TRIBUTE BY KOW ABAKA ESSUMAN TO KOJO BENTSI-ENCHILL, A FRIEND AND MENTOR
Now praise we great and famous men,
The fathers named in story;
And praise the Lord, who now as then,
Reveals in man His glory.
It all started with Maxwell Logan. I had come home for holidays from Cornell University in Janaury 2009 and met with Maxwell Logan in his office to talk about career opportunities in the legal industry in Ghana. After a bit of conversation, he said to me, “I think you should contact Bentsi-Enchill, Letsa and Ankomah (BELA); it is the best firm in Ghana and will suit a person with your background”. He gave me the contact number for BELA. The next day, I called the office and asked to speak to Kojo. The receptionist, who answered the phone, patched me through to him. I told him how I had obtained his contact details and that I wanted to come and talk to him about legal career opportunities in Ghana. He asked me to drop by his office any time during the day. I asked him where his office was and he said, “Teachers Hall Complex in Adabraka”. I asked where that was and he said, “If you were able to find your way to Cornell then Teachers Hall Complex in Adabraka should not be a problem for you at all.” I laughed and said, “see you in the afternoon.” Much later in our relationship, when I reminded him about this conversation, he would deny ever saying such a thing. That afternoon, after sitting in a civil procedure class taught by Ace Ankomah, I walked from the Law School at Makola to Teachers Hall Complex in Adabraka. Everyone I met along the way kept saying, “it’s just up the road.” When I arrived at the office, Kojo came to see me in the reception and ushered me into his office warmly. We chatted about school and other things. He asked me about a friend of his who was a professor at Cornell. I asked him about moving back to Ghana and he told me bluntly that there was no rush. He advised me to learn all that I could learn and gain all the experience I could gain, and when I was ready, I could return to Ghana. He said these words that have stayed with me for many years, “there is always room at the top.” Indeed, it is captured on my Facebook profile as one of my favourite quotes. When the time came for me to join the President in January 2017, I reminded Kojo of the quote in my resignation letter dated 16 January 2017. I stated, “I have built friendships that will last a lifetime and most significantly, I have learnt very important principles of life. I will always be a representative of the Firm wherever I find myself and I am confident that the training that I have received over the last few years will play a weighty role in my new employment. I will continue to pray for the Firm to exceed its own expectations and maintain its position as one of the best law firms (if not the best) in the country. And I will carry with me, a dictum by Mr. Bentsi-Enchill to me in 2009 when I first met him, “there is always room at the top.”
When I eventually moved to Ghana and after completing the Post-Call law course at the Ghana Law School, I joined BELA. As part of the recruitment process, I was required to send two writing samples and meet with all the partners. My meeting with Kojo was more like a conversation. We chatted about everything. A part of the conversation I remember so well was when he asked me what the most interesting topic in Ghana at the time was. I told him the sim card registration and he asked what I thought of it. I was said it was a clear invasion of privacy especially for prepaid customers. Little did I know he was spoiling for a debate. We argued back and forth about the pros and cons of this topic. After a while, he looked at me and said, “you [pause] you’re very surreptitious.” I responded “oh” and we both laughed as he walked me downstairs to hand me over to Ace.
Although I was not in his team, I worked on a few matters with him personally. Kojo always had these intellectual projects. He was excited to learn new things and he did not mind if the teacher was a newly qualified lawyer or an experienced chartered accountant. On one of the matters we worked on jointly, he sought my view on an issue involving boardroom politics and how the law could be used to resolve such an issue. I proffered my opinion on the matter and he said he thought it was a brilliant and would propose it to the client.
In the latter part of 2013, when Nana Akufo-Addo appointed me as one of his aides, Kojo called me into his office and had a chat with me. He was concerned that I was getting involved in frontline politics so young and that Ghana was not like the U.K. or the U.S. But he was pleased that I was so willing to serve the public so early on in life. He advised me to build up myself so that I will be more useful to Nana Akufo-Addo. When the time came for me to join Nana Akufo-Addo after he won the 2016 elections, Kojo told me that it was a great opportunity and encouraged me to go for it. He said it was an opportunity to make a difference and he prays I do.
