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Opinions of Friday, 27 November 2015

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Paul Afoko’s strange biography

…and his coming legal battle with the NPP

By George Sydney Abugri

I have known suspended New Patriotic Party Chairman Paul Afoko since he was a young adult. His elder brother Martin Afoko {now deceased} was a fairly close friend of mine for many years. His father, Francis Afoko, was a key distributor of the Pioneer Tobacco Company in Bolgatanga. His depot and office were located downtown, right opposite Super Service Inn.
His political activism and career in politics have been one fiery baptism of fire after another.
It was probably as foolhardy as rushing bare-handed and headlong at a charging bull or jumping out of a plane without a parachute, but following the military coup of December 31, 1981, Paul Afoko did the unthinkable:
On a day when fear and high-voltage tension swept across the country from coast to northern borders, the high and mighty in society were fleeing the country or going into hiding, and fiery-eyed soldiers in combat gear patrolled deserted streets, Paul Afoko and a few friends stood up against the coup with a frightening brazenness:
Minutes after the announcement of the coup, Afoko and some friends including Hilda Nyaaba {Madam Bolico}, Mr Zira Issaka, a veteran journalist, the late Larry Bimi who would later become Chairman of the National Commission for Civic Education and others stormed and seized the GBC’s URA-Radio station at Bolgatanga. They then proceeded to make a broadcast in which Afoko called on all citizens to pour out into streets to protest the overthrow of the constitutionally elected government of the late President Hilla Limann.
Troops were promptly dispatched from the 6th Battalion in Tamale to flush out Afoko and his band of dare-devil agitators. Some of the anti-coup crusaders including Paul Afoko fled across the border into Burkina Faso but others including the late Larry Bimi were arrested and detained. For some strange reason, Afoko slipped back across the border a few weeks later and was arrested. He was initially detained at Bolgatanga, later transferred to the dreaded Gondar Barracks and finally held at the Ussher Fort Prison in Accra.

Afoko made good his escape, when armed dissidents seeking to oust Rawlings, led by Lance-Corporal Alidu Giwa broke into Ussher Fort and freed some prisoners. This time, Afoko fled to the UK where he lived in exile. He returned to Ghana in 2000 in anticipation of a political career in the NPP.

However, his string of baptisms of fire in politics was to continue: When the NPP held its National Delegates Congress in the 2007, he lent his support to aspiring presidential candidate, Mr Alan Kwadwo Kyerematen, a move for which he nearly paid a dear price:

He was nearly lynched by angry party supporters rooting for Kyerematen’s rival Nana Akufo-Addo, when it was rumoured that Afoko was sharing money in US dollars to delegates as inducements to vote for Kyerematen. It must have been scary for Afoko and one experience he is unlikely to forget in a hurry.
Come 2014 and Afoko decided to put himself up for election as the NPP’s National Chairman, promising a “New Plan for Power” that would see the NPP back in power.
No sooner had he began his campaign to lead the NPP as National Chairman however, than internal party forces opposed to him moved to plant denigrating stories and rumours in the media to the effect that he had previously been imprisoned in the United Kingdom for a drug-related offense.
Unconfirmed reports had it that powerful forces in the NPP sought and obtained from the United Kingdom Department for Home Affairs, all the necessary information on Afoko’s alleged imprisonment in the UK for a narcotic drug offence and found the rumours to be false.
After Afoko’s election as National Chairman of the party at the memorable Tamale Delegates Conference, the writer of an online article stated, “Now that the man {Afoko} has been duly and popularly elected to lead the party, all vilifications, insults, backbiting and the mudslinging should immediately stop so that he will have the peace of mind to work.”
That most unfortunately, was not to be, for no sooner had he and party General Secretary Kwabena Agyepong taken their seats at party headquarters, than clash after clash began occurring at the party’s headquarters between feuding factions in the party. On several occasions, riot police had to be called to NPP headquarters to stop violence and vandalism.

Matters came to a head when Paul Afoko was recently suspended from office as National Chairman by the party’s National Executive Committee after some members of the party petitioned the Committee over his conduct. The party’s National Council which is the second highest decision making body of the party after congress subsequently upheld the NEC’s suspension of the National Chairman.
At a press conference last week, Afoko explained to journalists at great length, the legal processes prescribed by the NPP’s constitution for the removal of constituency, regional and national officers. He went on to show how the constitution has been breached with respect to those constitutional provisions.
In stating the reasons for his decision to go to court over his suspension Afoko said he had duly exhausted all avenues available to him under the party’s constitution for seeking redress and was left with no option than to seek interpretation of the party’s constitution in a court of law.
Afoko explained that he swore an oath at the National Delegates Congress in Tamale to defend and uphold the constitution of the party to over 5,000 delegates, members and supporters of the NPP and could not break that oath.
The suspended party Chairman said in seeking redress in court, he was not pursuing a personal interest but seeking to protect the interest of the party and the rights of all party members and elected officers, including the party’s presidential candidate.
Many prominent members of the NPP are of the view that the processes employed to suspend the party chairman are indeed illegal and contravene the party’s constitution. Many too are those who think it will be in the interest of the NPP to reach a mutually acceptable settlement of the matter out of court:

Political Scientist Dr. Ransford Gyampo has advised the leadership of then NPP to dialogue with and prevent Afoko from carrying out his threat to go to court. A court suit by Afoko he has warned, could lead to a protracted legal battle that may hurt the party’s electoral fortunes in 2016.

Lawyer and politician influential member of the NPP Madam Hilda Addo has described her party’s suspension of Afoko as “shameful” and like Dr Gyampo, she thinks the NPP must bear in mind they party cannot win the 2016 general elections with a divided front.

NPP front liner, Dr Arthur Kobina Kennedy says the suspension of the National Chairman of the NPP has set a precedent, and that in the not too distant future, “a cabal of friends, motivated by dark motives might remove a flag-bearer {of the NPP} and stop him from running on the party’s ticket, for any reasons they may deem fit.”
Without making any direct reference to the case of Paul Afoko and the NPP, the Christian Council of Ghana in response to the violence that has unfolded during the crisis in the NPP stated: “The use of coercion by some politicians to have their way on matters that are not in their favour is extremely frightening. It is now obvious that, people who challenge those who are perceived to be untouchable within the political circles are not safe. This {development} is gradually creating a culture of silence and fear in our body politic and it is dangerous for our democracy”.

The overall advantages of settling the dispute out of court and negotiating with the suspended party chairman appear to far outweigh any advantages of allowing him to proceed to court to seek redress, with the possibility of a long legal tussle that could leave the party divided, given the level of support Afoko has in the party.
Closely tied to such a scenario, is the likelihood that in the event of the NPP losing the 2016 election and disputing the Electoral Commissioner’s result, national opinion may attribute the party’s loss more to the effect of the party crisis over Afoko, than any flaws in the electoral process.
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