A Dose Of Magnanimity

“To err is human; to forgive is divine”

Alexander Pope

“Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that crushed it”

Mark Twain

“Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much”.

Oscar Wilde

SPARE THE ROD, SPOIL THE CHILD is a biblical edict, and Proverbs chapter 13 states: “He that spareth his rod, hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” So, caning used to be popular (or rather, notorious) in those days when we were at school. Caning in the home was equally commonplace. Then came the educational psychologists who taught us that it was better to use the cane sparingly to give the child the composure to effectively use his/her faculties.

You may be familiar with the 16th century phrase: “Boys will be boys, and boys will do boyish things” or its Latin equivalent: “Sunt pueri pueri, puerilla tractant” (or better put: “Pueri erunt pueros”). So, you find the adolescent lads (and lassies) rather engaged in childish pranks and displaying their youthful exuberance. But, of course, there must be a limit to all these “youthful pranks.” We have all been students before; we have struggled through studies and examinations. The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) like other examination bodies has a way of setting questions, and questions for a particular year may not ask for the same requirements as those for some other years. A student has to be familiar with words like: Describe; Explain; Discuss; Analyse; Assess; Compare; Criticise; Contrast; Evaluate; Illustrate; Review; Summarise; Outline. Every examiner has a marking scheme with which he/she assesses a student’s performance. As students, all of us at one time or another sought after this document prior to examinations. We had used this document as a guide only; praising our stars when the questions ‘landed’ or ‘dropped’ and cursing our stars when they did not. That is ‘kya-kya’ or ‘lotto’—try your luck. No bitter feeling against anyone: not our lecturers, not the school authorities, not WAEC, not government… that would be our kismet.

It was, therefore, surprising to hear and watch some of the final year students currently taking the WASSCE “in foul-mouthed tirade directed at high-profile personalities, including President Akufo Addo”, as one paper puts it. The GES rightly moved in, and took appropriate action: Five students from Battor SHS; three students from Sekondi College and Juaben SHS; the school prefect and two other students from Tweneboa Kodua SHS, Kumawu, were sacked. Three teachers from Tweneboa Kodua SHS, Kumawu, Kade SHTS and Sekondi College had been interdicted and barred from invigilating the WASSCE pending investigations. Students of Bright Senior High School were to continue the exams at Ofori Panin SHS, Kukurantumi.

Politicians and social commentators were lurching around to take advantage of the situation: it was a failure of the Free SHS policy; simpliciter! O-hoo! Unnecessary pampering of the students called ‘Akufo Addo graduates’. A-aba! Then in a swift and sensible move, the President directed the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service to meet to reconsider the dismissal and barring of the 14 final year students from writing the rest of their papers: “Even though the acts of indiscipline undertaken by these students are intolerable acts, which have led to their subsequent dismissal from school, President Akufo-Addo is of the firm view that dismissal alone is enough punishment and will serve as enough deterrent against future acts of indiscipline… everyone deserves a second chance in life, …” We are waiting for the outcome of this meeting. Franklin Cudjoe of IMANI reacted immediately, tongue in cheek: “I think the President did well by intervening to have the students who gravely insulted and abused his person pardoned to enable them write the exams, at least. This is what responsible fathers so. It is no different from J.M.’s decision to show clemency to the vagabond Montie 3.” Really?

The question is why focus on the errant behaviour of 14 students and disregard that of the thousands of students who saw the questions differently: at least, we did not hear anything negative from Prempeh College, Opoku Ware School, Achimota, Wesley Girls’…? Some of the students were jubilating after the Integrated Science paper: their ‘apor’ had ‘dropped’. Now, with electronic gadgets, all over the place (WhatsApp, Facebook…) it was easy to get the news spread like wildfire. We could see the faces of the undisciplined students; we could hear them. What is their future? What reputation, what image do we have of their parents? What impression do we have of the school they attended?

All former heads of state of Ghana had at one time or another been confronted by students’ riots. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah suppressed student activism by jailing some of the student leaders for demonstrating against one-party-ism and supervising over the death of Dr. J.B. Danquah at Nsawam Prison. Dr. Kofi Abrefa was lampooned by students for the devaluation of the cedi. General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong suffered greatly at the hands of students (how can I get guarantees for all these students? Me dee metwa bi a metumi ka nkwaseasem paa; wonni ahooden a woreko hyia soldier-foo? The students relying on my ‘magnanimite’). ‘Yenni’ (We won’t eat)—and some would hide in the bathroom and eat—had always marked student demonstrations attracting sympathy strikes from other schools, and Acherensua School was burnt down. Bawdy songs, graffiti, posters, slogans were rampant.

In 1968, there were worldwide student protests—in the U.K., the U.S.A., France, Germany, Poland, China, Argentina, Mexico… focused on anti-nuclear movement; Hippie culture: opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam war; Women’s Liberation; the deaths of Che Guevara and Martin Luther King; the surge in births, the first generation to see television, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the cold war. Some of these protests were brutally suppressed. But President Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia was benevolent enough to give in to some of the students’ demands.

Alexander Pope stood at for feet six inches, and was aged 23 when he wrote the poem: “An Essay on Criticism”. The antithesis: “To err is human; to forgive divine” was one of the sub-topics. It implies that it is human to make mistakes. God forgives them. So, any person who forgives a human error is behaving in a god-like (divine) manner when that person forgives. The demonstrating students were very young, but they thought they were mature enough to do what they did. One would ask: why do we organise classes for prison inmates and allow them to take examinations? Should there not be opportunity for corrections and reforms? The Ministry of Education may pick a cue from the U.K. which has decreed the use of mock examination to replace final examination by protesting students/

General Kutu Acheampong may have been mocked for the blunt manner he dealt with issues (fa-wo-to-begye-Golf: which married man does not have a side chick?) but we who were students at the time of his ‘magnanimite’ were able to sail through our studies at the University of Ghana, Legon. The students who are seen in the video cursing President Akufo Addo’s Free SHS policy and praying for the return of ex-President J.D. Mahana can enjoy President Akufo-Addo’s ‘magnanimite’ now; in future, they will play back the video, and judge for themselves the effect of their present action.


From Africanus Owusu-Ansah