The executive assistants at BELA would tell you about the numerous times that Kojo used to tease me to get married. He would say, “be a responsible man and get married.” It was all in jest, but it had some seriousness to it. I would usually respond that I had a target of being married by the age of 33. I usually added that if I found the woman, I would tell him. When I decided to get married, I drove to his house one Saturday afternoon and informed him. He was very excited, and he told me to let him know how he could help. I remember on one of the days I visited him in the office, he asked me about how the counselling sessions were progressing. I then started telling him about my reservations about it. He sat back in his chair looking at me intently as I complained and said, “Counselling is the channel for women to tell you how they truly feel. Things that they cannot say to you, they will do so through counselling.” He told me about his own experience and I realised that all I needed to do was listen. When the wedding invitations were ready, I delivered his and Aunty Mercy’s to his house. When it was time to leave, my car refused to start. He joked, “hurry up and buy a new car. My soon to be daughter-in-law cannot be seen in such a car.” As we laughed, the car started. He attended the wedding with Aunty Mercy and gave us a very generous gift.
In 2018, when Lady-Ann was due to give birth, Kojo and Mercy invited us home for breakfast. We ate and chatted all morning about life, politics and legal developments. When Papa Kwesi was born finally, I sent Kojo a message announcing his arrival. He texted back, “Amen. Hallelujah. Amen. Hallelujah. I trust Lady-Ann is ok? I have been texting you these last 3 days because I felt the time was near. Great news. Mercy sends her love.” He continued to check on us, and when mother and child returned home, Kojo and Aunty Mercy came to visit.
Kojo and I shared a passion for writing and music except that I had not mastered any musical instrument. I would sit in his study convincing him about the number of books he could write. For one of the titles, I drew up a table of contents which I shared with him. He would say, “Kow, with your new job, you will not have the time.” He managed to complete and publish the article titled, “The Regulation of Law Practice in Ghana”, which Lady-Ann assisted him with. He used to joke that I was no longer at BELA, but I had sent him a perfect replacement. For music, I loved the keyboard and so he made arrangements for me to obtain my first piano – a Kawai. He would occasionally check up on me to make sure I was playing. He would ask in Fante, “how is it going with the piano lessons.” One night after work, I sent him an audio of a practice session of G, C and D chords. He sent a text back, “Brilliant … excellent timing … you will go far.” I haven’t played in months, and I need to get back to practising. Anytime we visited him at home, he will be happy and move around following the energetic Papa Kwesi all over the house. Papa Kwesi will jump on Kojo’s keyboard and “play” some sounds. I would try to stop Papa Kwesi thinking he might spoil Kojo’s keyboard but Kojo would always say, “leave him alone; let him be.”
In 2019, when I heard he was not well, I fasted and prayed for him for three days, and on the third day, I heard “victory” in my spirit. I texted the word “victory” to him. He replied “intrigued,” but I did not respond. He sent another text after a few hours, “still intrigued”. I responded and told him why I had sent that text. He replied, “Wow! I do not deserve it, but I receive your profound support.” A month later, he told me in another text, “Secrecy and confidentiality can verge into dishonesty and I do not want to be dishonest with you.” He then told me what the problem was. I encouraged him with the words of Jesus to Peter in Matthew 14:27, which he appreciated.
We could not spend much time with him after COVID-19 hit but we kept in touch by phone calls and WhatsApp messages. The news of his passing came as a shock. We rushed to his house that evening and discovered it was true. Kojo was such a tremendous source of wisdom for me. He was humble, modest and simple. He did not like the limelight and certainly, did not encourage underserved praise. He taught me to write in very simple language and not burden readers with legal terminology. I will miss him dearly. Because of COVID-19 he never got to meet his granddaughter, Ewuradwoa.
Kojo has been a good steward of the life God gave him. He has fulfilled God’s purpose in his generation. When I started developing my spirituality, he shared his testimony of how he became born again. He told me he was one of those people who did not really believe in pastors and spirituality until one day when he was invited to a Christian meeting. I think he said it was full gospel meeting at Labadi Beach Hotel or so, I cannot remember very well. However, he said the meeting was led by Bishop Dag Heward-Mills. He said at the end of the meeting when Bishop Dag made the altar call, he did not realise what happened to him but the next minute he was at the front. He got up and went forward to receive Jesus as his Lord and personal saviour. He told me that Holy Spirit was real and when He convicts you, there is nothing you can do about it. He said he had been a believer since then. It, therefore, excites my heart that Kojo will be joining the saints in heaven, cheering us on as we run our race of faith in our generation.
So praise we great and famous men,
The fathers named in story;
And praise the Lord who now as then,
Reveals in man His glory.
Rest in perfect peace, my dear uncle, friend and mentor, Kojo Bentsi-Enchill.