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Opinions of Friday, 24 August 2018

Columnist: Isaac Boakye

Everything or nothing - The case of John Dramani Mahama

The evening of December 9, 2016, is one that will for a long time claim centre stage in our political history. The long-awaited declaration of the election was officially made. The country Ghana had elected a new president. Electing a president was obviously not a new achievement by the former British colony that had practised multi-party democracy since its return in 1992.

Electing an Akufo Addo was also not a novel landmark for Ghana as we had once had Edward Akuffo Addo as head of state. It was also not the first time one party was going to hand over power to another party ever since 1992. So what was particularly shocking about the election result of 2016?

The defeat of John Dramani Mahama.

Like a Mohammed Ali punch, you knew it was coming. You were told it was coming. Prophets had tied their prophetic ministry to the fulfilment of this prophecy. Everyone expected the decision of Akufo Addo to contest the presidency a record 4th time to be the political retirement of him. The henchmen of JM: Felix Ofosu Kwaakye and the gang had pledged to make this the reality.

Singing the praises of JM everywhere he went louder than Shata Wale’s “Kakai” at the final rally of the NDC, the writings of the defeat were on the wall but the sheer bravado and confidence of those at the emperor’s table made it suicidal for anyone to be so sure of what would ultimately happen on election day.

All one needed to do was to look back to 2012 when a political lightweight though vice president managed to defeat Nana Addo after campaigning for just four months. The narrative was that if he could do that in four months, imagine what would happen with four years to campaign.

So it came as a big shock though expected like an Ali uppercut when finally, Madam Charlotte Osei declared the election results. For the first time in our history under the 4th republic, a sitting president had been voted out after just one term. It was a very colossal disappointment to the many masses of the teeming supporters of the NDC.

Like the Jews, they had ignored the gloomy warnings of Jeremiah Rawlings and they would have to spend the foreseeable future in captivity as is the case with our winner takes all politics. The look on the faces of Mr. Mahama’s kitchen cabinet members as he conceded defeat reflected the mood of his political future at the time and what many thought would be his end.

For the early days after his defeat, it seemed obvious and apparent that John Mahama was taking a bow from active frontline politics. Commentary from brother and to many others accomplice-in-chief Ibrahim Mahama on the family’s decision that John would not contest again seemed to put a nail in the coffin of a matter Ghanaians were surely not interested in discussing as there were more pressing issues to discuss such as the ministry of plagiarism under the new President Akufo Addo and his 110 henchmen.

Then a couple of months later, it started as a rumour when he embarked on a national thank you tour to thank the party members across the country. Supporting that with occasional keep fit walks further than the 800m by Buhari in Daura and prominent jabs at the ruling government at any attempt to indicate that they lied their way to power and that his removal is God's own way of punishing Ghanaians for not appreciating what they had in hand. Many called him a former president turned social media troll but the former Assemblyman of Bole would not relent. His election observer missions could not keep him busy enough from throwing the occasional shade at the government.

Finally, the announcement has been made. President Mahama has declared his intention to run for the flagbearer of the NDC come December 2018. For obvious reasons, this announcement will define the landscape of the NDC for the next eight years and beyond. Many questions have been asked by critics and naysayers who wonder what JM has to offer Ghana and the NDC.

Would he treat the grassroots fairly? Would he demolish the wall shielding him from party people? What would he do differently to fight the canker of corruption that plagued his government and is considered the biggest factor that led to his demise and disenchanted those who fell for the affable, handsome, in vogue John Mahama of 2012? So the question is, why is JM running again?

The air of inevitability of two terms for every Ghanaian leader is one that up until the Mahama’s defeat had never been strongly considered to be a remote possibility in Ghana. The popular perception is that though it might be close, the “give him some more time” mentality of the voter populace would make that virtually impossible.

Couple that with the excellent performance of JM in election 2012 (though Atta Mills was considered a strong force in that campaign from the grave), the financial war chest of the NDC and the infrastructural projects undertaken by JM and it would on paper conquer the opposition NPP to a third consecutive defeat.

It is therefore understandable that John Mahama never pictured himself losing election 2016 and therefore never put in place an exit plan for his life. He fully expected to be sworn in as president in January 2017. What this mindset resulted in was that as outgoing presidents set up projects and foundations that they would continue to use to further their legacy upon exit from office, there was no such plan for Mahama. Obama and Clinton are clear examples of presidents to institute an exit plan upon the end of their tenure.

The Obama foundation, for example, is committed to raising young leaders in Africa and has seen the YALI program generate buzz and euphoria on the work embarked on. Clinton’s commitment to humanitarian aid and projects such as their work in Haiti is a major example. Our own former president Kufuor established his foundation that continues to help universities in Ghana. Beyond the work of foundations, most presidents secure appointments with donor and development organizations such as UNICEF, USAID among many others.

The only enterprise that John Mahama has managed to occupy himself with is the area of election observer missions which Africa lacks personnel in because most former leaders are either dead through a coup, in prison for refusing to leave office or have been blighted by failed third term bids as is the case of Obasanjo. Clearly, with this absence in opportunities and considering that JM is a young man as far as African leadership is concerned, it is safe to say that the absence of a proper exit plan is a considerable factor in JM wishing to go back and finish the unfinished business.

Secondly, no politician who suffered the kind of defeat JM suffered in 2016 would like to enter a contest he’s not assured of victory. The playing field or pool of candidates available to the NDC for the 2020 contest is one that does not only delight the NPP but also John Mahama himself. No one including arguably Jerry Rawlings can claim popularity and creditworthy patronage in the NDC currently than John Mahama. He’s as popular as popular can be and he has a well-resourced machinery that can be called to war on any day.

There are intelligent akantamansonians in the pool such as Sylvester Mensah, Alban Bagbin, Ekow Spio-Garbrah among the lot with my personal favourite being Atubiga for his soundbite worthy jabs. However, all these candidates do not possess enough mettle, clout and time to defeat Mahama in the flagbearer race. This would obviously delight him and one that he believes will give him a free pass to the final showdown with his lifetime political rival.

Another factor which many ignore because of prima facie evidence but has a lot of perspectives to offer when properly analyzed is the nature of the defeat suffered in 2016. On the face of it, the NDC lost to the NPP by a margin of close to a million votes. A margin that is unrivalled and paints a picture of massive rejection by the people. It posits the NPP as a very popular political party that can only in the worst instance drop their voter margin without losing.

In 2012, the NDC under JM amassed 5.5 million votes. The NPP gained just a little over two hundred thousand more than this in 2016. The NDC had a voter drop of over 800,000 from the 2012 election. What this suggests is that the NDC lost the 2016 election through self-inflicted harm of voter apathy. The NPP gained a little over 400,000 votes more than their results in 2012. This indicates that for a large number of people who saw the NDC as a wrong party to lead them in 2016, the NPP is still never an option for them.

The belief that NDC members can be mobilized again to form a strong coalition and meet the apathy that an incumbent NPP government is likely to suffer also will be the backbone of JMs thinking position when going into this battle. The defeat of 2016 may not look as gloomy for JM if his cohorts are determined to unite their base and fire up for 2020. If there is anything to demotivate JM from running for the top job again, the performance of the NPP administration is surely not one of them. Far from it, the administration is not a failure. It is only a captive of its own big promises.

Two years down the line, a struggling free senior high school is the only poster boy policy that stands tall for the president. There has been an increase in the number of appointees as against what was promised, Bawumia is still searching for handcuffs to arrest the dollar, the government is borrowing at an alarming rate, no single prosecution of a corruption case under NDC, numerous scandals that have been covered by conspiratorial committee hearings and everything else the government promised to do including the one million dollars and one district one factory is still in traffic of the proverbial pipeline all African politicians have.

To neutrals, the big talking Nana Addo has not wowed to expectation and to NDC supporters, it is generous to call it disappointing. The one village one dam has turned to a one-bedroom one dam as there has still been no solution to the perennial Accra floods and the world bank of the NPP have surely not been given a reason to show the support and loyalty they have shown in previous elections. John Mahama has obviously seen all these and he is pleased in his eyes.

The final point is obviously the unpredictability of politics. No one knows the future and therefore one must never fear to fly in politics. There are people who stated publicly and condemned Nana Akufo-Addo's decision to contest in 2016 who are in his court today. Till July 2012, Nana Addo was preparing to meet an old, frail and sick President Mills but he ended up meeting a young vibrant John Mahama who asked for a fresh start.

No one can assure us of tomorrow and it would therefore be deadly for anyone to predict the events of the future and make it a forgone conclusion. Mahama could possibly lose to Nana Addo again in 2020 as many will predict but should he decide to contest again in 2024 against a first timer from the NPP after they have spent eight years in office, would it still be a foregone conclusion?

These are the many thoughts, questions and motivations of John Mahama prior to his announcement. His fables of the people’s call and god’s fraudulent call are all cliché political talks. He has chosen to enter a battle of his life. Statesmen are treated with kids gloves but political opponents are jabbed from all angles. Will this be the dissection of the dead goat or the resurrection thereof? One thing remains clear, the man from Bole Bamboi must give it EVERYTHING OR NOTHING and until then, it is safe to say the demise of John Mahama was greatly exaggerated.