Maiden speech by Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, NDC Running Mate 2020
My boss, H.E. John Dramani Mahama, Leader of the NDC and soon to be reinstated as President of the Republic,
Thank you for your kind words.
Thank you Chairman Ofosu Ampofo ;
Comrade Asiedu Nketiah, the one and only General Mosquito- Thank you.
My Brothers and Sisters,
The past three weeks have been interesting and sobering for me.
It has been a humbling experience. Ebenezer, this is how far you have brought your handmaids; this is how far you have brought Ghana; we thank you for all that is past; and trust you for all that is to come.
I wish to express sincere gratitude to the Founder, H.E. J. J. Rawlings, the Council of Elders, members of the National Executive Committee, the Functional Executive Committee, the entire rank and file of the NDC and the general public for their incredible support and many, many words of encouragement, those pronounced publicly and those spoken in private.
We are all aware that this is the first time in our history that a major party has nominated a woman on its ticket to become Vice President. I assure the leadership and rank and file of the party that I come to this position with the mindset of a team player. I belong to you all and will always count on your support and guidance.
Your Excellency John Mahama, your singular decision to select me as your running mate has generated a whole web of responses and debates.
But importantly, it is a new focal point for girls and women; you have respected women; the women of Ghana will not forget; the youth will remember; generations to come will commit your decision to memory and make it a reference point; we will partner with our men and youth, as we have always done, and work hard to achieve peace in our land, because that is the best way to respond to this high recognition.
Making history is gratifying; but what really matters is not to be first through the door. What matters is to hold the door open for those behind us and create other avenues for self actualization for many more. That is the work of the next four years.
Many are those who are now more energized to vote, thanks to the momentous decision of JM. I urge them to do just that. We do not intend to disappoint you.
My Boss JM, by your choice, you have turned the struggles of so many women who have come before this moment into a probability. We- men, women, our youth and children- we all have a chance to finally make real our dreams of serving this country at high levels, of removing doubts and proving once again that we are capable.
This is the time we have been waiting for. Aloo nyemi mei mimale? Nse yebetum aye? Nyame nye hen boafo.
Yes, it gets emotional sometimes, for which we will not apologize; emotions only confirm our humanity. After serious reflection , consultations, prayers, and encouragement of colleagues, friends, and family, I am happy to have accepted the nomination to be the running mate of the presidential candidate of the great National Democratic Congress.
This is an act of faith I do not take lightly, at all. I do not underrate the huge responsibilities and expectations that come with the call. I call on us all to translate our excitement into action for the benefit of the good people of our beloved country.
I accepted the nomination because it is an opportunity to serve my country once again, albeit at a higher level. In God do I continue to trust, that I may never be confounded. The Methodists know where this line is coming from.
I am deeply humbled by the trust of our party and nation and I am excited to make the case to the good people of Ghana as to why the J&J ticket is best poised to confront the daunting challenges of our time and usher Ghana into recovery and prosperity.
It will be my mission to ensure that the voices and concerns of our children, our youth and our aged, and our persons with disabilities are reflected in critical decisions.
Together, we can strategize to solve long-standing problems of needless and unproductive discrimination, and thrive as valued citizens. I want you, all of us in whatever demographic category to know, that I will carry your voices forward.
Together, we can make it happen.
This, I pledge to you.
I wish we could meet again in same fashion as we did in the process of framing our manifesto, and listen to your concerns, challenges and hopes for the future.
It would have been my joy to sit with you in the market, your shop, on the farms and at the beaches, by the roadside, and in the institutions, and think and plan together, argue and laugh at each other.
But these are not normal times. COVID-19 is real; no doubt about it. However, we will find safer ways to meet and talk and plan, and strategize for the good of our country. We will collectively work out the way forward.
Men and women together have accomplished fantastic things in our history. But I must also acknowledge that today, I stand on the shoulders of many giants who came before me. Throughout our history, women have always played pivotal roles in the advancement of our country. When duty called, our women too, responded. We all have in mind great heroines who, by their actions, shattered the concept that women alone must be restricted by ceilings and limitations.
I salute those many known women who have made such great contributions to the advancement of our country. And just as importantly, I pay homage to those many, many unknown women, the silent and invisible and unacknowledged women, who also played and continue to play critical roles in building what we now call our country.
Now, do allow me to tell a little bit about myself.
