Feature Article of Wednesday, 26 April 2006

Columnist: Okyere Bonna

The Role Of Chieftaincy In Ghana

Otumfuor Nana Osei Tutu II, A Role Model For African chiefs (I)

Article 277 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana defines ?chief? as a person, who, hailing from the appropriate family and lineage, has been validly nominated, elected or selected and enstooled, enskinned or installed as a chief or queen mother in accordance with the relevant customary law and usage.

In pre-colonial times, chieftaincy constituted the axis for the exercise of executive, legislative and judicial powers. Since the colonial era, the institution has been linked to the politics of Ghana. Various governments ? colonial, civilian or military have in one way or the other tried to influence the role of chiefs in political affairs.

The 1992 constitution, like all previous constitutions, guarantees the institution of chieftaincy together with its traditional councils as established by customary law and usage. To preserve their role as symbols of national unity, however, chiefs are forbidden from active participation in party politics. A person shall not be qualified as a chief if he has been convicted for high treason, treason, high crime or for an offence involving the security of the State, fraud, dishonesty or moral turpitude. In southern Ghana, women are included in nearly all paramount chieftaincies as "Queen mothers." These women, who are not necessarily the mothers of the chiefs, have the right to nominate ? even impeach ? chiefs. Queen mothers advise chiefs and also act as moral leaders of the community.

Article 270(1) provides for the recognition of the institution of chieftaincy, together with its traditional councils under customary law. According to Article 270 paragraph (2), Parliament shall have no power to enact any law which in any way detracts or derogates from the honor and dignity of the institution of chieftaincy. Article 271 also establishes a National House of Chiefs. The House of Chiefs of each region elects members of the National House of Chiefs. Five paramount chiefs are elected from each region. However, where there are fewer than five paramount chiefs in a region, the House of Chiefs of the region shall elect such number of divisional chiefs as shall make up the required representation of chiefs for the region.

Article 272 outlines the role and functions of the National House of Chiefs as follows:

(a) Advise any person or authority charged with any responsibility under this Constitution or any other law for any matter relating to or affecting chieftaincy;

(b) undertake the progressive study, interpretation and codification of customary law with a view to evolving, in appropriate cases, a unified system of rules of customary law, and compiling the customary laws and lines of succession applicable to each stool or skin;

(c) Undertake an evaluation of traditional customs and usages with a view to eliminating those customs and usages that are outmoded and socially harmful;

(d) Perform such other functions, not being inconsistent with any function assigned to the House of Chiefs of a region, as Parliament may refer to it.

Article 273 further states that

(1) The National House of Chiefs shall have appellate jurisdiction in any cause or matter affecting chieftaincy which have been determined by the Regional House of Chiefs in a region, from which appellate jurisdiction there shall be an appeal to the Supreme Court, with the leave of the National House of Chiefs or the Supreme Court.

(2) The appellate jurisdiction of the National House of Chiefs shall be exercised by a Judicial Committee of the National House of Chiefs consisting of five persons appointed by that House from among its members.

(3) A Judicial Committee of a National House of Chiefs shall be assisted by a lawyer of not less than ten years' standing appointed by the National House of Chiefs on the recommendation of the Attorney-General.

(4) A member of a Judicial Committee of the National House of Chiefs shall be removed from office on the ground, of proven misbehavior or of infirmity of mind or body by the votes of not less than two thirds of all the members of the National House of Chiefs.

(5) A Judicial Committee of the National House of Chiefs shall have original jurisdiction in any cause or matter affecting chieftaincy-

(a) Which lies within the competence of two or more Regional houses of Chiefs; or

(b) Which is not properly within the jurisdiction of a Regional House of Chiefs; or

(c) Which cannot otherwise be dealt with by a Regional House of Chiefs.

(6) An appeal shall lie as of right in respect of any cause or matter dealt with by a Judicial Committee of the National House of Chiefs under clause (5) of this article to the Supreme Court.

Article 274 also provides for the established in and for each region of Ghana a Regional House of Chiefs. A Regional House of Chiefs consists of such members as Parliament may, by law, determine and performs such functions as may be conferred upon it by or under an Act of Parliament. Basically a Regional House of Chiefs is responsible for any matter relating to or affecting chieftaincy in the region. It hears and determines appeals from the traditional councils within the region in respect of the nomination, election, selection, installation or deposition of a person as a chief and have original jurisdiction in all matters relating to a paramount stool or skin or the occupant of a paramount stool or skin, including a queen mother to a paramount stool or skin. It undertakes a study and makes such general recommendations as are appropriate for the resolution or expeditious disposition of chieftaincy disputes in the region. It also undertakes the compilation of the customary laws and lines of succession applicable to each stool or skin in the region.

The original and appellate jurisdiction of a Regional House of Chiefs is exercised by a Judicial Committee of the Regional House of Chiefs consisting of three chiefs appointed by the Regional House of Chiefs from among its members. A Judicial Committee of a Regional Chief is assisted by a lawyer of not less than five years' standing appointed by the Regional House of Chiefs in the recommendation of the Attorney-General and may be removed from office on the ground of proven misbehavior or infirmity of mind or body by the votes of not less than two-thirds of all the members of the Regional House of Chiefs.

The National House of Chiefs and the ten regional houses of chiefs represent more than 32,000 recognized traditional rulers who exercise considerable influence throughout Ghana, especially in the countryside. As trustees of communal lands and natural resources, chiefs are often the pivot around which local socio-economic development revolves. Unfortunately the hunger for power has rendered our government standing in the way of progress at the local levels. For instance District Executives are appointed solely by the President and the chiefs have little to no say in the appointment of local government personnel. The government would have to collaborate with our

chiefs via decentralization to enable them mobilize their people effectively in development of their own communities.

Today in Ghana the central government has robbed the traditional rulers of most of their power. Thanks to corruption many of our chiefs have also lost their spiritual and moral authority. Many of our chiefs are involved in dubious land sales. However there are a few like the Asantehene Otumfour Osei Tutu II [ NAME MORE] whose contribution to the state are worthy of mention and emulation. Please allow me to site the contributions of the Asante King as an epitome of modernization of the honorable traditional institution of chieftaincy. Chieftaincy reformation would make a profound difference in Ghana. To give hand out is one thing but to provide the people a lasting legacy is more gracious.

Like many crowned monarch (or chiefdom), the influence of Otumfuor's office, the extent of his power, the love and admiration that emanates from his throne, and the support that he naturally commands among the people makes the Asantehene unique in using his stature to raise funds to address what is indeed a national emergency; and this is exactly what Otumfour has done in Ghana.

By Okyere Bonna

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.