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20.03.2009 Feature Article

President Mills Booms

President Mills Booms

The President, His Excellency John Mills has delivered an uncharacteristic “boom”.

The President was addressing members of the Ghana Journalist Association when he decided to get some things off his chest.

The President's outburst was particularly surprising in view of his remarks to some visiting priests on prayers a few days ago and his reputation for calmness. Indeed, over the years, he has been described as the “Asomdwoehene”. The tone was decidedly belligerent.

Amongst other things, the President reminded Ghanaians that there was only one President and one government in power and that is him and the NDC.

During his remarks, the President directed the law enforcement agencies to apply the laws to the letter and to ensure that there is no violence in the country. According to the President, “Certain people think Atta Mills is quiet so he will not apply the laws when there are threats and killings. I will apply the legal process to ensure that peace and stability prevail in the country”.

While he pledged to accept criticism, he would, according to the Daily Graphic, “not accept it when people decided that they had the divine right to rule and that things should be twisted in their favour.”

Initially, it was not clear who had ticked the President off or who his tough message was intended for.

While some felt it was directed at the NPP, many more felt it was directed at certain people in his party.

Those who felt the message was intended for some NDC members claimed that the President was exasperated by incidents like car-seizures and others that when followed by apologies, created the impression of a government which seemed at best, out of control or with multiple centres of power. These were of course not helped by public demands for action by former President Rawlings and others that were invariably granted by government.

The feeling by those advancing this theory was that the President was in effect, giving notice that he is fully in charge of his government.

A few hours after the President's remarks however, his spokesperson, Hon. Ayariga, made it clear that it was the NPP, particularly its parliamentary caucus that had set the President off.

Apparently, the Presidency had taken serious exception to a Press conference by the NPP Parliamentary caucus that had complained about the increasing sense of lawlessness and urged the President and to do something about it. The NPP Parliamentarians had capped it all by warning that they would advise themselves if nothing was done. This firmly put to rest the rumours that the President had been shaken by the rousing “Presidential-style welcome” organized for the NPP's 2008 Presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, upon his return from America a few days ago.

Honestly, the President's outburst was quite a surprise. Since then, the rumours going round in Accra, which is probably apocryphal is that while President Obama is graying by the day, President Mills is getting more temperamental by the day.

First, Ghana does have only one President and he is President Mills. No one else has taken an oath to be President for the next four years and the President can rest assured that even though he won barely fifty percent of the votes, he won 100% of the Presidency. After the 2000 elections in the United States, an aide to the new President told CNN, “Even though he won 49% of the votes, Mr. Bush knows he won 100% of the Presidency. He intends to govern on that basis.”

Second, it is puzzling that law enforcement officials need a Presidential directive to enforce the laws. Does this mean that even while people were being robbed on our streets and attacked by mobs in Accra, Tamale and Bawku, all that the Security agencies needed was a Presidential directive and all those lives might have been saved? We claim to be a nation under the rule of law, not of men. If that is so, our Security services must be up and do their duties according to the law, without waiting for directives from anywhere. The President's assertion, on the very face of it gives the unfortunate impression that prosecutorial decisions are about to get political, that is if they are not so already. President Nixon once said that “there may be a time when the Presidency needs protection from the President.” When he said so, the President was talking about the strictest interpretation of constitutions and human fallibility. I am sure that given President's background as a law Professor, he does not wish the enforcement of our laws to be dependent on whims and caprices of one man, no matter how well-meaning. This feeling that prosecutorial decisions are going to be political has been re-enforced by the former President's remarks encouraging President Mills to in effect embark on a witch-hunt. Even when people are innocent, sustained inquisitorial prosecutions can harm their reputations as well as their finances. The cases of Zuma in South Africa and Atiku in Nigeria stand as testaments to what an incumbent President can do with state instruments of prosecution when he sets his eyes on even the powerful in his own party. In South Africa, Mr Zuma was sacked as Vice-President and tried a number of times by a President of his own party determined to ruin his career and his reputation for corruption. In the end, the A.N.C. solved the problem by asking President Mbeki to resign. In Nigeria, after being hounded for years by the Obasanjo government, Vice-President Atiku finally managed to get on the ballot but once President Obasanjo set his sights on him, he was a doomed candidate. The point here is that we must guard against having, in Attorney General Mrs Mould-Iddrisu's words, “kangaroo trials”.

Third, the President's claim that some believe they have a divine right to rule and are therefore twisting things in their favour was unfortunate.

Over the last eight years, the NDC has been vigorous in opposition. They called President Kufuor names and accused him of many things. Indeed, he was once equated to the notorious Ataa Ayi by former President Rawlings. Indeed, President Mills himself disputed the results of the elections that gave his predecessor a second term. If all that did not portray on the part of the NDC and Prof. Mills a divine right to rule, why does any of the things happening now portray that intention on the part of others?

Frankly, the President should not be worried about the threats by the opposition to “advise ourselves”.

That is “by heart” talk. The security problems, in Dagbon and Bawku, even though worsening, were there before he came. If the opposition could “advice themselves”, they would have solved those problems already. Of course, the President has added Agbobloshie to list of these problems while exacerbating the others with some “by heart” talk of his own.

The exhibition of intolerance by the President should worry every Ghanaian. When the President says he will not accept criticism from those who think they have a “divine right to rule” what does he mean? Is he going to move from not accepting criticism he does not like to preventing the criticism?

The President must be reminded that he took an oath, the Presidential oath—to uphold our constitution which clearly guarantees freedom of expression. Regardless of whether the President likes what the minority said or not, they have a right to say what they said.

Since he made his unfortunate comments before the Ghana Journalist Association, I expect the association, consistent with their commitment to freedom of expression, to condemn the nation and tone of the Presidents comments without undue delay.

The journey from freedom to tyranny is seldom sudden and we must resist the small steps that may set us on our way to tyranny as vigourously as possible.

Fourth, the most unfortunate part of the President's outburst is that he was not even angry with the criminals who are causing all these problems. It is sad that we direct more of our anger at our political opponents than at criminals.

Being upset with those pointing out problems instead of those drawing attention to point the problems out is not good for our country.

Respectfully, to the President, this is not the time to be petty.

There are important issues begging to be addressed.

Amongst these are violence and lawlessness, healthcare, sanitation and job creation.

These problems are the enemies of our progress, not those who are drawing attention to them.

Let President Mills show he is President by action, not talk. The problems that confront us are big ones and they require decisive action, not talk. Action that will make all of our lives better.

When he does that, there will be no doubt about who is President.

While the President gets himself together, he deserves the prayers and support of all Ghanaians. Confronting our problems require the input of all.

These are difficult times and our nation needs all hands and hearts on board. As the tail-winds of the global crisis sweeps across Africa, political instability will be on the rise and we must guard our nation's stability.

Together, let us protect our democracy and move it forward.

Credit: Arthur Kobina Kennedy

Arthur Kobina Kennedy, Dr.
Arthur Kobina Kennedy, Dr., © 2009

This author has authored 189 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: ArthurKobinaKennedy

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