President Mahama’s State Of The Nation Address: Matters Arising

Just minutes after President John Mahama said ‘Thank you’ to members of parliament gathered to hear the State of the Nation address, hell has broken loose. The hawks in the opposition New Patriotic Party, NPP, have forgotten everything he has said in the two hour speech and instead are trying to tell Ghanaians that the president never said anything of importance except the policy initiative to bring education nearer to the homes of all.

Led by their outgoing chairman Jake Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey, the master of black and negative propaganda, he has mounted the rostrum pretending he cares more about Ghanaian attending school beyond the junior secondary school level than even the president on whose desk the buck squarely stops.

Following him in this ‘give the dog a bad name and hang it’ tactics is Gabby Otchere Darko, whose ambition of becoming a minister in a Nana Addo Dankwah Akuffo-Addo-led government is fast fading like the mist before the mid-morning sun as he has also given his interpretation of what the president said.

For the two politicians, the government’s decision to bring education nearer to the people is something not to be tolerated at all because its implementation will leave the party without any unique selling point in the 2016 electoral campaign.

What did the president say that has raised the two men and their myriad supporters’ haunches?

We must remember that in the last election, Akuffo-Addo’s swan song was to provide every Ghanaian child who has completed junior secondary school with ‘free senior secondary school’ education. The electorate did not believe him and so dumped him and his free SHS idea.

Luckily for them, the man who told them that their idea was a dream and could not be implemented has raised the issue and therefore it is time to revive their dream and justify why they must be brought back into office.

For the two gentlemen, the time has come to revive their flagging electoral fortunes. For Obetsebi-Lamptey, who led the NPP to two humiliating electoral defeats and a historical attempt to get into power through the back door using the Supreme Court as the route, the opportune moment has come to revive his dying electoral fortunes as he is facing a tough challenge from younger elements of the party who are speaking the language their supporters understand. The soon-to-be dumped chairman seems to have lost touch with reality as his fumbling and wobbling campaign is dying like a lit candle left on the shores of Korle Gonno beach.

Otchere-Darko’s ambition is dangling in the air as the branch on which he is building his political fortunes seem to be swaying and swinging as to whether he will contest the 2016 elections at all. This is the time for the boss of Danquah Institute to make himself relevant in the scheme of things.

Conveniently, the two have ignored every pronouncement the President made in his address and instead jumped on the education bit to do politics with it. But while doing this mischievous propaganda, they have left the substance and chasing the shadow believing that Ghanaians will buy into this piece of pure mischief.

What did the president say in his State of the Nation address to Parliament? Why should the president’s statement be twisted and taken out of context to suit a certain political agenda?

For those who may not have paid attention to what Akuffo-Addo said in 2012 in the heat of the campaign, I will like to remind them. He promised that SHS will be totally free; he gave no qualification, he gave no indication of how he would do it and neither did he set a time table for the accomplishment of his plan. All he told Ghanaians was that under his rule SHS will be free. Those who believed him never looked at the logistics involved in implementing that decision.

Many questions were asked for which Ghanaians were not provided answers even as at today. By free did he mean there will be no boarding fees? Who pays for the trunk and chopbox – the constant companion of every boarder and how much will be involved in the exercise? The only answer we were given was that it was going to be free, and as Obetsebi-Lamptey is fond of saying ‘Insha Allah’ it shall be.

Now President Mahama has said the same thing or said quite the same thing and cleverly they have taken everything out of context to claim it is their original idea. The hot-headed belligerent NPP MP for
Assin Central, Kennedy Agyapong even went further to demand an unqualified apology from the President over the u-turn on free Senior High School (SHS) policy.

According to him, President Mahama’s announcement in Parliament about government’s plans to introduce a progressively free (SHS) education smacks of hypocrisy and double standards.

“Mahama’s introduction of free SHS should be enough for the National Democratic Congress (NDC) to lose the 2016 elections” he stressed.
These politicians who are chasing their own shadows have conveniently ignored the meat of what the President Mahama said in his State of the Nation Address to Parliament. He never ever said government was going to introduce free SHS at the word go. As he said in the 2012 campaign there must be access to quality education for all which meant those whose classrooms are under trees and other makeshift structures must have permanent and well-equipped classrooms so as to compete against those from the privileged schools on equal footing. New classrooms are being built for these unfortunate categories of citizens whose schools are located outside the beaten path.

