08.10.2020 Opinion

Naana Jane Opoku Agyemang Could Be The Most Powerful Vice-President In Ghana’s History

By Kofi Kesse || Sefwi Akontombra
Naana Jane Opoku Agyemang Could Be The Most Powerful Vice-President In Ghana’s History
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*"It’s easy to imagine what is the dynamic between them could be like, and possible to anticipate what kinds of responsibilities she’ll have"*

Selecting a Running Mate/Vice Presidential candidate in Ghana with a lot of fanfare in the run-up to the general elections has become a tradition. However, 2020 is an exception due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the need to adhere to the safety protocols.

For example, the current biggest opposition party, the National Democratic Congress, (NDC) now holds a lot of meetings with members at the apex of the party hierarchy. Also, in outdooring its running mate, the NDC adopted a suitable strategy in line with the COVID-19 safety protocols hence, reducing the usual fanfare that characterizes such occasions. This should tell us the time we now live in and the nature of political campaign and elections we are going to have in 2020.

The process for the outdooring of a female Vice-Presidential candidate to partner the NDC’s flagbearer and its resultant dynamics have not been met with the height of coverage it deserves as seen in 2008 and 2012 respectively leaving much to be desired ahead of us as a nation. This is simply because the outcome of the 2020 election has so many major implications for both Running Mates and their parties from 2021-2024.

Since the inception of democratic rule in 1993, the Office of the Vice President was ceremonial and seemed insignificant until the selection of Late President Mills in 1997 as vice president to President Rawlings. The 1992 Constitution clearly stipulates that the vice president among other things, chairs the Armed Forces, Police, National Security Council Meetings and the Economic Management Team of the government of the day. Based on the above, the office has become very integral to the governance of our nation where holistic decisions are taken and implemented.

The current Vice President, H.E. Alhaji Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, has carved a niche for himself in the area of policies, projects and programmes and; credited with “Agenda Digitizing Ghana’’. Again, he has become the masterful mouthpiece for both the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and government. This is due to his economic development background and most importantly, his strong relationship with President Nana Akufo-Addo. Same could not be said in the early days of President Rawlings’s democratic tenure as a misunderstanding broke out at a cabinet meeting between him and the Vice-President, Eckow Nkensen Arkaah, leading to a permanent fall-out.

Then Presidency of Former President Kuffuor also ushered in a new movement of presidency where his vice, H. E. the Late Alhaji Aliu Mahama became more ceremonial as compared to what we experienced under the Late President Mills and his then Vice-President, John Mahama (JM) to the extent that the opposition could not overlook the work by then Vice President JM; hence the genesis of the term, the “Mills-Mahama administration” by his political opponents. That was how deep their bond was although some strong forces within NDC also had other agenda until the late president’s demise in 2012 which made JM the obvious choice for the party.

We are however entering into an election with new dynamics where the running mates’ selection has become crucial to the success of the Flagbearer and the party in the coming election. This is evident from the choice of the current Vice President whose background became the benchmark for JM CHOICE as he pulled a masterstroke in selecting Prof. Naana Jane Opoku Agyemang (NJOA). The month of July has been about pedigrees of running mates as seen in 2016 with H.E. the Late Kwesi Bekoe Amissah Arthur and Bawumia nominations. The above choices are certainly in line with the conventional wisdom that holds that the vice-presidential candidate matters especially in the gestation period: THE CAMPAIGN. But JM’s selection for the 2020 election does not follow the above pattern. It rather revealed the choice of NJOA was geared toward governing than just winning. It is therefore, imperative to note that, in the event of JM winning the December,2020 elections, his vice president will automatically become the most consequential vice in Ghana’s history. She will be seen as a potential president in waiting; a new signal for the NDC in the years to come, and the most significant player to help Mahama manage the country effectively.

The current dispensation of governance at the Presidency and its diverse obligations are already too much for one person to handle. As Late Mill’s vice, JM was able to redefine the office by assuming a level of responsibility that his predecessors never did. Therefore, much is expected of him to display same level of coordination with Prof., which was rarely exhibited during his tenure with the late Kwesi Amisssah Arthur.

Consequently, it is anticipated that should JM be elected again, he will have to adopt new techniques, and potentially expand the authority of the Vice president office beyond precedent. This is needed as it will be history in the annals of our nation where a woman of an astute calibre is veep. Her appointment comes with enormous challenges. The bigger question is if JM wins, will his right-hand men and women be willing to give her the space required to perform her tasks and mandate for the development of the nation?! Those tasks and responsibilities on her will be weightier as the country combats the real shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic; awakening youth bulge; endure economic challenges; and reckons with questions of our gendered norms across board in our nation’s development.

In my interaction with the former member of parliament for Sefwi-Akontombra Hon. Herod Cobbina, a well-known grassroot politician in the Western North Region for the NDC hinted that “JM’s choice will most likely be the most powerful Veep in Ghanaian history because the trend is towards having a more powerful vice president. JM knows the value of having a vice with lots of responsibilities, and as he is going to come into challenges as a president in his term; almost all his decisions need to be spot on with pragmatic solutions”.

The inference is that JM will serve as a “TRANSITIONAL PRESIDENT” to make way for a new wave of younger and more diverse social democrats’ activism and membership. The choice is also likely to face a degree of attention and scrutiny than other vice presidents ever had. The task for Mahama after his victory would be to maintain a healthy and effective partnership with his vice—without worrying that she’ll outshine him.

Michael Feldman, Al-Core’s traveling Chief of Staff for the US 200 Presidential election once said“History tells us that consequential presidents and vice presidents come out at times where they’re tested and tried.’’ I may be right to say there’s just no chance that NJOA will not be consequential vice president or consequential historical figure.

What was also almost certain about this pick is that, if he’s elected, she will be seen as the heir apparent. This is perhaps especially true looking at her age and exposure after serving as vice president, taking into consideration the issue of a more diverse NDC IN SOME FEW YEARS TO COME, sending beckoning signals to the younger populace that the NDC as a party cares about equal representation at the top of its ticket any day (REBRANDING). Thereby making her job as vice president more challenging as she would be scrutinized and tested to the core which could establish another vice-presidential milestone by launching a presidential campaign in the middle of the first term, while still performing whatever duties Mr. Mahama deputizes to her—something vice presidents have never done.

On the aspect of her launching a campaign soon after election as a vice president will mean she will assume a level of influence over internal NDC politics that some vice presidents in Ghana do not usually have. In carving out an agenda for her own administration by about 2023, she will set up a preview of what the NDC could look like through the rest of the 2020s. If that agenda is more open-minded it will also help energize younger, more diverse votes the NDC urgently will need some years to come, attracting goodwill not only to her campaign, but to JM too.

This is telling because she will have to spend time defining herself as a governing partner while fending off speculation about any conflicts in the Flagstaff/Jubilee House, especially if the press begins to over-analyse her larger political ambitions. If she does her job well, she may be accused of trying to be too independent. If she tries to keep a low profile, she’ll be criticized for not having an ambition.

How she handles these issues will determine her attributes and character as a leader?

Some political pundits have revealed that running mates also swing elections because of their expanded expected role within their administration, therefore, her most important qualities will be her ability to work as part of the executive team and to govern effectively. JM’s experience as a former veep and President respectively can make him enter into a true partnership with his veep as his choice was not based on only electoral politics but instead on her governing prowess as a woman.

As the Executive Presidency we are seeing, will no longer allow Vice Presidents to be nonentities from 2021. They may rather make or break a campaign make or a presidency.

Kofi Kesse-Sefwi Akontombra

An observer from afar

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