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Opinions of Sunday, 7 August 2016

Columnist: Vance Azu

Don’t lead President Mahama into temptation

President John Mahama President John Mahama

Events following the incarceration of the host of ‘Pampaso’ on Montie FM, Salifu Maase, alias Mugabe, and two panellists on the programme, Alistair Nelson and Godwin Ako Gunn, are still raging like bush fire in the harmattan, as well as raising lots commentaries on whether the sentences were commensurate with the crime or otherwise.

Shortly after the July 27, 2016 verdict by the Supreme Court, some leading figures of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) sympathetic to the cause of the Montie trio started mobilising signatories to petition President John Dramani Mahama, who is also the leader of the NDC, to invoke the powers conferred on him by Article 72 of the Constitution to either reduce the sentences imposed on the trio or quash them altogether and set the convicts free.

The petition was presented last Tuesday and it was received by Mr Julius Debrah, the Chief of Staff.

I hear it is receiving attention.

The agitation which led to the signing of the petition caught on well with a sizeable number of NDC members, including Ministers of State, Members of Parliament, party executives, party stalwarts, foot soldiers, as well as some political figures in some opposition parties.

Since the exercise started after a vigil in honour of the three, various legal and constitutional arguments have been advanced to support the claim or otherwise of the Executive powers of the President in putting aside the decision of another arm of government, the Judiciary.

From what I have heard so far, I have the feeling that the President has the mandate to do what the petitioners are demanding but at a huge political cost to himself and the NDC.

I also get the feeling that in the view of the petitioners, the three have sacrificed a lot for the party and, therefore, should not suffer unduly when, in their minds, the President has the power to do something about the sentences.

Interestingly, the Ga Traditional Council, which otherwise should have stayed neutral in this matter, has added its voice to the call by the NDC faithful.

Those who want the Montie trio to be freed have some cogent points to support their claim, although there are some others from the same fraternity who think otherwise.

Much the same way, there are some politicians from the other side who also think the President is capable of overturning what the Supreme Court has done, provided he goes through laid down processes by seeking the counsel of the Council of State.

It is unfortunate that this incident has happened around this time when the country is preparing for a general election in December in which the President and his party need to marshall all the forces at their disposal and get all their teeming supporters on board to prosecute a huge campaign to retain power.

My sympathies go to President Mahama because of the dilemma that he has been placed in. It must be uncomfortable for him to ignore the cry of his party faithful who think he has the capacity to do what they wish.

This wish is dicey and it is not going to be very easy for the President to engage in this legal and constitutional issue, especially concerning the circumstances under which the three persons have found themselves at the wrong side of the law.

I know it is the desire of every President to leave a legacy (something he can be remembered for) after serving his term and I wonder if President Mahama would like to leave this kind of legacy which, to all intents and purposes, could undermine the authority and independence of the Judiciary.

Now the pressure on President Mahama is mounting and the number of signatories to the petition is gargantuan.

Personally, I think the President has been put in a very precarious predicament and there is the need for him to extricate himself by heeding to the legal advice his trusted legal brain had given him.

Mr Tony Lithur, to me, is the only courageous member of the NDC who has come out to say it as it is because of the dire consequences that the President could be inflicting on himself, his government, his party, the Judiciary and the rule of law.

I wish to remind the NDC members who usually refer to the New Patriotic Party as a non-compliant group when it comes to constitutional and legal issues, especially in the controversial Sallah case in which the then Prime Minister, Prof. Kofi Abrefa Busia, retorted after a Supreme Court verdict: “ No court, no court”.

It is a fact that democracy is about ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’. However, it is not the best thing to do for the people to hold the President to ransom on issues such as this.

The President has remained silent on this issue for far too long. I kindly implore him to come out boldly and make his views known.

President Mahama should not be led into temptation because believe he will be sounding his death knell if he yields to the demand of the petitioners.