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Opinions of Sunday, 24 March 2013

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Who is really Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

When I submitted Freedom of Information request to Oxford University to ascertain whether Nana Akufo Addo attended Oxford University or not, one of my objectives was to put an end to the rumours over the controversy. In a telephone conversation on the subject with my good friend and secondary school class mate, Prof Stephen Kwaku Asare, I gave the example of the controversy over President Obama’s birth place that compelled him to make public his birth certificate. Though we both agreed that the case of President Obama was nothing but pure racism, my friend disagreed with me that had Nana Akufo Addo responded to the Oxford allegation the story would have gone away. In his view had Akufo Addo responded, another allegation would be raised against him. In the wake of the retired Supreme Court Justice Kpegah’s suit against Nana Akufo Addo, alleging among others that, he is an impostor and not qualified to practise law in Ghana, I have come to the conclusion that, my good friend was right and I was wrong. This article is a contribution to matters arising out of retired Justice Kpegah’s allegations against Nana Akufo Addo.

I have never met Nana Akufo Addo, (the man, the lawyer and the politician). Some readers may consider me as a staunch critic of or anti Nana Akufo Addo and other Ghanaian politicians such as the late Mills and President Mahama. Others even claim that I hate him or them but as far as I am concerned, I am an objective critic of those who seek or are in leadership and not a fundamentalist who will support or oppose a leader whatever the situation, let alone hate them and that is why my views on this case should not surprise many. I should point out that, this is not in defence of Nana Akufo Addo and I do not pretend to represent such a renowned Attorney.

My understanding from media reports and articles on Ghanaweb is that, two of the issues the retired SC Justice has raised in his suit are: a potential doubt over Nana Akufo Addo’s true identity or name and a dispute over his qualification as a lawyer or being called to the Bar and his legitimacy to practise as a lawyer in Ghana. I will limit my contribution to the two controversies.

Regarding Nana Akufo Addo’s name, I know from my correspondence with Oxford University that Nana Akufo Addo like most Akans has bore different names. He entered Oxford University as Mr William Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo. I quote the relevant section of a letter from University of Oxford to me dated January 27, 2012 in support of this claim. “We have searched our records and the only published information that falls within the scope of your request is that Mr William Addo Dankwa AKUFO-ADDO was a member of the University (and of New College) during the 1962/63 academic year”. It is obvious from this letter that today’s Nana Akufo Addo was the same Mr William Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo because no one denied the contents of the Oxford University letters when I made them public on Ghanaweb in late 2012.

Again, as far as Akan culture and names are concerned, the child of Mr A is not called A because Akans do not name their children after themselves but after a (respectable) member of the family or society alive or deceased (often from the father’s side). It is the influence of western culture and or foreign religion that this culture was diluted. As a result, when Akans became Christians or their children go to school their first names were replaced with Christian ones and family names with the father’s. Until then, the first name of a child was the day s/he was born and the family name which is given on the eighth day after birth is the one s/he was named after. Some children have family names related to an event or circumstance of their birth such as being born on Christmas day, a twin or after your (biological) father’s death. So there are family names such as Ata, Bronya and Antobam. In other words, almost every Akan Christian or an Akan who went to school has at least, two names (birth name and Christian plus father’s family name). Others such as chiefs and queen mothers have at least, three names including the stool name. Therefore, it should not be strange that Nana Akufo Addo should have had other names.

The dispute over Nana Akufo Addo’s (real or true) identity reminds of an English landlady who once called at my office for advice in rural England. She had rented two of their three bedroom house in an expensive area to an African couple after the family moved to another county. She had reserved one room to keep certain cherished family items and occasionally returned to make sure the family memorabilia were intact. Though the property was rented by a couple, there was a third adult occupying the second room any time she visited the house. Her worries were that the names the coupled used for the tenancy agreement bore no resemblance to the names they called themselves whenever she visited. In the midst of the war on terrorism and money laundering, the landlady suspected that her tenants could be involved in money laundering since they were quiet well off (this was between 2002 and 2003).

She was torn between reporting her suspicion to the police and keeping good tenants who did not only pay the expensive rent on time but also kept the property in very good condition. She was advised to seek advice from the Race Equality Council for which I was the then Director. As she narrated her story to me in my office, I enquired from her the names used for the tenancy and those being used by the couple and immediately became aware that they were Ghanaians and Akans. I explained Ghanaians names to her and assured her that she had nothing to worry about because they were not imposters. I told her that none of my close family members ever called me by my Christian name. I do not know about Ewe culture and names but Nana Akufo Addo and William Addo Dankwa Akuffo in Akan culture are perfectly normal to be for one and the same person at the same time and at different times.

The second issue that retired Justice Kpegah and his supporters have raised is that, Nana Akufo Addo is reported to have been called to the Bar alone and this was not possible. According to them, this is suspicious and could be the basis for Nana Akufo Addo not being qualified to practise law in Ghana. I am not a lawyer and have no idea about the process for being called to the Bar in Ghana in 1975 (the year Nana Akufo Addo was reportedly called to the Bar). Nonetheless, I strongly disagree with retired Justice Kpegah and co because they are wrong and it is possible to be called to the Bar in Ghana alone.

During the PNDC days, one of Kwame Pianim’s Attorneys who defended him at is treason trial was from the UK and qualified in the UK so he could not represent him on his arrival in Ghana. His call to the Ghana Bar was fast tracked to enable him represent Pianim at the Public Tribunal. I remember the Chairman of the Public Tribunal making a public comment that whilst Ghanaians had to go through a lengthy process to be called to the Bar before they could practise, a foreigner was fast tracked within hours. It is possible that this UK Attorney was called to the Bar alone and Nana Akufo Addo may not have been the first and only Attorney to have been called to the Bar alone in Ghana. I say this because, information available on the internet says Nana Akufo Addo’s read Law in the UK and was called to the English Bar (Middle Temple) in July 1971. If this is accurate, it was feasible that his call to the Ghana Bar was fast tracked to enable him represent a client on his arrival in Ghana from England.

I also disagree with those who claim Nana Akufo Addo should respond to the allegations (including Dr Bokor) because the case is at court and the best place for him to defend himself is at the court and not a defence by public opinion through the media. In fact, Dr Bokor contradicts himself on this after he wrote an article asking if the Supreme Court has abolished contempt of court since the presidential petition is openly discussed and debated by the public whilst it is still pending before the Supreme Court (see “Instead of Insulting Justice Kpegah ....Part I” and “Has Supreme Court abolished Contempt of Court”, Ghanaweb, March 23, 2013).

My concern over the allegations by the retired Justice Kpegah is not only about Nana Akufo Addo but the credibility of the whole justice system in Ghana. This is because Nana Akufo Addo was the very person who served as Attorney General and Minister for Justice for Ghana and might have negotiated and signed important international agreements on behalf of the Government and the people of Ghana. This allegation ridicules Ghana, the justice system and the judiciary in the eyes of the international community, if the one time Attorney General and Minister for Justice was not even qualified to practise law in his own country.

When I first read the story, I thought it was a joke but having read some details on the allegations, I am yet to be persuaded about the veracity of the allegations and the motive/s for the suit. Whatever prompted this strange action by no mean person than a retired Supreme Court Justice, my question (who really is Nana Akufo Addo?) still remains unanswered. Perhaps, I should rephrase it to: is it not possible for Nana Akufo Addo to be the man, the husband, the father, the brother, the uncle, the Royal, the successful and accomplished lawyer, the politician and the William Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo at different times and places and at the same time and at the same place? In my opinion and by Akan culture and names, that is a truism. After all, we live within time and space.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge