Okudzeto's NUGS Presidency. What really happened?

Sat, 14 Mar 2009 Source: Haruna, Mahama

Ever since Samuel Okudzeto was appointed deputy Minister designate for Information (in fact the youngest in the history of the 4th Republic). I have been inundated with calls within and outside Ghana inquiring about the role he actually played in the problems of the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS) in the 2005-2006 academic year. This might be because the two of us were at the centre of the brouhaha that NUGS had to grapple with.

I have explained to many people that Okudzeto was not actually involved in any criminal act, scandal or fraud when he was NUGS President to warrant his disqualification as a deputy minister. I also describe Okudzeto as a hot headed person who would fight for a cause he believed in notwithstanding what people may think about him or its consequences. Somebody was surprised when I told I had sent a congratulatory message to Okudzeto on his appointment as deputy Minister.

The story of the 2005-2006 NUGS which I believe will refresh the minds of people as to what happened goes as follows:

At the end of the election, the following were elected and sworn in as National Executive of NUGS:

Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa-President (University of Ghana-Legon).

Mahama Haruna-General Secretary (Ghana Institute of Journalism).

Thomas Arthur-Treasurer (Institute of Proffessional Studies).

Cynthia Opoku-Co-ordinating Secretary (University of Ghana- Accra City Campus).

Kwame Amponfi Jnr- Education and Democratisation Secretary (University of Education- Winneba).

Sam Sika Obrempon Adjei Fordjour- International Relations Secretary (Central University College-Accra).

Selorm Amevor- Press and Information Secretary (Ghana Institude of Journalism).

Thomson Rexmond Kotey- Financial Controller (Institude of Proffersional Studies).

Victoria L. Hamah- Womens Commissoner (University of Ghana- Legon).

These were arguably the finest brains and student activists from the various campuses in the country. As an executive we started very well. We clearly stated we were going to represent the interest and aspirations of Ghanaian students but not political parties and individuals as well as other concerned stakeholders. We said NUGS had carved an unenviable image of not taking center stage in not only education issues but also the broader picture of the national development agenda.

An issue that nearly marred our relationship with government and stakeholders and also made people skeptical about out regime was a statement made by the President at the handing over ceremony of our year. During his inaugural speech he was emphatic in stating his dislike for dialogue as a means of addressing grievances and concerns and indeed served notice of his agenda to employ demonstrations and confrontation in his dealings with government. This was in contrast to the stance of most of the executive that NUGS resort to dialogue and consensus building in dealing with government since demonstrations and confrontation was no longer fashionable.

Right from day one, the problem was about the policy direction of NUGS. While the President believed in a militant and radical approach to dealing with government and stakeholders, the other executive believed in dialoguing and consensus building with demonstrations and confrontation as a last resort.

Another set back was when the Ghana Union of Proffessional Students (GUPS), the largest bloc under NUGS threatened to break away. The reason being that they have always been marginalised by the leadership of NUGS.. Their President Ransford Addo was not acknowledged by the NUGS President during his speech.

One particular action that made NUGS to get national attention at this period was a hunger strike the executives embarked upon to back an appeal to government and all stakeholders for support, after it was ejected from its offices by the Civil Servants Association of Ghana. Later an alumni Fafa Dogoe gave NUGS a temporal accommodation at his office.

Before this incident would settle, NUGS issued a disclaimer to the effect that it was not aware of the donation of an 18 seater Toyota Hiace bus by the Vice-Chancellors of Ghana. Abu Forgor the outgone President who initiated the appeal for a bus recieved the bus on behalf of NUGS. Okudezo actually labelled forgor a masquerader. This infuriated Forgor and he vowed to make Okudzeto's regime ungovernable.He had a large following from the students front. He actually explained that he did not have any intentions whatsoever to take possession of the bus but hand it over after taking delivery.

Our problems actually started with the issue of the Representation of Peoples (Amendment) Bill (ROPAB). The President Okudzeto granted an interview to Radio Gold and intimated that NUGS was opposed to the Bill which would have given Ghanaians abroad the right to vote in the countries they are domiciled This comment generated a great furore in the students front because many were in the view NUGS should taken a neutral stance.

The bloc heads of NUGS comprising the Ghana Union of Proffessional Students (GUPS), University Students Association of Ghana (USAG), Teacher Trainees Associatiion of Ghana (TTAG) and the Graduate Students Association of Ghana expressed thier disaffection and took on the NUGS President for taking a stance on a very senitive political issue when it had not been deliberated upon by the Central Committee (CC) and saw that as a recipe for confusion. They also stated clearly they were loosing patience with the dictatorial manner in which Okudzeto was running NUGS.

The bloc heads went ahead to complain about attempts by politicians to infiltrate the ranks of the Ghanaian student movement and hence an unfortunate demostration by some faceless students at the parliament house during the reading of the ROPAB.They appealed to all students not to kowkow to the bidding and incitement by any political group to either accept or reject the bill until NUGS comes out with it's position

There were concerns from other groups that the comments made by Okudzeto were not inconsistent with the stance of NUGS since the Kenneth Abotsi (2003-2004) regime had called upon parliament to suspend the amendment of the Representation of Peoples Act until broad consultations were held with stakeholders and as well said the Electoral Commission did not have the capacity to carry out such an exercise in view of the challenges facing it.

Another group calling itself Concerned Tertiary Students of Ghana (COTSG) also chided the NUGS President for his trite comments on ROPAB. In a statement issued by Okoe Boye Bernard the leader they noted that the comments of Okudzeto suggested he was allowing his emotions to take the better part of him. According to the group Okudzeto was subsuming students interest for his personal politics and prepare the ground for his political ambitions.

In the midst of these controversies I had no alternative than to do something. I organised a press conference in an individual capacity and put the records straight. I made it clear that not until the Central Committee of NUGS meets to take a decision on the ROPAB, the position taken by any single student or group of students was without authority, misleading, an affront to the Central Committee and intended to pre-empt and pre-judice the decision the Central Committee may come up with. I also said that all actions by students were misplaced, unwarranted, uncalled for and unconstitutional.

I had come to the realisation that NUGS had allowed itself to be misused by cheap propagandist politicians and so urged Ghanaian students to remain calm and also have confidence in their leadership.

Some alumni intervened and this problem was resolved amicably. Okudzeto promised Ghanaian students not to repeat any such mistakes and also promised to follow laid down procedure through the structures of NUGS before coming up to speak for the Union.

The second problem had to do with the University of Ghana-Legon- Student Representative Council (SRC) elections. The office of the Dean of students issued a statement that Lord Hamah who was on the verge of winning the run-off elections of the University had committed examination malpractice and therefore could not occupy any student office. This decision was upheld by the SRC Judicial Committee and the SRC Electoral Commission.

My position on this development was that Lord Hamah should have been disqualified in the first round by the school authorities but not wait till he was in the second round.

However shortly after this decision Okudzeto unilateraly issued a statement that NUGS had given its immediate, total and unconditional support to the various sections calling for mass protests and demonstrations on Legon Campus and encouraged more students to join until order was restored. Seven out of ten NUGS executive had to come out to inform students that the decision was taken by only the President and that there was no meeting to discuss the issue let alone issue a statement.

The development on Legon campus took a dramatic turn when the SRC of the the University of Ghana served the NUGS secretariat a letter that it had seceded from NUGS after an emergency General Assembly meeting. The SRC accused NUGS of arrogance, an unchallenged level of disrespect for official structures and basic rules guiding the University of Ghana's affairs. They also stated that "The sovereignty of SRC-Legon, has time without number not been daily observed by NUGS.The ultimate being the public statement issued by NUGS, threatening and actually interfering in the work of the Independent Electoral Commission of SRC-Legon and the SRC Court of Justice"

This was unprecedented and so NUGS summoned a National Executive Committee which sees to the effective operation of the National Secretariat. A the meeting the members made to clear to Okudzeto that he had erred in issuing the statement on a NUGS letter head. A motion was passed for him not to chair the meeting since the issue to be discussed was about him. A resolution was then passed that Okudzeto and Victoria Hammah should 'Step Aside' as NUGS executive since the University of Ghana had seceded making them have no locus.

The NEC in accordance to the NUGS constitution also mandated me act in the capacity as President until an emergency Central Committee meeting (made up of representatives from all campuses) was convened to decide the fate of the officers concerned. A five member committee was also constituted to critically look into the issue of Legon.The committee had five days within which to complete its work and present a report. All these decisions were taken in the presence of Okudzeto.

But before the committee would even start work and a few minutes after the meeting, Okudzeto went on air to announce that there was a coup d' tat at the NUGS secretariat.

He further muddied the waters by organising an illegal and unsconstitutional Central Committee meeting at the Accra Teacher Training College purporting to remove me and Cynthia Opoku Manu from office. There was no quorum and some affiliates or cronies from Common Wealth Hall-Legon and 'wee' infested muscle men from Nima were planted as Central Committee members.

Also at all meetings of the Central Committee, the President, Secretary, any two national officers, one member, at least of eight Institutions was to be represented to form a quorum. I was not present and neither seven other executive nor bloc heads. Before we could re-act GUPS disassociated itself from the meeting with the reason that none of its member Institutions was invited.

Later a properly constituted Central Committee meeting was organised by the NEC. It was attended by almost all Institutions in Ghana, Seven executives and all NEC members. A resolution was passed to dismiss the President, the Womens Commissioner and the Press and Information Secretary. The meeting also mandated me to act as President and as well expressed the hope that, the decision would bring back the University of Ghana into the fold of NUGS and also bring to a halt the wrangling that had engulfed NUGS.

Getting to the end of our regime, a Steering Committee under the chairmanship of NUGS Treasurer, Thomas Arthur was formed to conduct elections for thr 2006-2007 year group to take over. There was a confusion as to which faction could organise Congress.

Notwithstanding all these problems, our regime did a lot for NUGS. Space will not allow me enumerate these achievements.

There was actually a political angle to all the problems of NUGS for our year. Some people believe we were just appendages of political parties but we all denied. We also believed whatever we were doing was in the interest of Ghanaian Students. It is just sheer co-incidence that today Okudzeto Ablakwa has been appointed an NDC deputy minister for Information and I Mahama Haruna vying for the position National Youth Organizer of NPP.

In fact a friend called me recently and told me that the assertion that we were working for political parties has been corroborated by our present political stance.

Posted- Tuesday 10th March, 2009.

By Mahama Haruna

email-maharun1@yahoo.com Tel- 0243313113.

Columnist: Haruna, Mahama