I am Naana Jane. I was born in Cape Coast, a town with rich and intriguing connections to the Ghanaian story. My parents come from the holy city of Komenda. Kofi Nyame nna Aba Atta- you blessed the earth, and are blessed of God and man forever. One of my beloved mothers, biological mother of my oldest sibling, and a great friend comes from Alavanyo, but she spent a great deal of her life in Kpando. Mama Rose, hede nyuiee.
Growing up as a little girl, I didn’t dream of standing in this position; not that I knew it even existed. However, what I knew and believed then was that if I studied and focused enough, that if my actions benefited others before they benefited me; there was nothing impossible to achieve in our great country. I still believe in these values, that others matter, too.
My parents believed that good, quality education and hard work would open for me a world of possibilities. My parents’ conviction made me believe in my own ability to pursue any goal, and in the rewards of grit and determination.
Becoming the first female Vice Chancellor of a Ghanaian university was – for me – the most tangible testament to this fact. And here let me once again congratulate Prof. Rita Dickson, recently appointed Vice Chancellor of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Congratulations as well to Dr. Koryoe Anim-Wright, who becomes the first female Registrar of UPSA, where this event is taking place.
This country has given me the opportunity to live out that promise and to aspire to the limits of my own potential. It has continuously rewarded a life of hard work, and offered me the privilege to give back through service.
It is precisely because of where my story began, that I know what is possible in this country and what the individual can achieve. These are the same lessons I passed on to my students, and of course to my own children and grandchildren – the joys of my life.
But it is also because of where my story began that I know it takes more than just good grades or good work ethic. I had good opportunities too. That made a difference in my life because my origins and upbringing are not unique.
Villages and towns across our country are full of stories like mine.
They are full of parents making untold sacrifices for the sake of their children and their futures. They are full of market women, fisherwomen and farmers toiling in the sun to feed the children on their backs and those they have left behind at home.
They are full of young mothers and fathers who are balancing family life, work obligations, and entrepreneurial ambitions: the young mother and yes, the young father who often has to manage family life, employment or entrepreneurship seamlessly. We are a people who jump over many hurdles.
Walking that road is an act of courage. That experience is a forge of character. Villages and towns across our country are full of brilliant young people with great ambitions and boundless energy. They are full of young people who rightly aspire to a better life than their parents had, and to bring their own children into a better Ghana than their parents did.
Throughout the years, I have been blessed to meet and interact with numerous Ghanaians in every region of our country whose experiences echo mine. I have taught and mentored thousands of youth from all walks of life over the course of my career. And I have always been inspired by their passion, by their positivity, and by their desire to succeed.
But without good, meaningful opportunities, all of that toil and resilience and determination sum up to nothing but frustration and all of that youthful energy amounts to yet more wasted potential. Far too often in this country, that is how the story ends.
And so clearing the hurdles in their path; giving them a hand up and not just a hand out; and offering them plans and not just promises – these must be the immediate priorities of our national agenda.
In today’s turbulent political and economic climate, there are four crucial factors to consider in tackling issues relating to youth and gender.
First, we must be mindful of the fact that 60% of our population will be under the age of 30 in a few years. That is why it is so critical that we systematically reform all our systems to effectively address the aspirations of our youth and country.
Second, we need meaningful, quality and comprehensive education that goes beyond access and responds to the future we can actualize.
Third, we must leverage on vocational and technical training to equip many into meaningful and fulfilling work.
Fourth, we must provide opportunities that transcend political patronage, ‘connection’ and the practice of whom- you- know. Equal and fair opportunities based on merit are an imperative for sustainable economic growth. The time for that shift is now.
Truth be told, despite all our challenges, Ghana remains a special place where any dream is possible, where every aspiration matters, and where anyone – be it a little boy from Bole or a little girl from Komenda – can grow up to be anything they want to be. Even President. Even Vice President. This is why we love this country so much. We must continue to make it a place we cherish and are proud to belong to, and a place of opportunities.
In the past and more so very recently, I have had extensive discussions with H.E. John Mahama about issues confronting our country and his vision for the coming years. These have been broad, passionate and engaging.
In John Mahama, you find a person who is thoughtful, visionary, makes no claim to perfection and admits to mistakes or missteps and valuable lessons learnt. Our society will be better served with such down-to-earth, considerate and reflective leadership.
We have chosen the path of peace, inclusiveness, self-reliance and belief in ourselves. It is an important avenue through which to turn our current circumstances into opportunities that yield great dividends for us all. And ‘us’ includes generations unborn. Their lives also matter.
