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Opinions of Friday, 10 February 2017

Columnist: Graphic.com.gh

We must not throw civility to the wind

By: Justice Abeeku Newton-Offei

When Nana Akufo-Addo returned home from England after taking some time off following the declaration of John Mahama as the winner of the 2012 election, I paid him a visit at his Nima residence. I greeted him and, as usual, he called me by my name and extended a warm hand of greeting.

At the said visit, I told him never to give up the dream of contesting the presidency for the third time. He told me, “Well, Newton, I have just returned, and I will be in Kumasi tomorrow to join the Asantehene in the celebration of ‘Akwasidae’, and when I come back, I will make my intention known.”

But I told him, “Nana, you have been comprehensively marketed by the party so please do not turn down the clamour by the rank and file of the party to offer yourself for the third time,” and his response was, “I hear you Newton.” The rest is history.

Gruelling campaign

I did accompany Nana Akufo-Addo on most of his campaign tours across the country and it was the tour of the western north of the Western Region that I experienced the real rigours of electioneering. The road network is atrocious; with mobile networks completely non-existent in most parts.

We often set off at 7 a.m. and returned to our hotel around 4 a.m. the following day. There was even an instance somewhere in Bodi where after traversing a rugged dusty road in the night for close to three hours, we hit a complete dead end and had to make a U-turn.

It was on this trip that some vehicles in the convoy had their air-condition systems breaking down due to sheer intensity of dust on the road, and we actually had to confine ourselves to the vehicles, with the windows rolled up. We had to be content with that extreme level of discomfort, since the alternative would have been having our clothes blanketed in multiple layers of thick dust.

On these campaign tours, we sometimes arrived at scheduled venues as late as 2 a.m. I remember we arrived at Goaso at around 1:30 a.m. in the pouring rain, and we saw a young girl who said she had completed nursing training school for the past five years but was still at home without a job.

In most places we went, the chiefs, particularly, advised a New Patriotic Party (NPP) government against a sense of complacency, and above all, arrogance and disrespect towards the masses. In many of those interactions, these chiefs would quickly add that “we are much aware of the fact that you [Nana Addo] are a man of peace, which was demonstrated by the manner you accepted defeat, with grace, when the Supreme Court verdict did not go your way.” The chiefs, however, were quick to add that, “As President, you will surely be working with a team, and that is where the problem might arise, because people have different dispositions towards life, particularly when in power.”

Army of volunteers

Besides traversing the length and breadth of our country to sell his message to the people, the party’s grassroot followers exhibited a great deal of selflessness in the mobilisation of votes. These volunteers, who were not even known by the party hierarchy, actually went from village to village and hamlet to hamlet, often on empty stomachs, to convince Ghanaians as to why Nana Akufo-Addo must be given the opportunity to be President. Some of these people do not even know where the party’s national headquarters is located, but still worked hard to make the party’s resounding victory a reality.

I have decided to paint this picture, just to lay bare what actually transpired during the campaign, and how Nana Akufo-Addo has had to toil to be given the chance by Ghanaians to serve as President of our republic. And with this at the back of our minds, it will constantly serve as a reminder to wake us up from a potential power-induced pomposity.

Inaccessibility of the President

Admittedly, Nana Akufo-Addo is no longer a flag bearer but the President; therefore, access to him will definitely be limited in order to afford him the peace of mind to focus on the larger task of working for us all. Indeed, being a President, unquestionably, is the loneliest job anybody could ever think of. Practically, he is virtually cut off from the outside world; and this is where anybody who gets the rare privilege to serve around him should be extremely mindful of how he/she relates to people.

I have always maintained that the typical Ghanaian will be prepared to forgive and contain an individual who is humble, respectful and treats people with decorum; but will reject arrogant brats who treat others with disdain. And this was amply demonstrated in the 2016 elections, where a significant number of voters actually rejected the Mahama-led National Democratic Congress (NDC) government, just on the account of its assigns being arrogant.

The quintessence of civility

Oftentimes, these party sympathisers want to get close to those of us they consider as being close to the top, not for anything in particular, but just for the feel-good effect. So when they try to get close, by way of phone calls, texts, WhatsApp etc., it is incumbent on us to be tolerant, irrespective of how irritating this might be sometimes. We must at all times demonstrate to these party sympathisers that it is through their relentless toils in the hinterlands that the party is now in power.

I have always echoed something Nana Akufo-Addo once told me, which is that, “When you are a leader and people follow you out of love, it is incumbent on you to let them know you value them.” And like I have already stated, a typical Ghanaian will not take into consideration what you offer him/her by way of development, but will rather judge you on how you personally relate to him/her.

The risk, therefore, is the scenario where we shall go back to the good people of Ghana in 2020; and they will look us in the face and say, “We thought you were going to be different from NDC, arrogance-wise.”

Ex-President John Mahama once bemoaned that, “Though I’m the sitting President, I have been forced to campaign as if I were the opposition leader.” That open expression of utter frustration was obviously as a result of brazen rejection of his message by the good people of Ghana, largely due to arrogance of power.

This is the situation we must never put Nana Akufo-Addo in when he goes back to the people in 2020 for the renewal of his mandate, because when that happens, then we would have failed not only the good people of Ghana, but President Akufo-Addo, who, through exceptional exhibition of genuine humility, has toiled and persevered over a four-decade period to be given the opportunity to serve.

There used to be this eight-year convention for every President under our fourth Republican dispensation, but this was dramatically curtailed in 2016 so we must never delude ourselves into any false sense of security and throw caution to the wind.