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Opinions of Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Is the Vice-President Fit for Purpose?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

Ghana’s week of historic moment was marred by unguarded and contemptuous statements and allegations by people in positions of authority and trust that made some of us to be ashamed. In this third of post petition series, I want to consider the immediate responses to the Supreme Court (SC) verdict and their potential impact on sustaining peaceful coexistence in Ghana. The important personalities in question are the Vice-President, His Excellency, Mr Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur, the NPP General Secretary, Mr Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, the NDC General Secretary, Mr Asiedu-Nketia and lead Counsel for the Third Respondent, Mr Tsatsu Tsikata.

There should be no doubt in the minds of any observer, be a Ghanaian or a foreigner that the country is split almost half and half between NDC and NPP. In fact, there is the temptation to infer from the 5-4 majority decision that it may have something to do with the political fault line within the country but any such inference would be too premature and dangerous, especially when the written decisions of the nine Justices are yet to be made public. It is in this vein that it was very disappointing that the very people who should have set good examples for others to emulate fell far below what was expected of them.

The day which was described by the media (Joy and GTv) as the Supreme Judgement began with anxiety following the unexpected long delay before the Justices appeared in Court to pronounce their verdict. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the NPP Presidential candidate and the main challenger set the scene for peace in the country with a well crafted political speech rarely delivered in Africa by defeated candidates. I must admit it was the most beautiful and well delivered political speech I have ever heard since the Fourth Republic. It reminded me of the Al Gore’s concession speech on December 13, 2000 after the US Supreme Court ruling on their election petition. A speech which I reproduced and recommended to both Nana Akufo-Addo and President Mahama, whoever lost the petition to deliver in my article (see “Are Nana Akufo-Addo and President Mahama Lying”, Ghanaweb, August 24, 2013). The speech was breathtaking, exhilarating and edifying. It made me question if Nana Akufo-Addo is perhaps, the best President Ghana may never have. Mr Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey also delivered another good speech to NPP supporters at the party headquarters.

That was immediately followed by the Vice-President who claimed the petition should not have gone to the SC in the first place and that all the six claims of the petitioners should have been dismissed by unanimous decision. The Vice-President of the Republic is questioning the verdict of the highest court of the land without reading the written reasons and without any qualification. Did he listen to Nana Akufo Addo when he said, I disagree with the verdict but I accept it? There is no doubt in my mind that he was contemptuous of court. Such irresponsible statement should have never come from the Vice-President but a party propagandist with low IQ. The unguarded statement could have set the scene for confusion and agitation by the losing side. It ridiculed the court and he should be ashamed of himself and must apologise. Do not get me wrong as I am not suggesting that the VP has no right to disagree or question the judgement. He has and could but not in the manner he did,

Then, another reckless, explosive and contemptuous statement was those of the now disgraced General Secretary of NPP. I heard him soon after Jake had spoken to the party faithful at the party headquarters. Speaking in Akan, he said all what they heard in court was “nkotompo” (lies) and how could the petition be dismissed when the court said that Ghana’s elections would never be the same after the petition? I could not believe what I heard from this man who had just escape jail for contempt of court. His statement was equally inflammatory and contemptuous of court but interestingly it has received no media report on it. His irresponsibility could have been fodder for recalcitrant party foot soldiers to go on rampage and cause chaos across the country. NPP supporters across Ghana also deserve praise for not their restraint and not responding to their General Secretary’s recklessness and all the provocations from NDC so far.

It still baffles me how and why the two main political parties (NDC and NPP) chose their General Secretaries. It appears one is a carbon or photocopy of the other, except that, one is a lawyer and the other is not, but apparently a palm wine tapper. Mr Asiedu-Nketia says Nana Akufo-Addo does not deserve praise for going to court and accepting the verdict despite his disagreement with the majority Justices. Which planet does this man come from and lives on?

Just imagine if Nana Akufo Addo had not gone to court and refused to accept the election result declared by Dr Afari-Gyan? Just imagine, he did not deliver the speech of all political speeches and publicly declared that he would not accept the court’s majority decision to dismiss his petition and instead intended to seek a review? I am not sure whether Asiedu-Nketia was being naive, sarcastic or plain stupid. This was political gimmick and propagandist to the highest order of annoyance that was a deliberate calculation to tease NPP. A recipe for conflict, something the National Peace Council and all those peace preachers advised against prior to the Supreme Decision.

I just could not believe my eyes when I read the allegations against one of the nine Justices who adjudicated on the petition by Mr Tsatsu Tsikata and lead counsel for the third respondent, NDC. How could a senior member of the Bar make such damaging allegations against a senior member of the Bench? (see “Tsatsu accuses Justice Anim Yeboah of political bias”, Ghanaweb, August 31, 2012). The allegations are not only contemptuous but also dangerous. It’s an attack not only on one Justice but the whole Judiciary. The allegations could open a can of worm and the potential for similar allegations to be thrown at both the sides of the majority and minority Justices. Such allegation raised its ugly head in the early days of the petition with the focus being on the Presiding Justice.

My grave concern is that I am not sure if Tsatsu has had the opportunity to read the written decision of the said Justice and the reasons he averred for allowing the petition. Without knowing the reasons, it is premature for any of the Justices to criticised let alone make such damaging allegations. It is also unclear whether Tsatsu could support his allegation that the said Justice voted against the first and or the third respondents throughout the hearing. Even if he is able to prove this claim from the court records of the proceedings, his voting patterns would have to be analysed together with his written reasons before any objective conclusion/s could be arrived at.

I was personally saddened by the allegations against the Justice. It appears that Tsatsu has not moved on from his trial of causing financial loss to the state, his subsequent imprisonment in the last year of the last NPP government and probably consider all those who were involved in the case as against him personally and NDC in general. I say so because Tsatsu mentioned the case and referred to the question of indemnity or otherwise of the International Finance Corporation. This is strange because just recently the media reported that Tsatsu has forgiven all those who jailed him, so it is contradictory for him to make reference to it. If truly, Tsatsu has forgiven, then he should move on. I accept that he cannot forget that experience but he should not let it dictate his actions and omissions.

Mr Tsatsu Tsikata has made a monumental error of professional judgement and may suffer the consequences of his action. Even if the court does not sanction him, the Ghana Bar Association, the Bar Could or the appropriate regulatory authorities in Ghana should sanction him unless he can prove his allegations beyond any reasonable doubt. His irresponsibility would make it difficult for President Mahama to walk the talk of inclusive government (not coalition or unity government).

For the above reasons what should otherwise have been a landmark in Ghana’s democratic history (the majority decision and Nana Akufo-Addo conceding defeat in spite of his reservation), the days following the SC ruling have been mixed, perhaps less than historic. These were the very actions and omissions that many feared and anticipated could plunge the country into conflict and therefore preached against. The potential is still there and anything could happen. To prevent the risk developing into reality, it is important that all politicians, especially from NDC and NPP are careful with their utterances when discussing the Supreme verdict. They can disagree with the Justices without necessarily making allegations or attacking them collectively or individually.

Until the written decisions and reasons offered by each Justice is made public and the people have had time to read and digest them, we should be circumspect with our analyses and avoid reading too much into both the majority and the minority verdicts. Most importantly, we must refrain from simply alluding political meanings or interpretations into the verdict either collectively or severally. That would be tantamount to pouring petrol onto naked flame. We can disagree with the verdict but we should not make baseless, contemptuous and dangerous allegations against the Justices. Such acts and omissions would not contribute to consensus building and national development.

If the main two protagonists, President Mahama and Nana Akufo-Addo have spoken and called for all to accept the verdict, why the rancour from the periphery?

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK