Paa Joe Odonkor is a former Ghanaian journalist and ex drug peddlar. He narrates how his unending avarice led him into the deep dark world of drug trafficking where he made a huge fortune. Now 65 years old, he has been condemned to the dregs of life.
Tell us about your growing up?
I attended school in Adabraka, Ghana. In primary school, I was very brilliant. My position in class was either 1st or within the first three. Anytime I went beyond that, I wept. I got to secondary school at the age of 12 because I got my Common Entrance at Class 6 but I was too young so my daddy said I was too young. I did it again in Form 1 and I hit it big time. I went to good schools which I wouldn’t want to mention for good reasons. I attended topnotch schools in Accra. My father was a single parent who was very strict. When I got to Form 1, I was still among the best five in class. At Form 2, there were these guys I wanted to move with. When I tried to mingle with them, they sneered at me that I didn’t have what it took to be with them and they didn’t want trouble. They used to call me Candy Wine Generation. You know Candy and Wine were two sweet things. They considered me as absolutely sweet. When I started to gravitate from the Christian faith, the guys I was now moving with were mocking me because I hadn’t started smoking. My fellow Christian mates were cautioning me that I was gravitating precariously towards dire straits but I didn’t want to listen because I had become rebellious.
What upbringing were you given?
I was brought up in a strong Christian home. My mother died when I was 9. I attended Church often. I read the Bible. I was taught not to lie and not too steal. If I saw someone’s money on the ground, I would take it and ask who owned it.
Talk more about how you gravitated to the other life.
At that time, there was this haircut called Check Your Collar. These guys were always having problems with the authorities. When they came to the Dinning Hall, they flew their shirt and the ladies were always cheering them so I wanted to be like them because I felt they were big boys. My father taught me that when you take weed you would go mad. So they were like, “Odonkor, we don’t want trouble o.” When I tasted the weed the very first time, I didn’t get mad but I had what they call hallucination. I saw people dressed in white chanting “Candywine Generation”. They were singing appellations.
Were they familiar faces?
Not at all. They were more like Philippines. Their skins were bronze. They didn’t look very human by their colour. So the guys were afraid. They soaked garri for me heavily. I ate then I woke up. When I woke up, I realised I didn’t go mad after all. Then I started to smoke. I used to play the bass guitar for my school. When I came on stage, the women used to cheer me. I felt good; egoistic. With all that, I was not doing badly academically. After that, I left Secondary School. I did my O’ Level and my A’ Level as well. I wanted to go to the University but then I had become hardcore rebellious. So I told my father that if he liked, he shouldn’t even pay my school fees because I was getting money from some sources. So I went to study journalism. It was my maternal uncle who pressed me to do journalism.
Before we go into the details of your Journalism career, I heard there was a time when ladies used to write love letters too you at the time you were in the band.
That’s correct. They used to put it on my headband whenever I was performing. In our days, we didn’t have mobile phones. We had the rotary; the type that you roll. My father used to padlock ours but I would break the padlock and call the ladies. The women you haven’t gone out with would claim to have gone out with you. They wanted to associate.
What were the contents of the letters that you can recall?
They said to say I was driving them crazy. They said I was wonderful. There was this person who wrote that she wished that her bone and my blood would be mixed together so that we’ll meet together in heaven. Those were the kind of words the ladies said too me. I was the ladies’ man because I was really good-looking.
At what point did you enter Journalism school?
That was around 1978/79. I went to GIJ. When I came out of GIJ, I was a stringer for guys working with GNA, Ghanaian Times. I was stringing for them under a pen name. I had different Pen names like Donaldo, City Boy, the Big Time Boy.
Did you use Candywine?
No, I didn’t. With that, some people would have traced me.
Why did you decide to write under pen name?
I wanted to be low-key until I made it big. Journalism wasn’t like the way it is today where you can easily be successful. There are people who see me today with the way I’m struggling financially and doubt if I ever worked with the BBC or ever owned a car. But when I reflect on my past, tears roll down my eyes and I just tell them, “You haven’t seen anything yet. You will grow to this stage one day.” In those days, when I saw some above age 50 with grey hair and was poor. I wondered: “How come you don’t have money. It means you didn’t live your life well.” When I was a stringer for the BBC for two and a half years, I was earning 15 Cedis. That was around 1980. So, there was a time I went to Accra Girls and saw this very beautiful lady. I’m talking about the seductive brilliance oof a woman; the most spectacular creation yet to have come from the rib of Adam. When I saw her, I was impressed and I wanted her. But here I was, I didn’t have a car. This lady was even wanted by popular sportsmen. She was indeed a very sweet and beautiful lady. She is in her 50s today and still looks stunning.
Do you remember her name?
Yes, but I can’t mention it. She is married to a billionaire now. So what happened? Someone talked to me and said if I wanted to make money and own a car that he could take me as a courier.
So you needed money to impress this woman?
Exactly. That was my primary motivation. And to impress other people as well but my primary motivation was the woman. I was earning 15 Cedis which was not enough. I saw guys of my age who had big cars. So I told the man that if he would pay me $4,000 for taking Marijuana out of the country, I was ready. Primarily, the motivation was the woman but I also wanted to live big. I had very expensive taste but I didn’t have money. I wanted to wear TM Lewis, Bally Shoes. Bally shoes was the Rolls Royce of shoes and TM Lewis was the shirt of shirts. I wanted to wear gold chains and Rolex watches but of course, my 15 Cedis couldn’t afford me that lifestyle.
Your intelligence and good looks couldn’t get you the woman?
Like I said, journalism wasn’t like it is today where people affiliate with major political parties and then they make big money and start riding Land Cruisers and things like that. We were on foot. We used pen and notepads to write.
When you decided to make money, what was the decision?
The guy said if you go, you get $4,000 and I said I’ll try it once and that if I succeeded, that would be the end. But then I went for the first time and got the $4,000. The second time, I got $6,000. It was weed. The airport in Italy then was a very busy airport. They don’t really check you and Ghana was not a drug hub like it is today. So when I got the $6,000, I got my first car; Gulf. Subsequently, I realised that they had brought dogs to the airport. Weed is very easy for dogs to sniff than cocaine. There was a time I got $40,000.
How long ago was this?
I’m talking about the early 80s. The dollar was exchange at 1.50 Cedis at that time. So with $100,000, you had 150,000 Cedis. I decided that I was going to quit. But at this time, I was meeting hard guys and they introduced me to cocaine business and the money was good. At every delivery I was to make, I always said it would be my last time. When I went to make a delivery, the cars that picked me up at the airport were Bentley and Rolls Royce. Even-tually, I got the lady. We went to Switzerland. We slept at one of the topmost hotels in the world. It was the Grand Sheraton Hotel in Zurich. I paid $1,500 a day and I was there for about three weeks then we went to Venice. Venice is a city on water with ladies paddling the boat. Whenever it was evening, lights fell on the water and on the boat. Oh my goodness, it was like paradise on earth. I did all that to impress the lady.
Did she love you or it was because of what you had?
The truth is that when you have a very deep pocket, full of money, they are there for you. They call you honey, sweetheart and everything nice. But when you develop holes in your pocket, they develop wings like butterfly and make themselves conveniently unavailable. Some of the ladies today are better, they go to church even though I don’t know their hearts. They see you and give you some money.
So the women you impressed then still see you today and give you some money?
Yes. If I see them, I want to hide. But then, pride takes a back seat to desperation. I know that when I go and greet them, I’ll get some money. So I go to them.
These were ladies who used to be your girlfriends.
Yes. I carried their mothers, siblings and entire family to holidays abroad. I flew Concord. From UK to JFKennedy Airport. Those days, I paid close to $2,700. Concord makes two and half hours journey across the Atlantic unlike the Boeing 747 which takes 6 to 7 hours across the Atlantic. I had links to Pablo Escobar’s henchmen. You know the Americans were looking to Escobar so his men were scattered all over the world. It was one of these guys who took me into Columbia. You go by plane to the main airport then by helicopter to a small airbase. Then you to go boat to another place and finally by foot deep into a mosquito-infested forest. There, you’ll meet the revolutionary armed forces of Columbia. They were guys who didn’t smile, had no modicum of emotions. They had big guns, antiaircraft firepower and bullets wrapped all over their body. I was terrified. I was going there to bring the substance because when you go from Columbia directly to US, they’ll bust you. Everyone knew that South America was the hub of drugs. So I’ll bring it to Accra, repackage it and then take it out.
Was there a time when your primary objective moved from just getting the woman to something bigger?
Yes. In my time, we didn’t have young guys building mansions and things like that. You see people above their 60s doing so. At that time, I got plots of land at President Kufuor’s area. The only person who had a house then was a former Member of Parliament. His house then cost $2million. The whole area was bushy at that time. So I bought 5 plots and wanted to build something on it but it wasn’t with a sense of urgency. I always slept at hotels whenever I was around. I preferred sleeping in the hotels because of privacy and the kind of business I was involved in.
Which people were you the conveyer belt for?
The big people who were into drugs were not known on the scene. They didn’t know me as a drug dealer. They knew I travelled a lot and made so much money and that I didn’t use a car for more than a month. I change it.
What were the kind of cars?
Mercedes. Jaguar. Gulf. Scirocco. I used Range Rover with the aircondition at the top. Those days, the AC wasn’t built into the engine, it was at the top. My ambition was to bring Bentley and Rolls Royce here but I was just taking my time. One memorable car I brought that I hadn’t seen anyone bring was the DeLorean DMC-12 that had gull-wing doors. It doesn’t open like a conventional car door. When I brought it, people were cheering me. I used to go to Aquinas where I got the supply of women. When people cheered me, I would pick up a wad of dollars and spray it. Then I would speed away. I was kind of egoistic. When you come to my hotel, I had bedsheet of dollars where I lie. When people come, I gave them money. They made life from coming to see me and I was very generous.
