Three Cheers For Napo

Soon after the 2016 election, a UK-based friend I had come to know through Facebook, Kwame Kyei-Baffuor, called me. He wanted to recommend me as Press Secretary to Dr Matthew Opoku Prempeh, Manhyia South MP (a.k.a ‘Napo’), upon his imminent appointment as Minister for Education. I was intrigued yet highly flattered by his kind suggestion and allowed my name to be put forward.

I had never met Dr Prempeh in person even though he was and still is my MP. Kwame made the necessary arrangements to put us in touch and eventually, on  March 1, 2017, I started work at the ministry, with the primary responsibilities of working on his speeches and providing communication support.

Relocating from Kumasi was like having a tooth pulled out without the benefit of anaesthetic, but that is a story for another day. With Dr Prempeh’s 56th birthday due to fall this Thursday, I cannot help but reflect on my public role over the past seven years, and on the man who has been central to this invaluable public service experience.

Public service
Early into our working relationship, we had to establish an important demarcation. I had noted that Dr Prempeh, a surgeon by training and therefore a clinically precise person, preferred his speeches to reflect just that. I, on the other hand, a disciple of the liberal arts, had a more ‘Shakespearean’ disposition on writing, complete with ornamental, sometimes flowery language. Of course, I, rather than he, had to make the adjustment.

With the government’s decision to implement its flagship Free SHS programme at the start of the 2017/18 academic year, which was only six months away, I found myself thrown into the deep end almost as soon as I started work, as the ministry scrambled under Napo’s leadership to deliver.

It was an almost frantic situation. I would get to the ministry at 7am to find his car already parked and several senior officials busy at work. I observed a man who would patiently listen to submissions during meetings, ask piercing questions and argue his point with aplomb, as if he had been in education all his working life ― a trait he has carried into the energy space as minister.

Officials got to know better than to turn up at meetings unprepared, and for me those early months were a huge learning curve. I quickly discovered that communicating particularly on social media while working in government required a completely different skills set from when in opposition.

Almost by default, there is a general mistrust of literally everything that any government says or does, which puts one on the ropes before even attempting to communicate policy or explain certain official decisions. Relationships with media and party grass roots, in particular, constitute a tightrope to be carefully navigated if one is to avoid being tagged with ‘arrogance in power’.

Ahead of taking up the job, a few friends had warned me that I would struggle to work with the minister, insisting I would leave the job in a few months. But I have long learnt in life to see things for myself and not to rely on others’ perceptions.

What I have found out for myself over the past seven years is that Dr. Prempeh is a strong-willed, highly focused and determined character, a man who does not countenance negativity when pursuing goals.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this alpha-male personality has been perceived as disrespect and even bellicosity, bordering on arrogance. It appears some prefer to take assertiveness for arrogance and docility for humility. But beneath it all lies an underbelly of jovial, light moments with a passion for a good debate, for Kumasi Asante Kotoko and for Kofi Kinaata’s music, to which he can dance to no end.

If we have crossed swords in the past seven years, it has mainly been over our respective schools. He is intensely proud of his alma mater, Prempeh College, as I am of mine, Opoku Ware School, and the ancient rivalry between our two schools sometimes spills unto the conference room table in light moments during meetings. “My blood is green,” he would say, in reference to his school’s primary colour. “Mine is blue, Honourable,” I would retort, from the school colour perspective.

Political future
Love him or hate him, there is no denying that Dr Prempeh is a big player in Ghanaian politics, with a passion for public service and a zeal to always succeed in any task he is given.
Quite unusually for a medical student, he became the local NUGS President at KNUST back in the day, perhaps heralding things to come.

With his many years in frontline politics as a Member of Parliament and a minister, together with several accomplishments to his name, I ardently believe that Dr Prempeh has a bright future in the politics of Ghana. Of course, ultimately, God is the lifter of men.

Come Thursday, on Napo’s 56th birthday, I, like many others, will certainly be raising a glass of vintage Dom Perignon champagne to his health and longevity. Cheers!

The writer, Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng is Head, Communications & Public Affairs Unit, Ministry of Energy.

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