What the president said on Tuesday in Parliament was so simple and devoid of any equivocation. He said the school fees of day students will be abolished in the 2015/16 academic year and this will cost the state an estimated GH¢71 million annually. To create that equal opportunity in education the construction of 200 community senior high schools across the country will start by March 3, 2014. These new school blocks will come with all that is necessary and important to give these students the fillip to compete against those from the well-endowed schools.

Kennedy Agyepong however sees it from a jaundiced eye which unfortunately has glaucoma in one and myopia in the other. He cannot differentiate between what his candidate said in 2012 and what the President said on Tuesday.

As far as he is concerned, the NDC should not have dreamt of the free education policy concluding that President Mahama’s sudden interest in free SHS is an admission that the NPP’s 2012 presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo is a visionary leader.

“To endorse your opponent’s idea is politically suicidal. NDC has goofed big time but Ghanaians will be the best judges,” was how he concluded.

Again Agyapong missed the point. What President Mahama said on the free SHS for day students was very simple that only mischievous minds are playing politics with it. He categorically stated SHS will be made progressively free as government will absorb the fees for the day students and this is diametrically opposite to what Akuffo-Addo said in 2012.

Otchere-Darko also sees it differently by going into semantics. By misquoting what the President said “beginning from 2015, government shall make SHS progressively free. First of all, SHS tuition is free for all students, so whatever fees are paid by day students are also paid by boarders, as well. So why discriminate?

Secondly, Akufo-Addo’s free SHS, estimated to cost 750m
or so in the first year, included free boarding plus free meals for day students. To me, what the President said was designed to achieve the very effect we are given it now, which is to create the deceptive impression that he is implementing Akufo-Addo’s free SHS. You may bash him all you want, at the end of day, his (Mahama) cynical aim, he hopes, would have been achieved by blunting what could be,
once again, a ‘killer punch’ for NPP in 2016. But, the two are not the same at all. What many of the anti-NDC commentators have missed is a word in the president’s speech ‘Progressive’.

The president has always argued that free SHS can only be implemented progressively. His campaign message was straight forward; put the structures in place first, make it accessible and then fulfill the constitutional requirement of making education free, albeit progressively. It is completely different from what Nana Addo promised.

The ignorance being pushed down our throats by people who should know better is simply amazing. President Mahama never said he didn’t believe in free SHS, it is enshrined in our constitution. What he did say was the need for equity in access to education before implementation of the free SHS. That was his basis for embarking on the construction of 200SHS’s.

Article 25(1b) of the 1992 constitution is explicit; “Secondary Education in its different forms, including technical and vocational education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the progressive introduction of free education.”

So, how does a constitutional provision become Nana Akufo-Addo’s idea?

The NPP brand of politics is so disgusting. The President has a mandate and he’s delivering on his promises and at the same time introducing new programmes. That is what good governance is all about. Are we saying that the president should be limited to the fulfillment of only his electoral promises? What of new policies that were not a campaign issue but can put our development index on a higher pedestal?

But then again, did the president’s speech totally on education? He talked about the great improvements in health infrastructure which include the rehabilitation of many existing hospitals while new ones are being added.

He talked about the improvements at the Kotoka International Airport, road infrastructure, health and the decision to manufacture anti-retroviral drugs locally, he also talked about the Komenda Sugar Factory, the increase in the number of families on Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty, otherwise known as LEAP, the increasing numbers of students in the two new universities in Brong Ahafo and Volta Regions and most importantly the economy and how to transform it. He announced some of the steps that his government will take in the coming days to bring the economy back on track.

One is bound to believe that these other points sit well with the NPP so they do not have cause to make comments. Granted in politics, you jump at your opponent’s speech to advance your own position but this should not be via twisting words and creating illogical scenarios. What the NPP should have done is to present Ghanaians with a coherent and logical argument as to what they would have done differently given the opportunity and facing the same unstable international economic environment. Crying wolf when even a rabbit is not in sight will further alienate them from the electorate. The next election in 2016 is not too far away. The NPP will again have to rethink its strategy to capture power.

The fault in our democracy, as we have come to know, does not rest in our stars, but our choice of politicians whose concept of development is limited to political campaign messages, and cannot be trusted as a dependable alternative to solidify our developmental values. Let’s reject such politicians and move this country forward.

Comments