept holding on to my hand, as he kept shaking it, and kept fighting the tears, and kept uttering the word, congratulations, and kept mentioning my name, James, followed by congratulations; you have done me proud, you held this school, you have proven what is possible, and on, and on, and on…
At this point I had lost balance, having allowed Mr. Ackon to infect me with his tears. I sat in front of him, failing to face him anymore, as he took his seat, and pulled out the envelop that contained the sheets of the results, and there was my name, James Annan, the tortured rejected poor boy of no value, aggregate 06 staring right in my face, with Ones serializing the sheet, having opened a new academic record gap that was to remain unbroken till date.
I had selected Winneba Secondary School as my only choice, and as a Day Student; I did not want to risk any choice that could make me unable to afford, just in case any of those who had promised should fail me.
Somehow, the missionary church was unable to support me, although they had publicly announced their firm sponsorship for my secondary education. My sister, among other things, had heard the announcement of the church’s support, and therefore thought I was only out there to deceive her, to part with her already non existing money, so she too failed me.
The admission fee for Winnesec was 25,000 Cedis, now equivalent of GHC2.5, and as if it was a design, I was supposed to pay GHC1.5 deposit before I could register as a student.
So on the eve of the deadline for registration into the school, I took hold of the only available asawsaw in the house, dashed to the back of the house, scoop out the covered plastic bowl, and right there was my GHC1.5, away!!!!
The rest, my brother, is history, a history that we will continue to tell till death do us pat. Unfortunately, after paying the GHC1.5, there was nothing left for me to afford the school uniform. But I had a long sleeves shirt that was a faded pink but which looked closer to the school required cream top, so I halved the sleeves, and managed to secure a khaki knickers (don’t ask me how), and never changed this uniform until my third year.
Like many others in my category, I owe myself a book, a book that I have always been too afraid to write; for, the very stories that could make the book sell, are those same stories that I have been too weak to tell. Food to eat, note books for classes, and all the nuances of high school life, are all part of the history waiting to be told. My greatest wish, at the time, was someone to guarantee me one meal a day, a wish that remained a wish till I left school.
On December 1994, I wrote my last SHS examination paper, mathematics, on an empty stomach. I had not eaten the previous day, except a coconut I had brought from the beach, which I shared with my friends, and I had failed to study that night. I went into the examination hall half conscious; nearly thirty minutes into the paper, I realized that all the graph work I had done were a deviation.
I managed to finish the paper, and headed straight to my squatter room nearby, and began to pray, thanking God for such an undeserved mercy, that at the height of my situation, I could write these papers.
So when in 2012 the NDC kept pounding Nana Akufo-Addo’s Free SHS, I kept wishing that the earth would open, and swallow all those who were featured in those wrecking opposing adverts, it felt as though it was a joke, but those jokes were too expensive for me, that I became excessively emotional, to the point that I had to avoid further seeing those adverts.
All said, this week the government has rolled out the free SHS policy. My children may under-estimate this intervention, but the orphan from my community who had eight Ones, and who is now in Achimota, knows that the gods have visited him, and have brought good omen on his way.
Never again should we allow our children to face life in such lonely ways; so Nana Addo thank you, thank you for making the financing of secondary education a national issue, and following through to your inner self, and making it happen. I know what burden you have lifted off of those whose stories you might never have the honor of listening to; some gave sex to get food, others just abandoned their dreams, only a few survived what you don’t know.
It is my hope that you will not politicize the benefits; you have come far, you lost it once, you lost it twice, you came the third time, and you won it. What else do you need, in order to know that you are a true son of this land? Get everyone on board, NDC, NPP, PPP, non aligned, let everyone feel a part of the opportunities you have created, and let us all celebrate the hero in you.
There is nothing worth this world other than the legacy we ought to leave in our wake; you have done it in eight months what should have been done some 30 years ago. What else would you need to do to prove yourself?
I will like to pay more taxes, if this is what my money would be used for, and I will like to add tax advocacy to all that I am already doing. You need more money, to look after my children, and I promise, you will have that money.
Today I celebrate myself, and all the several thousands of Ghanaian individuals who struggled to pay their own secondary school fees, and to feed themselves; we lived a day at a time, some won, others did not make the journey.
So on behalf of all those who survived, on behalf of all those who did not survive but whose children are alive to benefit from your bravery, on behalf of all the many orphans, the many rural poor, and on behalf of my late mother who would have loved to see me benefit from a free secondary school education, on behalf of everyone, I say nothing; that you may have what men had when they were men…
Author: James Kofi Annan