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Opinions of Sunday, 30 June 2013

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Close up with Martin Amidu

Source: Sydney Abugri Writing/Editing Services

By George Sydney Abugri

Long before the issue of the fraudulent payment of large sums of money in legal judgment debts by the government to businesses and individuals came to public notice, I had recounted in previous articles elsewhere, how there was one thing former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Martin Amidu hated with a passion as a child: School.

I recounted how the former Attorney-General and I grew up in the same neighbourhood of Daduri at Bawku, how our family houses were only a stone’s throw apart and how for many years, we ate, fought occasionally and played football at the St Anthony School Park.

Martin apparently loved his sleep and in the mornings would refuse to go to school and try to scream down the sky over the neighbourhood in protest, which often upset and made his mother angry, whereupon, she would drag him screaming and protesting, one of her hands to his ear and the other clutching a whip, all the way to school.

That he would later become a real bookworm and subsequently one of the nation’s most astute legal brains and a self-proclaimed “citizen vigilante” who has become the toast of the nation, is a story I will attempt to tell.

Unlike many high profile lawyers of his generation, Amidu did not attend the best of second cycle schools. After elementary school, he gained admission into a private educational institution in Tamale housed in makeshift structures and designated a “commercial school” by its founder and headmaster, Mr. Mr. Ben Gogoe. Thanks to a thriving reading culture among school children at the time, we remained fairly close for many years as much on account of our mutual obsession with the world of books, as our being playmates. As the years went by, Amidu’s obsession with books but especially political science books, assumed a greater dimension. He fed ravenously on Marx and Engels in particular.

After law school, Amidu like many young intellectuals of the time who had the outlook of “progressives”, drifted into the emerging leftist politics of the June Four Movement. I have reason to believe that he was one of the legal minds in the NDC who helped refine the original vision of the party based on the previously loosely defined tenets of the June Four military uprising. Amidu graduated from the University of Ghana in 1976 with an LLB {Hons} and the Ghana Law School in 1978 with a Barrister/Solicitor at Law {BL} degree. He also holds a Master of Arts Degree in Conflict Resolution from the Antioch University MrGregor, Ohio, USA.

The former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice joined the National Democratic Congress in 1992. He was the party’s vice-presidential candidate in the December 2000 presidential elections which NDC presidential candidate the late Professor J.E.A Mills, lost to the NPP’s John Agyekum Kufuor. The NPP’s electoral victory notwithstanding, Amidu insisted he was Ghana’s “shadow vice-president.”

Amidu has served his party’s successive governments variously as Presidential Advisor on Legal Affairs, Ministry of the Interior, Attorney-General and Minster for Justice, Deputy Secretary of State for Industry, Science and Technology, Deputy Secretary of State for Local Government and Rural Development and Deputy Secretary of State for Upper East Region.

Amidu has served on a wide range of state boards and committees including the Judicial Council, the General Legal Council , the Board of Legal Education, the Ministerial Advisory Board, the Legal Service Board, the National Security Council, the Armed Forces Council, the Police Council, the Ghana Prisons Council, the Ghana Immigration Service Board, the National Disaster Management Committee, the Transitional Team for Change in Government in January 2009.

He has led numerous government delegations to international conferences round the world. Amidu has also been in private legal practice as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Ghana and also as a private, professional conflict resolution consultant.

He has authored at least six outstanding legal publications ranging from The power of a court to convict an accused person for a lesser or included offence other than charged, through The qualification and the constitutional position of the Attorney-General to The scope and effect of judicial power in the enforcement and defence of the 1992 constitution of Ghana.

His new calling as “citizen vigilante” found expression in his introduction late last year, of the now very hackneyed word “gargantuan”, into Ghana’s politics, a word he used to describe the scale of fraud he insisted, had been perpetuated by his colleagues in government against the state, especially in the fraudulent payment of court judgment debts to organizations and individuals.

Summoned to the presidency by the late President Mills and asked to substantiate his allegations of corruption in the government he was serving and apparently having reportedly failed to do so, he was relieved of his position as Attorney-General. The government insisted that Amidu’s sacking as Attorney-General was a result of his alleged rudeness to the late president during the meeting. Assailed from all sides by party loyalists, colleague ministers and hatchet-bearing pro-government papers he described as a “partisan, rented press” out top do him ill, the dismissed Attorney-General lashed out in self-defence and counter attacks, issuing one defiant press statement after another and declaring his determination to wage his crusade in spite of the apparent odds stacked up to the rafters against him.

His subsequent public declaration that he was heading to court to obtain an order for a refund of large sums of money fraudulently paid as legal judgment debts, was dismissed by some of his detractors as the outward manifestations of maniac depression he was suffering over his sacking. Others said he was embarking upon a quixotic errand that would lead nowhere.

Head to court Amidu did and the rest is now landmark legal history: In a dramatic villain to gallant hero scenario, Amidu has suddenly become the toast of the nation with the Supreme Court’s granting of various reliefs he sought in his suit against the payment of some judgment debts.

In the first suit filed by Amidu against businessman Alfred Agbesi Woyome, Waterville Holdings and Austro Invest, the Supreme Court by a unanimous decision ordered Waterville Holdings to refund to the government of Ghana, about 25 million euro it received as judgment debt payment.

The court however ceded to an Accra High Court, jurisdiction in the case in which Amidu is seeking to have Woyome refund GHc 51 million paid to him as judgment debt.

A week later the Supreme Court handed Amidu a second legal victory when by a majority decision, it ordered the Spanish business company Isofoton to refund to the government of Ghana, an amount of $325,472 it received as judgment debt payment in 2011. It was also to pay accruing interest on the sum.

The former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice had argued that the Spanish company had no valid contract with the government to have claimed a judgment debt from the government of Ghana for an alleged breach of contract. This week the former Minister was reluctant to have his profile published in the Mirror. “I have only performed a citizen’s constitutional duty and they are trying to make me a god. I don’t want to be a God” he told me.

“ In this country” he went on, “someone does something small and insignificant and they make him a tin god and he becomes swollen-headed. The same people who cry ‘hosanna’ today will cry ‘crucify him’ to morrow.”

“ I am what you call a village boy with humble beginnings and I want it to stay that way. I know the media means well but all the publicity tends to do is earn me hatred and resentment among who are peeved by what I done.” He said the kind of publicity given him was causing unnecessary division among some categories of party cadres and functionaries. Amidu is married and has three adult children living in Ghana and the UK. Website: www.sydneyabugri.com/Web Email: editing@sydneyabugri.com