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Opinions of Thursday, 9 February 2012

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

Savannah View: Fooling Northerners

By Manasseh Azure Awuni

Ghana is a peaceful country. And that’s our greatest and, perhaps, only asset. But annually, the number of people murdered on our roads far exceeds those killed in post-election conflicts in many countries. Last year recorded some of the deadliest motor accidents. The worst occurred in the last two months of the year.

The first occurred in November near Savelegu in the Northern Region when a Benz bus collided with a Metro Mass Transit bus, killing about thirty people including a journalist, Samuel Abaane of The Enquirer newspaper. The victims, who were mostly from the Northern and Upper East Regions, were visited by the Upper East Regional Minister, Mr Mark Woyongo, and some officials from the Northern Regional Coordinating Council.

When political headlines subdued the fatal accident story in the media, the incident was consigned to history. The dead were left to bury their dead while those critically injured were left to their fate. Exactly a month later, a water tanker with a faulty break run into a crowd of jubilant Christmas revellers at Senya Breku in the Central Region, killing twenty-seven and injuring thirty others.

The reaction of government to the Senya Breku accident was both swift and significant. The Vice President, John Dramani Mahama, together with the Central Regional Minister, Ama Benyiwa Doe, visited the victims and went ahead to console the bereaved families. The Vice President also ordered NADMO to liaise with the chiefs and offer whatever help that was needed to bury the dead. The government later donated GH?10,000 for the treatment of the injured. Other political parties and their leadership, including Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo of the NPP visited the victims and consoled families of the bereaved. That was not all. When the President returned from his trip abroad, the first thing he did was to travel to Senya Breku to visit the injured and console the bereaved families.

Not many people noticed the different responses to these two tragedies, but it very much explains how governments and other stakeholders respond differently to national issues in the northern and southern parts of the country. In development, it seems the farther you are from the national capital, the least attention you receive. But with regards to northern Ghana, it is an extreme neglect altogether. In the colonial era, the north was mainly used as a source of cheap labour. Education and other infrastructure were all concentrated in the south.

Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president, was the only leader after independence who took major steps bridge the development gap. One such major step was the introduction of the feeding grants for northerners in second cycle boarding institutions in the three regions of the north.

In recent times, however, the politicians seem only interested in winning votes. And they think the best way to fool these people is to pick a northerner as a running mate.

In 1992, Prof. Albert Adu Boahen of the New Patriotic Party chose Lawyer R.I. Alhassan, a Dagomba, as his running mate. Mr J.A. Kufuor, who led the NPP in 1996 settled on Kow Nkensen Arkaah as running mate mainly due to the Great Alliance in which Mr Arkaah, a former Vice-President of President J.J. Rawlings, was very influential. Mr J.A. Kufuor, who again led the NPP in 2000, picked Alhaji Aliu Mahama, also a northerner, as his running mate. Mr Kufuor won the 2000 elections and retained Alhaji Aliu Mahama to win the 2004 elections. However, Alhaji Aliu Mahama was dumped in 2008 when he contested the NPP flag bearer position. The lot fell on Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, a southerner who again picked a northerner, Dr Mahamoudu Bawumia as his running mate. Dr Bawumia again appears to be Nana Akufo-Addo’s potential running mate for the 2012 elections.

President JEA Mills, who has led the NDC in every election since 2000, has always maintained a northerner as running mate, though his predecessor J.J. Rawlings was never partnered by a northerner. In 2000 Prof. Mills selected Mr Martin Amidu, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice he recently fired, as his running mate. In 2004 he picked Alhaji Mohammed Mumuni, the current Minister for Foreign Affairs, as running mate. President Mills again changed but settled on yet another northerner, Mr John Dramani Mahama, his winning mate in the 2008. Prof. Mills has promised to maintain for the 2012 elections after getting the nod to lead his party in fourth consecutive election. The presidential candidate for the Convention People’s Party, Dr Paa Kwasi Nduom, also chose a northerner, Dr Abu Sakara as his running mate in the 2008 elections.

Even as the debate about why Nana Addo’s best match must be a northerner continues, political parties must know that the Ghanaian electorate are becoming more enlightened and the people of northern Ghana are no exception. It is an insult to use a northerner as a conduit for vote and after winning the much politicised issue of bridging the gap is ignored. A renowned America political scientist, Harold Laswell, defined politics as “who gets what, when and how?” Politics is about the distribution of national resources and anyone who occupies a political office must do so fairly irrespective of where the president or the vice comes from.

Dr Kwame Nkrumah did not have a northerner as vice president but his policies, such as the northern scholarship scheme, have helped a good number of people in the deprived communities of the north to have education. In recent times, former President Jerry John Rawlings won massively in three regions of the North without a running mate from the area. His massive infrastructural projects such as roads and electrification of the north still endear him to the people of the north. Unfortunately however, these efforts have been discontinued.

The health, education and other sectors have received very little attention. This academic year, the University for Development Studies was forced to cut down on admission because all appeals for infrastructure yielded no results. The three polytechnics in the three regions of the north cannot compare with their southern counterparts in terms of infrastructure.

The doctor-patient ratio and teacher-student ratio in the three regions of the north are appalling, while there’s no adaptation or mitigation policy to help people of the north cope with droughts and floods resulting from climate change. The Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA), which was launched with much funfair, is increasingly becoming a disappointment because of lack of commitment from government. These are issues that affect very survival of the people of the north.

It doesn’t make sense to tell someone suffering as a result of deprivation to vote for you because someone from their area is the running mate. So? Developing the entire area affects more lives than raising one individual, especially when it is evident that the last thing politicians from northern Ghana think about is the woes of their people. How many northerners were fed by Alhaji Aliu Mahama when he was vice president? How many northerners take their pocket monies from Vice President John Mahama? Or if Dr Mahamoudu Bawumia becomes the vice president, will he push his government to develop the north? If that is the reason clamouring for another northerner, then can we say Alhaji Aliu Mahama and Mr John Dramani Mahama have failed?

Or do our politicians think that northerners are so gullible that they can be fooled all the time?

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Savannah View is a weekly column that appears in the Tuesday edition of The