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Opinions of Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Columnist: Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Abbey-Quaye

Minority’s call on Pope Francis to reassign Fr. Prof. Afful-Broni: A misplaced call

I have read with considerable dismay, anguish and disbelief, calls made by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Minority Caucus in Parliament for Pope Francis to reassign Rev. Fr. Prof. Anthony Afful-Broni from his current position as Vice Chancellor of the University of Education, Winneba. This call among others was contained in the Minority Caucus’ recent Press Statement regarding past and present happenings at the University of Education, Winneba.

Ordinarily, I would not spend precious energy and time to write on a matter which is quite inconsequential to me. But I am not only bothered by the ongoing impasse on the university campus at Winneba but I am also compelled by the demands of charity, clarity and justice laid on me by the gospel to write to inform our Catholic faithful in Ghana and all men and women of good will who desire to know and understand, to be aware of false information, misinformation and mischievous political propaganda that is going on with the impasse at Winneba, while requesting humbly that all stakeholders, including the Government and the Minority in Ghana and those who are in unique positions to help bring closure to the current problems at Winneba, refrain from the pursuit of parochial partisan interests and act with national interest first to speedily resolve the ongoing impasse at Winneba before it degenerates any further.

Brief Genesis of the Current Impasse at Winneba

The problems of Winneba did not start today but go a long way. Somewhere in 2015, there was a court case brought against the then Vice Chancellor, Professor Mawutor Avoke, the then Finance Officer, Mr. Theophilus Senyo Ackorlie and the then Acting Head of Procurement, Mrs. Mary Dzimey, and some other staff by one Supi Kofi Kwayera, who alleged that the above-mentioned officers had violated Government procurement laws and breached University Act, 2004 (Act 672) in awarding some road contracts on campus. After a very lengthy court process, the above-named officers were asked to step aside and Rev. Fr. Prof. Anthony Afful-Broni, the then Pro-Vice Chancellor, was directed to act as Vice Chancellor.

In the later part of 2017, the University Council gave the Acting Vice Chancellor the power to work in the full capacity of an Acting Vice Chancellor. While the meeting that took this decision was reportedly threatened by one of the Council members, the result of that decision was that some persons commenced series of personal attacks and character assassination on the Acting Vice Chancellor and the Chairman of the University Council, Prof. Emmanuel Nicholas Abakah.

In August 2018, Fr. Prof Afful-Broni was appointed the substantive Vice Chancellor of the University following the dismissal of a court case brought by the above-mentioned university officers who were interdicted in July 2017. Even though the lawyers of the dismissed officers served notice that there was a Supreme Court case due to be heard on the matter and that the induction of the Vice Chancellor should not go ahead, cautioning that the President would stand in breach of the law if he did attend the investiture, Fr. Prof. Afful-Broni was nonetheless inducted into office as the 4th Vice Chancellor of the University of Education, Winneba, on September 17, 2018 at a ceremony attended by the President who in his speech urged him to unite the factions on campus to bring about rapid development in ensuring smooth, uninterrupted academic work.

From the time of the induction till the beginning of February this year, things seemed to have calmed down and everything seemed to be on course until the middle part of February, when Hon. Alexander Afenyo-Markins, the MP of the area, who himself has been accused of unduly interfering in the affairs of the university, began to caution the Vice Chancellor regarding certain policies and decisions he was pursuing. Then in March, things came to a head when it became known that three senior officers of the university had been sacked by the Vice Chancellor, sparking student demonstrations and riots, leading to the eventual closure of the university on March 14, 2019. This is where we are and where we have come as far as the Winneba impasse is concerned.

Some Issues Raised in Minority’s Press Statement and A Catholic Priest’s Response
The Press Statement of the Minority Caucus in Parliament was issued on March 28, 2019 and co-signed by Hon. Peter Nortsu-Kotoe and Dr. Clement Apaak. Among the many issues raised by the Minority, the group states that they are convinced that Fr. Prof. Afful-Broni has embarrassed the Church with his management of the University of Education, Winneba and must resign or be dismissed by the President.

They cite reasons for this conviction and their call for his ouster as “incompetence, abuse of office, corruption, spiteful insolence and inability to resolve the impasse he birthed and nurtured.” Following this assertion, the Minority Caucus goes on to say, “Undoubtedly, Prof. Afful-Broni is personally responsible for the negative developments on the UEW campus and therefore cannot be part of the solution.”

They then call on the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) as well as the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) to investigate several allegations leveled against him. The Caucus then recommends that Pope Francis as head of the Catholic Church should recall and reassign Fr. Prof. Afful-Broni to save the Church from further embarrassment.

Without a doubt, one will be right in saying that the issues raised by the Minority Caucus in Parliament in their Press Statement are interesting and intriguing. On a personal level and with regard to the references to the Pope and the Catholic Church by extension, I daresay that the arguments they make are pathetic, mischievous and misplaced.

