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Opinions of Saturday, 27 December 2008

Columnist: Agboka, Godwin Yaw

What the NPP Must Not Do…

The title for this piece could have also read: “What the NPP Must Stop Doing” because whatever it is that they must not do, they have already started doing. The New Patriotic Party (NPP) needs to stop doing two things, if they are to win the run-off: (i) it must not look desperate, and (ii) it doesn’t have to be on the defensive. Unfortunately, these are some developments that have already characterized its activities, since the campaigns for the run-off started.

There are three major events have happened since the campaign for the run-off began. The National Petroleum Authority (NPA) has finally heeded calls from Ghanaians and (has) decided to slash 17.17% off the price of petrol. A few days after that the magnanimity of government assumed a whole new dimension when it decided to free about 5, 000 prisoners—mainly commercial drivers—who were jailed because they could not afford fines imposed on them. Then, in a move that smacks of desperation, leaders of the NPP are going round the country saying ‘sorry’—at the least opportunity—for things they’ve not even done.

Within a week, the ruling government has performed and sustained a campaign that harps on contrition. First, accused of being responsible for the low turn-out of NPP voters in the Ashanti region—because she masterminded the infamous decongestion exercise undertaken by the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA)—Madam Patricia Appiagyei, the KMA Boss, was reported to have told those affected by the exercise to “to put everything behind them” (The Ghanaian Chronicle, December 16, 2008) and come out to vote in the run-off. Then, the out-going Member of Parliament for Cape Coast, Ms. Christine Churcher was also said to have gone on her knees begging the fisherfolk in Elmina to ‘forgive’ the NPP for all the wrongs it committed against them.

Since Ms. Churcher’s much publicized performance, almost everyone in the NPP is now apologizing for wrongs the party is even yet to commit. President Kufuor has been the one who has done this to much effect and at great length. Not once, but twice—and this will continue—President Kufuor said in both the Ashanti and Brong Ahafo regions that he was sorry for any actions, either conscious or unconscious, that may have touched on some wrong nerves. Sounding very proverbial, the President said that “when you carry a water pot to fetch water from the well, occasionally, you will break the pot.”

I agree in toto with President Kufuor, because we can’t all have it going infallibly right. In the course of our work, we consciously or consciously step on toes, but, ironically, sometimes you need to step on toes to get things done. In fact, the utilitarian view believes that to satisfy the majority, you need to inconvenience the minority. Ours is a human condition and perfection is not a human quality; if it were, this world would be a boring place. Thus, definitely, the NPP deserves some pardon, like many prisoners in our jails today. What surprises me, however, is the timing. Why has the practice gained so much currency in the few weeks leading to a major election? Didn’t the NPP, before the first round of voting, know it had wronged Ghanaians? Were all these ‘sins’ committed after the first round of voting? Or, the NPP just realized it had to apologize after the first round of voting? When did Christine Churcher, in her eight or so years as an MP, kneel before her constituents to say sorry for something? What makes her believe that doing that, now, will not raise eye-brows?

Some say that all the cases of apologetic campaigning are not to win votes but to capture the fallibility of the human condition, especially in cases where civil servants are involved. The presidential candidate of the NPP, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, himself, echoed this position when he indicated, in an interview he granted Citi FM, that the outbreak of the word ‘sorry” in the camp of the NPP was only to reinforce the notion that public servants must always be submissive to electorates who voted them into power. Unfortunately, Nana contradicted this noble explanation with two actions or inactions: (i) he failed to explain at what time public servants needed to be submissive and (ii) he said, in the same interview, that considering that the party lost so many seats in parliament, it would be politically unwise for the party to pretend that there was nothing wrong. Is this assertion not a political argument, which argument is to win the party votes?

Suddenly everyone has gone to school, learning the lessons of being submissive to his/her bosses—the electorates. What surprises me, however, is that a party that, statistically, did better in the first round of voting looks more vulnerable than its opponent. I use the expression “statistically better” because, strategically and politically, the NDC walked out winners in the first round and seems to be carrying that political momentum into campaigning for the second round. Currently, the NDC seems to be doing all the attacking (and defending when it should) while the NPP is just doing all the defending. Unfortunately, when all a team does is to defend, it does not only fail to make incursions into the opponent’s territory, but it opens its goal post too wide for its opponent to score goals. The last thing the NPP needs to do is to embark on a senseless display of vulnerability and a naked expression of desperation.

Where is the campaign that promised to talk about issues? Where is the campaign that promised to industrialize the country? Where is the campaign that promised to establish universities in every region? Why is the campaign team of Nana not reiterating—maybe rehashing—the “economically safe Ghana” argument that it so very well made during the pre-first round electioneering campaign ? Where is the pump? Where is the color? Why should the campaign suddenly change—or lose—focus and embark on a campaign whose central theme privileges contrition? What specifically is the party sorry about and why? Why this time? Does the NPP truly think this will work?

The challenge the party faces, in making the contrition argument, is that it risks insulting the intelligence of Ghanaians, who may interpret this activity as a vote-seeking agenda. Unfortunately for the NPP, the process (the contrition campaign) took shape the same time government decided to free the 5,000 prisoners and when the National Petroleum Authority (NPA) also decided to beat down the price of petrol. For so long a time, Ghanaians had been appealing to the NPA, through government—because government says the NPA is an independent body—, to reduce the prices of petroleum products to reflect developments on the world market, but each time the issue came up government failed to listen, let alone act on the people’s concerns. Now, Ghanaians wake up a day after the ruling government performs poorly in a major election, to find that their request of so many months ago has been granted.

How can Ghanaians not fail to think that these events are politically motivated? Does this come out as a genuine, generous gesture or some insult the government want to hurl at the people? Interestingly, the likes of Mr. Jake Obetsebi Lamptey want us to believe that the timing of the reduction was a mere coincidence, when they know we live in a political environment, which environment we have lived before and whose ripples we have experienced. What didn’t the NDC do in the year 2000 to save it from an inevitable, imminent defeat? The whole episode looks like a script that is being re-enacted. Meanwhile, the NPA’s Chief Executive Officer, John Attafuah was on GTV saying that the reduction was a ‘Christmas present’ to Ghanaians. How insulting! How many times, within the past twenty or so years, have we had such unwelcome presents? So, all of a sudden the NPA is spearheading a humanitarian mission, right?

Now, someone should tell me if the sophisticated, objective, smart Ghanaian voter who rendered many of our Members of Parliament jobless, just about two weeks ago, will not interpret this as not only insulting, but a desperate move on the part of the ruling government to wage a cheap campaign to win votes. Do we expect this same voter to interpret the sorry-saying agenda as a genuine process meant to show the fallibility of the human condition? Is that what the government thinks Ghanaians will do? A genuine apology is a good thing, but when the people to whom it is rendered read some level of false intent on the part of the person who renders it, they begin to question motives. This is what the NPP should avoid

The New Patriotic Party (NPP) has chalked a lot of successes, in its eight years of being in power, a lot on the economy and many in other areas; these success stories should be the thrust of the campaign, in addition to harping on what new programs it intends to implement when it is given the nod again. The new campaign that harps on contrition and sudden generosity smacks of desperation, which is not only insulting to Ghanaians, but a good weapon for its (the NPP’s) opponent.

Godwin J. Y. Agboka, Email: []