Can Dagbon Trust Akufo Addo to Deliver Peace?

Wed, 21 Nov 2012 Source: Ata, Kofi

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

In the wake of the death of the former Vice-President, Alhaji Aliu Maham, leading NDC and NPP politicians are positioning themselves to gain the blessings of the people of Dagbon and to remind them that they have not forgotten their ongoing chieftaincy dispute. I do not know much about the institution of Chieftaincy in Ghana and the Dagbon Skin, though I wrote an article on the failed High Court trial of the alleged murders of the Ya-Na in 2011. In that article, I analysed the failures of the prosecution and concluded that, due to such seismic failures and the one-sided prosecution, the Judge had no option but to dismiss the charges against the accused, though I disagreed with him that there could no murder conviction without the identification of a body (see “Corpus delicti”, The Ya Na Murder Trial, Did the Judge Err?, Ghanaweb April 7, 2011).


I have been tempted by statements from Ex-President Rawlings and Nana Akufo Addo to revisit the Dagbon Chieftaincy dispute, the murder of the Ya-Na, the failure of two trials to bring justice to the victims and to analyse the chances for peace and reconciliation between the two warring factions in the dispute. Before I do that, let me quote the above mentioned statements for the benefit of those who did not read them.

[“The 2012 Presidential Candidate of the New Patriotic Party, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo says as a mark of respect to the late Vice President of the Republic of Ghana, Alhaji Aliu Mahama, he will work to bring peace to Dagbon. The NPP flag bearer explained that “If anything will ensure that Aliu rests in peace, it will be the establishment of full peace and reconciliation in Dagbon, and I pray that we all work to achieve this.” According to him, the most disturbing incident for the late Vice President and indeed for the whole NPP government under President Kufuor was the tragic death of “his good friend, the Ya-Na, Ya-a Yakubu Andani II. “It shook him to his core and he worked tirelessly to find a solution to the problems of peace and reconciliation for his beloved Dagbon,”] (see Nana Addo Pledges: “I'll Work to Bring Peace to Dagbon", Ghanaweb, November 18, 2012.

[“Former President, Jerry John Rawlings has also expressed hope that the death of the late former Vice President, Alhaji Aliu Mahama “will clear the climate that will make it possible for justice to prevail” in the murder of the late Dagbon Overlord, Ya-Na Yakubu Andani. “I hope that his departure will make it possible for the justice that was neglected on the Ya Na’s murder, Mobilla and a few others will finally, probably see something more fruitful that will bring joy to our hearts”. Rawlings opined that Ghana will not be stable as a nation without justice adding that the matter “cannot be driven under the carpet. If he couldn't do it in his life, I am hoping that in his death, if there are any other more positive influences over there, they will urge him to push for a more collaborative and a more constructive approach towards the issue of justice”] (see “Aliu's Death Should Bring Justice To Ya-Na's Murder”, Ghanaweb November 18, 2012)

Reading in between the lines in two statements, it is succinctly without doubt that the two leaders are seeking different outcomes despite the fact that both are counting on the demise of Aliu Mahama for a resolution of the intractable dispute. Whilst Rawlings talks about seeking justice, Akufo Addo speaks of peace and reconciliation. The question is, can NDC’s justice be the same as NPP’s peace and reconciliation or can there be peace and reconciliation without justice? I will return to these questions later.

In my naive view, the root cause of the Dagon dispute is the influence of politics and the active involvement of NDC and NPP on the opposite side of the two recalcitrant families. Until the dispute, (particularly the barbaric events of March 25 to 27, 2002 that led the murder of the Ya-Na and other persons on both sides), is tackled devoid of the corrosive influence of NDC and NPP, justice, peace and reconciliation will elude the people of Dagbon.

It was during the reign of the NPP that the 2002 conflict happened and NPP failed miserably to deal effectively with the barbaric and criminal acts at the time, whilst the then opposition, NDC in their characteristic political opportunism promised to bring to justice to the murders of Ya-Na when voted into power. Once in office, NDC blindly and shamefully arrested members of one faction in 2010 and prosecuted them without any credible evidence in 2011.

Is Rawlings claiming that the late former Vice-President was an obstacle to seeking justice for the murdered Ya-Na? That may be true when he was in government but could the same be true when he was not in political power? Is it not his party (NDC) that is in political power and in-charge of all state institutions that could have been used efficiently to properly investigate the criminal acts of March 2002 and bring the perpetrators on both sides to book? Was it not Rawlings who claimed he had audio tape that could provide who were the murderers? Did Rawlings provide the so-called tape during the NDC one-sided prosecution? What sort of justice is he talking about, retributive or restorative justice?

And how on earth is Nana Akufo Addo expecting Ghanaians and the people of Dagon to believe him when he was the Chief Government Legal Adviser and State Prosecutor General that failed woefully to bring a single successful prosecution regarding the Yendi conflict of March 2002? Some readers may think that I hate Akufo Addo or I am determined to damage his chances at the December elections because I continue to question his honesty and trust. I do not hate my fellow human being, neither am I seeking to damage his presidential ambitions because I do not have any influence over Ghanaian voters. Let me remind readers some of the facts that perhaps Nana Akufo Adoo might have so soon forgotten only in a decade.

According to the Executive Summary of the Wuaku Commission (set up by President Kufuor) report presented on 6 November 2002, the Terms of Reference among others included and I quote, “ On 25 April 2002, His Excellency President John Agyekum Kufuor, by Constitutional Instrument 2002 (C.I. 36), appointed this Commission of Inquiry, chaired by Justice I N K Wauku, to investigate the Yendi disturbances on 25th to 27th March 2002, to identify the perpetrators and make appropriate recommendations to the President” The White Paper issued by the same Kufuor government on some of the recommendations of the Commission and I quote the relevant sections. “Government accepts the general findings and recommendations of the Commission and many of its specific findings and recommendations. Among the principal recommendations was “that Yidana Sugri and Iddrisu Gyamfo, who were seen on 27 March 2002 holding several parts of the late Ya-Na Yakubu Andani II, soon after his killing and who should be presumed to have killed the Ya-Na should be prosecuted for murder”.

The White Paper on the Commission’s recommendation also said, and again, I quote. “As far as other specific recommendations are concerned the Attorney General will issue instructions to the Police to use the evidence before the Commission and its findings as the basis for further investigations and appropriate action. It will be necessary for instance in the case of the recommendation for the prosecution of Iddrisu Iddi, Mbadugu, the former Zalinko Lana, Shani Moro and Muhammudu Abdulai for conspiracy to murder, to undertake further investigations. Iddrisu Iddi is so implicated because it was to him that Iddrisu Gyamfo presented the decapitated head of the Yan-Na, and the other two because of evidence that they pulled the body of the Ya-Na to the kraal before it was burnt. Further investigations are necessary in this area and the Police will be instructed”. Did the then Attroney General, Nana Akufo Addo do what is contained therein?

The Wauku Commission Report is available on the internet for readers to verify for the above quotes themselves. I did not make them up.

I have checked records on the website of the Attorney General’s Department and the Ministry of Justice in Ghana and it shows that, Nana Akufo Addo was the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of Ghana from 2001 to 2003. He would have advised President Kufuor on the establishment of the Wauku Commission as well as the issuance of the White Paper on the Commission’s report and recommendations. He was therefore directly responsible for the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations that were accepted by the Kufuor government. If I am right, then Akufo should answer the question, how come despite the Commission’s recommendations that were accepted by the government that he was part of (and probably on his advice) not a single person was brought to book through a successful prosecution and a conviction under his watch?

Let us even assume that all the individuals identified in the Commission’s report as being responsible for some barbaric and criminal acts, including the murder of the Ya-Na and the decapitation were innocent of murder and conspiracy to murder, could they still be innocent and free if they were found to be in possession of human body parts? I have read about a number of people being arrested, successfully prosecuted and convicted for the possession of human body parts in Ghana on the electronic media, so how come in the case above no one has been prosecuted and convicted yet? Unless the Wauku Commission’s report was inaccurate or Nana Akufo Addo bungled the trial of the individuals identified as NDC did, at least, some of them should have been in jail. Akufo Addo has questions to answer as the then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, on how he could bring peace and reconciliation to Dagbon on this pathetic record of his.

Is this the same Nana Akufo Addo who is one of the best lawyers in Ghana and the human rights advocate? Is it normal and lawful for some people in Ghana to possess human body parts? No civilised society allows some of its citizens to possess human body parts and go scot free, let alone an important leader, except in NDC and NPP Ghana. The most lenient sanction should have been detention in a mental institution for those who were found to have been in possession of Ya Na’s or human body parts.

I am not sure if Akufo Addo’s statement is another election promise or a solemn vow to the people of Dagbon to solicit their votes but I really do not fathom how with such a record on the Yendi conflict, he could stand in public to make such a promise. What Akufo failed to say was not that “the most disturbing incident for the late Vice President and indeed for the whole NPP government under President Kufuor was the tragic death of “his good friend, the Ya-Na, Ya-a Yakubu Andani II”, but his catastrophic failure as Attorney General and Minister of Justice to do what was required of him. He took the oath of office to be fair and firm and to administer justice to all without fear or favour but sadly, he failed justice as Attorney General and Minster of Justice, failed President Kufuor, the Wauku Commission and the people of Dagbon on this matter for political expediency. Like the late President Mills and NDC, Akufo Addo’s promise could come back to haunt him if he is elected President in December 2012.

Let me now return to the question of building peace and reconciliation (restorative justice or achieving justice) and seeking justice (retributive justice or pursuing justice) and attempt to answer the questions I posed earlier, though, it is not possible to do justice to such important human rights topic in an article such as this. Restorative justice is seeking the truth about past human rights violations, granting amnesty to perpetrators and offering compensation to victims (usually dispensed through Truth and Reconciliation Commissions), whilst retributive justice does not grant amnesty but prosecute perpetrators and punish the guilty.

There are differences of opinions among human rights experts on the question of restorative versus retributive justice. Some human rights advocates question whether restorative justice is justice for victims of gross human rights violations and one of its staunch opponents, S Cohen posed the question, “what is the point of knowledge without justice and is restorative justice in tandem with the ethos of fundamental human rights?”

The restorative justice camp is led by J Zalaquett, a member of the Chilean Truth Commission and a central figure in the human rights debate on transitional justice. According to Zalaquett “all things being equal, forgiveness and reconciliation are preferable to punishment”. The retributive justice school of thought is spearheaded by A Neier, former Executive Director of Human Rights Watch who is convinced that “the rule of law is a value in itself which must determine our actions without being dependent on democratic consensus”.

Various arguments have been advanced to justify why it is not viable to prosecute those who committed human rights abuses during, especially military dictatorship and repressive regimes, war and armed conflicts. As a result, very few countries that have gone through transition from repressive regimes to democracy or from war and conflict to peace have followed retributive justice immediately following the transition. Ghana followed the restorative justice model during the transition from P/NDC to NPP under the Kufuor regime. Though, I was associated with the PNDC regime, I am against restorative justice and in favour of retributive justice because the former justifies impunity and could encourage a repeat of past human rights abuses in the future.

How will Akufo Addo seek to build peace through restorative justice in Dagbon? Will he set aside the Wauku Commission findings as President and if not, how will he secure the cooperation of both parties in the Dagbon dispute? What about the work of the Group of Eminent Chiefs that was asked by President Kufuor to assist in finding a lasting solution to the protracted conflict? These are legitimate questions that an Akufo Addo presidency may grapple with. I doubt if he is up to the task of delivering peace and reconciliation when his is so tainted by his failures in office.

If NDC and NPP truly want peace and reconciliation in Dagbon, they must return to the Wauku Commission and fully implement the Commission’s recommendations because as far as one faction considers the non implementation or selective implementation of the recommendations, justice, peace and reconciliation would be a mirage. The people of Dagbon must also recognise that the two leading political parties (NDC and NPP) are exploiting their differences for political gains. Neither NDC nor NPP has genuine incentive or interest to resolve the dispute. If the people of Dagbon trust Nana Akufo Addo and NPP or Rawlings and NDC, they will live to fight each other from generation to generations. Justice, Peace and Reconciliation rest with them and not Akufo Addo and his NPP or Rawlings and his NDC.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

Columnist: Ata, Kofi