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How should we punish these chiefs?

Thu, 9 Dec 2010 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

Part I

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

December 7, 2010

Although the 1992 Constitution bans chiefs from doing “active politics,” no day passes by without this constitutional injunction being infringed with impunity. The Paramount Chief of the Gbi Traditional Area, Togbega Gabusu VI, has just done so to stoke the fire. And by so doing, he has thrown a big challenge to us. What are we to do to chiefs whose conduct disregards the constitutional strictures on their political activities whether they engage in them overtly or covertly?

When chiefs indulge in active politics, people (especially those in political parties threatened by the chiefs’ conduct) quickly condemn those chiefs but nothing is done to deter them or others from going the same way. The Constitution doesn’t provide any punitive action to be taken against chiefs who flout this prohibition, which leaves errant ones off the hook and raises serious concerns.

This lapse is a crucial part of the problems that the Constitution Review Commission should focus on. Anybody who flouts the Constitution must be punished. Unfortunately, it is not clear how chiefs who flout the constitutional stricture on “active politics” are to be dealt with. When people commit crimes, they get punished because the laws of the land (fashioned out of the Constitution) prescribe specific forms of punishment for anti-social behaviour.

The constitutional injunction against chiefs is to prevent waywardness but it is silent on how to punish them. If chiefs flout the Constitution, their conduct should be seen as offensive, and they must be punished too. Only then will we be giving substance to the Constitution as the supreme living document that guides conduct in the country. As the situation has been all these years, it is difficult to rein in these chiefs and they continue to do active politics with impunity, as Togbega Gabusu has just done.

Let’s hear him: “Voltarians are fed up with promises that are not fulfilled... The people of the Volta Region trusted in President Mills to deliver; otherwise, Voltarians reserve the right to reject the party at the next polls… the people in the region would not be prepared to accept any apology for non-delivery on promises.”

Togbega Gabusu said that the region would need concrete evidence of physical development to make it support the NDC at the polls, and warned that “mere promises would no more be enough to ensure that the ‘World Bank’ delivers on votes in future elections.”

These were the utterances that the Ghanaian Chronicle reported Togbega Gabusu as making at this year’s “Gbidukorza” festival at Peki-Tsame in the South Dayi District over the weekend. I consider these utterances to be profoundly outrageous, not only because they are indicative of a chief’s involvement in active politics—which directly offends the Constitutional injunction—but also because they threaten to provoke agitations with the potential to destabilize the Volta Region or serve as a catalyst for similar revolting developments in other parts of the country. I am aware of moves by some elements of Northern Ghana to press for the creation of a Gonja Region out of the existing Northern Region. Anything of the sort being advocated by Togbega Gabusu will definitely strike a chord with such agitators and others to create serious problems for the country.

I am not bothered whether this chief’s utterances threaten the NDC’s standing in that part of Ghana. For one thing, it is good to remind the politicians that when they mount political campaign platforms to glibly make promises, they shouldn’t forget that the day of reckoning will catch up with them. I am a strong advocate for action to be taken against politicians who make promises but turn away from them after winning the election. What I don’t support is the self-selection by a chief to do active politics with such veiled threats.

There are better means to express such concerns than through the throat of a chief. The Constitution makes it clear that chiefs should not do “active politics,” especially if what they embark on will serve partisan political interests and create tension to destabilize the society. We must respect that injunction.

Clause 1 of Article 276 (Chapter 22) of the 1992 Constitution expressly states: “A chief shall not take part in active party politics” even though clause 2 allows that “a chief may be appointed to any public office for which he is otherwise qualified.” The constitution defines a “chief” as “a person, who, hailing from the appropriate family and lineage, has been validly nominated, elected or selected and enstooled, enskinned or installed as a chief or queenmother in accordance with the relevant customary law and usage.”

Togbega Gabusu and the thousand others like him who go by the title of “chief” are duly recognized as such and expected to function within the ambit of the Constitution.

Such blanket utterances as are attributed to him are problematic for several reasons. First, is the preposterous manner in which he made them as if the people of the Volta Region were poised to hold the NDC to ransom through this kind of blackmail. Second, he appeared to be speaking for all people in the Volta Region, a function nobody entrusted to him. An immediate past President of the Volta Regional House of Chiefs he may be; but it is unacceptable for him to impose his will on the Region to paint this picture. Many people in other parts of the country have expressed concern over the inability of the governments that we’ve had to fulfill their campaign promises. Why should Togbega Gabusu single out the Volta Region for this purpose? I don’t recognize him as the appropriate conveyor belt for transmitting such concerns. We know where his political interests lie.

Again, his vexatious call for the carving of another region out of the Volta Region reignites a controversy that has over the years threatened normalcy and is likely to foment serious problems in the future. Indeed, previous agitations for the Volta Region to be split into two (in which this very Togbega Gabusu played a big part) were motivated purely by ethnic sentiments, especially with the feeling among some so-called opinion leaders from the northern part of the Volta Region that the south (mostly referred to as Ewe-speaking area) is better developed than their part of the Region (mostly qualified as Akan-dominated).

This feeling shouldn’t be the yardstick for determining whether to split the Volta Region into two or not. Indeed, the inability of previous governments (and the current one) to provide infrastructure and utility services to many parts of the country (including the northern parts of the Volta Region) shouldn’t be used as a ruse by anybody to cause mayhem. Togbega Gabusu should tread cautiously so as not to provoke any unrest.

To be continued…

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.