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Opinions of Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Columnist: Kwawukume, Andy C. Y.

RE: House of chiefs “irrelevant” – Lepowura

I am intrigued by the reported claim by the Lepowura (Ghanaweb, 25/10/2015) that the regional house of chiefs, and presumably, the National House of Chiefs, are irrelevant. It is a conclusion I had reached years back and put my views in articles published on some web sites as far back as April 2011. He echoed exactly reasons I gave for calling for the abolition of the moribund contraptions. I went further and made suggestions to redress anomalies and touched on other related issues which are now only become hot issues, for example, the public exposure of the damning corruption in the judiciary which I mentioned way back then. Without much ado, I represent without changes the whole article, which is Part 2 of a two-part series.

C.Y. Andy-K



Part 2 deals with some few suggestions on reforming the institution of chieftaincy in order to do away with the debilitating conflicts and issues surrounding it, if we are not going to abolish the “archaic” institution outright, as some rather prefer. Doing that will also involve a radical reform of the present state structures of governance. I shall leave the arguments for this position for a latter day. My position is therefore a compromise between the ”royalists” and the “abolitionists”. After all, the State, a modern imposition much in need of legitimacy, is equally at fault, even more so, in the spate of chieftaincy disputes and land conflicts due to the dysfunctional institutional structures and laws to govern and develop the country.

I was not impressed when I learned that the NPP regime was about to pass a new Chieftaincy Act. Having seen their actions, (acting reactionarily in some cases by returning lands already under government control to the Asantehene in particular, while dragging their feet on Ga lands - which evidence emerged when out of office - they were busily sequestering for themselves, and on the verge of leaving office shoddily ordering the release of some state lands to the Gas as a token), I knew that they’d just create an unwholesome can of worms for the next administration. I therefore doubted very much if the Act as proposed by the NPP hold any progressive developments in shaping the institutions of chieftaincy and national governance and development. The whole debate must therefore be revisited alongside President Mills’ Constitutional Review agenda.

It is clear the nefarious, miseducated national elite who in the past had frown on the chieftaincy institution as a bastion of illiterates and reactionaries, a hindrance to development, for reasons I would not delve into here, have gradually transformed into one which now covert the institution and see it as a crowning glory to be made chiefs; or just another key avenue to seek rent from the land resources that such a position brings. We are gradually getting a convergence of the national and traditional elite, as many key chiefs are part of the national elite; can boast of the same level of educational attainment and even better than key bureaucrats and politicians. The attempts to buy into chieftaincies and/usurp will therefore increase if steps are not taken to curb this development. A register of rightful candidates is therefore required, as recently mentioned again by the Ministry of Chieftaincy Affairs though this request dates back to the late 1970s.

We ought to rationalise the system too, with special titles created for conferment on individuals who have distinguished themselves and done something substantially good for the community. Already, precedents exist aplenty but just a few will suffice. British royalty are [in]famous for selling their titles to rich people, from America in particular; apart from the Queen regularly bestowing titles on some deserving individuals. In Ghana, non-royals had actually been rewarded with chieftaincy stools, for their valour or contributions in wars in particular in the past. In fact, many chieftaincy stools originated in that way. In the past in Anlo society, in addition to the foregoing, wealthy individuals had created for themselves what is known as “hozikpui” - wealth stool - which is not inheritable. Today, Akan chiefs often award titles such as Nkonsuhene - development chief - to even foreigners who contributed a few $100s to village projects. We therefore need to be more creative in democratising entitlement to the chieftaincy accolade.


The non-performance of the Regional House of Chiefs, especially the moribund VR House of Chiefs, to resolve conflicts, partly because the State has not equipped them with the requisite human and financial resources, (plaintiffs and defendants even have to pay the sitting allowances on cases), clearly show these modern creations have failed in their assigned duties and must be scrapped in some regions and replaced with District Judicial Chambers of Chiefs (DJCC). A VR Judicial Council of Chiefs in which no Anlo chief is sitting at the moment to resolve issues on Anlo is an anomaly, as it flaunts the very premise for handing over to them such powers, that is, they have the requisite indigenous or local knowledge about customary norms and practices to better adjudicate over customary issues. No wonder they have displayed their incompetence and lack of interest in resolving a dispute which does not concern nor affect their areas of jurisdiction such as the Anlo Awoamefia dispute. They must be scrapped in the constitutional review in progress or in the future. They have proved themselves to be totally useless and a colossal waste of time.


In place of the disbanded Regional Houses of Chiefs should be created District Judicial Chambers (DJCC), whose membership shall include respective kingmakers of the area and some specialised individuals to be determined in each area of jurisdiction.

Chieftaincy disputes should only go to the new DJCC for arbitration when the two parties agreed. No one can be installed as chief unless the DJCC approved, if a dispute is brought before it. Otherwise, the ordinary courts should have the right of being the courts of first instance a party can go to, thereby by-passing the DJCC in case of a dispute. We are in a republic and we must modernise along those lines. By this, I am not suggesting that the so-called ordinary courts of the State are flawless dispensers of justice in Ghana. The intolerable high level of corruption in them and the awfully long years they take to adjudicate over simple matters are well known to the long suffering victims of their gross incompetence in the administration of justice in Ghana. I had already referred to the case of the disgraced Mr Woanya of the Denu High Court in Part 1. The judiciary, along with the Police or security service, are therefore parts and parcel of the rogue State in Ghana and they must be reformed radically too in order to serve the people speedily and without the graft and partisanship we now know are associated with them. The Judiciary and law education in Ghana must therefore also be reformed in order to take upon the added role of settling chieftaincy disputes. Coding and teaching customary law practices must become an essential part of the curriculum of law education and jurisprudence in Ghana.

