Ato Cudjoe on the brink Ebo Quansah meets the man likely to represent Ekumfi in the next Parliament
Mr. Ato Codjoe, Mfantseman East MP Aspirant
He has an uphill task unseating the National Democratic Congress in the Mfantseman East constituency. But, young and affable Ato Cudjoe is relishing the battle to get the nod of his people to represent the constituency in Parliament on the ticket of the New Patriotic Party (NPP). Since Constitutional rule returned to the body politic in 2003, Mfantseman East has always presented a National Democratic Congress (NDC) member to the House.
Mrs. Comfort Owusu was in Parliament for 12 years, representing the NDC. After her came Mr. George Kuntu Blankson, who took over the mantle from 2005 to present. Mr. Blankson, a former District Chief Executive for Mfansteman, ends his term this year. He lost the NDC primary to Mr. Abeeku Crentsil, who is preparing to square up with Ato Cudjoe in a very exciting contest. Both are young and enthusiastic. But, that is where the similarity ends.
Cudjoe, a graduate of the University of Ghana, Legon, with a Master's degree in Finance and Administration from the University of Ghana Business School, is heads and shoulders above the NDC candidate in terms of popularity and the ability to express the concerns of the citizens of the Ekumfi Traditional Area.
At the opposite end of the political divide is Abeeku Crentsil, a businessman who left the classroom early to pursue his ambition of making money. He holds a technical Grade II certificate. He is relishing the prospect of continuing where Comfort Owusu and Kuntu Blankson left off.
The battle is intense. Everywhere one goes in the newly-created Ekumfi District, one is infected by the keenest of the battles in December. Abeeku is defending the record of the government, and is buoyed by the fact that the President of the Republic, Prof. John Fiifi Atta Mills, hails from Otuam, the largest town in the Ekumfi District, with a well known tradition of Asafo drummers and dancers.
Abeeku and his NDC faithful are milking the constituency's link with the Head of State. Cudjoe, on the other hand, is relying on his network of young campaigners, who have formed the Ato Cudjoe Fan Club and are making very serious inroads into the heartland of the NDC.
At Ekumfi Ekrawfo, which is the bedrock of NPP activism in the constituency, there is a certain air of confidence that the Golden Fleece is within sight. 'We are motoring,' Yaw Saakwa, one of the foot-soldiers of the Ato Cudjoe Fan Club, said at the weekend. 'We have succeeded in getting many young and old to look on the brighter side of life with the NPP.'
NPP flagbearer Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo's concept of free education is also working magic. 'Who would not like to go to school free. I am a second year student at the SHS. At the moment, I am struggling to meet my academic user fees, even as a day student. If I have the opportunity of entering a boarding house at the expense of the state, I will grab it with both hands. I am not only going to vote for Nana and Ato Cudoe, I am on the campaign trail, Wahab, a student of the Ekumfi Ahmadiyya Senior High School, explained why he has embraced the Nana Addo/Ato Cudjoe tickets in Mfantseman East.
Ato Cudjoe himself looked very confident when I met him at his plush residence under construction at the outskirts of Essarkyir, his birthplace and hometown.
'It is not easy. But, with the prayers of everybody, we shall make it. I have toured the constituency a number of times. Anytime I undertake such visits, I get the message to try harder. The Ekumfi District is poor. We have had the NDC representing this constituency since the advent of the Fourth Republic. We have sent a woman and man who failed to articulate the concerns of the district in the House,' Ato Cudjoe lamented.
'I feel like a man on a mission. We have to redeem Ekumfi from the clutches of ignorance and its attendant poverty. I was researching into the background of representation of Ekumfi in Parliament, and was surprised at the quality of representation from the beginning. Even in the early stages of nationhood, Ekumfi had very solid representation. How come that we now have people in the House who could hardy raise the concerns of this newly-created district,' he asked rhetorically.
'In 1951, 1956, 1960 and 1964, Ekumfi was represented by S.K. Otoo, a language expert who wrote a number of Fante literature books. During the Busia era, Nana Amuah Sekyi was in Parliament representing Ekumfi on the ticket of the Progress Party. During the Third Republic, the late Rockson of Rockshell fame was the Member of Parliament for Ekumfi. I think he was a member of the PNP (People's National Party) of ex-President Hilla Limann.'
Cudjoe said the people in the constituency would get it right this time round. 'We have to look at the quality of representation at the local level, before looking at the national picture.'
At the moment, so much is being made of the reconstruction of the Esuehyia-Otuam road, as well as the re-graveling of the Esuehyia-Ajumako Road. The construction of a dam to provide water for Otuam and many of the coastal towns and villages has provided propaganda material for the NDC, which has won every election in the Ekumfi area, since the return of constitutional rule.
Issa, a die-hard NDC activist, concedes that the campaign is proving to be more difficult for the party in power than usual. But, the construction of roads and the dam is giving the party the edge. He reckons too that the fact that the President hails from the area is also an asset.
He complained that the NPP is trying to use negative tactics like the President's failure to register in the constituency as a propaganda tool, a fact that is not lost on the NPP parliamentary candidate.
'We are talking about very serious issues here,' Ato Cudjoe stated. 'Nana Akufo-Addo registered in his constituency at Kyebi, his home town. We all read and saw pictures of his registration and that of his wife. Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom of the PPP (Progressive People's Party) registered at Elmina his hometown. Where did President Atta Mills register? We are told that the President registered in Accra,' Cudjoe said.
'Does it mean that President Mills does not care about us here in this constituency? Now, tell me something,' he posed. 'Does the President truly come from Ekumfi? What is the evidence of his link? I do not think even the people of Otuam know his house. Has he built even a hen coop at Otuam, where one could identify with the President?'
Apparently, not every citizen is happy with the fleeting presidential visit to Otuam last week. According to a number of residents this reporter talked to, the presidential motorcade wheeled into town and headed for the chief's palace. After a brief encounter with the chief, President Mills was said to have visited a registration centre and zoomed off with people holed in at the Otum Community Centre waiting to be addressed by the President.
The NPP parliamentary candidate would like to see more commitment on the part of the President to matters concerning Ekumfi. 'It is an honour for the President to come from Ekumfi,' said the NPP parliamentary aspirant. 'But, the President should be seen to be taking active interest in the district. Ekumfi should not only be remembered when it is getting to elections. If the President believes he is one of us, let him exhibit the fondness for the area and its people.'
In the interim, the Ato Cudjoe message is ringing loud and clear in Ekumfi. I am told that students of the Ahmadiyya Senior High School have registered in their numbers. They are excited that one of their own is on the verge of going to Parliament. The Ato Cudjoe message has caught on like wild fire, and everything being equal, the former student of E-Amass will rise to become an Honourable Member of the House. Ekumfi is fast embracing the Ato Cudjoe message!