Opinions Mon, 16 Apr 2012

President John Mills: Africa’s most violent leader

By Nana Yaw Sarpong, London, UK 13 April 2012

It is only a matter of time before President John Evans Atta Mills becomes the new François Duvalier, the dictator who ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1971 and who used a mixture of voodoo and Christian worship to instil fear in the population, supervising extreme violence against his opponents. He also had an army of thugs called the Tontons Macoutes. A Ghanaian version of these thugs and groups called macho men are led by Nii Lantey Vanderpuije, one of the most bloodthirsty politicians ever to appear on Ghana’s landscape, and one who is seen as a future leader of the ruling party, the NDC.

On 11 April, Ursula Owusu, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) parliamentary candidate for Ablekuma South in Accra, was attacked in broad daylight by a group of henchmen armed with sticks, stones and broken bottles in a neighbouring constituency, Odododiodoo. Ms Owusu had been touring Odododiodoo with Samuel Abu Jinapor, an aide to Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the NPP’s presidential candidate. Ms Owusu and Abu Jinapor were in the constituency to support the NPP’s candidate for the area, Captain Victor Okaikoi, and to encourage NPP sympathisers in Odododiodoo to take part in Ghana’s ongoing voter registration exercise. Many of these potential voters — especially women who work as traders in Kantamanto Market — have been intimidated by the ruling party and have so far been afraid to register to vote. In the presence of a group of policemen on duty at the registration centre, Ms Owusu and Abu Jinapor were chased by a group of about 15 thugs, known activists of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), who made menaces at them.

Ms Owusu and Abu Jinapor were driven away from the registration centre and towards the market, where the men attempted to push them into an open gutter. Ms Owusu was slapped and punched. She ran towards an open shop to take shelter, but the shop owner said she feared the thugs would trash the place, so she begged her to leave. Ms Owusu made a frantic call on her mobile to NPP workers to request help. As the thugs continued to chase her and Abu Jinapor attempted to restrain them, she ran to take shelter near another shop. The men then began pelting her with stones, hitting her on the face and body. The policemen on duty at the voter registration centre were on the other side of a gate. They heard the fracas . . . and did nothing.

Ms Owusu and Abu Jinapor managed to extricate themselves from the melee and fled. They made their way to the Central Police Station, where they reported the attack. Ms Owusu’s face is still swollen from where a stone hit her; she suffered further injuries to the body.

The NDC and its local parliamentary candidate, Nii Lantey Vanderpuije, an aide to President John Evans Atta Mills, have been running a campaign of bloodthirsty intimidation in Odododiodoo. Over the past fortnight, Vanderpuije has made statements forbidding people in Odododiodoo who do not have Ga tribal names from registering to vote in constituency. His reasoning is that if they don’t have a Ga name, there is no way they can describe themselves as residents of the central part of Old Accra. This is the most racist statement ever made by any politician in Ghana.

Vanderpuije’s “rationalising” is nonsense. Accra is the capital of Ghana. It has been home to “immigrants” from all over Ghana — and indeed, from West Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa — for more than 150 years. Some of these “immigrants” are ninth-generation descendants of “new” arrivals; they are Ghanaian nationals and so were their great-grandparents. Vanderpuije himself has a Dutch surname from Holland so what is he really talking about? The voter registration exercise ends on 5 May. It was supposed to be a landmark in Ghana’s progress to democracy: the first time voters will be registered using a biometric system, which, it is hoped, will eliminate malpractices such as voter impersonation and multiple voting that have dogged past elections. But Vanderpuije and his hooligan followers in the NDC have used their brawn to terrorise the voters of Odododiodio. It has been a marginal seat since the pre-independence election of 1954 and the days of Kwame Nkrumah, so the constituency has always been hotly contested; but no one can recall any instance of a woman, a prominent lawyer at that and popular public figure and parliamentary candidate to boot, being STONED and BEATEN by party activists from the opposing side. Vanderpuije and the NDC have conducted their campaign with the acquiescence of the Ghana Police Service, which has turned a blind eye to the rampant violence happening under their noses.

The events in Odododiodoo are not isolated. Again, known NDC activists have been causing mayhem in swing constituencies and particularly in the Ashanti Region, an NPP stronghold. Just three incidents:

1) In Old Tafo/Pankrono in Ashanti, thugs on motorbikes without number plates have driven through lines of people queuing to register to vote, shooting in the air to cause panic. Though individuals among them have been identified and named to the police, no action to arrest them has been taken.

2) In Fadama, a suburb of Accra, Sheriff Mohammed, the 25-year-old secretary for the NPP in the Okaikoi North constituency, was stabbed to death by two men on a motorbike on the night of Easter Sunday (22 April). No one has been arrested in connection with the incident, although there were witnesses.

3) In the Brong-Ahafo Region, a swing area bordering the Akan-speaking and northern parts of Ghana, two NPP parliamentary candidates have been arrested for no reason in the past fortnight, together with five local NPP workers. Freda Prempeh, the NPP parliamentary candidate for Tano North, was arrested after attempting to secure a bail for a local party worker held by local police on unfounded allegations of creating disorder; she was eventually bailed and released. In Tain, a swing constituency in the 2008 election, the parliamentary candidate, Joseph Ofori Amanfo, and the five NPP workers were thrown into cells after a gun-wielding attack on Amanfo by a known local NDC activist, again riding an unmarked motorbike. They were detained without charge for longer than 48 hours, against all norms of Ghanaian law.

The President, John Evans Atta Mills, has said nothing about any of these incidents, which have been widely publicised on radio and television. On 12 April, news sources reported the details of the President’s tour to the Volta Region. He spoke to reporters, but said not a word from him about the attack on Ms Owusu and Abu Jinapor the previous day. In conversation with a chief in Volta, he merely issued a feeble appeal for “calm at the registration centres”. Nii Lantey Vanderpuije, however, went on radio immediately following reports of the incident in Odododiodoo and vehemently denied that he or anyone in the NDC had anything to do with the attack on Ursula Owusu and Samuel Abu Jinapor. He then insulted Ms Owusu in particular and claimed that if she had been beaten by anyone in the constituency that was because she is a loudmouth and had insulted the Ga people; furthermore, it was payback for what the NPP did to him when he ran and lost in the last election in 2008.

The NPP is appalled at these instances of violence which are unquestionably part of a tribalistic campaign of political intimidation and violence by forces within the ruling NDC intent on ensuring that NPP sympathisers are scared off registering to vote.

The NPP and female members of the party particularly condemn the beating and stoning of Ursula Owusu and Samuel Abu Jinapor in Odododiodoo, which took place in public, in broad daylight, with police officers nearby. Ghana is supposed to be a democratic country, one that respects freedom of speech and freedom of movement of individuals, and one that has a clear sense of itself as one nation, regardless of our differences of language and culture.

Nii Lantey Vanderpuije’s justifications for violence in his backyard is beyond dishonest and reprehensible: he is actively promoting attacks on members of the opposition and encouraging the kind of ethnic hatred that has led in the past 30 years to genocide violence in Rwanda, Kenya, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. The silence by his paymaster, President John Evans Atta Mills, over the attacks being carried out by people from his own party is even more disturbing – especially in this case, where the violence has evidently been perpetrated by someone who works directly under his control at the Presidency in Osu Castle. The NPP says: end this violence. We call on President Atta Mills to issue a clear and unequivocal statement calling these NDC thugs to heel. If he has lost control of his party then he should start being a leader and take control of his party. We also call on the President to ensure that the Police Service of Ghana begins to police the voter registration exercise in a manner that is fair, measured, non-partisan and transparent.

It is the only way of ensuring that Ghana does not descend into civil strife and that Ghana is able to hold a clean, free and fair general election in December.
Columnist: Sarpong, Nana Yaw