A Tale Of Two Abdications!
In the month of February, two remarkable events occurred regarding Chieftaincy affairs in the Asante Region of Ghana. Nana Gyimah Kesse I, the Chief of Jamasi, and Nana Ponko Baffour, the Chief of Tafo announced their abdications. The nature and circumstances surrounding these two abdications; and the lessons to be learned thereof, are truly significant for the continued honor and support that Chieftaincy enjoys in our culture. The former Chief of Jamasi, Nana Gyimah Kesse I, has set an exemplary precedent that one hopes will be a lesson for other Stool and Skin claimants throughout Ghana. Rather than plunge his town into endless and costly dispute that would needlessly strain relationships at Jamasi, Nana Gyimah Kesse I took the statesmanlike decision to abdicate unconditionally. Nana Gyimah Kesse had been enstooled as Chief of Jamasi in 1996, and as tradition required had sworn the oath-of-allegiance to the paramount Chief of Mampon whose domain includes Jamasi.
According to a report in the Daily Graphic, Nana Gyimah Kesse took the decision to avert further litigation and acrimony by his antagonists led by Nana Akua Boatemaa Oni, the Queenmother of Jamasi. A major test of leadership when faced with crisis, is the ability to recognize when to fold, and when to persist. Nana Gyimah Kesse recognized the futility of further litigation and he did the right thing by abdicating his office. hat is even more profound is that Nana Kesse also sought to disarm his supporters and antagonists alike from causing unrest by releasing a statement that was profound in its appeal to commonsense and unity. He said: "If throughout the process, I have offended anybody or group in Manhyia (i.e. Asante traditional officialdom), Jamasi, or elsewhere, I apologize most profusely". Nana Gyimah Kesse who is known in private life as Charles Allen Gyimah has proven that he is a leader of unique caliber and quality. I hope he will continue to assist in the development of Jamasi, as he has promised to do.
No such statesmanlike qualities were shown by the other Chief who abdicated his office. Nana Ponko Baffour, ex-Tafohene, has set the standard to be avoided by subsequent embattled Stool claimants. Indeed, as chieftaincy disputes go, the example of the fifteen-year Tafo case can charitably be described as bizarre. Tafo, a mere four miles from Kumase has had a glorious history. Tafo was already known as an important gold trading center in the sixteenth century. When some Oyoko Clan members under their leader Oti Akenten left Kokofu (in the 16th century), to seek a better life elsewhere; they ended up in the area of modern Kumase. The entire area was owned by the Chief of Tafo (or Tafohene), Nana Kwaku Dompo who ceded part of the land to Oti Akenten. Oti Akenten named the area Kwaeman because of the lush green forest; it was renamed Kumase under Nana Osei Tutu Opemsuo I in 1701.
In recognition of that kind gesture, the Chief of Tafo was assigned the administrative and military command of the Left Division or Bekumhene of Kumase under Nana Osei Tutu I, the first King of Asante. The Tafohene is also the head of the Agona Clan in Asante (the King of Denkyira being the national head of the Agona Clan). Tafo has also played a significant role in the development of Asante, and ipso facto Ghana. The Chief of Tafo gave land for the construction, among others of Mmofra Turo (an elite girls preparatory school), Wesley College, Kumase Girls Secondary School, Osei Kyeretwie Secondary School, and Suame Magazine (a large auto repair area in Suame)! The huge Tafo Cemetery, is of course part of the largesse the Tafohene has accorded Asante. With such a memorable history, the Chieftaincy dispute that tore Tafo apart for 15 years, until Nana Ponko Baffour finally abdicated last month was anticlimax.
On May 28, 1986, Nana Boadu Kwadwo, the Chief of Tafo expired. Somehow, the king-makers managed to settle on Mr. Yaw Anane, a lawyer as the successor to Nana Boadu Kwadwo. I will not go into the family intrigue and the rumors that made the Queenmother Nana Adwoa Konadu name Mr. Yaw Anane as her choice, suffice it to say that this decision was met with a quick and defiant opprobrium from the people of Tafo led by the Abusuapanyin of the royal Agona family Opanin Kwaku Buor. The people preferred Mr. Kwasi Frimpong who had vacated his job in the state of Iowa, USA; to contest the office in the aftermath of the death of the Nana Boadu Kwadwo, and has remained in Tafo since. Mr. Frimpong was reckoned a "true" royal. While it remains an unpardonable malfeasance under Asante customary law (pronounced by the priest Okomfo Anokye at the beginning of the 18th century), for even the King of Asante (Nana Asantehene) to divulge the origins of his subjects, claimants to Stools must prove beyond all doubt that they truly belong to the royal family by birth, and not by circumstance.
Against the objections of the people of Tafo, Mr. Yaw Anane swore the oath-of-allegiance to Otumfuo Opoku Ware II, (Asantehene) under the stool name Nana Ponko Baffour. Notwithstanding the swearing-in which provided the Asantehene's imprimatur to the new Chief, litigation continued. In the end, the Ghana Supreme Court ruled in his favor, and confirmed Nana Ponko Baffour as Tafohene. Without casting aspersions on anyone, let me say that the Tafo case represent everything that can corrupt the chieftaincy institution in Asante and Ghana. When an embittered Queenmother, corrupt king-makers, and deep pockets (or huge purses) find common cause, the dignity and future of chieftaincy fall into disrepute.
Whenever a Chief swears the-oath-of-allegiance to the Asantehene, the latter offers the new Chief what is called "Esom Kahyire" in the form of a sheep to be used to perform certain rites to the Black Stools of the departed Chiefs. This gesture is intended to complete the enstoolment, and ease the Chief's transition into his new responsibilities. Since the people of Tafo were adamantly, and religiously opposed to the enstoolment of Nana Ponko Baffour, he was never able to set foot (not one toe!) in Tafo. Consequently, for the 14 years that he officiated in functions at Manhyia Palace under Nana Opoku Ware II; Nana Ponko Baffour could not perform even the most rudimentary of traditional and customary rites at the Chief's Palace at Tafo to justify his office. Folks, it was pure pretense that under the circumstances Nana Ponko Baffour decided to continue in his role as Chief and prolong the litigation, when he could neither visit the seat of his domain, use the recognized Tafo Stool regalia; or even behold any of the trappings of his office at the Tafo palace.
While the dispute lingered, the Queenmother of Tafo, Nana Adwoa Konadu died in April 1995. Well, since Nana Ponko Baffour was not 'recognized' by the people of Tafo; he could not be expected to preside over the funeral rights of the departed Queenmother. In fact since the Tafo royal family did not recognize the claims of Nana Ponko Baffour, they refused to inform him of the Queenmother's death as tradition and custom required. Consequently, for the past 6 years, Obaapanin has been resting, not yet, and certainly, not quite peacefully at a mortuary in Kumase. It has cost the good people of Tafo millions of cedis (which could have gone for development projects) to ensure that the the body of the Queenmother remained at the mortuary. Democracy is indeed expensive; but its benefits are exhilarating.
With the accession of Otumfuo Osei Tutu Opemsuo II as Asantehene in April 1999, some expected a quick decision in the Tafo case, because the farce was rather evident: You see, if I am a Chief, and I am unable to visit the seat of my chiefdom to perform the necessary customs; wherein lies the justification for the continued presumption of my being the Chief! Further, within a year of his assumption to office, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II had seen the dangers of Chiefs seeking redress through the Civil courts; and had therefore asked all litigants to withdraw such cases and have them settled at his Court at Manhyia Palace. In quick order, Otumfuo settled several cases such as those involving Bekwai, Kokofu, and Tepa paramountcy that his predecessor had bequeathed to him. Finally, in September 1999, Otumfuo presiding over a meeting of the Kumase Traditional Council ordered the Tafohene to 'go' to Tafo. After countless excuses, including one whereby Nana Ponko Baffour produced a medical letter from his doctor that advised him to "rest' for 30 days, the people of Tafo held their collective breath. Some wondered why with all his powers Otumfuo should not simply "destool" the Chief. But, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II is a wise King, and not a dictator!!
Affectionately ululated with chants of 'King Solomon, because of his wisdom and impartiality, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II exercised the greatest restraint and statecraft befitting his office. As the elders say, (sebe) "se otrofuo se, one wo befro dua, mma oni kan"(or if the incompetent liar challenges you to a tree climbing duel, let him take the lead!). 'King Solomon' wanted Nana Ponko Baffour, who is a learned lawyer, to wrap enough rope around himself (by himself), to hang himself! That is exactly what happened when on Monday, February 12, 2001; Nana Ponko Baffuor addressed a letter to Otumfuo declaring his decision to abdicate.
Thus, Nana Ponko Baffour, Chief of Tafo, Benkumhene of Kumase Traditional Area, and head of the Agona Clan in Asante; abdicated his office without ever setting foot at Tafo. It is safe to say that he never used any of the recognized regalia and paraphernalia of his office, ecxept perhaps the ones he probably bought for his own use. This travesty would make for good comedy were it not an attempt to belittle a noble institution.
Otumfuo Osei Tutu and the Kumase Traditional Council accepted the abdication, and immediately asked Opanin Kwaku Buor the Abusuapanin (Head) of the Agona royal family to propose a new candidate to the king-makers (this should have been the responsibility of the Queenmother; but she is still in the mortuary!). According to reports, the family has settled on the candidacy of Mr. Kwasi Frimpong whose royal roots, and support among the people cannot be doubted.
My intention here is not to indict anyone. My purpose is merely to underscore the damage that can be done to the noble institution of chieftaincy in Asante and Ghana as a whole, if such chicanery is allowed to fester. Above all, the Tafo case presents a travesty that should serve as an example to all our royal families and king-makers that their unpopular decisions cannot run roughshod over the objections of the people. Our Chiefs were reluctant to publicly side with the Tafo 'dissidents' because they felt their agitation importuned all Chiefs. Nananom should have no fear that the Tafo issue will be replicated elsewhere. To wit: a similar case happened at Mampon; the individual was destooled and Nana Osei Bonsu II assumed office as the current Chief of Mampon. If anything, the Tafo citizens must be commended for their courageous stand in defense of chieftaincy.
If king-makers decide to 'sell' Stools to the highest bidder (as was alleged in this particular case), then they will be drilling nails into the coffin of the honorable chieftaincy institution. If disputed claimants to Stools seek recognition and affirmation through the civil Courts as happened in this case, then the authority, independence, respect, and honor of Chiefs and the institution of chieftaincy become compromised. If against all commonsense and rules of conduct, a Chief continues in "office" without being able to visit the seat of his presumed office, then the position of that Chief becomes divisive, laughable and fraudulent. When Europeans colonized Africa, they sought to appoint their own Chiefs to better administer their colonies. These men became known as 'warrant Chiefs' because their powers rested on the strength of the warrants that they issued to summon obedience! The people held these 'warrant Chiefs' in utter contempt. Wether chieftaincy will continue to enjoy the support and the respect of the people or not, will depend squarely on how the king-makers who are entrusted with the power of selecting candidates for the office will act with chicanery or equanimity.