Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo yesterday checkmated Prof John Evans Atta Mills when the National Democratic Congress (NDC) flagbearer quoted seemingly outrageous figures to paint a gloomy economic picture of the country during the maiden presidential debate at the Kofi Annan ICT Centre in Accra.
That was not the first time the NDC flagbearer got his figures wrong, having recently been told by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) Communication Committee Chairman, Dr. Arthur Kennedy, that he had lied about statistics he was churning out to Ghanaians.
Prof Mills appeared to have prompted Nana Akufo-Addo to react even when the floor was not his, perhaps because of the gravity of the error the law teacher had committed.
Mills, while stating that the private sector had registered a zero growth and the engine of the industry was not able to crank, forced Nana to cut in. “It is 10% not zero. Simple fact,” Nana Addo said with Mills not responding to defend the figure he had put out.
The much touted presidential debate started on a simple note with the candidates not really giving any serious punches to each other.
The attack on Mills' bogus figures was an opportunity for the Professor to bring in some firepower into the debate but he preferred to be silent, leaving the audience and Ghanaians to draw their own conclusions.
But as the debate continued, Nana and Mills who might have been sizing each other to determine where to hit, had misused such opportunities here and there perhaps because the moderators were strict about the rules.
Prof Mills' body language bespoke an angry man whose answers were by and large intended to be jibes at the incumbent government each time he was given an opportunity to address an issue.
The Association of Ghana Industries (AGI), he said, had told him that for the past 7 to 8 years local industries had recorded no growth.
While he condemned Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as a means of enhancing the economy, Nana disagreed with him, pointing out that even well developed countries like the US still welcomed FDIs as a way of pushing their economies forward.
On what to do with the country's recently discovered oil, Prof Mills said nobody should think that the black gold was struck through their initiative and that it was a gift from God, attracting Nana's comment thus: “If it is not by deed, then it is by luck.”
The NDC flagbearer however raised alarm that there were hawks ready to pounce on the resource to the detriment of the country.
Mills said that the exact quantity of oil was even not known and so Ghanaians should not as a people pin all their hopes on it.
Nana Addo on the other hand stated that arrangements were already on the ground to ensure the right things were done as regards the resource.
While the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation for instance would be responsible for managing the commercial aspect of the resource, another body would handle other areas.
Dr. Edward Mahama on his part asked that transparency be ensured in the industry.
Nana Addo, who had the task of defending the policies of the incumbent political administration, while concurrently presenting his vision when he comes to power, spoke about job creation.
In this area which was one of the subjects tackled at the debate, Nana Addo said he would engage sanitary inspectors, enhance the National Youth Employment Programme among others as a way of reducing the large flock of unemployed persons in the country.
In his reaction to a follow-up question on what he would do with female porters called 'kayaye', he said these girls would be encouraged to learn skills first by being educated at schools that would be established for them.
He announced the establishment of a fund to support small and medium scale enterprises when he comes to power.
Mills saw a solution to the unemployment scourge in the area of skill acquisition. This way, he said, the problem of the large number of unemployed would be solved.
Perhaps it was in the area of foreign policy that Nana Akufo-Addo showed his class having been a minister for this portfolio for many years.
When for instance Dr. Edward Mahama wondered why the artificial barriers between ECOWAS countries could not be removed easily, Nana Addo presented a different picture about the situation.
Being the first of such sessions, the presidential debate lacked the firepower which Ghanaians expected of it, having watched the explosive encounter between Senator Barack Obama and his Republican counterpart Senator John McCain, both of whom are US presidential candidates.
The organisers of the event were strict about the rules and turned away invitees who bore invitation cards of names which were not theirs.
Nana Akufo-Addo by and large proved his mastery of the subjects and his level of confidence surpassed his counterparts.
Paa Kwesi Nduom periodically veered into the history of the CPP's Nkrumah days, and at a point he nearly clashed with Dr. Edward Mahama over the issue of the problems associated with ECOWAS intra-state travels.
Whereas Nduom appeared to have presented a simple picture of the problem, Dr. Mahama disagreed.
On health, Prof Mills did not hit too much at the National Health Insurance Scheme which his party kicked against earlier.
In the area of policing or crime management, Nana had the opportunity to dribble his counterparts because of the strides the NPP administration had made. He presented figures and plans for the future.
The encounter was organized by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) who would take the debate to the Northern Region in Tamale.
The political parties had in attendance their key personalities. Hon John Mahama, the NDC running mate was present as were other personalities.
By A.R. Gomda