It is clear that with the right direction and resolve, with all of us being part of the forward march, our country is destined for greatness. We can and must right the course of our country. We all admit that we can put our country on a firmer, more sustainable path, a path of peace, in order to move forth in ways that are meaningful and clear.
At this time, may I say to the SHS students who are in school taking your final exams: I have children your age in same situation too, even if not biological. I understand the difficult situation you are going through and, especially, the anxiety that you have as some of your colleagues and staff got infected by COVID-19.
There are also, sadly, reports of deaths of students. The partisan nature of our politics today makes it difficult to even ask the most basic questions about the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic without triggering a political brawl. This is unhelpful. All the same, my condolences to the families; many of us share in your loss.
I ask all of us to be very disciplined about following the World Health Organization Guidelines and the Government Directives and taking good care of yourselves. Some of you will understand these protocols better than others; share the knowledge; let’s save lives, regardless.
Countrymen and women, all we are doing right now is what has always been a very simple exercise of registration. What is not so simple this time is that the exercise is taking place in a time of a dreadful pandemic that is still evolving, and our case numbers still rising.
As if this is not bad enough, the level of violence, brute force, blood-letting and sheer breakdown of law and order in an otherwise straightforward act of registering to vote is unbefitting of this nation that was until recently, a fulcrum of democracy in our region. How did we descend into this situation?
The answer is simple: when there appears to be selective justice; when some offenders are not even placed on the hook but are hailed and promoted for being nasty and violent, the logical outcome is what we see. This situation of people dying, being harassed because they have decided to register to vote, is not a story we can tell any child in the future, especially when the curriculum is hinged on tolerance.
What will be our response if they pose their favourite question: “Why” or if they add a few words and ask the storyteller: “So what did you do?” Or, « and what did you say to that? «
We need to show up and vote come December 7th. Each one of us must jealously guard our sacred right to vote and reject the attempts by some to disenfranchise millions of voters. We are all Ghanaians, and we love this country deeply. Do not let anyone make you feel otherwise.
The choice we have in this election is clear: we can either build a Ghana where every citizen regardless of background is afforded equal opportunity to become their best selves. Or we can continue on a path where a few people attempt to control and dictate the destiny of the people who have given them the privilege to govern.
Let our politics deviate from this unproductive path of injustice and non-peace. Ghana does not belong to any select few. We The People, all of us, are the protectors and owners of this country for our collective good and for that of generations unborn.
What makes Ghana so special is that – despite our various ethnic groups, religions, and diverse backgrounds – we all come together as one people under one flag, inspired by the sacrifices of our ancestors to create a great country. And everyone’s ancestor has been a worthy contributor to this space now called Ghana, whose artificial borders, sadly, we seek to make even more artificial, as if our continent has not suffered enough from the initial assault.
Everyone matters. We have come too far as a nation to still cling to our primordial tribal bigotries.
Diversity is a source of great strength. Whether you are GA, MFANTSE, SISALI, EWE, GONJA, ASANTE, NZEMA, MAMPRUSI, or any other ethnic group, you are valued as a Ghanaian. You have every right to walk with confidence, with a high resolve to make huge contributions to this nation. Let nobody, let no one question your identity or patriotism. It is time to put all these needless, unproductive and backward distractions behind us and get on with the serious business of nation building. The time is now.
The 21st century is nearly 20% over. We shouldn’t be here, as a country, living with inexcusable insanitary conditions, with our babies still dying of malaria; our women delivering on the bare floor, our youth bewildered and unable to see their way ahead, parents confused about the future their children face and the quality of education they are getting.
If we choose to be anywhere as a country, the destination should not include a place where a 90 year old woman, Akua Denteh, is stoned to death because someone has decided that she is a witch. I call on our security agencies to convince us that she has not died in vain.
As indicated, the 21st Century is nearly 20% gone and we shouldn’t be here, the very foundations of our democracy is so threatened by unimaginable levels of arrogance, intolerance and violence; humans playing God; our economy is struggling; our tongues tied to the roof of our mouths; our citizens feeling unsafe; our farmers unsure of when to plant crops due to climate change; our environments under severe threats; our youth perishing on their way to find better lives; our institutions to which we should run for succor rapidly losing credibility; children who should be in school becoming unwitting brides, when we all know that marriage is not a child’s business.