LAND REFORMS: It deserves special attention. It was high time to place all lands chiefs are supposedly custodians of on behalf of their people – a big farce largely created by the Aborigines Rights Protection Society in the C19th - under the control of District Assemblies, not the central government. I shall briefly summarise the reasons for this position as grounded in the general corruption, incompetence and gross misappropriation into private hands of lands the central government and the Lands Department have displayed in handling land taken over by government since the colonial state was instituted. The Lands Department must be scrapped as it has become one of the most dysfunctional and inept of the institutions foisted on us by the colonialists, and whatever good roles they still perform transferred to district land administrative units. Likewise, taking control of land from the chiefs is simply an act of restoration of the people’s rights to them, as their subjects have grown up, are of age and DO NOT NEED any chiefs to protect their lands for them anymore. There is no need to catalogue the general egregious abuse of lands in the hands of chiefs in Ghana in this piece but it must be done elsewhere to support our case. The evidence abounds that the chiefs did not originally have control over the lands. A few examples will serve to buttress my point and serve as a point of further research to support the advocated position.

Starting from my own Anloland to much of Eweland, no chief has control of any land in custody for his so-called subjects. Clan heads (clan head may become a chief though) and family heads have that control, that is, what is not as yet fragmented and shared to family heads or members already. The Keta lagoon, which is the remaining major resource exploited in common cannot be alienated by the Awoamefia alone without the approval of the chiefs. It should therefore not be difficult to place that under the control of the reformed and empowered District Assembly.

In Northern Ghana, it was only in the late 1970s that the SMC passed a decree transferring allodial rights to land to the chiefs of the four major skins, in return for pledging their support for the infamous UNIGOV idea. This was in pure breach of the traditional norms which had existed for centuries. As recorded in various books, it was the Tendaana, or spiritual heads of each locality who have control of land. That this breach and attempts to enforce the new bounty handed over to the skins was the direct cause of the protracted, devastating and bloody conflicts between the Konkombas and allied minority groups on the one hand and the Dagbons, Nanumbas and their allies on the other cannot be disputed. Clearly, this anomaly must be reversed by putting the District Assemblies in charge of land in order for peace to prevail and development to take place in those parts.

Coming down south to Asante, we read from Reindorf (1893:72) about how the Asantehene Opoku Ware was taught to seize the lands of even his deceased chiefs and captains and others conquered in wars, by the defeated then more powerful king of Techiman, Amo Yaw, who succumbed to the treachery of Bafo. It was through the guidance of Amo Yaw that the Techimans also taught the Asantes the art of making the now famous “Asante” gold and silver weights, apart from reforms in the governmental and social organisation of the emerging Asante confederacy. Some old war wounds never healed fully, and today, overlords of Techiman and Kumasi are still locking horns on who control which land area, which led to the rumpus surrounding the Asantehene’s ultimatum referred to in Part 1. Time to take that control of land from both of them. We are in a republic!

I believe these suggestions shall go a long way to stop the blatant cases of abuse associated with land use in Ghana and curb the desire of would-be chieftaincy post buyers. An interesting contribution to the debate was made by Otchere Darko on Ghanaweb. For work to begin on the reforms, we have to return to the CPP legislations of 1958 under which the Songhor Lagoon, for instance, was vested under state control as a starting point.


An innovation will be limiting the terms of chiefs to seven years, even in areas where chiefs are not destooled such as Eweland and Ga-Adangme, in conformity with suggestions for modernisation by C.O.C. Amate in his book, The Making of Ada, Woeli Publishing Services (1999), with the option for re-election as long as the king-makers and the subjects deem the person fit to continue as chief. This will make chiefs to serve their people selflessly and with dedication.

The power of the State to “recognise chiefs” or destool chiefs by gazetting or de-gazetting must fall away. Once a chief is properly installed, he must be automatically recognised as chief; any need for gazetting must be a mere formality. The reformed ordinary courts shall have a final say in any dispute over a chieftaincy – a stool or skin.


District assemblies shall be restructured to include representatives of the various paramountcies in each district. At present, central government appoints some members, supposedly with the consultation of the chiefs. We have already heard enough complaints from the chiefs that they were hardly consulted. I propose that a proportion of those appointed members should be directly appointed by the paramount chiefs in consultation with their own traditional councils and chiefs.

Chiefs should be formally and legally allowed to engage in politics, just as they do in Nigeria to no detrimental effects. In fact, they already openly do de facto in many cases. Let them do so de jure, as it’d be a positive development in the body politic. It will help to disperse the current tribal loyalties and politics, as citizens identify with political parties on issues rather than on the basis of which ethnic group one comes from.

Andy C. Y. Kwawukume

April 2011