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Opinions of Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Columnist: Amenyo, Kofi

The Kpegah vs. Akufo-Addo case

and what it says about us

Not even the most inventive creative mind can think of a plot along these lines.Here is a man in good standing who has been a successful lawyer for decades. He is also a top politician who held many important posts in government and represented his nation at many high-level negotiations. He was also within spitting distance of attaining the presidency itself and is now contesting the results. Then a snivelling,cantankerous, ancient judge comes out to tell the whole world that this prominent man is actually a charlatan who cheated his way to a position that he was not qualified for and who has some very horrible skeletons in his closet. He further promises to expose him in a court of law.This is hot stuff. This is really a huge comedy. The whole thing sounds so ridiculous that some people cannot bring themselves to even talk about it. It is funny.

But who is laughing? None of us is. Instead, we are concentrating on other, more negative and jaundiced, discussions of the ongoing drama. Some of this discussion is, itself, very hilarious. There are those who make the absurd claim that Kpegah is doing this only because he is Ewe and the alleged victim is Akan. He is, thus, only acting true to type. The most insidious version of this argument has an implicit supposition that, were Kpegah not Ewe, he would not be doing this. Were he, for instance, an Akan, he would not, eo ipso, embark on such a malicious action. You see, Akans are not like that. Oh no, they are not. It is only Ewes who are like that. They are full of hatred and envy (of Akans).

That the discussion will take a politicized turn was expected but some of the argumentation has been very simplistic. Kpegah is Ewe which makes him an NDC man who, on behalf of his party, is doing the hatchet job on Akufo-Addo. Some of the proponents of this argument are so convinced of this that they will not even consider any other evidence that will indicate that this need not be so. All those who cast doubts on Kpegah’s allegations are branded NPP supporters as, indeed, many are. Anybody who takes Kpegah’s side is also branded NDC supporter or sympathiser. That the allegations can be discussed outside the context of partisan politics does not appeal to many people. The awkward result is that if you are a sympathiser/supporter of NPP, then you believe that Akufo-Addo is, indeed, a bona fide lawyer and that he cannot lie about that. And if you are a supporter of NDC, that fact alone will make you want to believe in Kpegah’s allegations.

Another noticeable trait of the discussions is how much we, Ghanaians, feed on rumours. Neither the supporters nor opponents of Akufo-Addo know the truth about the man’s legal credentials yet they argue as if they were there and saw what happened when Akufo-Addo qualified as a lawyer in Ghana. In this, Akufo-Addo’s supporters are more passionate about the veracity of their position than his detractors who seem only to harbour a strong suspicion that something may not be okay with his credentials. But the fact remains that neither side knows the truth. Some of those making the loudest noise about the man’s innocence were not even born when the alleged misdeeds took place. This includes some of his closest aides. And it is possible that even Kpegah himself has no direct knowledge of the alleged crimes. He didn’t see them himself and may just be acting on hearsay.

The NDC’s reaction to the case has been interesting. Apart from Ato Dadzie’s somewhat noncommittal statement, the party big wigs have been wary of commenting on the issue. Perhaps they do not want to be seen to be taking any pleasures in the discomfiture of their main political opponent in what is a very embarrassing suit. And who knows what secrets they, too, may be hiding from us?

Does Kpegah, really, have a case? My answer is that we don’t know. But one thing is certain. Even if he has a case, he is going about it in a terrible manner. If you accuse someone of a criminal offence, you have to be able to make it stick in a law court. If you can’t, you shouldn’t sue. You should just shut up. Kpegah should know that. Perhaps he has spent all his professional life on the bench and has forgotten this basic tenet of the judicial process when he is now the one who will be doing the pleading.

If Kpegah really has something on Akufo-Addo, why does he not take his time to prepare his brief well, send a solid case to court and pin the guy down in a hole from which he cannot escape? Rather, he has made a hash of it all by the outlandish nature of the accusations and improper court procedures. By so doing, he is not only letting the man off the hook, he is making a complete fool of himself and, in the eyes of some people, dragging his entire tribe with him into the gutters. It seemshe is more interested in the public nature of the case than the substantive issues involved. Why all the press conferences and the showmanship instead of proving your case in court and letting the press take it up from there?

