A stranger to NPP politics could be forgiven to assume the only stumbling block to Harona Esseku, 71, holding on to his position as National Chairman of the ruling party is his First Vice Chairman, Stephen Ayesu Ntim.
The Chairman has devoted much of his media campaign this week to condemning Mr Ntim, while reserving all the kind words for the other contestant, the Western Regional Chairman, Peter Mac Manu.
He has accused Ntim of bad faith in criticising party failings which as First Vice Chairman, Mr Ntim, 47, could have and should have done something about in the last four years.
But, in an exclusive interview with The Statesman yesterday, Mr Ntim responded, accusing his chairman of not playing fair.
“It's rather unfortunate that my National Chairman, with whom I've been working for the past four years and have maintained a close working relationship has decided to play gutter politics.”
He added, “He has descended into the gutter and I am not going to join him in there. I consider him as my father, and I'm not going to attack him back.” In launching his campaign on August 13, Mr Ntim had assured party members “that my campaign will be devoid of mudslinging, vilification, any form of negativity or personal attacks on perceived opponents.”
Yet, Mr Ntim's proposal to set up Research and Public Relations units in his first 100 days of becoming Chairman has not gone down well with the incumbent at all.
However, as reported in the state-owned press yesterday, during his country tour, Mac Manu's campaign message has included a promise to set up a Research and Intelligence Unit for the NPP.
“The very things that I have said, Mac Manu is also saying them but [Esseku] is not attacking him,” Mr Ntim told The Statesman. “If he should, then he should attack all of us.”
Mr Esseku has accused his Vice of waiting to be hopefully elected Chairman before implementing the ideas he claims he has for the party. But Ntim has an explanation: “There are several things that we have talked about on paper at the Headquarters and the Chairman knows that. The problem is that there has been no money to execute them. And he knows that too. That is the difference that I know I can bring to the party. I know how to raise funds to finance the important process of building the party up. Indeed, we have even discussed this issue of developing a research department at the party headquarters. We've discussed it over and over again. It takes somebody who can raise funds to make it happen,” he repeated.
Mr Ntim, like Nana Ohene Ntow for the General Secretary vacancy, has been severally accused of replacing Mr Esseku (the 2001 choice) as the preferred candidate of President Kufuor. Their opponents have used this rumour of presidential endorsement as a poisoned chalice for the two men. He denies any express knowledge of any such presidential endorsement.
“The President has not confided in me. As far as I'm concerned we all have his blessing. But, if in his wisdom he sees me as the man to lead the party through the important process of electing a flagbearer to replace him then I welcome that wholly and I feel proud. He knows best where his support lies. But, if whatever the sources are it is indeed true that I have his endorsement, I welcome that. If the sitting President supports me and sees in me a gem that can lead the party that must be very good news.”
Speaking as if he almost knew that to be a fact, Mr Ntim continued with emphasis, “For him to express interest in me to become the Chairman then there must be something good in me. So, I would be most proud. If the rumour is true then it means I have something extra good to offer to the party.”
Mr Ntim has no regret about his claim that the party and its activists have weakened and become despondent in the last four years. “They've lost so much hope. They are not motivated enough to work and this has led to the weakening of the party structures.”
One of his proposed solutions is to “economically empower party activists.” While not spelling it out in detail, he said the country's politics must move on from the current situation of “handouts to party activists to a position where the activists are encouraged and supported to become economically powerful.”
On the purported ill state of the party structures, Mr Ntim said, “This weakness is also reflected in the way we respond to issues in the media. He says the state of the NPP is “as bad as the public image. Except, for the Government, we are doing very well than we have been able, as a party, to project. The weakness is due to the missing link between the party and government,” he argued.
He said party activists who were disappointed in the first term of NPP were hopeful about the second term. “But things have not improved. It is the same situation.”
His pledge is to redefine the relationship between government and party and reform structures of the party and introduce innovative but legitimate means to empower activists.
The man, under whose chairmanship Ntim argues the party has become weak today, was the preferred candidate of President Kufuor in 2001.
However, apart from the 24-year gap in age, there is a vast difference in approach between the current National Chairman and his younger contender. Ntim has run his campaign very efficiently on all fronts, including touring the constituencies and bombarding the mass media with adverts. He is running what can be said to be a modern-style electioneering. But, this is mighty expensive. He has denied the accusation that he is looking to influence the party with money. “The NPP is not for sale. If it was for sale the Appiah-Minkas and Akufo-Addos of old would have bought and re-bought it,” he stated puzzlingly. “What is important is new skills and ideas a candidate brings to bear. The legacies that a leader leaves behind for those who would take over. A party cannot be for sale because we would all do our bit and move on for others to take over and continue.”
Some party analysts have tried to explain Esseku's strategy to single out Stephen Ntim. Seen as not a frontrunner, the party chairman is said to see his Vice, who launched his campaign in August, as having a head start and he would rather the Western Regional Chairman took over after him.
He has joined the 'Stop Ntim Campaign'. That campaign, which is prosecuted by several of the old guard, sees Ntim as a newcomer.
But, Ntim says he was a founding member of the NPP, even if by “proxy.”
The information on his website (steventim.com) says it all:
“Steve has been a Founding Member of the New Patriotic Party from` 1992, although he was physically outside of Ghana at the time the party was being formed. However, upon arrival in Ghana in 1995, he got actively invovled in the party's activities by generously contributing in cash and in kind through printed matter party penaphenalia [sic] to the headquarters and distressed constituencies.
“Behind his active involvement was his own father Mr Augustine A Ntim who was the then 2nd Vice-Chairman of the Okaikoi South constituency. The full blooded Danquah-Busiast ensured that his son joined the party as a Founding Member in absentia and also ensured that his son was introduced to certain key party leaders who helped shape the political future of Steve Ntim.
“After operating on the political touch-line through financial and other forms of contributions, Ntim finally decided to get directly involved in the actual leadership of the NPP when he offered himself for election as a national officer and was accordingly elected the National First Vice-Chairman during the 2001 National Annual Delegates conference held at the University of Ghana, Legon and the rest is history.”
The National Chairman has all but endorsed his rival, Mac Manu. Mr Esseku was, for instance, quoted in the press this week as saying, “Steve Ntim was my First Vice Chairman and worked under me. Peter Mac Manu, the Western Regional Chairman has from 1992 worked for the party when he served in various capacities. For me serving as the National Chairman, I am in a better position to assess them. In my candid opinion, I think that Mac Manu has more experience than Ntim.”