How did you meet your clients?
Over there, they have arranged for you. They’ll tell you how to identify the picker when you get to the airport. At that time, technology had not brought about CCTV so it was easier. But even with that, I was busted when I had one of the biggest shipment of cocaine from the shores of Ghana. It would have been worth 10 to 50 million dollars. It wasn’t only my stuff. We were a cartel. I was the youngest. When I cleared the goods, my people would do the distribution. If that shipment pulled through, I would have made about $1.2million. I decided that when I made that money I was going to slow down.
Did you ever build?
No. As we speak, I don’t even have a kiosk.
What happened to the cars?
You sell them out. First, you are broke and you don’t want people to know that you are broke. So when they asked me, I say “I sent them to UK for repairs and servicing.” But the truth was that I was getting broke. I was gravitating precariously towards dire straits. I saw disgrace coming my way but I realised I could not help it.
Were you married?
Never. I’ve never been married. I have one child whose mother was a devout Christian so I waas never close to the child.
Did you get advice?
Yes, but I saw anyone who advised me as weak especially the church goers. I used to say, “you go to church because you are not smart to make money so you’re making up for your failures by going to hide in church.”
At the time you had all the money, did you take advice from poor people who knew better?
Not at all. I told that them if they needed some money, they could come get it. But some were very principled and said, “It’s not your money I need. The way you are going, you are going to crash.” and today, these are the people who see me and give me money.
Do you still see your cartel?
Not at all. Some of them are in jail. Some have been shot dead. There are people who I’ve been good to and when they see me once in a while, they give me something. To tell you the truth, even the dress that I wear, it is given to me by people especially church people. I live an expensive life. When you wear real, your body knows it is real. I wore Rolex studded with diamonds costing about $17,000. When I wore something and saw it on someone else, I gave it out immediately. I wore things that not many people could afford. I wore Bally shoes; those were the Rolls Royce of shoes. Prince Charles and co wore Bally.
When you see the youth today flaunting wealth like you did, what comes to mind?
The thing is that such persons are already filled with greed. The only things on their minds in making money. They want to make money by whatever means. They see me as someone who didn’t manage his affairs well and that was why my fortune crumbled and they just dash me money. So when you want to talk to them, someone young enough to be your grandchild, they put their hands on my back because they wanted to give me money. If you attempt to give advice, you become their enemy. Some are very smart; they decide to take the advice so they don’t make the same mistake I did.
Do you still look back and cry?
Yes. Because I made a lot of mistakes.
What really strikes you the most when you have retrospection?
That I didn’t put up a house. I didn’t marry because marriage would have tamed me a little. It puts a check on your life. When you’re out for too long, your wife ask questions. When she begins to get rumours that I’m into drugs, she’ll be able to caution me. I have big regrets. Though, you can not exorcise the past, you learn from it. If you let your past catch up with you, you can’t reach your future. It got to a time I saw suicide as the best option because I have fallen from the top to the ground. I didn’t care about myself anymore. I could go a month without taking a bath. I once tried to kill myself by driving into an electric pole. I suffered multiple fractures and was hospitalised for 18 months then I came out using crutches. Luckily, they didn’t amputate my leg. It was a very serious suicidal bid. The second time I took 12 tablets of 10mg Valium. I woke up earlier than I usually do. So, I realised one can’t fight God. Right now, I have a very personal relationship with God than I did 30 years ago. Then, I knew there was some God but I felt he didn’t care.
What is the future like for you?
I go for programmes in church telling the youth and all those who cared to listen that I have been through this journey. There’s now some new craze called Tramadol that the youth now abuse. I didn’t tell you. I have once been a drug addict. That was the final blow that messed me up. When I was shipping the drugs, I wasn’t using them but I needed to taste it to see if it was genuine because I once gave a supply not knowing it was Paracetamol. I was lucky the guy didn’t kill me. So I had to always take some. Anything with codeine gets you addicted after one month of use. So I always advice the youth that they shouldn’t think they were smart warning that it was only a matter of time because you hit a rock. The people you want to impress will see you and give you money. You may not want to take the money but since you don’t have it, you’re left with no choice. Almost without exception, people want to have big money and drive big cars. There’s nothing wrong with it but then, if you have to pass through the back door, the devil will give it to you but at the time it mattered most, he’ll take it back. You’ll then realise that the devil never gives anything for free. I haven’t driven in almost every vehicle but today, I am almost penniless. I plan to write a book because if I have died now, not many people would have heard my story.
Interview sourced from Vibes in 5 TV Channel. Photos: SVTV
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