A line in the great reggae singer Bob Marley’s hit song, ‘The Rat Race’ runs: “when you think its peace and safety, a sudden destruction…” By its actions last week, when the National Executive Committee (NEC) endorsed the suspension of their National Chairman, Mr Paul Afoko, Ghana’s largest opposition party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), seems to epitomise this scenario.
Show of unity
The ‘Rise and Build’ tour which took Nana Akufo-Addo, the party’s flag-bearer in the 2016 elections through all the regions in the country, appeared to have calmed the NPP front which had been simmering with tension for many months.
After all, the purpose of the tour was to reconcile opposing factions, especially, in the party’s parliamentary primaries and to forge a united front for the 2016 elections. The drive for unity was reinforced when Nana Akufo-Addo was joined on the tour by Alan Kyerematen and the others who contested him in the presidential primaries.
If anybody wanted to see a show of unity, this was it: Nana Akufo-Addo and his major contenders, standing arm-in-arm on the same platform preaching peace and unity to party faithful, and backed by opposing candidates in the parliamentary primaries.
Party supporters and sympathisers who heaved a sigh of relieve at the united front that seemed to have been forged must now be crest-fallen by the singular act of the Disciplinary Committee (DC) and (NEC).
How could a party in opposition gunning to take over the reins of power make such a move, when elections was just about a year away? Did the party consider how deep the friction will run and how long it would take to resolve it? And wouldn’t the time and effort used in trying to repair the damage been better utilised in strategising for the campaign ahead?
In reality, what happened last Thursday was the culmination of months of simmering tension between the Afoko-led National Executive and sections of the Party’s hierarchy that had been at loggerheads with each other since the former was elected into office about a year ago.
The run-up to the party’s national executive elections in Tamale in April 2014, was characteristically, beset with factionalism, especially, in the case of the position for Chairman and the General-Secretary.
Afoko and Kwabena Agyepong, the eventual winners as National Chairman and General-Secretary, respectively, were seen as representing the so-called, Kufuor/Kyerematen camp; while the Akufo-Addo camp was seen as backing Fred Oware, the then Vice-Chairman, for the Chairmanship position, and the incumbent General-Secretary, Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie (Sir John) who was seeking to retain his position.
It must be stated that President John Agyekum Kufuor, right from the onset, had denied having any faction in the party or supporting any of the contestants. To show his neutrality, the former President refrained from voting, preferring to support those who came out as winners.
What emerged from the Tamale elections was a divided national executive where the Chairman, Second Vice-Chairman and General-Secretary were seen to be on one side of the divide, and the remaining six, on the other.
As a liberal democratic party, where expression of divergent opinions is a norm, rooting for one person or the other in an electoral contest, should not be a threat to party cohesion.
After competition co-operation
As Alan Kyerematen aptly put it after the presidential primaries: “In our party we compete and after the competition we cooperate.” This has been what the party has been noted for. It therefore comes as a huge surprise that the differences in the current executive could reach such lowly depths.
In the run-up to the 2000 national elections, the party executive led by the late Mr Peter Ala-Adjetey made no bones about their dislike for the presidential candidate, Mr Kufuor. The executive took the then candidate-Kufuor to court over the Concordia ventures debacle, in which Mr Kufuor was accused of having acquired vehicles without the authorisation of the executive.
A special party committee, chaired by the late Commissioner of Police, AK Deku, which was set up to investigate the matter found there was no basis for the accusation and caused its withdrawal from court.
Despite the deep-seated animosity however, the ensuing campaign was run smoothly leading to victory in the national elections.The presidential candidate did not interfere in the work of the party and the party did not impose on the presidential candidate. In the end when victory was won, it was for all in the party, and celebrated by all in the party.
A turn for worse
This time however, things seem to have taken a turn for the worse as suspicion appears to engulf every action of Afoko, Agyapong and Sammy Crabbe, the Second Vice-Chairman, on one hand, and the rest of the executive, led by Freddie Blay, First Vice-Chairman, Abankwa Yeboah, Treasurer, John Buadu, National Organiser, Sammy Awuku, Youth Organiser, among others.
The animosity between the two sides showed very early on. One of the first acts of new executive was to reshuffle the headquarters staff of the party. This led to the removal from office of Mr Kwadwo Opare-Hammond, head of administration and Mr Perry Okudzeto, then in charge of Communications.
In their place, new officials including Eddie Tetteh, Administration, Mike Ampong, Deputy Communications Director, among others, were appointed. This immediately met with the ire of Nana Addo and his supporters on the executive as they resisted the changes, seeing it as victimisation of persons aligned to them.
Surprisingly, or perhaps, not so much so, and also in a show of power, Nana Akufo-Addo, through the National Executive Council, caused the removal of these appointees and replaced them with those that ‘he could work with.’ Perhaps, the only survivor of the changes by Afoko and Agyepong, is Mr Tetteh who is still at post. This trend was to reflect in other measures such as the date for holding of primaries etc.
Things seem to have hit a head when Mr Mahama Adam, Chairman of the party in Upper East died of wounds sustained in an acid attack.
The immediate suspect was Mr Gregory Afoko, younger brother of Paul Afoko who together with one other, is in court charged with the offence. A third person implicated in the alleged plot is on the run.
So bad was the antagonism against Afoko and Agyepong, amidst threats of death, that they could not attend the burial of Mr Adam.
Another incident that showed the entrenchment of positions of the two sides was over party finances.
In the post-analysis of the Telensi bye election, occasioned because the incumbent Member of Parliament relinquished his seat to become the chief of his traditional area, it came to light that the treasurer, Mr Abankwa-Yeboah, had lodged money into an account and withdrawn money from it without the knowledge of either the Chairman or the General-Secretary. The account had been opened and money withdrawn from it by the treasurer and first Vice-Chairman, Mr Blay.
This was contrary to the party’s constitution which mandates the Chairman, General-Secretary and Treasurer as signatories to opening of accounts, and any two of them as signatories to the withdrawal of money. No where does the constitution mandate a vice-chairman as either a signatory to the opening of accounts or signing of cheques for the withdrawal of money.
The public spat that ensued saw either side of the divide supporting their favourites as being in the right and condemning the other side as those who did wrong. A five-member committee set up to investigate that matter is yet to present its report.
High level talks
In the midst of all these, high-level talks by former President Kufuor and other party members were held to try to mend the differences between the two sides. At these meetings the belligerents had been allowed to vent out their spleen and a middle way seemed to have been found. The meetings had closed with both sides pledging to work together.
Prominent among the meetings were those held with a group of political strategists from Germany and another with some renowned members of the society including senior clergy, the latter at the residence of President Kufuor. Both meetings were chaired by former President Kufuor and in attendance were also senior members of the party.
Rise and build tour
So, when Nana Akufo-Addo embarked on the ‘Rise and Build’ tour and was joined by Kyerematen and others, many were those who believed calm had returned to the front and the party was now geared for the fight for the 2016 elections for which victory has been beckoning it all this while.
By their act last week, the party’s NEC seem to have broken the hearts and shattered the hopes of many.
To many, the NPP by this singular act appears to have thrown its chances for winning the 2016 elections overboard, regardless of who is right or wrong in the matter.
Many cannot help but recall a similar instance in 1979 when victory was virtually, snatched from the jaws of the party’s antecedent, Popular Front Party, (PFP), when following a disagreement of a different sort between the party hierarchy, one faction broke off to form the United National Convention (UNC).
In the ensuing election, both factions lost out to the People’s National Party (PNP). The irony however was that the votes of the PFP, which was the bigger of the two, and the UNC, put together, was more than what the PNP got. It was clear for all to see that If the UNC had not broken off, the PFP would have won the ’79 elections.
The current rift appears to be following along the lines of the PFP, UNC divide. The PFP, led by the late Victor Owusu was an idol of former President Kufuor; the late William Ofori-Atta who was leader of the UNC was uncle to Nana Akufo-Addo.
How the NPP will be able to unravel this conundrum in which it now finds itself and still remain attractive enough to voters and win the 2016 elections remains to be seen.
The party seems to forget that politics is a game of numbers. The more numbers you have the greater your chances at winning at the polls.
By: Frank Agyekum, The writer is the Spokesperson/Special Aide to Former President J.A Kufuor