At a time of a growing number of cases and deaths arising from the pandemic of COVID-19, with their attendant fears and uncertainties; at a time when some of our children are leaving school not any more literate than when they entered; others graduating into unemployment; the vulnerable uncared for, none of us should be here, behaving as if the best antidote to all of these is to flex muscles, turn aspects of our protective institutions into agents of intimidation; and arrogate to ourselves the right to alienate people who have always lived on this part of our continent, long before some did, and who have served our country with distinction.
We can spend all those resources on ways to confront our artificial borders and work towards the inclusion that solidifies our continent.
Let me assure our youth, that we have not always been like this.
I have had endless conversations with many of you, and I can understand your frustrations and sense of despair. But, as I keep assuring you, we have not always been like this. No, as you also know, Ghana has not always been like this.
Giving up is not an option. Stay the course. As a people, we have survived many unspeakable atrocities. Read and know your true history. We just celebrated the Year of Return. Read that history, very, very carefully. It has not been a nice cup of sobolo.
This is a bad phase; it will only pass with our collective determination, plain honest, hard work and willingness to put in practice those values of integrity, meritocracy and inclusiveness. Let’s re-ignite the Ghanaian spirit of caring, sharing, of kind hospitality and sincerity. We know we can, all minds linked; God our helper.
I wish to assure our Muslim brothers and sisters that as our Leader, John Dramani Mahama has consistently done in the past, going forward, there will be none of the unwarranted discrimination directed at you, and indeed no Ghanaian will feel alienated due to religion or ethnicity.
This coming Thursday is the great day of Arafa, and as the Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon Him) admonished you to fast, please remember to pray for us, especially for the peace of this country and for Allah’s bountiful blessings. I wish you all Eid Mubarak in advance.
To all the little girls and boys across our country, always dream big; remain focused. You can grow to become anything you want to be. Believe that only you can stop yourselves. It is not going to be about your parents, rich or poor; not the region you come from and whether it is endowed with resources or not.
Remember that natural endowment is what it is; it did not come from the effort of anyone. It is nature that placed those resources there. That is why we call them natural resources. It is rather about a system that works; a functioning country that respects all its citizens and provides opportunity to all, regardless. The time is ripe for change. The time is now.
To my daughters and sisters: We are in this together; you know as I do that it has not been and will not be an easy walk; but, as we all know, it is possible; actually it is probable; we can do it.
I know too well and have also lived some of the unspoken and unspeakable weight of responsibilities and concerns we bear as women – much more so, at these incredibly difficult times. What we have always shown however is that when we have the opportunity, many choose to bring on our best game.
We earn our seat at the table and we excel. Our results transform our families, communities and country; and sometimes, go beyond our borders, porous or otherwise.
Our democracy has come a long way. Yet it remains fragile. It calls on all of us to exercise our civic duty against any obstacles and machinations. I urge each of us to show up and participate in the ongoing voter registration exercise, but please observe all the necessary health protocols.
Please look out for each other. Politely remind people to use their face masks correctly, offer your hand sanitizer to someone in need. If you see a disabled person or an elderly person or pregnant woman, offer help. For THAT is the Ghanaian spirit.
I extend a hand to everyone, no matter how disappointed you have become; no matter the depth of your frustration, your anger, your despair. Come! Let’s chart a path for our country built on the values of integrity, merit, trust, responsible citizenship, caring, putting others first, simple polite language.
Come let us link effort and thoughts, to re-build our institutions; let’s build a truly independent, inclusive nation that is not afraid to respect views that differ from ours; a country confident enough to accept other ways of seeing; of respecting everyone, regardless.
Come, men, women, our youth, our children- together, let us build the Ghana we can have which must belong to us all, and which must pay special, working and workable attention to the vulnerable.
We must bring back the proverbial Ghanaian hospitality that seems locked down if not quarantined. We must ease restrictions on the Ghana we know that respects, tolerates, liberates. The time is now.
As a country, Ghana has been poised for far too long. Ghana must be in full flight towards sustainable development, to a destination of peace, inclusion, self-confidence, plain honesty and where good old hard work matters. We call on all our countrywomen and men who believe that our country can once again travel the path of hope to come join us.
The time is now. Forth in the name of our country we will go. We will not be intimidated
Our resolve to serve this country remains strong
We will stay the course
We will not be distracted
We will remain focused
We will raise high the Flag of Ghana
The time is now
And Insha Allah, we will succeed
May God bless you all. May God bless you JM! May God bless our determination to serve our country and may God bless our homeland
I thank you for your kind attention.