Ghana’s landmark election petition hearing got underway at the Supreme Court last Tuesday April 16, but not without the political intrigues and some drama.
Drama started on Tuesday when the three petitioners challenging the validity of the Electoral Commission’s (EC) declaration of John Dramani Mahama expressed reluctance in starting their oral evidence because the EC, 2 nd respondent in the case, had not filed its affidavits.
Hearing had to delay for at least 24 hours when the court ordered the EC to file its affidavits to ensure service on the petitioners by the registry which was done accordingly.
For the first time, the highest court of the land approved the live telecast of proceedings and it has since caught the attention of many Ghanaians.
Many people deserted most streets during the court proceedings.
Justice Annin-Yeboah and Justice Sophia O. Adinyira
Majority of people are showing interest in the process as a result of the live coverage, perhaps taking a cue from what recently transpired in Kenya where a similar election petition was disposed off within two weeks.
‘If that would enhance transparency, so be it, so at least people who haven’t been to court would see that the atmosphere is such that things go on civilly,’ noted Bright Akwetey, a lawyer and one-time presidential candidate of the Convention People’s Party (CPP).
‘I had a look of the Supreme Court from outside on the television screen and I don’t think it was bad at all… I think it is something we have showcased that we should not be ashamed of,’ Mr. Akwetey told DAILY GUIDE.
Ace Ankomah, a constitutional lawyer who shared similar sentiments said, ‘It is a great development in our law, I have always believed in transparency and it includes the people seeing how the courts work.’
‘They may not understand everything, but everybody would learn and we will all be a better nation,’ he said.
Justice Rose C. Owusu and Justice Jones Victor Dotse
Indeed, Ace Ankomah was at the forefront of advocacy for the live coverage.
Kissi Agyebeng, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law in the University of Ghana, Legon, described the live coverage as ‘awesome.’
‘Awesome in the sense that finally our conservatism is withering down and seeing reason, we have been unnecessarily conservative when it comes to court and court procedures. We have made it so exoteric that the ordinary man can’t relate to it,’ he said.
Going High Tech
In a rare turn of events, the judges were hooked onto contemporary technology to aid their work. The Supreme Court bench is now donned with sufficient laptops that would expectedly aid in the expeditious trial.
For instance, during cross-examination, anytime counsel made reference to serial numbers of thousands of exhibits of the trial, the judges were able to track those numbers on their computers in split seconds.
Justice Paul Baffoe Bonnie
The courtroom is always packed and security is also very tight. No room has been given to intruders like cane wielding party supporters who previously stormed the court.
The live coverage came with its own side attractions. The behaviour, facial expressions, composure and reactions of persons in the court room, which would have otherwise been kept out of public view, abound.
A section of the audience has been caught hooting, clapping, sleeping, chewing gum, drinking or chatting in clear contempt of court.
In the course of cross-examining star witness Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, the President’s counsel, Tony Lithur appeared to have shouted at the witness and Justice Annin-Yeboah, a member of the panel told counsel that he was intimidating the witness to which Mr. Lithur said ‘I haven’t. That is how my voice sounds.’
This exchange attracted what appeared to be hooting which in turn received a reprimand from the court.
Justice Sulemana Nasiru Gbadegbe and Justice Vida Akoto-Bamfo.
Justice Jones Victor Dotse, who was the first to caution the audience said, ‘I can see an emerging trend which is not good. Those in the court are not supposed to shout or hoot.’
He advised that if any member of the audience had any reservation the best channel to use is through his or her counsel, adding ‘it is not for you to pass a comment as if you are hooting. This is not a stadium where you can hoot.’
Justice Sulley Gbadegbe even threatened that if the situation persisted the court will order for the courtroom to be emptied.
He said the proceeding was being beamed live on television and it was proper for the audience to show that ‘Ghana is a decorous country.’
In the course of cross-examining Dr. Bawumia, the President’s legal team persistently tried to box him into a corner for him to accept that the petitioners duplicated a lot of the evidence to make it look worst than it appears.
However, Dr Bawumia, an economist did not buckle to Mr. Lithur’s pressure. At a point he retorted, ‘No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to show any duplication.’
It took close to three hours for Mr. Lithur to point several same pink sheets that had been tendered as different exhibits which the President’s legal team said were duplications of the evidence tendered.
Counsel named several polling stations which he claimed had double exhibit numbers and pointed out that the petitioners intended to deceive the court.
President Mahama’s counsel said, ‘I suggest to you that you deliberately duplicated these pink sheets to deceive the court.’
But Dr Bawumia, who shot back, said ‘I suggest to you that I did not deceive the court,’ an answer which drew a loud laughter from the crowd and order! order! from the court’s registrar.
The spin-doctors are busy at work trying to make their case sound better. Even though Ghanaians now have the opportunity to view the proceedings live, the contesting political parties have continued to give skewed interpretations to emerging issues at the court.
Sir John vrs General Mosquito
Meanwhile, NDC and NPP, Johnson Asiedu-Nketiah and Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie have been enacting their own drama in and outside the courtroom, albeit away from the hearing of the Supreme Court justices.
As a result, members of the public and even the Ghana Journalist Association (GJA) have called for a ‘media blackout’ of the two scribes who speak for their various parties.
Yesterday the two men fought off calls for a media blacklist amidst growing concerns that their comments on the ongoing Supreme Court hearing of the election petition are contemptuous.
Asiedu Nketia, who spoke to Joy News, stated that ‘I speak the truth and I point to everything that I have said to be factual.’
‘General Mosquito,’ as he is affectionately called, also accused the NPP of initially making prejudicial comments.
He said it was unfair to compare him to his counterpart, adding, ‘When you lump me and Sir John together, what it tells Ghanaians is that NPP doesn’t want the truth.’
His counterpart, “Sir John” also registered displeasure at these calls. He preferred to recount Ghana’s long road to democracy.
With unhidden amazement, he said he was surprised that “the President of GJA who ought to know better and who ought to protect rights and freedom should be stating that I be gagged.’
He touted his participation in the fight for democratic structures such as the freedom of speech during Acheampong’s “repressive” regime.
However, Dr. Emmanuel Akwetey, Executive Director of the Institute for Democratic Governance, rebuked the two gentlemen.
‘There is public interest in the two gentlemen behaving more responsibly. What they are doing is propaganda. They are talking to their base and managing expectations in a skewed away. They are stoking fire in an irresponsible way,’ he stressed.
By William Yaw Owusu, Reporting from the Supreme Court