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Opinions of Thursday, 5 September 2013

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Were Akufo-Addo, Bawumia and Obestebi-Lamptey Clueless?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

Whilst we are still awaiting the written decisions of the nine Supreme Court (SC) Justices, there are some matters in their verdict that could be analysed without setting our eyes on the written reasons. These include the unanimous rejection of three claims of the petitioners. In this second of post petition verdict series, I will be looking at the claims that were rejected outright by all the nine Justices.

During and shortly after the two days of voting on 7 and 8 December 2012, there were lots of rumours and allegations from the camps of both NPP and NDC about election rigging and malpractices. One of such allegations was that, a foreign IT company had been contracted by the Electoral Commission (EC) to receive results of the presidential elections from the regions before transmitting them to the EC headquarters in Accra. The office of the alleged company in Accra was besieged by supporters of the NPP with senior party officials and the leader of the African Monitoring Team, retired General Obasanjo visiting the office to ascertain the facts for themselves. Sitting in Cambridge, I almost believed the story but it turned out to be smoke without fire. There were other stories and rumours that also turned out to be baseless.

However, the extent of claims of the alleged electoral malpractices or violations by the NPP became clearer when the petition was lodged at the Supreme Court. Among the alleged violations contained in the petition were: unknown polling stations; duplicate serial numbers, that is, the occurrence of the same serial numbers on pink sheets for two different polling stations and duplicate polling station codes, or the occurrence of different results of pink sheets for polling stations with the same polling station codes.

Many of us unaware of the electoral processes in Ghana were convinced that the above were legitimate concerns that could affect the result of the presidential election declared by the Electoral Commissioner, Dr Afari-Gyan. In fact, in the early days of the hearing and in the evidence-in-chief of the key witness for the petitioners and second petitioner, Dr Bawumia, I was still convinced that the three claims were genuine, until the witness (under cross examination) was confronted with a letter allegedly sent to the EC by Nana Akufo-Addo informing the EC of NPP’s agents for the said unknown polling stations. Again, the remaining two allegations began to falter when the key witness for the first and third respondents, Mr Asiedu-Nketia took the witness stand and gave details of electoral processes provided to the parties at the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) meetings.

At that point, I asked myself whether the petitioners had put the right person in the witness box since it was very clear from the explanations given by Mr Asiedu-Nketia that Dr Bawumia was not privy to discussions at IPAC meetings. Finally, Dr Afari-Gyan took the wtness stand and confirmed what had been said earlier by the witness for the first and third respondents. This resulted in Bawumia being accused of as clueless by Dr Wereko-Borbbey, which led to his suspension from NPP.

The SC verdict was, “We unanimously dismiss the claims relating to duplicate serial numbers, duplicate polling station codes, and unknown polling stations, that is for short”.

Now that all the Justices have thrown away the three claims outright, it appears to me that, it was not only Dr Bawumia who was clueless on the three allegations but his co-petitioners (Nana Akufo-Addo and Jake Obestebi-Lamptey) and perhaps, the legal team for the petitioners and the total leadership of NPP as well as any individual who was involved with the preparation of the petition.

Let’s analyse the claims one by one. On the ghost or unknown polling stations, let’s even assume that the letter allegedly written by Nana Akufo-Addo to the EC never existed. Was it not expected that prior to the petitioners including the claim in their petition to the SC, they would have identified all such polling stations? Having identified them, would the next step not have been to check if any of their party agents or members signed the pink sheets from those polling stations? If yes, then find out from those agents who signed the pink sheets on whose authority and in what capacity did they sign the pink sheets? If these simple exercises had been taken by the petitioners and their legal team or the party leadership, would they not have become aware that not only the three petitioners but the party leadership ought to have known the existence of the so-called unknown polling stations since their agents were there and signed the pink sheets?

Giving evidence-in-chief, Dr Bawumia was also convincing on the second claim of duplicate serial number on ballot papers. In fact, his evidence was that the serial numbers were security features to identify each polling station. I thought likewise that serial numbers for ballot papers should be security sensitive. I was wrong and in fact, the only purpose was the determination of total number of ballot papers in each booklet. No doubt, giving evidence-in-chief Dr Afari-Gyan stated, “I do not know where Dr Bawumia got that from”.

If Bawumia who may not have attended IPAC meetings was unaware that polling stations were identified by a unique code designed by the EC and not by serial numbers, did any of the co-petitioners know that? Did the legal team or any of the NPP leadership know and if so, why was Bawumia not briefed on this? From the ignorance portrayed by Dr Bawumia in the witness stand on serial numbers and now we know all those involved in the petition were equally ignorant about this matter, were they not clueless?

Again, regarding the claim of duplicate polling station codes, it is my candid opinion that, had the petitioners been a little bit careful, they could have saved themselves from this embarrassment. All they needed to do was to identify such duplicate polling station codes, their party agents who signed the pink sheets and find out from them why they signed two pink sheets for one polling station. I am confident that the agents would have explained to them that they were used for both the special voting which was held earlier and the main voting on 7 and 8 December 2012.

Even without the assistance of the party agents for those polling stations, the petitioners themselves ought to have known that they could have been used for the special voting as well as the main voting. However, if none of the petitioners were aware or could not recollect from their memories, what about some of the members of the National Executive, MPs or party stalwarts who might have observed or monitored both the special voting and the main voting? Were all of them clueless on this matter? The petitioners and NPP as a whole brought this upon themselves by their collective failure of doing their home work.

The petitioners, their legal team and party leadership by their collective carelessness in the preparation of the petition have ended up showing that they were clueless about the electoral processes. One would ask if those who represented the party at the IPAG meetings did a good job by way of reporting back what was agreed at such meetings because I cannot believe that no one within the NPP hierarchy knew the real facts pertaining to the above three claims which led Dr Bawumia appeared clueless on them in the witness stand and now confirmed by the unanimous rejection. The Justices did not believe NPP’s baseless claims or Dr Bawumia’s concocted stories. Unless of course, they (NPP) were all pretending to be ostriches.

These are matters I believe the party must re-examine in their post-mortem of the 2012 presidential election and the petition. These elementary lapses should not have been made by the main opposition party with some of the best legal brains in Ghana.

With a unanimous rejection by the Justices, has Dr Wereko-Brobbey not being justified in referring to Dr Bawumia as clueless and if so, will NPP now reconsider his suspension? Even if the Justices do not use harsh words to describe Dr Bawumia’s performance on the three claims, the 9-0 rejection speaks volumes by itself. It appeared as if the petitioners were more interested in the quantum of the allegations instead of quality. Perhaps, their strategy was to throw in as many claims as they could so that if some got thrown out, others will remain. Unfortunately, this approach could have been their downfall. Who knows? We may know when the written decisions are made public or may never know. Better luck next time.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK