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Foot soldiers menace: ‘It is our turn to eat

For many months after the elections of 2008 that saw the NPP losing to the NDC, youth activists of the NDC were in the news for seizing the vehicles of many appointees of the former government.

The seizure started on January 8 at the Castle and then went to the streets on January 12, according to reports in the press at the time. People whose vehicles were seized included former president John Kufuor’s son, Chief Kufuor, the defeated presidential candidate of the NPP, Nana Akuffo Addo and his running mate, the late vice president, Aliu Mahama, Prof George Hagan who was Chairman of the Centre for National Culture under Kufuor, and past ministers including Shirley Ayorkor Botchway. Many of the instances of vehicle taking were not warranted.

Many former government appointees whose vehicles were seized, some on the streets and others even in church, were duty post vehicles sold to the officers in accordance with policy. Prof Hagan was one of those who bought his vehicle that way and it was still seized by marauding party activists. When it was explained by the former government officials how they bought the vehicles in accordance with laid down policy, NDC members said then vehicles were priced too low.

The activists took their activism to other places including seizing public toilets, because ‘your time is past with your government out of power,’ chasing NHIS staff out of their offices and locking out staff of other state organisations. It was alleged that some activists or people high up in the NDC forcibly took over some government positions and then got the president to formalise the takeover by formally appointing them.

The show of power by the activists/foot soldiers did not end soon. In some regions including the Upper East and Upper West, food soldiers asked that Regional Ministers be removed from office because they were not serving the interest of the party. In some cases the allegations were that the Minister or DCE had sinned gravely by giving contracts for construction works to opposition contractors.

The feeling that the country belonged to only NDC members did not rest with only the foot soldiers whose ignorance one may pardon. When the late Eva Lokko was appointed to one of the state boards, someone fairly senior in the NDC communications team commented publicly that she had reaped where she had not sown. When the MoH appointed a regional director for one of the regions in Northern Ghana, NDC supporters vetoed the appointment and imposed their own chosen director.

The office of the President uttered some apologies sometimes but the party was tacit in its support of what was happening by its deafening silence and hardly anybody was arrested. While all this was going on, the late President went to the UK and was interviewed by Alex Jarkana over BBC. When asked about the seizing of vehicles on the streets and if there was no need for regulating it, the President made this response: “There does not have to be a rule. You are in government and you are given property and vehicles to enable you do your work. Once you leave government, it stands to reason that the property be returned. So if you are using it, are you using it for government purposes or for private purposes?

“I am surprised that the person is talking about the rampant seizure of property. Whose property are we talking about? Is it property that belongs to the people or property that belongs to the state? If there is any property that belongs to the state, anyone in possession of this property must hand it over to the state. Our problem as a nation is that we do not have any inventory of our assets and therefore in one or two cases, there have been some uncertainty about ownership but I can assure you that whatever belongs to the government would be retrieved whether the people in possession like it or not.”

At the time the NPP cried its voice hoarse. Fast forward to 2017 and the boot is on the other foot, with the NPP foot soldiers tending to go beyond the boundaries their NDC colleagues had reached. For instance, the attack on the Security Coordinator in Ashanti Region by the Delta Force who claimed they did not know him, he did not come from the region and they could not work with him went beyond what the NDC activists did.

The militia wing of the NPP has stormed many income earning government facilities and forcibly taken over money and the operations. They have sacked NHIS staff and locked offices. The Kandahar Boys in Tamale caused their own mayhem in the first quarter of the year, locking out the staff of SADA, locking the office of the CEO of the Tamale Teaching Hospital and even firing shots to disperse people who had gathered to demonstrate to protest their actions. Nobody was arrested and nobody was sanctioned. So they returned to the same actions over the same Tamale Teaching Hospital and disrupting a press conference in June. Even the right to express dissent or alternative views is being denied by these vigilantes. When some members of the Delta Force were arrested and were being tried, other members of the Force went to the court and in a rare event in the history of the country, forcibly disrupted the court proceedings for not granting their colleagues bail. In the proceedings the accused escaped, even though they later turned themselves over to the police.

The position of Director General of the Ghana Health Services has been filled in the past after a well defined process involving applications, interviews and ultimately selection. The process may be biased, but at least there is a process. The last DG seemed to have been just removed and the next one appointed. We did not hear that he was appointed in an acting capacity. What happened to the recruitment process so early in the life of our new government? The same applies to the removal of the CEOs of the Tamale Teaching Hospital and Ridge Hospital. In support of Dr Anaba, the NDC said he went through a selection process and came out the best. How was his successor selected? How was Dr Akanbon’s successor selected? We complained about politicising positions and issues under the NDC but in many of the instances of abuse in this regime, even due process seems to have been set aside.

What is worrying about the current happening, as was the case of the events in 2009, is the tacit support of the actions by some leading members of the NPP. Even though the President has condemned the actions and has assured that the police should deal with them, the pronouncements of some leading members of the party should be condemned. The police have assured that they will deal with the culprits according to the law, but we have not heard of people who were arrested as far as February and granted bail being tried, except for the Delta Force members. And that this mayhem which started in January was allowed to be carried even into June, does no credit to the government and the police.

Each incoming government replaces the top brass of the military with its own choice of leaders and that was that. What is disturbing is the seeming desire to extend this change to all leadership positions in the country. Dr Gaisie was not due for retirement when the NPP took over. And the Fire Service has not seemed to be among the institutions whose leadership must change with a change in regime. Yet a few party supporters began agitating for the removal of Dr Gaisie on the grounds of his ill health. The constitution is clear when a person can be removed on the grounds of health and the HR policy of the Ghana National Fire Service must also have some provision on this. The GNFS Council would have applied the provision if they felt the need to.

Other state agencies such as Ghana National Petroleum Company, Tema Oil Refinery, the new Ghana Gas Company, the Petroleum Commission, Cocobod etc have also tended to have leadership aligned to the party in government. Even Governors of Bank of Ghana have been expected to be from the ruling party, to ‘implement party financial policy.’  But the situation is getting ridiculous as it seems every state agency or institution must now be led by someone from the party in power. To many observers, the State Transport Company was one of those that seemed removed from party influence. However, the manner of the recent resignation of Samuel Nuamah Donkor who seemed to have turned around the fortunes of the company and his replacement with Nana Akomea means this is not so. Nuamah Donkor’s resignation letter gave the impression that he was leaving on his own will but the statement attributed to Nana Akomeah that he asked for that position since January means Nuamah Donkor was pushed out.

In the first two months of the year, some youth from Nima were putting pressure for a candidate of their choice to be made the CEO of the Food and Drugs Authority. The Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority leadership has been replaced with a staunch NPP member in the leadership position. The CEO of the Ghana Water Company was picked from the party. Without questioning the competence of the appointed persons, let me state that if a person is appointed to a public office because of party membership, there would be little incentive to be effective; after all the basic factor for their appointment is loyalty and service to the party. And the appointment is seen more as a reward rather than a challenge to serve.

In the first two months of the year, it was disheartening to some Ghanaians when some NPP foot soldiers agitated for the appointment for some particular leaders – ‘because of the role they played in bringing the party to power.’ It would be naïve not to expect that people who spent a huge chunk of their resources including time and financial resources, people who risked their reputation and took in all manner of insults in furtherance of a party’s electoral fortunes, would not be rewarded if their party won. But the leadership of state institutions should not be tied to the apron strings of governing parties.

We must not politicise every state institution/agency. In appointing leaders of some of the agencies that have so far been ring-fenced for loyal party members, one would have expected competence irrespective of the party affiliation of the person. One may say that the persons appointed from the party may also be competent. Would s/he be the most competent if the search is limited to only party members? If the positions of heads of the military are to give security assurance and the position of the Governor of the Bank of Ghana is to ensure compatibility with people in government pushing a certain ideological financial policy, what is the rationale for the appointment of party members to some ‘harmless’ public positions?

The party in government already appoints its members as Ministers and deputy Ministers and as Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives. Ambassadors will be drawn from the party in government. State institutions such as SSNIT, the banks, Ghana Water Company, VRA and ECG do not need to be politicised. So why can’t we have board members and the chairs selected for their competence and not party affiliation?

Another worrying happening under both NDC and NPP is the power given to even community level party activists to dictate who heads the district. The Chief Executive of a district or municipality or metropolis is the head of the whole of that geographical entity, not only the head of party members in the entity. It does not make sense for only a handful of self-serving individuals to jettison the appointment of a capable leader sometimes for very baseless or self-centred reasons. The wave of protests against nominees to the office of chief executives is alarming. The agitations may not all be baseless and a few people may have been nominated who are not capable of being effective leaders. Some may have shady characters and some may be known to be shameless in appropriating state resources. The issue is with party members rejecting a nominee because they do not know him/her or for some other party related reason.

Civil society and the religious bodies have developed hoarse voices from agitating for the changing of the winner takes all attitude in politics. The winner takes attitude seems to be deepening in spite of the call. The President has promised the election of MMDCEs in future. What is the point electing MMDCEs when every state institution is tied to one party? Will the election of MMDCEs actually come to pass when foot soldiers are even rejecting party members nominated through a process that consulted the leadership of the party at the district?

Ghana is for every Ghanaian. And a party wins elections not only because its members voted for it. Those non-party members who voted for it have their expectations and they need to be listened to. Even those who voted against a party have their rights which must be protected. They want fair distribution of national resources. They want judicious use of national resources. They want their rights protected. They want accountability to every Ghanaian, not just party members. They want improved access to quality services and if the person who will lead an agency to deliver this is not from the winning party, they will rather have that person lead and give them the services they want. Enlistments into the Police, Military and other security services should not shut out non-party members. Employment into the civil and public services should be equally accessible by affiliates of all parties. We want a Ghana to which everybody equally belongs.

PS: This article was written earlier but was shelved when it seemed sanity had been restored in the country. Why flog an issue that is being controlled? But the manner of replacing the CEO of the Tamale Teaching Hospital and the action of the Kandahar boys made the substance of the article relevant.

Hence its submission for publication now.

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