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Feature Article of Sunday, 16 September 2012

Columnist: Abubakari, Seidu

Why Northerners are not comfortable with NPP

Some people have in open and private conversations expressed their disapproval of a Northerner ruling the country ever since the ascension of President Mahama to the highest office of the country and his nomination and election as the National Democratic Congress (NDC) flagbearer. Many questioned the ability of a Northerner to rule the country.

A brother who was born at Asamankese in the Eastern Region and therefore speaks fluent Twi gave me a story of his encounter with some people in an Accra bound bus recently three days ago. This brother a staunch NPP supporter agreed with me after the encounter in the bus that his party is an Asante/Akyem party.

On their way to Accra, a political argument ensued about the competence of President John Mahama to rule Ghana. The brother sided with those who were of the opinion that John Mahama is incompetent. He was the most vociferous in outlining reasons John Mahama cannot be a good President, citing corruption and many other reasons.

Apparently according to him he later realised the underlining reason for some disapproving John Mahama's Presidency is simply because he is a Northerner.

According to him a middle age man in the course of the debate said' 'how can a 'Pepeni' rule Ghana successfully. My brother was surprised but kept his cool thinking the man was the only one with such an opinion . A second man said when Hilla Liman became President he only dirtied and painted the walls of the Castle red as a result of his constant chewing of Kola. A third lady started narrating how a Northerner proposed to her and she nearly agreed thinking he is an Akan . According to the brother, the people should have observed his mood but they never did. He said by the time the fourth person could say a word, he had lost all his patients and angrily asked them if Northerners deserved all what they were saying. The mood in the bus changed and the conversation stopped.

The people in the bus were ashamed of themselves. The driver who quietly observed what was happening according to my brother started laughing. A passenger asked my brother if he was a Northerner and he said yes and emphasised that he was a hundred percent Northerner thereby compounding the shame of the people. He then seized the opportunity to lecture them on the need for Akans to be circumspect in their utterances since that is why Northerners are not comfortable with the NPP and therefore votes against it.

Not until reading a piece on Ghanaweb from one Kofi Ata of Cambridge of UK whom I presume to be an Akan , I did not know the meaning of the word "Pepeni", a term generally used to refer to all people from the Northern of Ghana.

According to him his Grandmother explained to him that the word “Pepeni” was from the Akan word “pepeepe”, meaning ‘exact”, “honest”, “truthful” because when Northerners migrated to the South, they were so honest and truthful that, their no was no and yes was yes. One could leave them alone at home with gold and diamond unattended and on your return nothing would have gone astray. They were also very punctual and always on time. As a result the southerners or Akans referred to the Northerners as ‘pepeepefuo’. That is, honest and truthful people.

With time the word was corrupted to become 'Pepeni' (singular) or 'Pepefuo' (plural), subsequently and sadly the word 'Pepeni' gained derogatory meaning.

According to Kofi Atta his grandmother further explained to him that, Northerners often moved in groups of at least, two. For example, if you gave one a job, the next day he came with another Northerner and introduced him as a brother who also needed work. As a result they were referred to “Ntafuo”, meaning the 'Twins' and that was also corrupted into ‘Nntafuo’ (‘Tani’ for singular). Again Nntafuo also became derogatory.

So if 'Pepeni' meant honest and truthful person, why is the term used to denigrate people from the North? Why are some Ghanaians worried that the President is ‘Pepeni’? I remember the same 'Pepeni' was used against Dr Hilla Limann when he was the Presidential candidate of the People’s National Party (PNP) in the 1979 elections, particularly during the second round against Mr Victor Owusu, the candidate of the Popular Front Party(PFP). I heard Limann’s opponents tell the electorates not vote for 'Pepeni' as

President.

Kofi Atta concluded that if his grandmother’s origins of the words ‘Pepeni’ and ‘Ntafuo’ are true, then he sees no reason why we should not have 'Pepeni' or 'Tani' as a President.

Indeed the election of President Mahama as the NDC's presidential candidate for the December election is a demonstration of the party's commitment to national representation and equality for all irrespective of place of origin. It is the singular party among the key political parties in Ghana to have a wider regional representation-Volta, Central and Northern-in terms of presidential candidates for the past 20 years.

The NDC must be commended for for its national appeal. The NPP should reform itself to reflect the character of a national political party and to ensure its membership of equal opportunities. In its twenty year history, the three people that were made presidential candidates comes from only one major ethnic group-Akan. That to me is not good for a party that claims to be National.

Ex-Vice President Alhaji Aliu Mahama’s maltreatment and failed bid to be the flagbearer of the NPP for the 2008 elections has become the reference point for some Northerners resident within and outside the three Northern Regions to feel the NPP is not their party.

In fact there is a general view that people of Northern extraction are accorded little or no respect in the NPP.

By Seidu Abubakari seiduabubakari@rocketmail.com

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