... AND BATTLE IS ON, AS THE NPP CONGRESS LOOMS WEEKS AWAY
LESS than four weeks to go before the New Patriotic Party Congress on November 19 and the competition is getting personal, as candidates standing for General Secretary look beyond political merits and instead begin to direct their punches a little lower.
Whilst Nana Ohene Ntow, the widely recognised front-runner in the race for General Secretary, is forced to defend himself on-air against accusations of questionable commitment to the Party, his own campaign team have retaliated by suggesting that main rival Abeeku Dickson has been strategically placed by presidential hopeful and Education Minister Yaw Osafo Maafo – accusations which Mr Dickson denies in The Statesman today, although he has vowed not to become involved with the intensifying crossfire of personal attack and criticism between other candidates.
Mr Ohene Ntow and Andy Appiah-Kubi, another contender for the position, were participating in a live radio debate on Citi FM's Stop Press morning news show Thursday when the question of Mr Ntow's commitment was brought into question. The topic of the debate was loyalty in the Party.
As a relative newcomer to the NPP, Ohene Ntow contends that personal aptitude and the quality of one's contributions should outweigh length of involvement with the Party as the most important qualifications for the new General Secretary.
However, his commitment to the NPP was brought into question Thursday with the revelation that he had previously been approached by the National Democratic Congress Government with the offer of a ministerial position. Having joined the NPP shortly before the 2000 elections, Mr Ohene Ntow has already been unfavourably compared to other candidates because of his short official association with the Party.
“The fact that he was approached by the NDC suggests that Ntow can't be trusted,” Appiah-Kubi said in the debate.
Mr Appiah-Kubi countered that the immediate rejection of the proposal was evidence for his steadfast commitment to the Party long before he became a card-carrying member, however. He also claimed that he lost his job as a radio journalist with Peace FM amidst accusations that he had been using his show to promote the NPP – further evidence of his commitment, he said.
Both Appiah-Kubi and Abeeku Dickson who later joined the live debate as a telephone participant, have said that whilst they would feel comfortable with one another winning the contest for General Secretary, they would be more concerned if Ohene Ntow were to take the position.
Dickson has said that whilst he recognises that Ohene Ntow's former NDC offer reflects little upon his commitment now, his rival is “still on probation” and is not yet ready to assume the position of General Secretary.
Meanwhile, Mr Dickson is facing allegations himself, with suggestions made by Mr Ohene Ntow's campaign team that he has been strategically placed as a candidate for General Secretary by Yaw Osafo Maafo. Whilst Dickson wholly refuted these accusations in an interview with The Statesman Saturday, he also said that he has chosen not to personally retaliate to the attacks but prefers not to get involved.
“I am my own man,” he asserted. He stressed his credentials as an independent candidate, and denied allegations that his candidacy forms part of any slate for the 2008 elections.
His decision to stand for General Secretary is motivated by a desire to reform and mobilise the party for future election success, but not to further the presidential campaign of any particular candidate, he stressed.
Yaw Osafo Maafo, the Minister of Education and Sports, has already emerged as a strong contender for the NPP's presidential candidate in the 2008 elections. Suggestions that the Minister had persuaded Dickson to run for General Secretary in order to increase his own influence over party members in the run-up to the presidential contest are “completely untrue,” Mr Dickson said. He insisted that he was his own man as far as the elections are concerned. “If anything at all, Ohene Ntow should be the one accused of being Maafo's man,” he told The Statesman. Mr Ohene Ntow, the current Government spokesman on Finance, also held the position under Osafo Maafo's period of office in the Ministry of Finance.
However, independent checks carried out by The Statesman reveal that this is not the case. In fact, it is the perceived neutrality of Mr Ohene Ntow which has endeared him to the President.
The accusations of Mr Ohene Ntow's team centre on the closeness of the relationship between the Education Minister and Mr Dickson.
However, Dickson pointed out to The Statesman his close relationship with a number of other leading government ministers in order to highlight what he feels to be the ridiculous nature of recent claims. When he returned from the USA in April 2004, he cited, and was without his own means of transport, Kofi Konadu Apraku, Minister of State responsible for Regional Cooperation and NEPAD, provided him with a car – and he has never been accused of being in the pocket of that gentleman. “That doesn't make me Apraku's man,” Dickson countered.
Similarly, he has a close and longstanding friendship with Alan Kyerematen, Minister for Trade and Industry, but the nature of this friendship has never been brought into question. Dickson gave the further example of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo – another presidential hopeful with whom the aspiring General Secretary has a close working relationship, “but I have never been accused of being his man,” Mr Dickson said.
“I don't understand where the accusations have come from,” he told The Statesman. “They are not true.”