Elisabeth Ohene Writes: Let’s Get To The Point

Our public functions go on for too long. Okay, this is not exactly a new or particularly profound observation. Anybody who attends a public function in this country knows this, has complained about it and we live with it.

This past week, I attended a number of public events and I have been thinking I would put my mind to finding ways in which we could save some time at these functions.

I have no idea how we came by the practice of enumerating every identifiable group for mention in the greetings at the beginning of the speeches. Council of State members, honourable ministers, honourable members of Parliament, members of the diplomatic corps, traditional rulers, clergy, Niimei, Naamei, Nananom, Togbewo, Mamawo, fellow Ghanaians, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, and then All protocols observed.

The next time the President of the Republic is giving a speech, just count the number of individuals and identifiable groups that he mentions at the start. It sometimes takes him about two minutes to go through and I understand it is often the case that he would still miss someone and/or some group and cause grave offence.

Everybody gathered at the function can be classified under ‘distinguished ladies and gentlemen’ and often under ‘fellow Ghanaians’, but it appears it is not satisfactory to simply address us as fellow Ghanaians.

I wonder if there would be an earthquake should the President one day cut out the long list and simply address fellow Ghanaians.

Mercifully, the President does not do the All Protocols Observed bit, and I must confess this phrase irritates me intensely. Why do people go through mentioning every imaginable personality and group and then add, All Protocols Observed? I am told this particular phrase comes from Nigeria.

It probably suits them, over here it sounds weird.

If the person giving the speech simply started off by stating All Protocols Observed and did not mention any individual or group to be addressed, I just might find it tolerable, but to go through a long list and then add all protocols are observed makes me decide the speech that is about to be made is not worth listening to because it is not likely to contain anything interesting or original.

Chairmen and MCs

Why do we go through this elaborate process of appointing someone as chairman for an occasion when we have a master of ceremonies (MC)? Once upon a time the chairman at an event would run the programme and tell us what is going on.

Then we discovered MCs, who these days are often big media personalities who run the programmes and seem to believe they are obliged to make jokes, which are often laboured and rarely funny.

There is usually an elaborate introduction of the chairman. We are told where he went to kindergarten, if he was dining hall prefect at school, how many conferences he has attended in his life thus far, the number of honours that have been bestowed on him and all the jobs he has ever done, including where he did an internship.

An overkill

A favourite candidate for chairman has a 32-page curriculum vitae and it might be abridged to seven pages for the purpose of this introduction. The highly paid famous personality contracted to be the MC does not introduce the chairman, we have to find someone to do this introduction and she, often a she, would also be introduced and she would encourage us to be overwhelmed by this highly qualified personality who has deigned to be our chairman.

The chairman is then asked for his remarks, which might turn into a speech or if we are lucky, would indeed be remarks and then he sits down and the MC takes over.

Since I am spelling out the things that I find problematic about our public functions, permit me to state one of the practices that really baffle me. The musical interludes, must we have them all the time? Could we not have a function without the presence of a dance troupe? Or would I be spelling the doom of an entire industry if cultural and dance troupes cannot perform at official functions?

In which case, can the performance be vaguely tied in some way with the event; in other words, if we are launching the Mathematics for All (I just made that up!) project, can we get a dance troupe that would excite our mathematical juices.

We get to the main speech and sometimes some of the media houses would get in at this stage and be bringing in their recording equipment and other paraphernalia. I make no comment on that.

When the main speech is done and the MC and the chairman have both thanked everybody profusely, we now call upon someone (always a she) to “move the vote of thanks”.

She will tell us how happy she is that such a great honour has been done to her to be called upon to perform such an important task. She will say our first thanks, of course, go to the Almighty and she will go on for a bit about travelling mercies.

At every stage, we go on for too long. We have a problem starting functions on time and I notice that people now deliberately advertise the wrong time. The other day I went to an event that was advertised to start at 3.30 p.m. PROMPT.

I get there for 3.30 and it started at 4.30 p.m. and I found out that was the time it was intended to start and the 3.30 p.m. was meant to accommodate us coming late.

Suggestions

So, these are my suggestions for shorter and better organised functions. Let’s start on time and at the advertised time. Let’s decide on a chairman or an MC and not have the two.

Maybe we can cut down on the long introductions of the speaker; we don’t need to know where the great man went to kindergarten and we certainly don’t need to hear what is written about him on Wikipedia.

If there is nothing juicy to find to say about him, then keep it short and dry. I doubt that any of the big people asked to chair these functions are still looking for jobs, we don’t need to hear their long CVs.

If there is a start time, there should be an end time. Advertised start time at 9 a.m. and end time at 10.30 a.m. There should be no need to go through a long list of individuals and groups to address before the speech. Fellow Ghanaians, distinguished ladies and gentlemen should and would cover us all, and that should be quite enough.

Source: graphic.com