Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie
The country was on Wednesday greeted with the shocking news about the transition of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Forestry Commission of Ghana, Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, popularly known as Sir John.
The sad occurrence took place at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra.
Sir John, one-time General Secretary of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), a major actor in local politics, was said to have succumbed to Covid-19 complications on Wednesday night.
News about his death spread like wildfire on social media, prompting immediate tributes from his associates in both the NPP and the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Sir John reportedly lost two close relatives believed to be his grandmother and aunt, and he was said to be preparing to bury them in August but could not do so.
He would be remembered for his sense of humour and exceptional knowledge of Akan folklore and proverbs, the use of which in his political discourses earned for him a special standing in the media.
President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, who received news of the death of one of his loyal supporters, paid glowing tribute to Sir John.
“I received the news of the death of Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie, aka Sir John, with great shock and deep sadness. Indeed, the disbelief and grief expressed by many at the news of his death were testimony to how people, in and out of the NPP, felt about him,” he said.
Continuing, the President stated, “Passionate devotee of the Danquah-Dombo-Busia political tradition, outstanding stalwart of the NPP, strong defender of human rights as a lawyer, proud, faithful adherent of the Christian Adventist faith – these were the multi-facetted aspects of the career and character of Sir John, which earned him considerable renown both as erstwhile General Secretary of the NPP and CEO of the Forestry Commission.”
“Energetic, ebullient, with an exceptional sense of humour and possessing a limitless store of folktales and proverbs, he affected positively every person with whom he came into contact. He was truly unforgettable, and our party and government owe him an immense debt for his work and commitment,” he added.
“My wife Rebecca and I extend our deepest condolences to his entire family. Sakora Wonoo has lost a valiant son. He will be widely missed.
“May the good Lord bless him, and give him a peaceful place of abode in His Bosom until the last day of the resurrection when we shall all meet again.
Sir John, we will never forget you!!” he said.
The Vice-President, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, who was not left out of the pouring of grief and paying of tribute, expressed himself, saying “I have learnt with sadness the passing of lawyer Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie, aka Sir John, former General Secretary of the NPP and Chief Executive Officer of the Forestry Commission.”
“I spoke with Sir John only yesterday but little did I know that was our last conversation. Sir John was a good man who truly paid his dues to the party and Ghana. I will miss him.
“My heartfelt condolence to his family. Rest in peace, my good friend,” he added.
NPP Chairman Freddie W. Blay expressed shock at the death of Sir John, saying, “It is one of the events that bring us to our shore of reality. As a matter of fact, life is transient.”
“Sir John has left his mark in party politics in Ghana. He was witty, savvy, controversial, brawling, friendly and warm. There was more for him to achieve. He left us too soon. Ghana politics will miss him, we shall miss him,” he added.
Former President John Mahama also posted on social media mourning and said he had lost a “good friend.”
“My condolences to the family of our dear brother and good friend, Sir John, Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie,” he said, describing Sir John as a “feisty and intriguing politician who brought lots of interesting moments to our political discourse.”
“I also extend my condolences to the entire NPP family for this painful loss,” he added.
From the opposition aisle of local politics, Johnson Asiedu Nketia, General Secretary of the NDC, who had a lot of engagements with the deceased in the political trenches and was indeed a bosom friend of his, commiserated with the bereaved family.
He said he was overwhelmed with grief when he heard the news about Sir John’s demise, adding that although he knew that death would eventually come, he did not think he would lose a close friend through Covid-19.
Speaking on a radio shortly after the news was broken, the NDC General Secretary recalled how when he lost his mother, Sir John came to live with him and supported him during the preparation for the funeral.
“…I was deeply touched when he (Sir John) came to stay with me for three days after the death of my mother… he could have stayed in a hotel when everyone else had left but he came to live in my house. We ate the same food and did a lot of things together. The Pentecostal pastor who presided over the funeral, as well as sympathizers who were present, were amazed by his gesture. That general secretaries of the two rival parties would get along so well…,”Asiedu Nketia noted.
Boakye Kyeremateng Agyarko, former Energy Minister and NPP bigwig, said, “Three times in a row, the NPP heart is stabbed and bleeding. Can I dare ask what is amiss? And Sir John, our only Sir, has also succumbed to this painful death. ‘Onua’, you enriched all of us and added such colour to our lives. You will be sorely missed.”
National Organizer Sammi Awuku posted, “Thank you for believing in me, Sir. Thank you for mentoring me, Wofa. Thank you for being a pillar in my short political journey. Thank you for everything, Wofa. Sad! Gone but will never be forgotten. Rest in Peace Wofa!”
Henry Nana Boakye, aka Nana B, said, “Wofa Sir John; My godfather, advisor, mentor and anchor…I love you dearly. R.I.P. Wofa!”
Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko, a leading NPP strategist, said, “Only this afternoon I called to wish him speedy recovery. This is truly shattering! Tough to swallow. Sleep easy, Sir John.”
Eugene Arhin, Director of Communications at the Presidency, said, “R.I.P Sir John. Till we meet again!!”
Sakora Wonoo, a kente-weaving urban area in the Kwabre East District of Ashanti where Sir John hails from, has been thrown in a state of mourning after hearing about the death of the NPP stalwart.
Almost every resident of the town was seen wearing red or black clothes with many trooping to the family house to mourn Sir John.
Sir John’s Story
Sir John, whom many referred to as “The only Sir in Ghana Politics”, was a lawyer and one of the faces of the then opposition NPP during the election petition hearing.
His passion for defending the NPP at all times even landed him in trouble when he had a brush with the Supreme Court during the Presidential Election Petition in 2013.
Justice William Atuguba, President at the time, it would be recalled, took issues with him during the hearing when he said “I hear you are a lawyer,” in a contemptuous comment he was said to have made about the case.
He rose to the position of General Secretary of the NPP and later CEO of the Forestry Commission where he had taken important steps towards the conservation of the forestry resources of the country.
He attended the Seventh Day Adventist Secondary School at Bekwai and the Konongo Odumase Secondary School at Konongo for his ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels respectively.
After studying political science at the University of Ghana, Legon, he proceeded to study law and was called to the Bar after the professional programme at the Ghana School of Law.
In fact, some of his classmates at the Ghana School of Law include retired Supreme Court judges.
He was in private practice for sometime but during the Kufuor administration, he was appointed to be in charge of the Legal Services of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), moving afterwards to become the corporation’s Deputy CEO.
His political life was what brought him to the limelight, his exceptional attributes playing a role in this direction. His position as General Secretary of the party between 2010 and 2014 could especially pass for his golden years in politics.
His bid to hold on to the position did not materialize as he lost to Kwabena Agyapong.
It was in that election that he coined the term “Fear Delegates” after they tricked him into believing that they would vote massively for him to be retained as general secretary but failed to do so.
He took up the leadership mantle of the Forestry Commission of Ghana in March 2017 when he was appointed by President Akufo-Addo.
His sense of humour was in full flight when an earlier rumour that he was going to head the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority proved untrue.
He said that being a person from the forest area of Ghana, he was at home with the appointment as CEO of the Forestry Commission of Ghana. He said he had a phobia for the sea and it sparked spontaneous laughter on radio.
As someone whose political pranks during media discourses were sources of mirth, he would certainly be missed as momentum towards the 2020 election was being ramped up although somewhat restricted by Covid-19.
By A.R. Gomda