DECEMBER 4, 2016
I do not know who is advising Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) Flagbearer, but it was a grievous mistake he backed out of the Presidential Debate last Wednesday, November 30, 2016, hosted by the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) and the State broadcaster, the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC). I am afraid, he only shot himself right in the foot by his absence.
It was a golden opportunity for him to be seen with the other Presidential candidates, including the incumbent, H. E. John Dramani Mahama, to debate different aspects of the Ghanaian economy, governance, etc. Ghanaians wanted to see how our prospective leaders think on their feet and on the spur of the moment, and how they come up with solutions to problems.
But Nana Akufo-Addo, the leading opposition party leader, not turning up for this crucial debate is tantamount to snubbing the people of Ghana. It also feeds directly into the long-held, deep-seethed perception, whether right or wrong, about Nana Akufo-Addo being arrogant, pompous, self-centered, and always carrying an air of superiority complex about him. Ghanaians are now asking, whether he felt he was more important than the other debaters for him not to show up.
I cannot buy the reasons he has given for not being part of the debate. They are completely untenable. In fact, they cannot hold water.
I have observed with much interest, the State Broadcaster, GBC, give equal coverage to all the candidates in the run up to the December 7 elections. I have never seen any lopsided coverage of its programs tilting in favour of the incumbent or the ruling government. So, for Akufo-Addo to say he did not trust the supporting state institutions because they were the ruling party’s propaganda appendages is completely unfounded. If he cannot trust the state institutions he wants to preside over someday, now, as he desires, when is he going to learn to trust them?
The other reason Nana Akufo-Addo gave for he not participating was that, the timing for the event was not favourable and coincided with his campaign on the field. All the other candidates were also right in the midst of very intensive campaigning, but had to interrupt their scheduled programs to be present for this important event. The President, for instance, in the afternoon of the 30th was commissioning the new Ridge Hospital. He had been to Tema earlier in the day to commission a new cement factory in the Free-Zone enclave. The previous three days had been very hectic for him, campaigning through the Western and Central Regions and commissioning a number of projects. With all this hectic schedule, the President could still make time to be present for this debate. It was reported in the morning that he had lost his voice from catching cold, apparently from staying up overnight on many occasions on his campaign trail, and was on medication. And because of that he did not give a public address at the commissioning of the Ridge Hospital in the afternoon. Journalists wondered whether he could make it to the evening’s scheduled debate. The President actually needed rest to recuperate properly from his cold, but because of the covenant he had signed with the people of Ghana, he had to manage to show up at the event in his resplendent white-white African two-piece boubou.
This is the hallmark of great leadership. It is not about you, but the people you serve. They come first and you have to be there for them at all times. Nana Akufo-Addo disappointed the whole nation by his not turning up. He may have had reasons, but they are not tangible enough. His non-appearance surely will cost him dearly in the upcoming elections.
Ghanaians feel their intelligence deeply insulted by Nana Akufo-Addo’s absence. They wonder what Akufo-Addo takes them for, that they should vote for him just based on his mere wishful promise of one district, one factory and one constituency, one million dollars a year, without it being seriously interrogated publicly in the company of his other contestants? Ghanaians are now politically awakened; they cannot be taken for a ride by politicians and their vague promises, like in the past. They have become so politically astute, conscious and discerning. They know the truth from deceit and falsehood. This is where I feel Nana Akufo-Addo goofed seriously by choosing to stay out of this intellectually stimulating debate. I must say, all the candidates performed excellently well. Now, we cannot measure how Nana Akufo-Addo would have fared next to them. There is no way to tell. And presumptions are not good yardsticks.
Nana Akufo-Addo, also, did not make himself available to the Presidential One-on-One Encounter on GTV. All the other candidates did.
It is an anomaly that the NPP prides itself in being the leading proponents of democracy in Ghana, yet its Flagbearer, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, would not subject himself and his lofty plans for Ghana, if given the presidential nod, to any close-up scrutiny or interrogation through any of these public debates or interview encounters. His conspicuous absence in all these fora rather bespoke volumes about the NPP candidate, as an individual, and his message to the electorate, than had he availed himself of the opportunity to be seen and interrogated up-close by the people of Ghana. Ghanaians are deeply worried and are wondering now, did he have anything to hide?
There have been speculations in recent times in the press about the NPP candidate’s health challenges and his short attention span, that he lacked the stamina to endure the stress, rigor and duration of the debate. Nobody knows the veracity of these rumours and speculations. An appearance at any of these debates would have dispelled – or, not – whatever notions, true or false, people had formed about him.
Now, there is also the growing school of thought, that because the NPP candidate’s cardinal message for change was weak, he did not want to be humiliated before his other colleagues. Furthermore, the Akufo-Addo and the NPP have levelled all kinds of horrible accusations of incompetence, corruption, etc. against the John Mahama-led administration, and painted a very dismal state of the Ghanaian economy, that it was bound for total doom under another four years of John Mahama.
The governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) has refuted outright these allegations and have described them as blatant falsehoods and lies, which Nana Akufo-Addo, his running mate, Mahamudu Bawumia and the NPP were spewing out just to befuddle the Ghanaian electorate, in their desperate bid to seize power at all cost.
