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Feature Article of Saturday, 19 May 2012

Columnist: Akpampo, Seidu Gbankuliso

Gonja Traditional Council Vs. Jinapor

– A challenging Precedent for the National House of Chiefs

In September 2011, The Tamale High Court Two (2) declared as null and void the deskinment of the Buipe Chief, Abdulai Jinapor by the Yagbonwura, the Gonja Traditional Council and the Registrar of the Council.

The court, presided over by Justice Kwame Ansu Gyeabour held that the defendants (i.e. the Yagbonwura and the Gonja Traditional Council) were not the King Makers of the Buipe stool and therefore could not purport to destool Mr. Jinapor. This is ruling was subsequently upheld by the National House of Chiefs. Now we have a situation where the authority of Jinapor does not extend beyond his household and a few friends. He is a chief of the Court.

I hold the view that the High Court made a grave mistake. The court knows or ought to have known that the Yagbonwura as the Overlord of Gonjaland is the final authority on all Gonjaland chieftaincy issues. That the “King makers” of whatever community/skin in Gonjaland select and enskin chiefs on behalf of the Yagbonwura. Therefore whenever there are disagreements on the selection of a particular chief in Gonjaland, the ultimate decision of who becomes the chief is that of the Yagbonwura.

It would be recalled that the Buipe Chieftaincy dispute started during the reign of the late Yagbonwura Bawa Doshie of blessed memory. At that time, the “King makers” of Buipe disagreed on the selection of a candidate to fill the vacant skin of Buipe after the death of Buipewura Chinchanko II. As custom demanded the two rival claimants ended up in the Yagbonwura’s palace and Yagbonwura Bawa Doshie pronounced then Silmanwura Mahama Abdulai Jinapor as the Buipewura. Given that evidence, the Yagbonwura clearly is the ultimate “King maker” in Gonjaland, and to suggest otherwise, even by a respected high court of our land, is to say the least, sheer cant.

The National House of Chiefs made matters worse by upholding the ruling of the high court. One had hoped that as a chieftaincy institution, the National House of Chiefs would be seeking to strengthen Chieftaincy, not undermine it. And in the matter of their decision to uphold the high court ruling in declaring that the Yagbonwura had no power to deskin the Buipewura, they have laid a dangerous precedent that would reverberate in the corridors of the chieftaincy institution from Manhyia to Nayiri and from the Bawku Naaba’s palace to Asogli.

It beats my small mind how the National House of Chiefs can come to the conclusion that the Asantehene for example has no power and/or right to destooled Nana Owusu Achiaw Prempeh as Juasohene simply because he is not the “King maker” of Juaso.

In much the same way, to suggest that the Yagbonwura, who is the Overlord of the Gonja Traditional area, has no right to deskin the Buipewura of his traditional area, is the biggest joke I have heard since “Waterproof” called time on his comedy career. By this singular mistake the National House of Chiefs, has at once put the entire Chieftaincy institution in jeopardy as well as exposed itself as a mere icon for traditional festivals. If the Yagbonwura has no authority to remove a wayward Buipewura, why must anyone else respect his authority? The whole concept of Overlord of Gonja Traditional Area is out of the window.

The National House of Chiefs will soon have the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to this ridiculous ruling. The Asantehene is reported to have destooled the Juasohene. According to myjoyonline.com: “Tracing the history of the dispute, the Asantehene said a case against Nana Prempeh was brought before Otumfuo Opoku Ware by some kingmakers of Juaso following which the chief was invited to Manhyia for adjudication to answer the charges brought against him”. Clearly, the fact that “some Kingmakers” of Juaso brought a case against the destooled chief, suggests that Otumfuo, like the Yagbonwura of Gonja, is not the “Kingmaker” of first resort in Juaso. Therefore under the logic of the Tamale High Court 2, upheld by the National House of Chiefs, the Asantehene would have no power to destool him. How ridiculous!

It is important to note that the grounds for the destoolment of the Juasohene was not on the substantive case brought against him by the King makers, but because he allegedly “failed to answer the late Opoku Ware’s invitation and in one instance wrote to the Otumfuo Opoku Ware demanding clear explanation as to why he should be invited”.

This is construed by Manhyia as an “Act of insubordination” for which the chief, Nana Owusu Achiaw Prempeh, then Juasohene was destooled.

If a chief writing to demand an explanation from Manhyia for an invitation he probably did not understand was seen as an act of insubordination, punishable by destoolment, I shudder to imagine the fate of that chief if he had dared to pull a gun at Manhyia: That was what the deskined Buipewura is alleged to have done. According to myjoyonline.com: “According to the statement issued by the Gonja Traditional Council made available to Joy FM's Northern Regional Correspondent, Mahama Shaibu, the Buipe-Wura insulted the other chiefs, audaciously pulled a pistol [gun] and his bodyguard cocked his gun in the face of the traditional leaders”. If the action of the Juasohene is “insubordination”, the action of the Jinapor may be an “act of war”.

No one can prove definitively that the Vice President has any involvement in the Buipe Chieftaincy Affairs. He has been protesting his innocence and until someone can provide evidence to the contrary, I believe him.

However, the fact that His Excellency the Vice President has found it necessary to distance himself from any perceived involvement in the matter is itself testimony that, out there is a large and growing perception that he supports one side (Jinapor) in the dispute. Such perception may be borne out of the creative imagination of some people; but there is circumstantial basis for it.

The Vice President’s Spokesperson is the son of Buipewura Jinapor – that in itself creates a perception problem for the Veep. It gets worse when, a chief from the opposing family is allegedly kidnapped by Jinapor’s people and ultimately rescued from the palace of Jinapor in the dead of night, by the State security personnel stationed in Buipe and nothing happens to him, no investigation was done. At least, we have not sighted the outcome of such investigations. A similar action by the opposing family would have attracted a dawn swoop by the security services to pick up every tom, dick and harry they can lay their fingers on. It creates perception problems when the Veep has consistently failed to attend events organized by the Gonja Traditional Council, The Gonjaland Youth Congress as well as the Damba Festival. These may just be far-fetched and erroneous perceptions; but they are perceptions nonetheless. In politics perception is reality. At best, there is only a thin line between perception and reality, which is why His Excellency has felt the need to address the issue on more than one occasion; justifiably in my opinion, because in Gonjaland, that perception is palpable.

The Buipe chieftaincy issue presented the National House of Chiefs with a challenge which they failed miserably, giving a ruling that, to all intents and purposes, renders the chieftaincy institution questionable at best.

The case of the Asantehene and the Juasohene will present the litmus that tests the commitment of the National House of Chiefs to its own ruling. It is a case that would put them between the proverbial rock and the hard place. They will be damned if they fail and damned if the pass. A fail in this case being a failure to uphold the precedent that if King is not a kingmaker he cannot destool a chief. That would make nonsense of their earlier ruling in the Buipe Chieftaincy case. A pass would mean they uphold this precedent, dropping a rotten egg in the face of the Asantehene. Whether you love or hate him, you don’t want to be found in the bad books of the Asantehene.

Heads or Tails, they lose. Their saving grace would be, if the issue does not show up on their desk. For now we all will wait with baited breath for the action that Nana Owusu Achiaw Prempeh, the destooled chief of Juaso will take.

Long live our Republic.

Seidu Gbankuliso Akpampo

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