Various dates become part of a nation’s collective memory for all kinds of reasons. There are dates with political significance like our independence day; birthdays of famous people like the first leader of our nation, Kwame Nkrumah; there are dates on which things happened that we dare not forget, like the day on which the father of our independence movement, Joseph Boakye Danquah, died tragically in detention without trial. To commemorate those days, be they happy ones or ones of intense sadness, is to make sure we keep the lessons of those events fresh and learn from them.
Exactly one year ago, on 29th August, 2013, the Supreme Court, the highest court of our nation, delivered a 5-4 majority judgment that brought an end to the election petition that Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey, Mahamudu Bawumia and I had filed on behalf of the NPP. After proceedings that lasted for eight months of high drama, the Court rejected the petition and declared President John Dramani Mahama the legitimate winner of the 2012 elections.
As the case progressed and the details of what went on at the elections emerged, many were openly contemplating the probability of a sitting president being asked to step down. The world looked on and held its breath and worried about the stability of our nation. Some predicted doom and the outbreak of violence at whatever verdict came from the Court. Everybody prayed and there were many raw nerves on that August 29 morning.
It did not help matters that the court proceedings on that morning were, unfortunately, somewhat bizarre, raising tensions to almost intolerable levels. But, ladies and gentlemen, Ghana came out with her peaceable and democratic credentials enhanced. We proved to the world that we were willing and able to submerge our individual and partisan preferences to the common good. We demonstrated clearly that it was not the ambitions of Akufo-Addo, it was not the fortunes of the NPP that we sought to promote. The stability and progress of Ghana was the paramount consideration that guided our every action in those difficult days.
At the beginning, some questioned whether we should ever have gone to court at all. By the end, I believe it is fair to say that question was answered comprehensively and with unintended consequences. New words and phrases have entered our lexicon; “you and I were not there“; „the finger of God”; and Dr Bawumia has acquired new titles, out of which my favourite is Dr Pink Sheet.
The message from the majority on the Court was clear: we might agree with a petitioner that strange things occurred during the elections, we might all be dissatisfied with the performance of polling agents, we might ask for presiding officers that are literate and numerate, we might even agonize about infractions of electoral regulations, but what happens at the polling station is sacred and results declared there will not be reversed.
We have taken that message to heart.
I suspect that the Electoral Commissioner will no longer be in a hurry to tell anybody to go to court when the actions of the Commission are challenged. I am certain most of us will hesitate to take electoral matters to court; the lessons have been well learnt. The NPP is taking these hard lessons seriously and will approach all future elections with the experience of the Court very firmly in mind. A major lesson is the need for maximum vigilance on the part of NPP people so that we can protect our votes and ensure that our victory is correctly recorded and reported from the polling station.
The greater lesson for us as a nation is that we seek to improve our electoral process as a whole, based on the revelations that emerged from the court hearings. The strength of any democracy is very much determined by the credibility of its electoral process and it is in everybody’s interest that we all develop an instinctive respect for the rules and regulations set out for our elections. Never again should anybody feel tempted or emboldened to tamper with any aspect of the voting process — the registration, the verification, the casting of ballots, the counting, the tabulation or the declaration. The idea of anybody in the electoral process changing the figure 27 to “twenty-seven zero” should shame us all.
We must work to ensure that there should not be any lingering questions about the legitimacy of an election and the winning candidate at the end of the process should receive the unalloyed support of all. There will always be winners and losers in an election; that is the system of governance we have chosen. It is painful enough to lose an election, I can testify to that; but the pain should not come with a suspicion of having been cheated. We should be able to congratulate the winner enthusiastically and extend the support needed for our many problems to be tackled. This will ensure that the winner has some time and peace of mind for the serious business of governance, without having to deal with the nonstop politicking of the electoral cycle.
A recent ruling by the Supreme Court on the use of NHIS cards will be helpful in making the distinction between those who are citizens and qualified to vote in our elections and those who are our neighbours or residents in the country and can use our health facilities.
The election petition also had the effect of bringing the Supreme Court and its officials and practices into the public space. For the first time, the proceedings of the court were covered live on public television. It turned out to have been a steep learning curve for all concerned. I am glad that the Chief Justice took the brave decision to have allowed the cameras into the court. This has contributed very much to a better understanding of the proceedings and I am certain posterity will thank us all. The advantages from the public airing might not be too obvious to the justices at this stage, but it is certainly for the public good that the judicial process has been demystified.
Ghanaians everywhere should come together, irrespective of our political affiliations, to demand peacefully the best for our country. Going into the 2016 elections, let us demand that the Electoral Commission implements the reforms recommended by the Supreme Court, the Ghana Political Parties Programme (made up of the NPP, NDC, CPP, PPP, PNC, GCPP) and civil society to safeguard and ensure the credibility and integrity of our elections.
The Electoral Commission must work with these and all other stakeholders to ensure that Ghana has a reliable electoral system. Ghanaians deserve and demand a reliable electoral system, which is necessary for the peace and stability of our nation and the growth of our democracy. We must insist that the Electoral Commission makes a serious effort at implementing electoral reforms. Chief amongst these has, surely, to be the making of a new, accurate voters‘ register to replace the bloated one we have at present. That is the way to guaranteeing a credible base document for our future elections.
Today, we can look back on 29 August, 2013, as the day that marked a significant coming of age in the Ghanaian democratic process. Personally, the day might have brought a painful and difficult end to the 2012 elections, but it also helped me see my compatriots in an admirable light. As a Ghanaian, I will be forever proud of the way we elected to deal with our victory and our disappointment; I will always remember that when it came to the crunch, we placed the interest of our nation above that of ourselves and groups, and I will never forget the dignity with which the NPP members, in particular, conducted themselves.
The day recalls for me the pride that I continue to have in the sheer brilliance of the lawyers, led by Philip Addison, who argued so compellingly for the petitioners and who have now become famous for their deeds.
I said that day that everything in my bones, in the way I was brought up and in how I have conducted my life thus far, made it imperative that I accept a decision of the highest court of our land, even though I might disagree with it. I thank the Lord that He gave me that inner strength to display the leadership when required. As predicted, our reaction to the judgement was keenly watched and one hopes it set a precedent for the guidance of the rest of Africa.
If I have any regret, it is that the conditions in our country are worse than they were a year ago. Our economy is in a crisis, businesses are collapsing, the cost of living is unbearably high for the ordinary person, our youth remain without employment, our children are failing in their examinations, and we are experiencing strikes all over.
On that red-letter day a year ago, I said it was time for all of us to come together and work to find solutions for the many problems that we face. It was up to the President to seize the moment and offer the leadership to move the nation forward. Unfortunately, this has not been forthcoming.
Today, I am back in the hurly-burly of frontline politics and my enthusiasm is undiminished. I believe I can, in all humility, provide the leadership that is needed to get the NPP back into power and Ghana into prosperity if the NPP honours me again with the mandate to lead the party into the 2016 presidential election.
Let us all together set our sights on the sun-lit horizons and prospects that await the Black Star of Africa when Ghana is again under good leadership.
God bless the wonderful people of Ghana!