Growing up in the Accra suburbs of Abeka, there were several mechanisms put in place to make sure that young people grew up with some positive values. One of such values, on which priority was placed, was telling the truth. As a child in the community, it was high crime to say any untruth whatsoever. No matter what the situation was, even if we had a gun held to our heads, it was required of us to tell the truth all the time.
We were told several folktales that projected the virtue and its consequences; rewards for upholding it and punishment for doing otherwise. One of those stories is our own rendition of Aesop’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. In that story, we were taught that people will not believe a liar even if he is telling the truth.
It was so important to keep the virtue that in the most playful situations, you would hear us say, “I swear my father kanto” (to wit, I swear by my father’s knee) when anyone discredited something we have said, seen or done. For those of us who grew up in very religious or Christian homes, if you said something that sounded incredible, you quickly suffixed it with “True for God” to confirm that you were saying the truth; nothing but the truth. I am still researching why we swore by our father’s knee, but, definitely, the use of God in the second scenario can be explained. We were taught in Sunday School that liars will go to hell so what better way to confirm the truth than by the name of the God whom we fear will send us into an eternal fire?
There were several other crude methods that were used to teach people valuable lessons about upholding the truth and abhorring lies. At a shrine called Alafia in the neighbourhood, it was said that when they want to determine whether a person was telling lies or not, they would make you dip your hand in boiling oil. If you were telling the truth, the hot oil will do you no harm but if not, your guess is as good as mine. Imagine my parents come back home and find that a piece of chicken has been stolen from the stew. When they ask us, we all get mute and lose our ability to speak. But at the mention of Alafia, the guilty knee bows, and the guilty tongue confesses that “I stole the chicken”.
In a funny event during one of my lectures in the university, a student accused one of our lecturers of not keeping a promise he made. The lecturer’s response was, “Hold your balls and let’s pronounce a curse and see who it affects”. This sent the class into an uproar. Though it was funny and all, the student did not have the courage to hold his balls. He was telling lies and he feared the consequences.
There was not a pristine truth-telling slate in those days. One of the most vivid and, possibly, the commonest lies that were told when I was younger and was in primary school. In those days, the head of the school would, unexpectedly, go round the classrooms sacking those who owed arrears of school fees. On one occasion, one boy was found guilty of owing fees and was asked to go home and get the fees from his parents. He quickly answered the head-teacher saying, “Sir, please, my mother says when you sack me I should tell you that she is not at home”.
The thing about telling a lie like this what that anybody could see through it and it served as a good source of laughter to people who were privy to it.
In today’s Ghana, these are the kinds of lies that are served us, especially from the political front. The difference between the two is that the latter is not funny at all. The effrontery with which our politicians tell us lies and spew wanton promises these days has graduated the situation from being funny to being disrespectful.
Seeing that we are in an election period, the politicians have ganged up against us to give us what is described as the three types of lies; lies, damn lies and statistics. They confirm the words of Otto von Bismarck that people never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war, and before an election. The kinds of accountability reports and promises we have received over the past few months are nothing short of Machiavellian.
Like Colonel Jessep in the popular movie “A Few Good Men”, our politicians seem to tell us that we cannot handle the truth. We are better off with the lies – things are that bad only the lies seem to hold them together. They behave as though the truth will kill us, whereas the lies they keep feeding us with that rather act like the slow poison that is gradually turning us into a lifeless nation. Like layers of onions, we keep peeling one after the other every day to find nothing but plain lethal lies. The words honour and faithful mean nothing to them. They make promises to us as if we do not have sense to tell what is attainable from what is not. It is even more painful to hear promises from an incumbent government that has failed in delivering on anything they promised in the previous election year.
Let us, however, not be too quick to push all the blame on the politician. We, too, have done a great job telling them that we deserve nothing but ice-cold bottles of lies. We greedily lap up any lie that flatters us and, by that, we continually pay the politicians compliments; acknowledging their superiority over us whenever they lie to us. We hail them as prophets – prophets who can only tell lies and make their lies come through. We beg them like the Israelites did when God attempted talking to them. “Spare us”, we cry. “Give us the best-dressed lie for we cannot handle the naked truth”. Some of us defend their lies, others simply do not care and those who have the greater responsibility of exposing these untruths have rather become agents who heap more sand on the truth.
My good friend, Williams Nana Kyei, puts it like this: “As a country, we glorify less, we bask in mediocrity, we dignify bunk, and we eulogize politicians for building public toilets, tarring roads and the likes. The result? They keep dishing out unrealistic promises because that’s what we ask for. Nobody holds them to their words. The bunkums and piffles on our airwaves is a true reflection of what we demand from those in power. Some of these seas of promises are just risible. Snotty-nosed! Can we be serious for a moment, as a country? Ghana deserves better”.
The worst form of lie we can ever tell is the one we tell ourselves and believe it. “It is entirely the politicians’ fault”: this is the worst lie ever. We have civic responsibilities as electorates. As a matter of fact, we have more power than we give ourselves credit for. We owe it to ourselves, the generations coming after us and to Ghana to wake up to our duties as a people, to make our nation great and strong. We need to hold our politicians to their words.
Let us remove the political blindfolds and see things for what they are and address the real issues that confront us as a nation. We deserve the truth. We can handle the truth. Let us seek the truth and be truthful to it.