Ibrahim Alhassan – ‘Koose’ seller turned ‘Starr’ journalist

Ibrahim Alhassan

“Need a phone??? See IB first. C/H Room E19″ – You may have seen this inscription on posters somewhere in town or on the campus of the University of Ghana, Legon.

Those posters were coming from Ibrahim Alhassan – one of the industrious broadcast journalists in the Komla Dumor Newsroom of Starr 103.5FM. He had to surmount several precarious hurdles to make it in life.

Life they say is how you make it, despite the challenges thrown at you, often those challenges turn to be blessings in disguise.

From the dusty streets of Juaso – where he was born in the Ashanti region – as ‘Koose’ and kerosene seller, IB as his colleagues affectionately call him, kept a determined spirit to end up in the pristine studios of Starr FM – one of the youngest radio stations in Ghana, but most influential within the Excellence in Broadcasting (EIB) Network setup.

One of seven children born to Alhaji Alhassan Fuseini and Hajia Adizatu Bukari, Ibrahim shares his life story with Starrfmonline.com:

TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF

Growing up was very challenging being the sixth born and one of three males. There were lots of bullying from the female sisters, especially the one immediately before me (Rafatu). My family was one you can neither describe as rich nor poor. At least we were guaranteed three square meals daily. We, however, lived at a suburb that can be described as a cottage.

At a tender age of 3, my time with my family though not the best was cut short when an aunty of mine paid us a visit one day. After a brief meeting the news was broken to me. I was to pack my things (a few of the nice ones only) I was told and leave with my aunty for a town called Asuokawkaw near Asamankese in the Eastern region.

I had been adopted by my aunty as her son since she had only two female children of her own. I was excited, but my siblings were sad. I thought they were jealous because I was leaving them for a better life hence their sad faces, but I now understand why they were gripped with the fear of the unknown regarding what awaited me. Regardless, I was ready to explore the new life with my new aunty mum. I spent years at Asuokawkaw where I started my kindergarten education through to primary at Nuriiyatu Islamic School. I continued my education at Juaso Presbyterian Primary, JSS and eventually at Juaso Secondary Technical School where I was the school prefect and best graduating student.

Time flies: Ibrahim Alhassan in his early days

At Asuokawkaw I did everything from hawking my aunty mum’s Koose early mornings before school to Kerosene later in the evening for myself.

At age 13, I felt I have had enough of spending life with my Aunty. The stroke that broke the Camel’s back was when one evening, my Aunt asked me to surrender my capital for my kerosene retail business to her. She argued I was being stubborn because the only punishment punitive enough for me which was food denial was no longer effective because I was more or less a businessman. After this sudden announcement to me, I told myself staying with my aunt was over.

I plotted my escape in my head. That evening, I went to my customers who had credited my products, exerted pressure like I had never before to get my money. Did I get all my money? Your guess is as good as mine. Some still owe me 20 or so years on. So the next morning, I woke up to do all my chores as usual but a little more cautious not to create any suspicion. I took my bath and put on my best wear, however, in order to avoid a question like “what’s the occasion”? I put on a “Jalabia” (a long Islamic wear covering from neck region to the feet). This wear served as the camouflage. So I went to my aunt, was given the `Koose` to go and sell as usual. I went to my usual joint to sell by a ‘Koko’ seller at the center of town. I usually station there so her customers who prefer my product buy from me after buying the Koko. Those who are a bit old can relate to the days of a certain state transport system called Omnibus Service Authority (OSA). Yes, that was the `Ishh` in those days. It was virtually a privilege to ride on one of those buses. It makes a stop in every town if not village. It was like today’s metro mass transit (MMT). Now back to my grand escape thriller. While selling my ‘Koose’, I was constantly spying to hear the horn of the OSA bus. One advantage I had was that the Koko seller was an elderly woman I could leave my Koose with and will still sell for me. I waited for the horn of the bus with bated breath. Then alas, there came the sound, and eventually the brightly colored vehicle. I quickly took off my Jalabia, dropped it beside the Koko seller but cautious enough not to draw her attention. I ran across the road to where the bus had parked which gladly blocked the view of my ‘Koko’ seller for that matter my own ‘Koose’. By the way, I made sure I never took a penny from my sales as at the time I dashed out. Mind you, here was a kerosene retailing businessman. I quickly climbed up the stairs and made myself comfortable at the back of the Bus.

I had my heart in my mouth by then, hoping nobody steps in to pull me out. Then the doors shut, horn goes or whichever one came first, and off we went Nkawkaw bound. I had heard of Nkawkaw but didn’t have any vivid memory of the town. All I knew was it’s a stopover to Juaso my “hometown”. At a point in our journey, it dawned on me the magnitude of what I really was doing. I was on my own traveling from Asuokawkaw in the Eastern region to Juaso in the Ashanti region. Then came the conductor. “Yess small boy where is your ticket?” For some strange reason “I’m traveling with my mother and she’s seated at the front area, she has my ticket” was what came from my tiny mouth. And that was it, I didn’t pay my fair which means I still owe government of Ghana just as my kerosene money is still with others at Asuokawkaw. I must, however, say that, I didn’t set out not to pay the fare, but I feared doing that could raise eyebrows which could mean being sent back. A 13-year-old embarking on such a journey alone, imagine. To cut the long story short, we got to Nkawkaw, I alighted just like everybody else, asked for a Juaso bound vehicle and jumped into one. By the way, in case you are wondering, I paid for that one. I alighted, asked around and made my way to my house where I was met by my brother Fuseini Alhassan (now late).