First and foremost, the Catholic Archdiocese of Cape Coast to which Fr. Prof. Afful-Broni is incardinated, the Church in Ghana and the world as a whole do not consider Fr. Prof. Afful-Broni or his work at the University of Education “an embarrassment.” For those who know and those who care to know, apart from working hard to build a very vibrant Catholic Chaplaincy at Winneba, with massive infrastructure to show as evidence, Fr. Prof. Afful-Broni’s work as a lecturer in Winneba over the past twenty years or so has been very remarkable. His hardwork has seen him rise through the ranks from Lecturer to Senior Lecturer, Head of Department, Dean of Faculty, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Acting Vice Chancellor and now, substantive Vice Chancellor, all in addition to his work as a Catholic chaplain with well over 2,000 Church members.

If this is not hardwork, what is it? How many university professors will have the honour and privilege of serving their universities in these capacities before their retirement?
It is important to emphasise here that while some may not like his style of leadership or administration, we must be fair in our assessment of the man and not deny the fact that he has worked very hard since he was appointed a lecturer at the university and has justified himself while serving in all the capacities he had served over the years. If only a handful our politicians will work as hard as he had done with the resources at their disposal, I believe Ghana will be a far better place than it is today. While the Minority Caucus in Parliament is entitled to their opinion of his work as “an embarrassment”, unfortunately, this is not how most people see him and it is certainly not how the Catholic Church in Ghana sees him.

We consider him a great asset who will have a lot to contribute to the Church in Ghana and beyond when his work at the university is done. Secondly, the Minority Caucus in Parliament seems to be confusing issues in trying to find who to blame for the current woes facing the university at Winneba. In one breath, they state that Fr. Prof. Afful-Broni is “solely and personally responsible for the negative developments on the UEW campus” but in another breath, they blame the problem on the entrenched positions adopted by the University Council and the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG), local and national chapters. What approach is the Minority Caucus using? Is it an “either-or approach” or a “both-and” approach? If it is a both-and approach, then why is the Caucus saying that Fr. Prof. Afful-Broni is personally and solely responsible for the impasse. I think that in matters of such national importance, we must not sound confusing but always show clarity in thought and word.
Lastly, I consider as intriguing the part in the Minority Caucus’ Press Statement where they call on the Pope to recall and reassign Fr. Prof. Afful-Broni.

Really? Since when did the Pope become a police officer, assigning and reassigning Catholic priests in the world? The Minority in Parliament must read to know how the Catholic Church in the world with over 1.3 billion members, works. The Church works with the principle of subsidiarity which among others teaches that issues that are better handled at the lowest possible level should be handled there and not taken over by the larger entity.

As a result, we work from the local parishes to (Arch)Dioceses, the National Conference, Regional Conferences, Continental Conferences before we reach Rome. It is pathetic that the Caucus bypasses the Archdiocese of Cape Coast to which Fr. Prof. Afful-Broni is incardinated, bypasses the Bishops’ Conference and goes all the way to Rome as if the Pope has nothing to do when at this moment, he is paying a papal visit to Morocco.

It is important for the Minority Caucus in Parliament to understand that the Pope has a bigger agenda in the light of his God-given mandate to guide and shepherd the flock of God entrusted to his care. Therefore, they should leave him out of their political agenda just as they should leave the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference too. Rev. Fr. Prof. Afful-Broni was not appointed by the pope of for that matter the Bishops’ Conference, and so the call for his dismissal should be reserved for the appointing authority without dragging the pope’s name into it for mischievous political ends.

Conclusion on Way Forward

It is important that we all work to find an urgent solution to the current impasse on the Winneba campus and not waste any further time. I submit that all the stakeholders entrusted with ensuring that university education at Winneba in particular and Ghana as a whole runs smoothly and uninterruptedly, particularly, the Council for Tertiary Education, the Ministry of Education and the various University Councils, must be proactive and step up their game in executing their job.

This author is not a spokesperson for Fr. Prof. Afful-Broni or the Bishops’ Conference and is bothered about what happens to Fr. Prof. Afful-Broni and whether he continues to serve as Vice Chancellor of Winneba or not. After all, he is a Catholic priest of good standing and can serve in very many other capacities when he leaves the university.

What I am concerned about is the political football that some politicians and political parties in Ghana are playing with the crisis at Winneba, and I write to caution that in pursuing this agenda, care must be taken not to drag the Pope or the Catholic Church in Ghana into the mess. The Pope and the Church have a bigger agenda and it is in the light of this conviction that I consider that the call by the Minority Caucus to the pope to recall and reassign Rev. Prof. Afful-Broni, a misplaced call.