8 January 2013

Ghana: This Is the Time for Cool Heads


Accra — Yesterday, Monday, January 7, 2013, belonged to John Dramani Mahama. No one can take that away from the new President of the Republic of Ghana.

After a whirl-wind three months campaign tour of the country on the demise of the former Head of State, John Evans Atta Mills, all the jigsaw came together for the new Ghanaian Head of State. I wish him well, even though there is still a very serious challenge in court to his legitimacy.

The new President swore before adoring fans, composed mainly of National Democratic Congress faithful and 13 visiting Heads of State or representatives. As he keeps reminding Ghanaians, Mr. Mahama became the first Ghanaian born after independence to lead this nation in his own right.

Fittingly, he made it to the inaugural ceremony in the traditional all-while northern boubou, signifying victory. I was disappointed though that his attire did not include the traditional cap to make it complete.

I was impressed with his appeal for national unity. From the look of things, he appreciates the fact that he would have to lead from the front.

Read his lips: "Regardless of an individual's tribal or political affiliation, I will work hard to ensure we all have the opportunities available to us."

I thought one of the opportunities that should be available to all Ghanaians is equal treatment at the Senior High level. I would like to believe that the opportunities available to kids of the three Northern Regions to access Senior High School education, without paying for boarding facilities should be widened to include all children in Ghana.

One of my serious problems with the President on the campaign trail was his avowed opposition to free Senior High School for all Ghanaians. For all I know, one-third of the country has a means of assessing second cycle education that is not available in the rest of society.

Twenty years after the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution, I would like to believe that the time has come for our children to assess quality education without their parents paying through their noses. The President and most of his ministers, tracing their roots to the north, enjoyed free education from the basic level to the university. Why children of the south should continue to be denied their basic right, is one of the reasons why I am angry with the President.

The 1992 framers of the Constitution in their own wisdom made basic education free and compulsory and recommended that second cycle education ought to be made progressively free.

Twenty years after the inauguration of the Fourth Republic came into being, I would like to believe it is time for the Government of Ghana to make it possible for our kids to benefit from free education.

I have heard of arguments from the leadership of the NDC that once conditions were not available to improve on infrastructure and teaching aids at the basic level, it would not be prudent to make second cycle education free.

I beg to differ. When the Convention People's Party of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah decided to make second cycle education in the north free of charge, the decision was not premised on providing infrastructure for Basic level as condition for that.

Today, free second cycle education has benefitted the society immensely. The fact that the President we inaugurated yesterday and a number of his ministers were beneficiaries of the free second cycle concept from the north should make us know that this society would gain more from making second cycle education in the whole country free of charge.

I do not believe that we have to wait for another 20 years, as being suggested by Education Minister Lee Ocran. In Mr. Ocran's own Constituency in Jomoro, thousands of kids are roaming the streets because their parents can ill-afford the cost of keeping them in the classroom, after going through basic education.

If I have my way, I would advise the President to keep Mr. Ocran away from the cabinet. In more ways than one, he has proved to be more irritating than someone who believes in building consensus.

I am happy with the Presidential declaration to keep his promises. "I will keep to my promises," President Mahama told Ghanaians. "I will not let Ghana down. I will work hard to consolidate Ghana's democracy," he pledged.

Certainly, it is not the first time that a President has taken power promising to take all Ghanaians aboard the bandwagon. It would not be the last time either.

Invariably, the moment he left the inaugural grounds yesterday, President Mahama would be faced with the realities on the ground. It is these challenges, mainly from power brokers in his own party, which would tend to make him recoil into his partisan shell. When deceased President John Evans Atta Mills took the oath of office at the same Black Star Square on January 7, 2009, he promised to be father for all.

At the time he was speaking at the Independent Square, three members of the opposition New Patriotic Party had been hacked to death at the Agboboshie Market in Accra. Their assailants were identified as fellow yam sellers at the market, tracing their political persuasion to the ruling NDC.

Four years after the incident, the police have never been interested in the case. There were so many happenings in society under the leadership of the late professor of law, without the 'father for all' instincts ever being pricked.

One hopes and prays that the pronouncements by the President to treat all people equally under his rule would not continue to remain mere paper guarantees.

Yesterday, as President Mahama milked the occasion, he raised his voice and promised hard-up Ghanaians that he would work hard "to ensure a less polarized nation to improve the living conditions of the citizenry."

As a social commentator, this is music to my ears. It is instructive to note that even as we celebrated the birth of a new administration yesterday, nearly half the population of this country was not part of the merry-making.

Followers of the NPP and Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom's Progressive People's Party stayed away in protest against the way the ballot was conducted.

I have heard apologists of the NDC claiming that the lotto numbers received by the PPP in the polls could not translate into stealing of their votes. The issue is not about how many votes the PPP did or did not receive.

What is in contention is whether or not the figures declared by the Electioral Commission and which divided victors from the vanquished, truly represent votes cast in the name of the political parties and their flagbearers.

The PPP loyalists, like members of the NPP, are of the view that the conduct of the poll and the number of votes declared, did not make the poll credible.

That is the same reason that has landed Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and two others in the NPP in court against the Electoral Commissioner, and the newly inaugurated President. As a Ghanaian, my interest in the case is its ability to convince me that my vote was properly accounted for in the December 7 exercise.

One contentious issue is how the President will pull all of us along in this tense atmosphere. I will offer a free consultancy. If the President wants the atmosphere to cool down, it would be in his interest to keep rotweillers in the government and the party at bay. The likes of Johnson Asiedu Nketia and Tony Aidoo could operate from the background.

The President should also consult members of the political divide and constitute a Council of State in which known agitators would have no role. I do not know how the President and his handlers are judging the mood. It is certainly not the time for inflammatory statements.

Those planning the economy are advised to think more about how the ordinary man would survive their austerity than economic theories that do not benefit the ordinary man. The reference to 'Better Ghana' at a time the ordinary man cannot feed the family is certainly not the best means of running an economy.

The President has a task. It is how to pull the people of Ghana together. In the meantime, I wish President Mahama, my very good friend, the best of everything. I shall return!

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