John Mahama has said, he did call out to Akufo-Addo a couple of times, inviting him to a one-on-one open debate so that Ghanaians would know who was speaking the truth, and who had a better plan for Ghana, but Akufo-Addo on all occasions did turn down those invitations.
Now, for Akufo-Addo to stay out of this final Presidential group debate, makes it so obvious that Akufo-Addo had been dodging all the other debates and public interview platforms on purpose, preferring instead to hide behind radio station consuls, for fear that the lies and untruths he and Bawumia had been peddling against the NDC were going to be exposed in these public encounters.
It was prudent for them to continue operating from the shadows, a kind of a below-the-belt, hit-and-run tactics. But a wrong, deceitful and obnoxious strategy that was, I must say. By his inaction, or, rather, action, Nana Akufo-Addo has betrayed grossly his devious means to usurp power, at all cost, through telling lies and untruths to the people of Ghana. Ghanaians are wide awake now and are seeing crystal clearly through the veil of his evil machinations.
If you cannot subject yourself to public scrutiny as an opposition leader, where you have nothing to lose, how could you someday in the instance of you being President, subject yourself to the people of Ghana about your stewardship? Obviously, we would have entered the era of Civilian Quasi-Military Dictatorship or Democratic Dictatorship, if there are such phenomenology, under Nana Akufo-Addo, what with the little snobbery and disrespect he has shown the people of Ghana.
In all political democratic dispensations around the world, presidential and vice-presidential debates are very much an integral part of the democratic processes towards an election to elect political leaders for a country. As we build on our nascent democracy, it is imperative we emulate the best examples from the more advanced democracies, and one of the principal takes from those democracies is the Debate.
The recent American Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates between Donal J. Trump and Joe Biden, and Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, respectively, were closely followed around the world, including our country, Ghana, and much-discussed animatedly on social media platforms and on a number of Ghanaian radio and tv political discussion programs. Some of the news channels carried them, also, as topical news items. The global interest in the America Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates underscores the importance of such debates in a democratic election. They help the electorate, especially, the floating voters, in making informed and intelligent choices among, or, between, contesting candidates.
In Ghana, in the run-up to the General Elections in December 2020, there has been an incessant call from many sectors of the society, from concerned citizens home and abroad, for a Presidential Debate between the two leading presidential contenders, President Nana Akufo-Addo and President John Dramani Mahama, the two who, incidentally, have both served one term each as president; President Nana Akufo-Addo, the incumbent and President John Dramani Mahama, the immediate former president, seeking re-election to complete his second term, as allowed by our constitution.
Both Presidents tout their achievements as superior to others. How does the electorate decide between the two? This is where the debate is a crucial necessity to the electorate to make their informed choices. In the debate, the candidates would be interrogated about their term in office, what they did with their stewardship, what they did not do and what they intend doing when re-elected.
President Dramani Mahama on Monday, October 5, 2020, in Sefwi Wiaso, officially launched his retail door-to-door campaign. In his address, he called for a debate with Nana Akufo-Addo. This is about the third time or so I am hearing the Former President publicly challenging the incumbent, Nana Akufo-Addo, to a one-on-one debate.
The President’s office has declined the invitation to any debate. This, in my candid opinion, is not setting good precedence for our democracy and for future generations of politicians; it further raises critical questions about President Nana Akuffo-Addo’s much-touted credentials as, “A Champion of Democracy.” Is he really? Through the President’s many actions and inactions since assuming office on January 7, 2017, Nana Akufo-Addo, I am afraid, comes across more as an authoritarian ruler or a despot, instead of the true democrat we all thought he was.
Nana Akufo-Addo, dodging the Presidential Debate in the run-up to the 2016 elections and appearing the following day at a radio station were clear tell-tale signs of the imperious nature of the President, but we all overlooked it, or, rather, took it so much for granted. My essay above, “Has Nana Akufo-Addo Something to Hide?”, was written in 2016, in the run-up to the General Elections, but was never published.
The content is still relevant today as it was the first day it was written. I feel vindicated by the conclusion I drew from the premise of the repercussions of a Presidential Debate boycott by a contesting candidate. Indeed, that is what we are witnessing now, a Quasi-Military Dictatorship or a Democratic Dictatorship under President Akufo-Addo.
The sovereignty of the nation lies with the people. The President came into office with the mandate of the people of Ghana. At all times, the President’s first responsibility is to be answerable to the people of Ghana. He has to be responsible for their welfare and be ready to meet their wishes and desires. If the people call for a Presidential Debate, the President has no choice but to succumb to the demand of the people; he is, in fact, duty-bound to respond to that clarion call.
Yes, it may not have been captured in our Constitution, making it obligatory for the President to meet that constitutional requirement; however, once it is a best-practice observed in all advanced democracies around the world, President Akufo-Addo taking the initiative to honour this Debate, would go a long way to strengthen our infant democratic experiment.
Anything short of the Presidential Debate would be an affrontery to the intelligence and dignity of the Ghanaian people. It would be such a snub by the President. That would mean, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo (In 2016, Candidate Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo) would have, once again, disrespected and disregarded the conscience of the Ghanaian electorate, by imposing his wish on the people, much against their will.
October 12, 2020
Rikki Wemega-Kwawu is an internationally renowned Ghanaian contemporary artist and writer, born in 1959. He is a keen observer and critical commentator of the Ghanaian political and social scene. He lives and works in Takoradi.