Accra — After an organization spanning three debates at three different venues, lasting three weeks and underpinned by a complex web of organization that has taken years to put together, Mrs. Jean Mensa, Executive Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) gave thumbs up for the 2012 Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates.
"I think the debates were highly successful. All the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Candidates put up remarkable performances. We at the IEA are happy with the outcome and we hope Ghanaians have been served well," Mrs Mensah crowed.
She said the IEA and particularly the Presidential Debate Committee would take a cue from the 2012 programme and endeavour to improve on future debates.
She was diplomatic about the conduct of Mr. Hassan Ayariga when pressed to comment on the behavior of the Presidential Candidate of the People's National Convention, saying his conduct was not the very best and hoped that the national criticism of his conduct would form the basis for the PNC Candidate to reform.
To be honest, Mr. Ayariga was a disgrace to this country. Here was a person claiming to be seeking the highest office of the land but behaving like a paid agent with the brief to disrupt the thinking process and delivery of one person in the quartert of personalities on the floor
In his defence, Mr. Hassan Ayariga told the world two days before the Accra Debate that he was down with malaria. Even then, the PNC candidate never coughed when he was on the floor.
It was only when Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo had the floor that Mr. Ayariga disrupted the proceedings by coughing ceaselessly.
Apart from coughing, which honestly appeared to be induced, rather than natural, he patted the shoulders of Nana Akufo-Addo and referred to him as "my father" or "my grandfather".
It was as if his sole aim of reporting to the State House on Wednesday night for the Presidential Debate was to disrupt the Presidential Candidate of the New Patriotic Party.
To the glory of God, Nana Akufo-Addo was calm and collected throughout the debate. He was unruffled by what some observers described as Communist Inferior Tactics.
He went about his delivery with an assurance borne out of years of leading the fight against oppression and dictatorship from the front.
His confrontations with Transitional President John Dramani Mahama were the highlights of the evening. Dr. Abu Sakara Foster matched the two heavyweights, though I thought the Convention People's Party Candidate was more theoretical than practical.
On first entering the neighbourhood, one got the impression of a very serious happening. Cars parked in rows upon rows at the car park of the State House, created the impression that a new car assembly plant was taking shape.
At the entrance to the State Banquet Hall, a long queue was taking shape, occasioned by the overzealousness of security agents, making sure that with the sitting President in attendance, there was no room for any security lapse.
As one entered the Hall, the voices of the Winneba Youth Choir singing patriotic and gospel songs, soothed the onlooker.
Unlike in Tamale and Takoradi, where the Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates got off to a flying start at exactly the publicized time of 7pm, the Debate in Accra, was a quarter of an hour late in starting.
It was 16 minutes past seven, when the booming voice of Mr. Samuel Agyeman of Metropolitan Television fame, who was the Master of Ceremonies for the occasion, called the function to order.
Young men and sweet maidens blowing their horns led the four contestants, President John Dramani Mahama, representing the National Democratic Congress, Convention People's Party's Dr. Abu Sakara Foster, Hassan Ayariga, supposed to be leading the PNC, and NPP Presidential Candidate Nana Akufo-Addo to their seats.
The Winneba Youth Choir sang the National Anthem before Most Rev. Emmanuel Asante, Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Ghana and Chairman of the National Enforcement Body of the IEA offered prayers.
The head of the Methodist Church in Ghana, prayed for God's guidance to enable Ghanaians come to understand that politics was about choice and not war.
It appeared that it was a very innocuous prayer. But it was a wish pregnant with meaning. With a number of clergy men under attack, mainly from the followers of the ruling NDC for merely preaching their sermons, Most Rev. Asante was obviously calling on divine intervention to stop the agitation from escalating to something nasty.
A minute's silence was observed in memory of former Vice-President Alhaji Aliu Mahama who has joined his ancestors, after which Mrs. Jean Mensa took the floor to give an insight into what informed the institution of the Presidential Debates.
The debates were founded on the principle of upholding electoral accountability. "Those who wish to govern," she submitted, "must submit themselves to probing questions by the people, to ensure that they understand the concerns of the electorate, and have capacity to address them."
When Pastor Mensah Otabil, Head of the International Central Gospel Church and Chairman of the Presidential Committee of the IEA, was called to the podium to welcome contestants, the cemetery silence that greeted the announcement, told a lot about what is happening on the Ghanaian political front.
Pastor Otabil told the audience that the debates offered a platform for Presidential Candidates to share their concepts of the governance process with the people of this country. It also offered the electorate an opportunity to weigh the various candidates and to help them make up their minds about whom to vote for.
When the familiar voice of Pastor Mensah Otabil had faded, the two moderators, Prof. Jean Naana Opoku Agyeman, the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast and Mr. Kwadwo Oppong Nkrumah of Joy FM, took over and began firing the questions. The first rounds of questions were on law and order, and what the various candidates would do to reduce crime.
President Mahama, who took the lead in answering the questions, talked of increasing the number of Police personnel to fight crime. He told the gathering that his administration had boosted the number of men and women in the black uniform by 4,000 and that as a result of the vigilance of the various agencies fighting crime - the police, Economic and Organised Crime Unit, the Narcotic Drug Unit, etc, crime had generally dropped, with the exception of rape and defilement cases.
Dr. Abu Sakara announced that CPP would introduce a one-year compulsory military service as part of the effort to fight crime, while Mr. Ayariga talked of the PNC's programme to bring back the border guards, disbanded after the reign of the Supreme Military Council of Gen. Kutu Acheampong and Lt-Gen. F.W.K. Akuffo.
Predictably, Nana Akufo-Addo took issues with the submission by President Mahama that crime in Ghana had gone down, citing many instances of armed robbery to buttress his claim that crime was on the rise and that the Government appeared to be unaware of the harm Ghanaians go through on daily basis.
Confrontations between the two leading candidates were the main features of the debate. It got to a crescendo when the theme moved to corruption.
Nana Akufo-Addo submitted that that payment of GHÂÂ¢51 million to Alfred Agbesi Woyome and several other payments in respect of 'consent judgment of the two parties' that featured in what has been termed judgment debts were corruption of gargantuan proportions.
In response, President Mahama submitted that those huge payments were induced by reckless abrogation of contracts by the NPP administration, forcing Nana Akufo-Addo to make use of the rebuttal process.
The NPP leader told the President that in the case of Woyome, for instance, the Government which paid the money, without due process was in court seeking the order of judges to collect the monies back, on the premise that no contract existed, tying the Government of Ghana to those payments.
The two leading candidates clashed on gender issues, when the NPP Candidate openly derided the sitting President and his Government for what he called the failed policy of ensuring that 40 percent of state jobs were reserved for women.
Mr. Mahama's explanation that the NDC administration could not implement the policy, because it could not identify enough women with the pedigree to fill vacancies, appeared not to have impressed the audience.
There were bitter exchanges between the NDC candidate and his NPP counterpart, when Nana Akufo-Addo claimed that a United Nations report had indicted Ghana for harbouring dissidents plotting to overthrow the regime of Allassane Ouattara regime in la Cote D'Ivoire.
Without addressing the UN concerns, President Mahama told the gathering that he had been chatting with his Ivorian counterpart all the time, and that there had been no complaint from La Cote d'Ivoire on that issue.
On the whole, it was a fairly good night for politics in Ghana. The evening seemed to indicate that politics in Ghana was beginning to respond to the need for issue-based campaign, and not attacks and character assassinations.
As former President of the Sports Writers Association of Ghana, I was disappointed that not a single question was asked on the vibrant sporting arena. With the Black Stars preparing to take on the continent in the 2013 African Cup of Nations in South Africa in January, it was disheartening that the organizers failed the sporting test.
On the whole, it was an interesting exercise which confirmed the battle-readiness of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to take on the mantle of leadership of the nation. The NPP candidate has one foot already at the gate of Jubilee House.