Final Roll Call Of Atukwei Okai

The year was 1972. I was in form five, Achimota School. I attended Ghana Creative Writers’ Association Annual Conference at the school, and one of the invited guests who came to address us was the famous Professor Atukwei Okai, the foremost African Poet who wrote the rollicking poem, “LOGORLIGI LOGARITHMS.”

I loved English Literature, but I just could not understand the entire philosophy of POETRY – language set in verse, instead of prose! And, there stood Atukwei Okai, bearded, ranting on and on, in his ‘odododiodoo’ concerto!

From 1972, I did not hear of him again until 1982 when as a soldier in uniform, a captain, I heard that the PNDC had appointed him PNDC Secretary for Greater Accra Region. He did not last long and fell in the very first reshuffle.

Then lo, and behold, I joined Accra Ridge Church in 1984 and every Sunday after Sunday, across almost three decades, I always saw Professor Atuwei Okai, in church, escorting his four daughters, worshiping Almighty God.

One day after church, at Ridge, I cornered him and asked: “Please, can you tell me the secret of your success?”

He smiled and said: “You see, Captain.  I noticed early in life that I cannot be like Kwame Nkrumah, but I can achieve a lot through POETRY so I decided to concentrate fully on POETRY…………. By His Grace I am the Secretary-General of the Pan African Writers” Association.”

I heard in the media that Professor Atukwei Okai has received a writ of summons to appear before His Eternal Holiness Almighty God, and the funeral was set for Friday 14 September 2018.

I have this friend, Hon Kofi Attor, who told me in 2001 that if you want to see what happens at august functions, don’t bother to struggle to go there – just sit in front of your TV and watch live coverage, the cameras will cover all the salient necessary points almost as if you were there.

With this mindset, I normally don’t go to public functions, but this was one funeral I had to go, to pay my last respect to Professor Atukwei Okai, my friend at Accra Ridge Church.

And reader, guess who came to sit by me – Mr Kofi Attor, MP for Ho Central when I was also MP for Berekum! To make the game more interesting, Madam Akua Dansoa MP for North Dayi, when I was there came to join us for a three-some, and we ran private commentaries on the funeral service as it progressed from item to item.

Prof was an old student at Accra High School so the current student body plus old students came to file past the body, and the school choir rendered an extremely discordant short song forcing Madam Dansua to ask: “Captain, these people – didn’t they eat breakfast?”

Present was former President John Dramani Mahama, and I could not help laughing when I remembered the Cartoon of former President J J Rawlings, his face on a wall, warning people not to associate his name with any candidate.

NDC General Secretary, Johnson Asiedu Nketia saw the three of us and waved and I shouted across to him: “You wait – Koku Anyidolo will get you!”

The Accra International Conference Centre was full, everybody wearing white, reminding me of the funeral of Jake Obetsebi Lamptey.

I asked Mr Kofi Attor whether it was better to host such state funerals in an enclosure like this, and he said but for the weather, which is unpredictable, it is better to host such funerals at the forecourt of the State House, so that as many as possible can be part of the process.

His Excellency the President accompanied by his wife Rebecca came, and the funeral service began. A long biography, followed by a long tribute by the wife and another very long tribute by the children – all girls – who took turns to read their tribute, ending up with their own poetic rendition of “Fontomfrom.” We gave them a loud applause.

On hand to give us music were the Accra Youth – Choir and Winneba Youth Choir who, surprisingly, concentrated on singing European style compositions of Beethoven and others ……….Jerusalem, Psalm 90 …………. Instead of rolling out popular African beats to reflect the African naturalness of the deceased hero.

I cannot list all the high profile personalities I saw, but let me mention the very quiet unassuming diplomat, my senior in Achimota School, OKPOREE, currently African’s No. 2 gentleman, Ambassador Kwesi Quartey, Deputy Chairman of African Union Commission, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I also saw my Lord, Mrs Justice Akua Kuenyehia of the International Court of Justice. (a fellow worshipper at Accra Ridge Church); Kojo Yankah, Professor Akilagpa Sawyer and several others.

After the sermon by the former Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church, Rev Dr Aboagye Mensah, a native of  Dormaa Ahenkro in Brong Ahafo Region, the Anglicans performed the “Absolution” and then soldiers came to lift up the casket for the final slow march to the burial ground.

Guess who I saw before driving out of the premises of  the Accra International Conference Centre – the famous medical doctor and brother of former President J A Kufour – Dr  Kwame Addo Kufour, Minister of Defence in the NPP Administration – he waved at me, cheerfully, saying ……….”congratulations!”… For what, he did not say.

Post script: when I entered my office, my secretary gave me a letter, signed by NII BORLABI TSURU BORKETEY AGBUNTSO KAKRAKU GBOGNEE IV – I am sure Otumfuo the Asantehene will envy the name.

By Nkrabeah Effah-Dartey