I don't know the details of exactly what transpired recently between President John Evans Atta-Mills and a delegation led by Sheikh Nuhu Sharabutu, of the National Muslims Council (NMC), but a news article appeared in the Ghanaweb.com edition of January 22, 2009 captioned “Qualified Muslims Would Be Given Appointments.”
From the look of things, this Muslim delegation, led by Sheikh Sharabutu, also widely recognized as the National Chief Imam, had gone to the Osu Castle to plead its special cause of having a fair share of Ghanaians of the Islamic faith represented in the Atta-Mills government. If so, then, perhaps, such “courtesy call” on the President was almost unnecessary. For Muslims have been a vital part of national governance since the country's re-assertion of her sovereignty from British colonial rule. And to be certain, even President Nkrumah's national coordinator for the infamous Young Pioneers' Movement (YPM) was a second-generation Ghanaian Muslim.
Still, what makes Sheikh Sharabutu's courtesy call on President Atta-Mills quite relevant, inheres in the fact that in the lead-up to the 2008 general election, both presidential candidates of the now-ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) fought hard for the electoral support of Ghanaian Muslims in general, but particularly the public support of the National Imam. And as we vividly recall, at one point during a tandem courtesy call by Messrs. Atta-Mills and Akufo-Addo on Sheikh Sharabutu, the supporters of these then-presidential candidates engaged in a heated confrontational dialogue which nearly resulted in mayhem.
Be that as it may, we perfectly agree with President Atta-Mills' quite savvy, if also diplomatic, response to the leaders of the National Muslims Council that “the appointment of Muslims [like any other identifiable group of Ghanaians] would be based on qualification and not merely on the [purely sentimental] grounds of the appointee's being a Muslim” (Ghana News Agency 1/22/09).
It would also have been quite in order for the former Legon tax-law professor to have directly read the constitutional provision requiring a strict separation of religious institutions from the state's governmental apparatus to the NMC delegation. And such reading would not have had to be addressed to only the leaders of the Muslim community, but also Christians and members of other faith-based organizations and audiences.
One salient thing that we learn from the National Muslims Council delegation's visit to the Castle, regards the imperative need for politicians to refrain from unduly soliciting the favors of religious leaders, as such solicitation would shortly come to haunt them. Of course, this is in no way to imply that our leaders should completely disengage themselves from mutually beneficial dealings with our religious leaders. All that we are saying here is that such dealings must be measured and wisely controlled.
Indeed, in entertaining the sectional pleas of the various national interest groups, care must be taken in order not for some of our leaders to be unhealthily perceived to be shortchanging other groups. For instance, the cynical characterization of the Muslim community, especially the Zongo quarters, as “swing” enclaves in the lead-up to Election 2008, must have angered the larger non-Muslim and indigenous Ghanaian community. For it needlessly created the quite impolitic impression that, somehow, voters from the mainstream of Ghanaian society could be taken for granted.
One thing, however, is quite true about governments constituted by the National Democratic Congress; relative to the New Patriotic Party, NDC governments have tended to politically marginalize Muslim participation in national governance, especially at the highest levels of the executive branch of government. And in recent years, when Muslims have been considered for key executive portfolios, ethnicity has tended to be more of the deciding factor. The NDC appears readily able to get away with such devious mode of operation by simply riposting that it was, indeed, the P/NDC government that guaranteed the constitutional recognition of Friday as a Muslim holy day.
We glaringly witnessed the foregoing during the largely pro-forma NDC congress at Koforidua's Hotel EREDEC, one of the oft-overlooked landmarks of the Acheampong regime. In this instance, the most prominent Muslim contender to the NDC presidential nomination ticket was rudely given the shaft, even as the same culprits vigorously lobbied for the wife of the same shafted candidate to pair with the now-President Atta-Mills in the dubious and obviously, cheaply convenient and vote-getting name of feminism. It is also significant to point out that while the shafted contender is a bona fide northern-Ghanaian Muslim, his wife is a southerner.
Of course, the argument could be readily made that a northern Muslim was once selected to pair up with then-perennial presidential candidate Atta-Mills. Interestingly, however, a close scrutiny indicates that the said candidate was never really endorsed by the life-proprietors and prime movers of the NDC.
And so yes, President Atta-Mills may only ignore the Muslim community at his own peril. Still, one cannot but wholeheartedly, even if grudgingly, concur with the President's determination to prioritize qualifications, or merit, over quotas. The foregoing notwithstanding, it still beats my imagination that one particular invested traditional chief, a veritably deadly “Volta Virus,” who unpatriotically and fanatically campaigned for the southeastern border of Ghana to be open to enable his Togolese relatives to sneak into the country and illegally vote for the NDC and, in effect, also make a mockery of Ghanaian democracy, would be named chair of the finance committee of the Atta-Mills transitional team. Then again, hasn't it been all-too-predictably observed that when Dzelukope Jato barks, Oguaa Fiifi sacks? Go figure!
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of “Ghanaian Politics Today” (Atumpan Publications/lulu.com, 2008). E-mail: [email protected]