Businessman and leading member of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Paul Afoko, has suddenly become talk of the town following a decision by his party’s Vetting Committee to withhold his vetting for some reasons.
Our reporter, Charles Takyi-Boadu, caught up with him at his private office in Accra to know the inside-out of the issues and comes up with the following one-on-one interview in a form of question and answer for your reading pleasure.
For the sake of simplicity DAILY GUIDE is presented as DG whiles Paul Afoko is shortened to PA. Read on.
DG: Good afternoon Uncle Paul
PA: Good afternoon Okofo (as he prefers to call our reporter with his other name).
DG: How’re doing?
PA: I’m okay, thank you.
DG: How is the campaign going?
PA: Well, we’re carrying on, regardless. I just returned from Bolga where I went first to attend to a pressing engagement and seized the opportunity to do a bit more of the campaigning.
DG: How was the response to the campaign?
PA: The campaign was really good,
DG: What informed your decision to join this Chairmanship race of the NPP?
PA: What informed my decision was the resolve by this party to come back to power via the 2016 general elections; I felt that the party needed all hands on deck… The role I had played previously – always behind the scenes – was intended to support the party in the three northern regions and parts of the Brong-Ahafo and the Volta regions. I got to this point where I realized that we were having a problem; we were going to be confronted with a challenge in 2016; and to surmount it, we needed to step in and do something. So I looked at it; I studied it carefully; I had a consultation within my family and in the party and then came to the conclusion that it was necessary to put my name forward.
DG: Is it still on course?
PA: I think it is. I have no reason to think otherwise.
DG: Your name has been in the media for the last few days regarding one or two reasons. You went through the vetting process and some issues have cropped up. I personally heard on radio that you had said you were being disqualified. Where from that one too?
PA: I never said I was being disqualified. I had a prior engagement with Oman FM. On Tuesday, I was supposed to be there but I had to do some constituency work here in the Greater Accra Region which took all the time and so I called the station to inform the producers that I could not make it; and I was told that the programme would be transmitted on Thursday, so I said good, I’ll be able to make it after I had gone for the vetting, which was agreed upon. I did not fail to honour my promise. It was when I was in the studio that I started receiving a lot of phone calls.
DG: Whiles in the studio?
PA: I was waiting for my turn because there were others ahead of me. Agyarko and Agyemang-Manu were in there and I was sitting in the waiting room when I started receiving the phone calls informing me that they heard I’d been disqualified, adding that they were going to resign enmass…and I just told them that to the best of my knowledge, I had not been officially told by anybody that I’d been disqualified. I was waiting to hear from the party formally before I would be able to say anything. I told the callers that what they were hearing was mere speculation.
But in order to calm the nerves of the supporters out there, when it came to my turn to go on air, I actually addressed our supporters in the North. I pleaded with them not to do anything untoward as we needed unity to face the battle in 2016. I pointed out that some detractors were trying to sow a seed of discord in the party.
DG: Has the party since then communicated with you?
PA: Yes and no. I mean the communication was a verbal one.
DG: From the Vetting Committee?
PA: Yes, a member, Martin Adjei-Mensah Korsah. He called me to tell me that they were going to put my vetting on hold.
DG: Did he tell you the reason?
PA: Well, he told me that the reason was based on the questions they asked me relative to a certain petition – an anonymous petition.
DG: What is in that petition?
PA: I don’t know
DG: Were you not told about the content of that petition?
PA: They would not let me see the content of that petition. They refused to let me know who the petitioner was; all they did was to ask me questions.
DG: But they told you the content?
PA: Well, they alluded to it. They asked whether I had ever been to prison and I said yes; but I have never been convicted of any offence by any court or tribunal. Upon request, I told them about what happened in 1982 when Rawlings came in with his government and I opposed it, for which reason I was detained as a political prisoner. After I had told them about the circumstance that led to my imprisonment, they proceeded to ask me whether I had never had any criminal conviction in any part of the world and I said no. They mentioned England specifically and I said I’d never been convicted of even a motor traffic offence in England. I was then asked whether I had not been convicted of any drug-related offence and the reply was in the negative.
They said ‘be clear of what you are telling us.’ and I said I was very clear about it. When I was asked to provide the Committee with my address in England, I challenged them with the word ‘why’? When they insisted, I addressed one of the members of the Committee, Mr Ayikoi Otoo, saying he had been Ghana’s topmost lawyer before, and challenged him on whether that is the way to seek information on criminal records from a person.
I referred them to the Crown Prosecution Service for the information they needed, because what the members of the Committee were doing was as though they were trying to set me up.
They persisted, ‘You have to give us your address in England; we must take your address.’ They then placed a pen a sheet of paper in front of me as if I was sitting in a prison cell or in an interrogation room. ‘Write your address there! If you don’t have anything to hide, why are you not writing the address?’ I was charged.
DG: Was that how it went?
PA: Yes, and then I was actually told I was going to write the address because the burden of proof was then on me. My reaction was quite harsh thereafter, pointing out to them that they wouldn’t tell me the content of the petition, neither were they prepared to give me a copy nor disclose the author to me; why they were insisting that I clear myself was unfathomable, and I would not do that.
DG: Have you since seen that petition whether through the Committee or your own means?
DG: So how was that standoff resolved?
PA: I finally gave them the address because they were threatening to throw me out of the contest if I did not provide them with my address in England.
DG: How did you feel about all these?
PA: I felt I was being set up; I felt assaulted; I felt oppressed; I felt… I’m holding back a lot. But it was a process I was not expecting of a Vetting Committee.
DG: Do you think somebody somewhere is trying to manipulate the system against you or something?
PA: I don’t know what to say because I’ll be speculating until I’ve had concrete evidence; for now I don’t want to speculate. I always behave on the basis of what is, not what could be, what should be, what maybe. No.
DG: Uncle Paul, how do you feel about the fact that your case has virtually brought the entire balloting process to a halt and they are seeking to investigate it before they continue with the electoral process?
PA: What is there to investigate? That I have a criminal record?
DG: Have you been given a date to reappear?
PA: Nobody has communicated anything to me since then, that’s why I left for the North. I had to continue with my campaign and because word had gone out that I had been disqualified and my supporters were despondent, I had to do something. What do I do, except to go there and try to manage the situation so that the situation would not get out of hand.
DG: What is your expectation in all this?
PA: Very simple. The Committee has taken my address in the UK; they should go and check it. I don’t know whether they thought my home was a prison…
They say there is a petitioner but they won’t tell me because according to Ayikoi Otoo, that person could end up dead. I didn’t know of a petition before I walked into the place where the vetting was taking place so how could I be in a position to issue death threats?
DG: In spite of all these controversies, are you confident you’re going to come out clean?
PA: Hey, hang on; I’m confident because I told them what to do because the Crown Prosecution Service, the competent British authorities, are the only ones on the face of this earth who can tell anybody that ‘yes, we jailed that man Paul Afoko or we have never jailed him,’ even though I believe that this petition has no merit; its frivolous; that was the word I used.
DG: Uncle Paul, do you harbour the fear that you will be disqualified?
PA: No, on what grounds? I will only harbour fear if I have a criminal conviction record – that’s when I’ll fear, that’s when I’ll have doubts. I don’t have any such doubts.
DG: What if you are disqualified, even though I don’t pray so?
PA: But why would you disqualify somebody when the person has not done anything wrong?
DG: Are you considering the option of seeking legal action in this matter?
PA: As I said earlier, anything I say will be speculation; the Vetting Committee has not contacted me so how can I talk about legal action when I know that disqualification is not an option -because that allegation is not true. If it were, then maybe I will start thinking…is not an option.
DG: How do you access your chances in this contest?
PA: My chances are bright because I’ve been in the country all this while. I know that with the strong support and prayer of all the numerous party supporters out there as well as those of the delegates, the good Lord is going to be behind me.
DG: You had an accident over the weekend, tell me about it.
PA: This is the hand of God guiding us; nobody got injured in that Land Cruiser. It’s totally in ruins. The picture that appeared in your paper was the back of the vehicle. If you see the front, it’s split open. It tell you that nothing that God has put together can be thrown assunder by human machinations.
DG: So you are winning?
PA: Yes, I’m confident I’m winning else I won’t be in the race.
DG: Uncle Paul, I know you are campaigning and I know time is not on your side, I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity.
PA: I thank you very much Charles, and I wish to conclude by saying to our party supporters and your numerous readers through you that I’m grateful for the outpouring of support I have received since this vetting issue came up.
By Charles Takyi-Boadu
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