Magazine article New African

Garner as Hope: Ghana, Down in the Doldrums Just a Decade Ago, Now Shows What Democracy Can Do for Any Country That Takes It Seriously. Peter Ezeh, after a Recent Trip to Accra, Compares His Native Nigeria with the Ghana He Saw

Magazine article New African

Garner as Hope: Ghana, Down in the Doldrums Just a Decade Ago, Now Shows What Democracy Can Do for Any Country That Takes It Seriously. Peter Ezeh, after a Recent Trip to Accra, Compares His Native Nigeria with the Ghana He Saw

Article excerpt

The three of us: Dr Kunle Filani of Lagos State College of Education; the Rev Jaco Sieberhagen, the remarkable pastor/sculptor from South Africa and I, had a relatively smooth time on our way to Accra from Lagos. I was already familiar with Jaco's peculiar sculpture in which he breathes life into recovered objects, but it was only the previous evening that I got the opportunity to meet him in the flesh.

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Yemisi Shyllon, a civil engineer and arguably Nigeria's number-one private art collector, was also going to Accra in his capacity as PACA's patron. PACA is an association of visual art scholars for Africans and Africanists that began a decade ago at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and has since 2001 always organised a first-hand visit to selected African countries interspersing this with symposia, exhibitions and talks with art and culture policy-makers.

This year they began in Lagos and went on to visit Benin Republic, Togo, Burkina Faso and Mali, before holding the grand finale in Accra, Ghana, from 26-30 January. Kunle, Jaco and I did not join the touring team. But we were all to give talks at the Accra event. Happily, there was no incident until we got to the Lagos airport. For a flight advertised for 9.55 am, we deliberately got up by 5 am for the less than 15 km trip to the airport. Any time later would definitely mean that we would stay in the chaos of the immobile traffic jam until late forenoon at the luckiest.

From the Customs to the Immigration and whatnot, our airport experience was a pleasant surprise. We went through various counters relatively easily. The checks were meticulous, strict but straight. A man in civvies and of Caucasian features, most probably a non-Nigerian, carried out the last of these, using some gadgets unfamiliar to me.

It wasn't always like this. I remember having to fly off the handle at one point at the unending puerile searches and barefaced mendacity by all sorts of officials while returning from a conference from Austria in 1996.

But late last year when I passed through this same Lagos airport again, I thought I was just being lucky. The present experience seemed to have confirmed that the improvement in the behaviour of Nigeria's security personnel at the airport was by design.

And so, the Emirate Airbus took off. We were on our way to Ghana at last. My impression of Ghana began at the Kotoka International Airport. You answered your share of questions and if necessary got searched. The Customs marked a number on your luggage and if you had not got anything wrong, off you went.

For a citizen of ECOWAS, the matter was even shorter and simpler. You could have been entering your village and being received by members of your kin group!

There was a small anxiety when Jaco, using a different counter as a non-ECOWAS national, hadn't joined us immediately. When he eventually did, he bore no grudges. He was satisfied that the officers were merely trying to be thorough in their job. With the post-9/11 uncertainty and international wrangles, you couldn't take anything for granted anywhere, anyway.

For someone travelling from Nigeria, the contrast between the two countries in terms of organisation was as marked as a tropical night and day. Perhaps more importantly, I later discovered when I began using taxi services, how honest and friendly Ghana's cabbies could be.

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From the airport, through the National Theatre, to the famed W.E.B. du Bois International Centre, the venue of our meeting. Shyllon was the avuncular big brother. I don't remember having experienced such a rare blend of hilarity and intellectual depth in one man.

As we rode with him in the hired jeep in that roundabout jolly jaunt he asked to be permitted to stop over at a bookshop to buy for his undergraduate daughter the textbooks they couldn't get in Nigeria. …

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