Days later, my aunt sent someone to enquire about my whereabouts since there were no mobile phones like today. And the rest is history. And don’t worry, I subsequently went back to my aunty after my secondary education and we were cool till she died.

At the University of Ghana, my fees were being paid by my family but my upkeep was entirely up to me. I worked as a pupil’s teacher before entering Legon. I continued for a while, but at a point I couldn’t combine it with academics besides it wasn’t paying that well. I had a sister who had her husband in Germany. So he would buy mobile phones bring them down for me to sell. And I’m talking large quantities.

Sometimes I will abandon lectures and travel to Kumasi to sell my products. When my brother realized that I was truthful and business was good, he introduced me to others who also brought down phones to me. At Commonwealth Hall, everybody knew me for nothing but mobile phones. There was no latest phone that wasn’t in my stock at that time. I pasted notices inviting students to my room for phones. I remember one of such posters read “Need a phone??? See IB first. C/H Room E19.” Then my phone numbers. And pictures of some phones in stock. Then there were the evil poster-tearing-loving Vandals. Minutes after pasting the notices, boys tear them down for reasons I’m still yet to understand. The small proceeds from this business kept me going. More so, I never had to buy a phone with my money which I didn’t have any way but I used all the big phones you can think of. Yes, that’s what phone sellers do. Sometimes I was forced to sell on credit and yes, my money is still with some people. One day I’ll publish their names if they do not pay up. What do you think?

Ibrahim Alhassan and his family

HOW DID YOU BECOME A BROADCAST JOURNALIST?

Many people say they got into the profession by accident. Well, I wouldn’t say so for myself. I will say I was talked into the profession. Now let me explain. Right after secondary school which I nearly missed by the way because of financial challenges in raising my admission fees. People started telling me I had a “radio voice”. Whatever that meant I never knew. I would speak to someone on phone and after the conversation the person would ask “Won’t you consider doing radio?” So after my University education, I decided to give it a try just for the fun of it. I was doing my National Service at Osu St. Peter’s School as Mathematics and English teacher when I decided to have an internship alongside.

I sent a letter to Radio XYZ since it was a stone throw away from my service station. Guess what? I never got a call and to be honest I never bothered following up. My national service ended and so I decided to go for a masters’ program outside the country straightway. I actually had an admission to read social economy in Germany. I was to study Deutsch at the Goethe Institute as part of requirements for the course. I enrolled at Goethe. One day I was in a “Trotro” going home at Ashaley Botwe when I had a call from an unknown number. The voice at the other end sounded familiar but I couldn’t put a name to it. The voice later introduced itself. This was what ensued; Caller; Am I speaking to Mr. Ibrahim Alhassan? Me; Yes, please. Caller; my name is Patrick Ayumu. You sent a letter sometime back that you wanted to do internship at Radio XYZ, are you still interested? My intuitive answer was going to be a definite No. My reason? I wanted to kill two birds with a stone by combining service with internship. But now that service is over why do I waste my time working for free? However, for some reasons still unknown to me I answered in the affirmative. Yes! Ayumu; When can you start?
Me; anytime you want me to
Ayumu; How about Monday?
Me; it’s a date
To cut to the chase, that’s the beginning of what I do now. After my internship, Patrick asked me to stay on and the rest they say is history.

HOW IS A TYPICAL DAY LIKE FOR YOU AT STARR FM

A typical working day for me is quite hectic I must say. To begin with, I am the deputy head of the political desk here at the Komla Dumor Newsroom. I also produce Starr Today, the evening news. My day begins before 10am when I join the news team to review the breakfast news and brainstorm on stories to feature on the Midday News. Sometimes I’m assigned to cover assignments, especially politically related ones. On days when I stay in the office, I put together at least a story for the midday news. After the midday news, I again join my colleagues to review the bulletin and brainstorm for the evening news. I then again prepare stories for the evening news (Starr Today). I follow up to produce the same programme from 6 to 7pm. After which we review the bulletin making way for production for the next breakfast news. I usually get home around 10pm each day. On weekends, however, the narrative is different. There are two main shifts for weekends. So I work every other weekend. On weekends, I am the editor for my shift. During days when my shift works on Sunday afternoons, I single handedly produce stories for the breakfast news the next Monday. On such days I close late and get home around 11pm. In all these tight and demanding schedules one thing I have discovered is that I have been toughened up and made a very versatile journalist.

WHAT DO YOU REPRESENT?

Ibrahim Alhassan interviewing Transport Minister Fifi Kwetey at an NDC event

Ambition and humility

WHAT ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT?

I’m passionate about making the best of every situation to ensure good comes to the people around me and the world at large. It is often said that the one who desires a world change, must start from his immediate surroundings. In my line of duty, I always want the beneficiaries of my work to be the underprivileged, the oppressed and the deprived. I’m sure my social work background kicks in every now and then. I’m passionate about shedding light on ills of society and putting people in authority in check.

WHAT ARE THE ACHIEVEMENTS YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?

One of my proudest achievements is graduating as a first class student at the University of Ghana regardless of the obstacles. I had to sell mobile phones to see myself through school with some assistance from my family of course. In my profession, what makes me proud is telling stories that help get results bringing smiles to the faces of the dejected, oppressed, deprived and abandoned. Such stories I have told many. Another achievement I’m excited about is being awarded the “Most Impressive Performer” 2015 at Starr FM.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST GRATEFUL FOR IN LIFE?

My good health, my family and my profession. My health especially because of what I went through a few years ago just after secondary school where I had to go in and out hospitals for a sickness no one could diagnose or find a remedy. Last two years, I had a boil (that’s what I thought) on my throat that simply refused to go away. Doctors at 37 Military Hospital eventually told me it was cancer. I was given options of a surgery or radiotherapy. You know what? I did neither but I’m fully healed by Allah’s might thanks to a herbal medicine from my dad. And hey, the diagnoses were wrong, I didn’t have cancer. So I’m sure you now understand why my good health is what I’m most grateful for in life?

WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS TO YOU IN LIFE?

God, my family, my health and my profession. God first in everything, once sanctioned by the Almighty, humanity is the ultimate beneficiary. Respect, humility, perseverance, can do spirit, righteousness, respect for everyone.

ARE YOU LIVING THE LIFE OF YOUR DREAMS?

No and yes. No because, I’m nowhere near my dreams. Like I said earlier, I’m a very ambitious young man with so much still ahead of me to achieve God willing. Yes, because I’m on the right path, seizing opportunities to build and develop myself for the future.

IF YOU HAVE ONE YEAR LEFT TO LIVE, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

I will ensure that every single minute of my life on this planet benefits somebody, especially the deprived. I will move heaven and earth to ensure that the obstacles I encountered on my way in life because of my background are removed or at least lessened for others.

IF YOU ARE TO DO SOMETHING FOR FREE FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, WHAT WOULD YOU WANT TO DO?

I will love to be teaching children in deprived communities once in a while.

IF YOU HAD YOUR WAY, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

I will create heaven on earth where no one is poor, falls sick, dies, starves, and becomes jobless, childless, husbandless and wifeless. Simply put, I will create an environment where no one gets hurt in any way.

WHAT’S YOUR PRIORITY?

My top priority in life at the moment is to upgrade myself so I can build a better future for my family. I’m planning on furthering my education with an ultimate goal of becoming a university professor.

DO YOU LOVE YOUR JOB?

I am a broadcast journalist, deputy head of political desk and producer for Starr Today here at Starr103.5FM. I’m a bachelor’s degree holder in social work and information studies from the University of Ghana. I am married with a son who gives me not just hope but inspires me each day I wake up to get ready for work. I will describe myself as a religiously liberal, passionate, ambitious young man with an eye for excellence. Ever learning, down to earth person who wants to see good come to the world one step at a time.

I love everything that comes with my job. The challenges, the ups and downs and more importantly the satisfaction on the faces of people my work impacts on positively. I believe in the saying ‘do what you love and excellence awaits you’ or in a compromised way, ‘love what you do and the results will be the same’. Journalism is a very challenging and difficult work where you are required to maintain a straight face in your line of duty regardless of your mood or even in the face of provocation. This makes it extremely difficult to achieve excellence, especially if you do not love what you do. So to me, the very day I fall out of love with my profession, I’m calling it quit.

WHAT IS YOUR IDEAL CAREER?

My ideal career is to impart knowledge. As I have stated earlier, I will want to be a University Professor one day which is not different from what I’m already doing anyway. Through my work as a broadcast journalist I impart knowledge; I inform and educate.

WHAT DO YOU FEAR MOST IN LIFE?

Failure. Failure in everything. Be it my relationship with God, my family, my health, my profession, my ambition.

WHO INSPIRES YOU THE MOST AND WHY?

I really do not have one person I look up to because of the person’s success. I believe success is relative and all in the mind. I measure my achievements against myself and not that of others. I always aspire to be a better me each day that passes by. The only enemy to a person’s progress is himself I’m convinced. I, however, get a knock to push harder each day when I look at my son. I’m constantly reminded I have to build a better and greater future for him. My supportive wife Alima Arkib also plays a crucial role in my ‘ready to go’ attitude. I guess it’s true what they say about women. Choose the right one for a partner in life and in fact do otherwise and hell awaits you on earth. Yes, successful people motivate me, but no two stories are ever the same. That’s why I don’t believe in motivational speakers. I believe in God and myself.

Source: Ghana/Starrfmonline.com/103.5FM/Miriam Hayford

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