You may insult me as Prophet of Doom because of what I am about to say. You may choose to sponsor reluctant pastors to go to Jerusalem and pray against my prognostication. But, whatever you do, don’t ignore what I am about to say.
It is my cri de coeur informed by a kind of sortilege appreciation of our history and the latent but patently lethal national sense of inner-rage today. Ghana is a nation sunk in gloom and fury and, as much as you may use your air-conditioned vehicles with its tinted windows to shield your senses from the sulphurous stench in the atmosphere out there, your apathy rather has the potential to make it all blow up in our faces.
I predict that if we go on as we are doing, pretending as if these are normal times, and taking the silent rage of the masses for granted, chaos and anarchy, instability and destruction, revolution and counter-revolution shall meet the decision of the Supreme Court. Whether the Court rules that John Mahama is the validly elected President of Ghana or Nana Akufo-Addo is the validly elected President of Ghana, trouble shall follow unless… And, the reason is simple. It is because the nation is quiet and no body or organization has seen the need to take the lead and take it upon itself, along with others, the responsibility of helping to prepare the nation for any of the two possible outcomes of the presidential election petition before the Supreme Court.
Big trouble awaits us, I predict, unless we take now organized measures to deal with the outcome of this case. The Ghanaian people I know are eager to go along, so we can very easily avoid any form of trouble if we help them actively in that direction. What is dangerous to our collective security and nation’s stability is the apathy, the silence, the neutrality, the indifference, the aloofness, the detachment from this matter by those who usually make themselves matter in matters of national interest.
The media may be doing its bit, but by and large, it does very little more than creating an additional adversarial platform for the feuding parties in court to restate their respective cases with the added spice of spin & twist. Perhaps the biggest culprits in this dangerous ‘peace’ are the very organisations that were most loud in calling for peaceful elections last year.
The 2012 election was deemed to be probably the most peaceful election ever held in Ghana. This was not achieved by chance. The political parties, media, clerics, civil society organisations, all worked actively to manage the fears and expectations of the people and organized how the peace that the people wanted could be achieved. Today the election is over, but the outcome of the election is not over; it is still in dispute and the decision of the court, whatever it is, can make a critical mass of the political divide very, very unhappy. We should not just sit idle and predict how the decision of the court may be accepted. We should re-activate the structures and customise the strategies employed a few months a go for the election for this petition.
THE CALL FOR JUSTICE
For the election, the call was for a peaceful contest. The call today is for justice. We need justice to ensure that the peace that we enjoy can be sustained. But, justice should not be narrowly defined to mean the decision of the Supreme Court, whenever and whatever that is. The concept of justice itself should not be taken for granted., particularly in a country where issues are defined by the lexicon of partisan understanding.
Public education of the judicial process is key. But, which organization has been specifically assigned to undertake this responsibility? The Ghana Bar Association promised but it is yet to deliver. It is not for nothing that the Supreme Court of Kenya has allowed cameras into their courtroom for the purpose of this petition. Are we saying they are less concerned about the security of their six justices, including Chief Justice Willy Mutanga, who are sitting on the case than we are of our nine judges? Here, it is left to the likes of Sammy Awuku and Aseidu Nketia, whose knowledge of the law is limited to litigations filed by idiots, to tell their supporters what takes place during court sittings.
Before the Danquah Institute petitioned the Chief Justice to allow cameras into the courtroom for this case, I spoke to a respected Bishop and member of the National Peace Council to put it before the Council for consideration. He listened and the next time I met him, we were on a British Airways flight to London together, we only said ‘hi’ to each other and went our separate ways. Of course, the two of us can afford to fly away when trouble comes but what about the many?
The ‘big men’ are not saying anything even as frustrations of and from the grassroots continue to mount. Not even Ghana’s renowned jurists, including our many professors of law, have seen the need to write opinions on the very important issue of how best to manage this case in a fair and expeditious manner.
LACK OF URGENCY
Already, there are tens of thousands of party supporters out there who are getting annoyed by the seeming lack of urgency in how the Supreme Court appears to be handling this case. What are we doing to manage their frustration and anger? It is as if we have all gone to sleep, waiting to be awoken by the noise of an aeroplane crashing through our living room.
William Ofori-Atta said more than 30 years ago, “We could sit and do nothing. We could wait to see things break down. But we must know that it is not open to the politician or the man who has the nation at heart to enjoy the luxury which all other persons enjoy, that is the joy of being able to tell your opponents when the nation collapses ‘I told you so’. The nation, when it collapses, collapses upon the heads of all of us.”
Paa Willie, 19th October, 1979
USEFUL LESSONS FROM KENYA
We must learn useful lessons from Kenya, which also has an election petition to handle. Their elections took place March 4, three months after ours, and yet, it is very likely that their supreme court will hear and decide on Raila Odinga’s petition even before our supreme court gives us a definite date for our hearing proper to begin. Kenya’s court, mind you, also has a reputation of taking its time but in this case the law is designed for a speedy trial. Ours is also designed for expedition but gives our judges a lot of flexibility which can be exploited to cause delay.
The NPP has a convenient spin on the Kenyan case, which is that Akufo-Addo’s action of non-violent challenge to election results is being emulated in the East African country, which after the December 2007 contest, opted for violence then instead of the judicial process.
I believe we should understand why Kenya’s opposition ignored the legal option in January 2008. Then Raila Odinga made it clear that he did not trust the judges to handle the petition justly. Technicalities and delays had frustrated all previous attempts to seek redress in disputed elections in Kenya. Before Odinga, the only two presidential petitions in Kenya’s history had fallen on the double-edged sword of technicalities and delay.
Kenya’s first election petition case, Kenneth Stanley Njindo Matiba vs Daniel arap Moi, was from the 1992 contest, which many believed was rigged in favour of the incumbent, Moi. After long delays, the case was struck out because the petitioner, who became physically incapacitated at the time, gave his wife power of attorney to sign the petition papers on his behalf.
20 years later, Justice Riaga Omolo, who struck out the Matiba petition was declared “unfit” to serve in the judiciary by the Vetting of Judges and Magistrates Board over that decision: “It gratuitously showed grave disrespect for disabled people, castigating the petitioner in an ungenerous and uncalled for manner,” the board ruled.
The Matiba case was followed five years later by the case of Mwai Kibaki vs Daniel arap Moi. This case spent 2 years in the courtroom before it was thrown out on a technicality that President Moi was not personally served with the petition!
ETHNIC CONFIGURATIONS, CONFLAGRATION
For Kenyans, loss of confidence in the judiciary over election petitions led to 1,300 dead and 600,000 others displaced from their homes. It is not written in our genes that Ghanaians are immune to this kind of conflagration. The ethnic configurations of Kenyan politics are, in shape and form, equally alive in Ghana, which like Kenya, took the multi-party route in 1992. Unlike Ghana, which has a record of four successful coups, Kenya has suffered none. The only coup lasted 6 hours on August 1, 1982. Incidentally, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a former Vice President to Jomo Kenyatta, and his son Raila Odinga, were both implicated in that coup, with Raila being detained without trial for 6 years.
Today, Kenya is managing the petition in such a way that they hope justice will be served and peace will be secured. Last week, the court, in giving directions, ordered that the petitioners and respondents must desist from “prosecuting the merits of the cases in any forum other than the Supreme Court,” and the media told to cover the proceedings in a fair and impartial manner.
Today and tomorrow (March 25, 26), a status conference on the petition will take place after which the court has 5 days to hear and determine the petition challenging the election of Uhuru Kenyatta as the President of Kenya. The court also chooses to publish every process filed in the case to assist with public education. Kenya’s security services, religious bodies and civil society organisations have all been very active in helping to keep the integrity of the nation’s security together as the case runs its judicial course.
I am calling for an organized national action to manage expectations and reactions to this election petition. So far there has been nothing. But, with the hearing likely to begin after Easter we still have time to sit up and make our relevance count.
Two weeks ago, it took Ken Ofori-Atta, an investment banker, in delivering the 2nd Integrity in Governance Lecture of the William Ofori-Atta Institute of Integrity, to point out, like nobody else had done, the dangerous state of apathy the nation has drifted into.
Ken Ofori-Atta reminded us of Bishop Desmond Tutu’s words, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. To Ken it is unforgivable that the country is ominously quiet at this very critical juncture in our political history.
‘LET THE BLOOD FLOW’
“We are withdrawn. The leaders of the society are quiet. Paa Willie would not have been quiet,” he reminded us. It is our responsibility to defuse the tensions by open discussions of the presidential election petition.
We are driving in auto-pilot mode into a hole that we know so well, the kind of revolution that our silence brought about in the past. I speak, of course, a posteriori. Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings is alive today to remind us of how Ghanaians, mainly young, called for the blood of their fellows to flow from the blades of those who acted in frustration against the silence of those who had voice to speak.
We have resigned ourselves to apathy, a kind of c’est la guerre. It is as if our silence has been bought by a president who thinks everyman has his price. The irony of it is that they will buy you with your own money and turn around to ask you to pay for the consequential deficit.
In his bold speech, Ken said, “In the face of injustice, apathy is criminality. To be apathetic toward issues that can destroy our country is to be negligent of the present and inconsiderate towards the future; to be indifferent when your voice can make a difference, or to be silent when those without voices count on you to voice their yearnings, their fears, their aspirations, and their hopes does not amount to being a peaceful person.“
THE NATIONAL PEACE COUNCIL, IDEG, IEA, CDD
Among the worst culprits of this dangerous culture of silence is the National Peace Council, a body set up to “facilitate and develop mechanisms for conflict prevention, management, resolution and to build sustainable peace in the country.” The functions of the Council according to the National Peace Council Act, 2011 (Act 818) include, to “harmonise and coordinate conflict prevention… increase awareness on the use of non-violent strategies to prevent, manage and resolve conflict and build sustainable peace in the country… [and] make recommendations to the Government and other stakeholders on actions to promote trust and confidence between and among groups…”
So how come, the National Peace Council saw it as its duty to play an active role in the 2012 elections, without interfering with the process, and does not see the necessity of playing a similar role in this court case without interfering in the process. Under the auspices of the Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG), the National Peace Council and the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, all 8 presidential candidates contesting the December 7, 2012, polls, signed a peace pact in Kumasi on November 27, 2012 to pledge their commitment to peace and violent free elections. Missing from that meeting was the referee, the Electoral Commission. What similar action can be taken today, which will include Akufo-Addo and Mahama, Aseidu Nketia and Sir John, the general secretaries of the two parties in this dispute?
What has happened to the IDEGS, the IEAs, the CDDs? What gags them now? Or have they all decided to move on like half of Kenya did in previous elections? Are they all quiet because they received one sponsorship or the other to help deliver credible elections and to act now in recognition of the court case is, perhaps, to concede against their individual organizational interest?
HOUSE OF CHIEFS
It is an embarrassment to all these governance watchdogs that it took one president of a Regional House of Chiefs to finally get the President of the Republic to give a vague assurance that he will abide by the decision of the court in this election dispute.
This election petition may be sui generis, but where it has brought us is certainly not a terra incognito. We have been here before and we can save ourselves if we attack the apathy and manage the destiny of our democracy now.
The author is Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko, the Executive Director of the Danquah Institute. [email protected]