The Upper West Regional Minister, Mr Sulemana Alhassan, is becoming accustomed to a new job that requires people management skills, a steel but accommodating character and a shrewd mind.
As the new minister, he accepts the challenge and the enormity of the task imposed by the sharp transition from being a teacher/headmaster/ administrator to a political appointee — a terrain that is too familiar with real turbulence than student agitation.
However, at 62, and as a retired municipal director of education for Wa, his experience in civil service could prove ultimately useful, although he also draws on a range of experiences from the different lives he has lived over the years.
Across the stretch of an active pre-retirement working life that was spent mainly in the classroom with students, he was also a sportsman and football coach, became a headmaster, before subtle politics took charge upon retirement.
“I am a man of many parts,” he admitted in an interview with the Daily Graphic, “But I try to function effectively in whichever area I operate, whether in sports, the classroom, or as an administrator.”
Soft-spoken and with a calm disposition that belies a famed strict character, the minister has built a favourable reputation among students who passed through his hands as a mathematics teacher at Wa Senior High School (SHS) and later Wa Senior High Technical School (SHTS).
His profile, as narrated by acquaintances at his first meeting with heads of departments in Wa, depicts an outstanding teacher who was both strict and kind, and an administrator who pushed his students and staff to the limit to attain excellence.
As he opened his door to the 18-minute interview, he portrayed an affable personality, one who understood the political demands of his new portfolio, as well as the burden of improving the nation’s officially poorest region.
For all his reputation as a teacher, and the admiration he enjoys from society for what is considered a volunteering spirit, he speaks with little finesse of a glib-tongued politician.
Instead, he appeared to possess a sense of honesty and respect, plus a genuine concern about how to redeem Upper West Region from the throes of poverty.
“My priority areas are water and sanitation; agriculture and industrial development; roads, transport and tourism; security and peaceful co-existence; education and youth development,” he said.
These are just five of the areas of a broader manifesto of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP), which swept its way to office with an overwhelming popular vote.
“Those are the areas we in the Upper West Region will focus our attention on as we attempt to improve the lot of our people,” he added.
Even on just the second day in office, the queue behind his door was the kind that frightened even the thick-skinned politician, and when a senior technocrat at the regional co-ordinating council (RCC) reminded him of how deep his ‘guests’ had eaten into his lunch time, he only smiled and retorted that, “I will skip lunch.”
With such a welcoming persona, Mr Alhassan may very well appeal to his immediate surroundings, particularly the notorious group of political figures who consider it their right and a ritual to take their breakfast at the Residency in Wa — at the expense of either the state or the political headship in the region.
This is the man who spent just three years in basic school, progressed to earn a master’s degree, attained headmastership at Wa Islamic Senior High, and then became the municipal director of education in Wa before yielding to compulsory retirement.
“I didn’t start school early, but I was so bright that I was promoted rapidly. I spent two years in primary school and a year in the then middle school,” he recalled.
Five years at Bawku Secondary School in Upper East Region (there was no secondary school in Wa at the time) earned him the Ordinary Level (O’ Level) Certificate in 1970, from where he proceeded to the Bagabaga Teacher Training College in Tamale in the Northern Region.
Acclaimed to be a good sprinter with footballing sense, it was little surprise that he coached football side Upper West Heroes for five years when they campaigned in the then second division.
He has married twice, the first one producing one of his four children.
Mr Alhassan answers to many nicknames in Wa: Teacher, Director, Headmaster, Coach and now Minister.
He calls it a new beginning.