Letter from Africa: In memoriam and a hockey legend

 
Left: The funeral of Ghana's President John Atta Mills Right: A Ghanaian hockey player in red playing against a Belgium player

In our series of letters from African journalists, Ghanaian Elizabeth Ohene reveals how sticks crossed in commemorating two Ghanaian hockey players.

We have been marking the first anniversary of the death in office last year of the late Ghanaian President John Atta Mills.

The government appointed a committee that announced and supervised a full week of activities.

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John Atta Mills

The late president loved hockey, played for his school, for the national team and retained an interest in the game and its administration all his life”

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It is a well-known fact that we make a great deal of fuss about death and funerals in Ghana and the fuss does not end after those ceremonies.

If you open any Ghanaian newspaper you will find advertisements marking one-year, five-year, 10-year, 20-year anniversaries of a dearly departed.

A first anniversary is usually marked by an in memoriam advert in the newspaper, a visit to the cemetery to unveil the tombstone, a memorial service and a reception afterwards.

The late president had been laid to rest in one of seven impressive tombs built for the purpose, so the anniversary was spent trying to find suitable memorials like a lecture series and cutting the sod for a library.

The city of Accra has a mayor who does not like to be left out of things.

A year ago when the president died, he renamed the High Street, probably the oldest street in the city, the John Evans Atta Mills High Street.

So the mayor was faced with a dilemma; how does he top that?

'Combative 91-year-old'

He decided to rename the national hockey ground, the John Evans Atta Mills Hockey Stadium, and quickly got members of his Municipal Assembly to clear the necessary bureaucracy and before you could blink, the renaming was done.

The mayor of Accra, Alfred Oko Vanderpuije, and Madam Theodosia Okoh Hockey legend Madam Okoh accepted the mayor's apology

Whereas it was not quite clear why the mayor chose to rename the High Street with the late president's name, it was obvious why he wanted to name the hockey pitch after him.

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Even if she had never held a hockey stick in her life, she would qualify to have a national stadium or monument of some kind named after her”

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The late president loved hockey, played for his school, for the national team and retained an interest in the game and its administration all his life.

Unfortunately for the mayor, there was one little problem.

The hockey pitch was already named after a true Ghanaian legend, 91-year-old Madam Theodosia Okoh.

Now Madam Okoh is not the type of woman you want to take on in any contest.

At 91 she is now admittedly frail but she is lucid and combative.

She used to play hockey and at one time almost single-handedly ran the hockey administration and kept alive interest in the game and that is why the stadium had been named after her.

A chorus of disapproval erupted, led by sports writers of a certain age and for a while, it appeared the entire country had joined in.

There were calls for the mayor to be sacked for overstepping his bounds and showing disrespect to a venerable Ghanaian icon.

Flag designer

And oh yes, there is one other small detail that must be mentioned.

Madam Okoh, apart from her hockey exploits, just happens to be the person who designed the Ghana national flag.

Left: Madam Theodosia Okoh presents President John Dramani Mahama with one of her paintings. Right: The Ghanaian flag hanging at her house President John Mahama also visited Madam Okoh's house, where her flag flies

In other words, even if she had never held a hockey stick in her life, she would qualify to have a national stadium or monument of some kind named after her.

The outrage at what was seen as disrespect to the lady became so loud and so widespread that President John Mahama intervened.

First his chief of staff announced that the mayor had been summoned and asked to reverse the naming of the hockey stadium, then the president publicly apologised to the old lady for what he called "the sad mistake" and then he took the mayor to her home to personally apologise to her.

The mayor's face and bushy beard may now have egg all over it, but honour has been restored all round.

I am not sure this story would have ended quite this way if Madam Okoh had been dead and unable to join in the cries of dismay.

I do believe we shall continue to watch this space, for come the second or 10th anniversary of the president's death, we shall still be looking for something to name or rename after him.

If you would like to comment on Elizabeth Ohene's column, please do so below.

 

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