Jubilee celebrations of Regional Institute for Population Studies: 50 years in perspective

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa, and former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa, and former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Feb 13, 2022


Pali Lehohla

*Lehohla on behalf of Regional Institute for Population Studies (RIPS) alumni, gave this speech on Thursday.

CHAIRPERSON of the proceedings and chairperson of RIPS Jubilee organising committee, Medamfo Dr Grace Bediako, permit me to bring greetings from South Africa to the vice-president of Ghana, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia; to the vice-chancellor of the University of Ghana, Professor Nana Aba Appiah Amfo; and to the acting director of RIPS, Professor Ayaga Agula Bawah.

I feel like Jonah in the Bible and like Shakespeare’s Malvolio in the “Twelfth Night”.

I am burdened by the trust that my 1 500 colleagues have conferred on me, that of representing them truthfully on this monumental occasion.

Some of the alumni have departed from this world, and I am terrified by their ominous watching spirit. Others are retired, a number still very active and in this hall and on this platform.

My trepidation as I stand before you is that in 2012 Professor Samuel Codjoe, then director of RIPS, invited me to be a recipient of an award of the University of Ghana when RIPS turned 40-years old.

But like Jonah in the Bible, who refused God’s calling, I pledged reasons beyond my control and could not heed Codjoe’s call. In 2015, he burdened

himself with delivering the award to me at the UAPS Conference held in South Africa. I told him then that I felt like Malvolio.

In Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, when Malvolio thought fortune came his way and in confessing to Olivia about categories of greatness, he argued that some people are born great, others achieve greatness and yet others have greatness thrust upon them. To have greatness coming my way in the form of representing 1 500 alumni of RIPS, mindful of the saying that fortune favours fools, I have to ask what form this greatness is?

“Or am I paying for my sins of not coming to Ghana in 2012? Am I now like Jonah? Have I been thrown out of the boat of fishermen, swallowed by a fish and spat out at Labadi Beach, and now forced to answer the call?

The founding director of RIPS, the late Professor Chukwuka Okonjo, the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State and a brigadier in the Biafra war helps me to answer these questions.

He had royal blood and he was naturally born great. But in relation to his academic prowess and role at RIPS among others, it was his father who defined him, by saying, “Go and study further my son so that you become a great man.”

Okonjo then set the DNA of RIPS on the basis of his father’s words. RIPS proceeded to produce great women and great men. Before you vice president, you have the alumni who have served and continue to serve their countries, notably in statistics offices, in academia and at the United Nations.

In large measure, the development of the population studies programme at university was made possible through the contribution of professionals of RIPS in South Africa. The theme of RIPS Jubilee is “50 years of Shaping Local and Global Population issues towards sustainable development”.

The question is, therefore, given what RIPS has achieved in the past 50 years, what should it do in the next 50 years?

By accident I became Jonah and the fishermen through acquainting myself with the fishermen village of Mamprobi, and became a patron of a watering hole called Xtra-O. Twenty-seven

years later we hosted the third Africa Symposium for Statistical Development in Africa here in Accra, and I visited my watering hole.

But alas Xtra-O was now a Kindergarten. My visit to Xtra-O Kindergarten in 2019 was equally surprising. It was now a high school enrolling 500 students.

Yesterday, when I visited Xtra-O it had reintroduced the kindergarten, and continues with the high school. Perhaps as we think about the next 50 years for RIPS, we should take a leaf out of the 86-year-old Mrs Oyye Helen Bruce, the matriarch who transformed her calling from a watering hole to a liberator of humanity through education.

When I met her yesterday at Xtra-O, I asked her what was her message to you Mr Vice President. She said, “A caring leadership transforms”. She also affirmed that the greatness of RIPS is one that is achieved.

In the next 50 years the alumni of RIPS should set the path towards achieving these great heights. Ms Bruce represents what Longfellow said, “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa, and former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him @Palilj01 and at www.pie.org.za.


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