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Opinions of Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Columnist: Gordon Offin-Amaniampong

Election 2016 stands to be tested: Are Ghanaians ready?

Persuasive and powerful words go hand in hand and they can engender good results if used carefully and appropriately. But their potency often depends on who is saying what and where the message or the words are coming from.

On Tuesday Ghana’s Chief Justice Theodore Georgina Wood put herself in those huge shoes. She told the whole world that the Judiciary has what it takes to deal with any electoral disputes that may arise during the 2016 December 7, elections.

“The judiciary has men and women committed to safeguarding and protecting electoral rights based on the fundamental rights of all individuals.”

That notwithstanding, she quickly pointed out that regardless of best efforts aimed at perfecting the electoral process, the fact remained that disputes may remain an ‘inevitable feature of the process.”

Mrs. Georgina Wood made the statement at the ninth annual Chief Justice’s forum which was held in Accra: This year’s event which attracted lawyers, police and prison officers, civil society organisations and other stakeholders was themed: “The Judiciary and Election 2016.”

It was aimed at educating stakeholders on laws and legal provisions governing elections and sensitising the gathering on the reviewed Election Adjudication Manual.

Good timing and good stuff isn’t it?
Without a doubt the person behind the statement wields power and the institution she presides also exudes influence. That gives me a sense of guarantee of my fundamental human rights. Also I have no doubt in my mind that the adjudicating body is ever ready and committed to discharging its duties as required of her.

What do they say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?

Around midday yesterday, as I combed through the local media reports regarding this particular news item I was intrigued by the choice of words and certain phrases attributed to Her Ladyship. And the ones that stood out include: ‘safeguarding’ and ‘protecting’. And two, ‘preparedness’ to ‘expedite action’.

Certainly, the judiciary must not only show its readiness to do the job but also ensure that in the wake of disputes during elections or this crucial time it would fast track cases brought before it for settlement. The earlier the better and justice delayed is justice denied.

I thought something was missing. I’d been looking forward to the word—‘Faith’ and it was beautifully captured. Yes, it’s the word ‘Faith’ that struck my inner twine.

“Faith in the judiciary to do substantial justice and in a timely fashion is essential to assure all stakeholders that their first recourse should never be a wrong, criminal and heartlessly inhuman approach to the resolution of electoral difference and disputes,” said the Chief Justice.

That was a good one! She nailed it right there. She couldn’t state it better. And I think she didn’t mince words.

Folks we must hammer home where the truth is. There’s nothing like a magic bullet that would thwart electoral disputes. But, it’s having trust or faith in the very institutions we put in place. In this case, we the people trusting that the judiciary will perform its duties impartially and independently.

And woe unto those who would dare to muzzle, intimidate and try to undermine the works of the arbitrating body.

Indeed, Ghana’s judiciary has the men and women to handle any electoral disputes that may or might arise as alluded to by the Chief Justice. The question however is: Do people trust or have faith in the institution they’ve established?

Do the players and the stakeholders have faith in it?

That’s the crux of the issue.
Over the past years our election had been wrought by violence and electoral disputes. The biggest one was the 2012 election petition dispute. Thankfully we came out of the shadows and allowed the system to take its course.

Indeed the chief reminded the gathering that: “Elections, in our part of the world, unfortunately have not been limited to a contest of strategic ideas at which political leaders are elected. It is often not without vigorous disagreements that unfortunately have often led to a loss of limbs or in extreme cases loss of life and destruction of property.”

She also emphasised that election violence was not justified. That statement right there must be adhered to by all the stakeholders in this game, I hope so. In that violence never leaves any good legacy. It’s rather pain, destruction and sometimes loss of property.

In one line the chief justice underscored: “it does not in by any stretch of imagination qualify as a viable option.”

Of course Ghana’s judiciary isn’t perfect. But above all else credit must be given where credit is due. In spite of investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw expose, in spite of some known and unknown miscarriage of justice our Judiciary is one of the best in the world. No doubt about that.

Meanwhile Justice Victor Jones Dotse a Supreme Court judge has condemned intimidating attacks meted out to judges and their families over the years after adjudicating cases. The attacks which sometimes bordered on criminality had come from both the opposition and sitting government agents under both civilian and military regimes.

Mr. Dotse blamed the attacks on what he described: Over-Politicisation of the Judiciary.’

The eminent judge called on Ghanaians to protect judges because they can’t defend themselves. Mr. Dotse who is the chairman of Election Committee of the judiciary also admonished all political parties to accept decisions of electoral disputes in good faith and with good heart as it was done by Nana Akufo Addo in 2012.

Mr. Dotse said criticism of the judiciary is in good order. And I couldn’t agree with him more on that, because the judiciary like any other human institutions is fallible and cannot pretend or behave like an ostrich.

The institution he noted had learned a lot from the post 2012 Election Petition: “The petition had brought about key reforms in electoral laws and those reforms had been embodied into CI 91 and 95 has become part of the Supreme Court Amendment Rules.”

Dr. Emmanuel Akwetey chief executive of Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG) also had this to say about our nation. “Ghana has the capacity,” he said to undergo its seventh elections through its leaders successful. He was however not happy about the turbulence associated with three of Ghana’s elections in relation to the two main parties—the ruling NDC and the opposition NPP. He therefore called for enforcement of the electoral laws to prevent anarchy.