Is Kpegah driven by malice? Perhaps yes, perhaps not. You have to be in his head to know that for sure. Of all the reasons that commentators have given for his action, they have failed to mention one. Kpegah need not be motivated by anything. Sometimes, malice simply is. There doesn’t have to be a motivation or a gain for it. Such malice knows no political affiliation or tribal belongingness. It is just human nature.

Is Akufo-Addo hiding something? My answer to this is also that we don’t know. You have to be in his head to know for sure. If he is not hiding anything, then he has chosen what appears to be a very strange way of professing his innocence.The law is not like journalism where anybody who has written two articles to ghanaweb can start calling himself a journalist. There are clearly laid down rules in every country as to how anybody gets to call himself a lawyer, let alone practise as one. These rules are written down by the lawyers themselves who are experts in such things. Yet in Ghana, we have lawyers disputing the authenticity of each other. It doesn’t really speak well of the legal profession in our country that two legal “luminaries” are fighting over the status of one of them and the matter is taking such a long time to be resolved. How can it be so difficult to establish the authenticity of a lawyer? Has Akufo-Addo been practising law for such a long time that he has forgotten how he became a lawyer or remembers it only in biblical outline?

Even some of Akufo-Addo’s most vociferous supporters may be wondering why their man doesn’t just come up with clear and incontrovertible evidence to prove his status and put paid to all the rumours. Others may say that he has done so but the evidence, so far, has not been fully satisfactory. There are many people who are still not convinced. Some of these are his own supporters who have, outwardly, been vigorously defending him.

Some of his supporters also claim that the charges are so ridiculous that his silence means he is dismissing them with “the contempt that they deserve”. This may be true but the attempts made by his corner to defend him in the press have been extremely shoddy. The result is that Ghanaians do not really know the truth. A case that has been thrown out of court on a technicality does not really absolve the alleged culprit. It does not vindicate the accuser either. The only thing we can say is that the case against Akufo-Addo has not been proven. We cannot make any statements as to his actual status as a lawyer based on that. That is why the rumours about him will continue. But this will matter only if he wins the Supreme Court case and becomes president or intends to contest his party’s candidature in the next elections. Right now, the benefit of the doubt is fully on Akufo-Addo’s side and the evidentiary burden on Kpegah’s. Whether this state of affairs will buy Akufo-Addo more votes in the future is a completely different matter.

Somewhere along the line, those who support Akufo-Addo only because he is the leader of their party may also want to know the truth for themselves.Such supporters will be ready to dump him once they convince themselves of any slight of character on his part even if it was in the distant past. They love the party and will be in a hurry to rally around another person who can bring the party to power. Akufo-Addo cannot count on the support of such people forever. That is why he must re-assure them.

If Akufo-Addo were a village lawyer helping rural people with their wills or defending local goat thieves, no one would care if he ever saw the insides of a law school. But Akufo-Addo is not just anybody. He could have been (and can still be) our president.We have the right to know as much about him as is possible, most preferably from his own mouth. He has no legal obligation to do that but his is a moral duty. In addition, he is a dadaba – someone born with a silver spoon sticking out of his mouth. Those people who have never been beneficiaries of inherited advantages will savour a situation where they get the better of him on some moral playing field. This is a natural human inclination that we are not often very successful in fighting off despite our very best natures. That is why the ball is still in his court.

In all this, we must never forget that we are talking about politicians not a single one of whom can be trusted to tell the truth at all times – especially not the unsavoury lot that constitutes the Ghanaian breed! But that doesn’t mean anybody can go around accusing them of crimes they are not sure they have committed or which they cannot prove in court.

On a personal (and somewhat unrelated) note, I remember a long time ago as a student in Bishop Herman College sometime in the early 70s – about the time Akufo-Addo may have been working towards his legal qualification. Francis Kpegah was invited to give the keynote address at the school’s speech and prize giving day. I don’t know what made the school authorities choose him among all other “prominent personalities” they could have invited. He was not even an old student of the school. Perhaps it was because he was made a High Court Judge at a very young age and, coming from a town near the school, the authorities thought he would be a good role model for us. Well, don’t ask me what he talked about. I, too, have completely forgotten. It was a very long time ago…

Kofi Amenyo (