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Opinions of Thursday, 20 August 2015

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Flawed Voters Register: Is Dr Bawumia/NPP being Deceptive?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK August 18, 2015

This week the NPP publicised a press conference to make the case for a new voters register for the 2016 General Elections (Presidential and Parliamentary). The press conference was called and addressed by Nana Akufo-Addo and Dr Bawumia, the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates respectively. This article is an analysis of one of the reasons why the two and their party believe that Ghana needs a new voters register for 2016.

According to media reports, NPP’s investigative and comparative analysis work led by Dr Bawumia has shown that as many as over 76,000 individuals who are citizens of Togo are on both Ghana’s and Togo’s voter registers (see, “Bawumia uncovers 76,000 Togolese in Ghana's voter roll” and “Voters register is ‘incurably flawed - Dr. Bawumia”, Adomonline/Ghanaweb, August 18, 2015).

Whilst, I agree with NPP that Ghana’s voters register contains foreigners because of the porous nature of Ghana’s borders with her neighbours and the fact that Ghanaian identity documents are very easy to obtain. Moreover, National Health Insurance cards which anyone living in Ghana can obtain were used as proof of identity to prepare the 2012 voters register that has now been ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court. However, the mere fact that a person or persons is/are on the voter registers of two countries does not necessarily make the register flawed, let alone incurably flawed as Dr Bawumia concluded.

Dr Bawumia will have to pose a number of legal questions and find answers to them before he can make any definitive conclusions. Assuming that the names are not only similar but actually the same persons, the first question is, do these people have Ghanaian citizenship and therefore eligible to register and vote in Ghana? Second, could they be dual citizens of Ghana and Togo and if so, does Ghanaian law permit dual citizens to register in Ghana and vote in Ghana? The same questions could apply to Togo but for the purposes of this article, I will restrict myself to Ghana because what is legal or otherwise in Togo may not be legal or illegal in Ghana.

If the over 76,000 identified on Ghana’s voters register and also on that of Togo are dual citizens of Ghana, then by the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Prof Stephen Kwaku Asare versus The Attroney General given on May 22, 2012, there is no law in Ghana that prohibits Ghanaian dual citizens living abroad from registering in Ghana and voting in Ghana. For this reason, Dr Bawumia and NPP must first established beyond reasonable doubt that these individuals are not Ghanaians or do not have Ghanaian dual citizenship. If Dr Bawumia and NPP are unable to prove that, then they are simply making hollow argument or even being mischievous.

Mischievous because during voters registration and general elections in Ghana some Ghanaians with dual citizenship living abroad return home to register and vote. If such dual citizens are also registered in their host countries or countries of resident, then their names will appear on voter registers of both Ghana and the other country. In the UK, Commonwealth citizens who have the legal right to stay in the UK can register and vote in local and national elections. For example, a Ghanaian student with one year visa living in the UK and is a registered voter in Ghana can register and vote in local and national elections as I did when I was a postgraduate student on one year visa. If Dr Bawumia conducted a similar exercise in the UK, USA, Canada, Germany, Italy, France, The Netherlands, etc where there are many Ghanaians with dual citizenship, such double registration would be found, though the figures would be in hundreds and not tens of thousands (for good reasons). Would Bawumia and NPP simply claim that because of such double registration, Ghana’s voters register is flawed or those Ghanaians living in UK, USA, Canada, Germany, Italy, France, The Netherlands, etc who travelled to Ghana to register used fraudulent means?

Of course, the numbers are very high and may require some further examination and analysis. However, put in historical context, this should not be surprising because part of Ghana used to be part of Togo. Moreover, all over Africa, the borders of nation states were impositions by colonial maters that divided families, friends, neighbours and ethnic groups. A similar exercise in other border regions may show similar double registration. For this reason, NPP could have done a better job by conducting similar exercises in Western and Upper East regions before making public their findings.

Again, what is the guarantee that the same double registration of other foreign nationals is not occurring in other regions of Ghana, particularly metropolitan centres such as Accra, Tema, Kumasi, Koforidua, Takoradi, Tamale, Bolga, Wa, etc where there are more likely to be higher concentrations of nationals from other West African countries who could on the voters register? Is NPP only interested in those from Togo? What about Nigerians who are often caught in possession of Ghanaian identity documents?

The voters register may require some audit to weed out those who are not eligible to be on it but finding Togolese who are both registered on Ghana’s and Togo’s voters registers is not plausible evidence to conclude that Ghana’s register is flawed, unless the questions I posed above have been answered satisfactory. At best, this was a good effort but fallacy of hasty conclusion. I believe Dr Bawumia and NPP could do better.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge