Exclusive: Ghana’s Ex-President John Mahama dismisses any threat to democracy in West Africa

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Mahama
Mahama

JOHN Mahama, was a former president of Ghana from July 24, 2012 to January 7, 2017. Born on November 29, 1958, Mahama is a politician, who had served as vice president of Ghana from January 2009 to July 2012, and took office as President on 24 July 2012, following the death of his predecessor, John Atta Mills.

Mahama is a communication expert, historian, and writer. He was a Member of Parliament from 1997 to 2009 and Minister of Communications from 1998 to 2001. He is a member of the National Democratic Congress.

He is the first vice president in Ghana to take over the presidency due to the death of his principal. He is also the first head of state of Ghana to have been born after Ghana’s independence. Mahama was elected after December 2012 election to serve as fulltime President. contested for re-election for a second term in the 2016 election, but lost to the New Patriotic Party candidate Nana Akufo-Addo, who he defeated in 2012. This made him the 1st President in the history of Ghana to not have won a second term bid.

Mahama has the record of being the only Ghanaian president, who has served at all levels of political office in Ghana.

Mahama is one of Africa’s most-followed leaders on the social networking sites, Twitter and Facebook. In May 2013, he stated that all of West Africa is under the threat of Islamist militancy.

On 30 March 2014, he was elected to preside over ECOWAS. On 26 June 2014, he was elected Chairperson of the African Union’s (AU’s) High-Level African Trade Committee (HATC).

Mahama
Mahama

On 21 January, 2016, on the occasion of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mahama became co-chair of the Sustainable Development Goals Advocates group, which consists of 17 eminent persons assisting the UN Secretary-General in the campaign to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that world leaders unanimously adopted in September 2015. With a mandate to support the Secretary-General in his efforts to generate momentum and commitment to achieve the SDGs by 2030, the SDG Advocates have been working to promote the universal sustainable development agenda, to raise awareness of the integrated nature of the SDGs, and to foster the engagement of new stakeholders in the implementation of these Goals.

In December 2016, he was part of part of the ECOWAS mediation team to resolve the post-election political impasse in The Gambia between the defeated incumbent, Yahya Jammeh and declared winner, Adam Barrow.

As a Member of Parliament, Mahama was first elected to the Parliament of Ghana in the 1996 elections to represent the Bole/Bamboi Constituency for a four-year term. In April 1997, Mahama was appointed Deputy Minister of Communications. He was promoted to the post of Minister of Communications in November 1998, serving in that post until January 2001, when the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) handed over power to the New Patriotic Party’s government.

Mahama is still eyeing the Golden Jubilee House, Ghana’s seat of government as he will be contesting in the 2020 presidential election in Ghana as the flag-bearer of his party, the opposition NDC.

In this vintage exclusive interview with Realnews team, Mahama details why he is running for the highest office in Ghana and how he intend to redeem Ghana if elected. It is a must read. Excerpts.

 

Realnews: Why do you want to contest again as president of Ghana?

Mahama: My party has nominated me to be the flag bearer. Our constitution allows for two-term tenure in office. If you remember my predecessor passed away and so I served the remaining part of his term, which was for five months. And then I won the 2012 election and I served one term in office. So the constitution allows me to stand for another term. And my party called on me to stand again and they overwhelmingly endorsed me with 93.2 percent of the votes. Yes I’m in the race for 2020.

Realnews: What is it that you didn’t do previously that you will do if you win the election?

Mahama
Mahama

Mahama: Well, the constitution drafters signify two terms for a reason because you started a lot of things and a four-year gestation period is a bit short so often you are able to continue from where you left off in the first term. But I think that I’m the only president whom God has given the opportunity to have served and say look I could have done things in different way and put more emphasis on certain areas. I think I will be a better leader the next time than the first time because then you have accumulated that experience under your belt.

So there are a lot of things we are working on. I think we did very well in infrastructure. We went on road constructions, building hospitals, schools, water system, electricity, built a new terminal at the airport, we expanded the harbor and all that. For infrastructure, we have quite a solid record and I think that in my next administration, I will push more on people’s livelihood and see how we can boost entrepreneurship, increase the participation of Ghanaians in all sectors of the economy. If you look at our gross domestic product, GDP, our total sum of production, including foreign investments, and if you take gross national product and calculate exactly the contribution of Ghanaians in the economic activities, you will see that it is low. I think we must push that up.

I don’t know what the figure is currently, but it should be less than 30 percent. So giving Ghanaians more opportunity to be able to engage in the wealth of the country, is something that we will do. We did part of it in our first term. I passed the Local Content Law and the time we were leaving office, Ghanaians companies were handling contracts close to $2 billion. I’m sure that by now the percentage has increased. It allowed wealth from some of our natural resources to remain in our country and create wealth for our people.

Realnews: What lessons have you learnt from losing the last election to the incumbent and what steps are you going to take to ensure that you win the next election?

Mahama: In the electoral processes itself, a lot of things didn’t work out for us. Many of our people, who felt dissatisfied became a bit apathetic and so the roles that we expected that they would play in the electioneering processes were not done. If you look at the results, my opponent didn’t go up much. He won by a few 100 thousands, but my results dropped by over 800 thousand votes. So it means that our people didn’t come out on the day of the election. So galvanizing, mobilizing, motivating them and increasing their interest and excitement in the coming elections, is one of the things we need to do.

Realnews: How are you going to do that, have you started already?

Mahama: We have started. Since I was elected the flag bearer, I have been going round and we are putting the party back in shape. We have held all the different elections that we should hold from the branch level up to the flag bearer level. We are now dealing with our parliamentary primaries and as at now, we have finished 230 out of 275 constituencies. So we have few more to go and our parliamentary candidates will be set.

Once we do that, we need to start the training of our party executives and then start the training of our party agents, who will supervise the compilation of the new register and supervise the election processes. So our job is cut out for us. We have come up with a calendar with programmes that we are following and I’m sure we will be ready for the 2020 elections.

Realnews: The education sector in Ghana is quite crucial and I know that now that you are in opposition and criticizing the current education system in Ghana, especially the senior secondary school level, where we learnt that teenage pregnancy has gone beyond what people expected because of the two systems being run by the government. Are you going to continue with it or abolish it?

Mahama
Mahama

Mahama: The system in the senior secondary school is a programme provided for by our Constitution, but our constitution says we should be progressive. When President Akufo-Addo came in he decided to implement it in three years and so the problem with SHS is not the policy, but the implementation. This government has not implemented it properly. And that is why we have this problem with us.

The contact awareness between the students and teachers are falling because it is congested. They cannot have all the children in school at the same time. Our approach then was to expand access so that many of them can come in. And so we started a process of building 200 new schools, we awarded 123 contracts and they were at different stages of completion.

I commissioned 43 before I left office and by the time I left office almost another 30 were ready for commissioning. The intention was that once you started fixing the high school, we will have enough space for the children to be accommodated. Unfortunately when the new government came they abandoned the new secondary schools that we were building. They are at the same stage it was when I left office.

Of course, once they are implemented in three years and more children come to school, then the existing structure could not carry it. So they have enough dormitories, classrooms and laboratories. So that is the problem with the implementation. We have a double track system, some children are classified as Gold, while others classified as Green.

So when the Gold goes to school, the Green stays at home and the period they stay at home is very long, three months and a lot of communities and traditional rulers are complaining that teenage pregnancy is occurring because the children stay too long at home instead of going to school. And aside from that, teachers are overwhelmed because it is almost the same number of teachers who have to deal with bigger numbers of children. This situation has affected government fiscal space.

They cannot supply necessary equipment for the laboratories so that those doing sciences can have quality learning experience. So it has created a lot of problems. Now, what I said is that when I come I’m going to call a stakeholders conference, comprising the parents, teachers, experts in the educational system and everybody and we will look at the implementation of SHS again. And once we look at it, we all will come to a consensus that over the next number of years this is what we need to do.

We need to build this number of classrooms, dormitories and we must employ this number of teachers in order to give all the children good quality experience. And so we will do that and have a definitive timetable when all those things must be ready so that the children can have a better education.

If we continue at the rate this government is going, the quality of our secondary education is going to go down. We will fast-track the completion of schools we were constructing and if we have another 200 schools and each of the schools can take at least 1500 children, it means that more than 200,000 children can get accommodated in the community schools. Those are some of the things we are looking at. We will abolish the double-track system so that the children will go to school at the same time.

Realnews: There is this system we had in Nigeria when the population became a problem like what what you have now. What we did was to start morning and afternoon shift so that it accommodated all the students. This set will be in the morning and another set in the afternoon, you don’t lose anything as all the children go to school on the same day.

Mahama: We had that system, but at the basic school level. But what we did was that we eliminated it and put enough classroom facilities in place and we employed more teachers because some of the children were playing truancy. You see a child on the street in the morning and you asked why you are not in school, he will say I’m on afternoon and in afternoon he will say I’m in the morning.

So we wanted to eliminate that by building many millennium schools and we abolished the shift system. If you see any child on the street then it means he hasn’t gone to school because all of them are going to school at the same time.

Mahama
Mahama

But we never had a day and afternoon shift at the secondary level because majority of our secondary schools are boarding, yes there are some children who come as day students from their homes, but the majority of the students are in the boarding house. But the 200,000 new schools we are building are community day schools. They don’t have boarding facilities and so mostly the children will come from the surrounding communities.

What we are trying to do is to build a lot more of those schools in the urban centres where there is a high demand for secondary education so that we can soak-up some of the pressure coming from the densely populated areas. There are two schools that we built out of the 200,000 schools. There are two of them that we built in a place called Kwabiana and another one in Fafrana, they are In the suburbs of Accra.

The day I went to commission these schools, the schools were full because all the parents in the surrounding communities immediately brought their children and registered them in the school. And so it soaked up some of that pressure. We will find a way once we do the stakeholders consultations, I’m sure the issue will be very clear and we will find a solution to it.

Realnews: You spoke about our border closure, you saw applaud which shows that many Nigerians didn’t like the closure. It is only the government that is singing about the gains, assuming we are still delaying and you come-in in 2020, what will be your first action?

Mahama: I think it must be resolved diplomatically. I believe that an ECOWAS meeting of the Heads of States to discuss the issues will lead to resolution of it. Our economic partnerships between Nigerian companies and Ghanaian companies, Nigerian companies and Ivorian companies on different kinds of products, we have exchange of goods along the coast, especially between Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria and that is why we talked about Lagos – Abidjan corridor.

If you look at West Africa, the greatest volume of trade in West Africa takes place in the Lagos – Abidjan corridor. Of course because Nigeria is the largest economy, there is a greater inflow of goods from other countries. And we have what is called the ETLS. It says that to be able to export a product into your neighbouring ECOWAS country, 60 percent of the content of the product must be manufactured locally in your country. So in Ghana, we have different products that we manufacture locally that meet the ETLS standard.

Realnews: What is ETLS?

Mahama: ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ETLS. So we have many companies that produce and export to Togo, Benin and Nigeria based on the ETLS standard. It is the same with Nigeria.

There are Nigerian manufacturers, who once they meet the ETLS standards are able to export to Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire. And so it is an economic activity that we must not kill. Closing your border is the simplest thing to do. Any country can say I’m closing my border to imports from my neighbours.

But it doesn’t help to build the kind of integration we are trying to build in West Africa. And that is why I’m saying as quickly as possible, we must find a solution to it. The action that has been taken in terms of creating a joint-security taskforce on the border between Nigeria and her immediate neighbouring countries, I think is a good first step. I also think that there are other innovations that can be brought-in in order that this problem can be resolved.

We should do it as quickly as possible. It has lasted since August and it is killing some businesses both in Nigeria and other countries. By the time they probably reopen the border, some businesses that rely on each other’s export may probably have collapsed.

Realnews: What has Ghana lost with this border closure?

Mahama
Mahama

Mahama: There are a lot of Ghanaian manufacturers who export to Nigeria. I need to find out the exact classification of goods that are included. Nigeria already has a prohibition list. For instance, you can’t bring furniture into Nigeria even when the borders were open. Ghana does a lot of furniture, but we have not been exporting it to Nigeria because Nigeria said they won’t accept furniture from anywhere. But there are other products we are able to export to other markets like beverages and things like pharmaceuticals and things like that.

Realnews: Economic integration has been going on in Africa, do you think ECOWAS has achieved what it set out to achieve since 1975?

Mahama: ECOWAS achieved some forward movement in terms of integration. For instance, when you tell people that for four decades now or more, we are able to travel into each other’s countries without visas, they will find it surprising. When I tell my South African brothers and others that since 1970s, we were able to travel and live 90 days free without visas in each other’s country they find it very surprising.

That was a good first step that ECOWAS took, it needed to be followed with economic integration, but that is what never happened. And its only now with the signing of the continental free trade area that we have signed up to the protocol to implement free trade in terms of creating a customs union and eventually a completely free trade area.

So I think we have taken a good first step, but it is a paradox that now we have signed the continental free trade area that this border closure has happened. And as I said during the lecture with the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, we need to meet as a continental body and see how we can find solutions to these problems. And see how we can move forward from it.

Realnews: Still on this integration, do you think a time will come when we will have a common currency in the ECOWAS region.

Mahama: It is possible. Actually, I was joint-chair with President Issoufou of Niger on the mechanism for introducing a second common currency. They made us joint-chair on the committee that was supervising the mechanism of introducing a common currency.

Actually my successor took over from me and he is still the joint-chair with President Issoufou. The intention is to introduce a second common currency in West Africa and then eventually merge the two. I think it is difficult but possible. It is difficult because of common currency in the French zone.

The currency is guaranteed by France as a country and how to overcome that guarantee and cut it loose and for us to come together as a region without one country guaranteeing the currency is one of hurdles we must cross. But if we move to have two common currencies in West Africa, that’s a good first step. It will make trade and exchange easier, but there are things we need to introduce. We need to be more discipline in our economies. We must not run super deficit and keep inflation below a certain level. It is difficult but possible.

Realnews: Let’s look at politics of countries in ECOWAS vis-à-vis security issues?

Mahama: Security is becoming a major problem and I addressed it in the lecture, especially terrorism. It has many causes. There is ideological brainwashing where these terrorist groups are actively recruiting young people into their ranks, brainwashing them, using them to achieve the objective of terror they have set for themselves. But then this young people are available only because they feel marginalized and there is no hope on the horizon for them.

They don’t see themselves as able to get any meaningful employment to be able to live a dignified life, raise a family, look after their children and so they become easy prey for recruitment into terrorist organizations. There is an angle of it too that is created by climate change and increase in population pressure.

As you are aware they said that Lake Chad has reduced to 20 percent of its original size. It means fresh water that used to be available for cattle grazing and all that has reduced. Even the grazing pastures have reduced because population increases, people need more land to farm and as a result there are issues between the pastoralists and the farmers. All those issues are going to exacerbate. They are not going to become better because the rate at which population is growing there will be need for more farmlands.

So it is a major issue for us and ECOWAS as a body when I was president we met and discuss these issues at various levels. We came up with several joint decisions that we needed to undertake.

One in terms of intelligence sharing, two in terms of monitoring movement of people within the sub-region, three, if you remember the joint military taskforce between Nigeria and her neighbours to be able to fight Boko Haram menace.

And so there are activities taking place within the countries to see how we can stem the activities of these groups, but it is a major issue. It will probably get worse rather than better. So we better sit up.

Mahama
Mahama

Realnews: What about young people being recruited because they are unemployed and unemployment has been said to be a major time bomb in Africa and West Africa in particular. So what is your take on this development?

Mahama: During the lecture, I gave those recommendations about expanding our economies faster, growing the digital and service industries as quickly as possible and even bigger because we have the capacity to absorb greater numbers of young people. Expanding trades among ourselves and economic activities so that entrepreneurs can grow their businesses and employ more people. We are not going to grow businesses if all of us close our borders and keep to our small markets.

There are a lot of issues that we must look at. Our economies must grow by at least seven to eight percent per annum consistently to keep pace with the rate of growth. And the figures I gave during the lecture, we have about 12 million young people in Africa coming on the job market every year.

And we are creating just between six to seven million jobs a year. So about five million people and they can’t find jobs and so if we don’t increase the pace at which our economies are growing, this is going to be a major problem. Our population growth is both an advantage and disadvantage. If we are able to keep up with economic growth with our population, young and energetic population, then that is good. But if we are not able then it becomes a time bomb because they say devil finds work in idle hands.

I also talked about changing our educational curriculum and putting on emphasis on technical and vocational education because the world today is demanding high number of skilled people. So it is not just a long grammar that you come out of school and you are able to speak. But opportunities are opening up in industries and manufacturing and at sometimes they find it difficult to find medium level technicians with that kind of proficiency. So we need to look at that aspect too.

Realnews: You talked about climate change and the effect it is having on the farmers and the herders. In western countries they don’t have herders moving from one place to another yet they produce a lot of meat that they even export and take care of their countries’ needs. Why can’t Africa do the same, must we continue in this old primitive way of herders moving from one place to another destroying farms that can also lead to food insecurity?

Mahama
Mahama

Mahama: Climate change is affecting everybody in different ways and so even though they don’t have herders and farmers clashes, they have floods and forest fires. You see what is happening in Australia, California and weather has become erratic. Already America is going through a winter Freeze, which is unusual by this time of the year.

So things are changing and that is why we talk about climate adaptation. I talked about using science and technology. They have been able to increase agricultural production scientifically.

That is why I said we can increase agricultural production 10 folds by using cultural tissue technology. There are many biotechnologies by which you can increase productivity of your farmers.

You can give them improved seeds that can produce three to four times more than the usual seeds they are used to. Our farmers are used to keeping part of the old seeds. When the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa, Kofi Annan’s initiative came one of the interventions they did was to recruit seed farmers and give them improved seeds to give to the farmers and they discovered that one farmer had been using one seed for 20 years. And the seed was so exhausted and production has fallen to less than how many grams per hectare.

They have a way of measuring it. But when they gave them improved seeds, he went to two – three tons per hectare. And so these little interventions can improve the productivity of farmers.

And that is what our agriculture ministers, agriculture policy makers must seek to do. Apply more science and technology to production because we can’t continue the way our forefathers used to do it. We still have people using hoes and cutlasses in the 21th century when if you have access to a small power tiller, you could probably till a bigger plot of land than you are tilling if you are using hoe and cutlass.

So there is a lot we can change. It is the urgency of it now. We should do it as quick as possible so that we will be able to provide food security for our people.

Realnews: How do we prevent farmers/herders clashes? Must we continue in this primitive way of moving cattle from one place to another? Do you have such challenges in Ghana?

Mahama: We have it. We have clashes between pastorals and farmers. We started an experiment and I don’t know what happened to it, to try to convert our pastoralists into intensive cattle farming.

And letting them know that you can grow your heads of cattle within a certain restricted area. Once you have the correct crops. If you go to East Africa it is being done. I went to a farm in East Africa, they have the cows in one part of the country and they grow grass that the cattle eat.

And so they open it and the cattle move in and when they finish grazing by then they have another place. They open it as well. By the time the cattle go round, the year has passed. They have water and everything there. And so if we take that model and try to teach our pastoralists how to do it, then that will be a better means. It means that you can grow your cattle without allowing them move around and go into people’s farm. Eventually something has to give.

Realnews: What should give then …?

Mahama
Mahama

Mahama: You can’t stop growing crops, but you can confine animals. So we need to start that training. If you go to Argentine and see where they raise cattle it is almost like a desert. It is the drier part of Argentine where they don’t grow corps that is where they raise cattle. So the cattle can survive if you give them the right conditions and the right feeds. So eventually something has to give.

Realnews: You are aware of the problem we have in Nigeria, especially in the southern part of the country over the Ruga Settlement, what do you think about such policy?,

Mahama: Well I’m not very acquainted with the politics in Nigeria when it comes to that ….

Realnews: We are looking beyond the settlement and what would you advice the government to do?

Mahama: That is the way to go.

Realnews: What is the way to go?

Mahama: If you look at what is happening in the world with biotechnology I don’t know whether you have heard of Beyond Meat. There is a company that did an IPO recently called Beyond Meat and they are cultivating meat not from animals.

Realnews: How do they do that?

Mahama: They have a biotechnology. They take the tissue culture and then multiple meats naturally in a manufacturing process. They do hamburger with it and it taste like beef. So as the world population continues to rise, eight billion soon and then 10 billion in future, it is possible that the way we currently grow and slaughter cattle is going to change. And it was one of the most successful IPOs because people are concerned about cholesterol and living longer. Apart from that, they said that a good percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leading to climate change is from livestock farming. I don’t know how true that is.

People are becoming more conscious of reducing their meat intake. There are a lot of things happening in the world and we must look at what is going to happen in the next 50 years. If something as simple as creating intensive farming, we are not able to do it, I don’t know how we are preparing for the future that is coming.

Realnews: Climate change has been a big problem, especially in Africa. If you become a president what are you going to do? There is this group, African Risk Capacity, which I know Ghana has subscribed to, how are you going to use it to ensure that disaster rate is reduced?

Mahama: The greatest risk West Africa has is drought and desertification because of our continuous use of firewood to cook. The Saharan desert is the biggest desert in the whole world and it is estimated that it is inching southwest. And that is why I said in another century or two, the south that used to be forest will be like the Saharan desert.

And maybe if we continue like this in 300 years time, all these places will be part of the Saharan desert. If we don’t start taking steps now, one we need to take our forestation very seriously. And two, we need to convert our people from the use of firewood into the use of liquefied petroleum gas and other forms of cooking using solar power.

We need to start doing it now otherwise we will cross the tipping point. And once we cross the tipping point, whatever you do will not make any different. If you go to some parts of our country when I was young, you could see that it was a forested area, but today when I go back to that same part, you see that the distance between the trees have increased. You see one tree and the next tree is 50 meters away before that it used to be a forest. So you can see that there is something going on and if we don’t arrest it, it will be too late.

Realnews: How come that when disaster happens in Africa most African countries don’t rise up to assist like what happened in Mozambique and if something happens elsewhere you see African countries donating money like when Notre-Dame incident happened. Some African countries donated money for Notre-Dame to be rebuild, but the disaster that faced Mozambique nobody did anything. How do you reconcile that?

Mahama
Mahama

Mahama: I think is ours is a misplacement of priorities, but also it might be as a result of the sentimental attachment of the persons who did that to that monument. There are some people who are French scholars, they went to school in France, they are probably accustomed to French culture and the historical value of Notre-Dame, and so they will donate money for that.

But I do believe that each should be his brother’s keeper and if something happens in our own little way we are able to help. Even in our culture, you live in a neighbourhood and there is disaster that one of your neighbours is affected by disaster, everybody contributes their widow’s might. So it is something we are accustomed to doing and when I was president I did it.

When Ebola hit three countries, we put together 100 tons of relief materials, including made in Ghana rice, chocolate, cooking oil among others. We divided it among the three countries and indeed I thank President Jonathan again. We didn’t have the air capacity to move it, but it was Nigeria that gave us their plane to airlift the materials to the three countries.

That is the collaboration between Nigeria and Ghana. I believe if something happens in another African country, all of us must assist to help. During the Ebola crisis too, we all contributed. Nigeria gave, I think, $3 million and another country $500,000 and it was divided equally among the countries that were hit by Ebola. Those are the kind of examples we want to see.

Realnews: Recently, we had this issue with the AU lady being sent packing, how do you see what happened to her?

Mahama: It is most unfortunate and I think it shouldn’t have been allowed to happen. Well she is a strong woman and she is fighting back. She is making advocacy on what has happened and I do think that Africa should stand by her. She did nothing wrong. And I think it is unfair for that kind of pressure to be put on UN to dismiss someone like that.

Realnews: How would you tackle the issue of Nigerian traders in Ghana if you become president?

Mahama: It is actually not Nigerian traders. It is foreign traders. There is a law that we have that was passed years ago that says that the retail market should be reserved for Ghanaians and so foreigners cannot own shops in a market. Now the confusion is what is a market? That is where the problem is.

Realnews: So the law didn’t define it?

Mahama: It didn’t define it properly. It gave a certain definition of market, but at the time the law was passed a typical idea of market is no longer what we see as market. We have a whole street where people turn their buildings into shops, is that a market? But the intention had been that foreigners can participate in the wholesale end but should not come into the retail end.

The retail end is reserved for Ghanaians. So that has been the bone of contention. We have a trade association that are trying to enforce the law and often times Nigerians and Chinese are affected. It is not like the attack on only Nigerians, sometimes they go and short Chinese shops and all that.

But with the free trade area, I think that the protocol, which is an ECOWAS protocol supersedes other local legislation. We have to attune our local legislation to march ECOWAS legislation because normally when you pass a new protocol you must align your laws in order that the new protocol can operate.

It is something that governments need to look at to bring some finality into this matter so that we will see ourselves as West Africans. I mean free to live and work anywhere. There are Ghanaians who are living and doing business here (Nigeria) and they have been successful. In the same way, there are Nigerians living and doing business in Ghana and they are successful as well.

It is the criminals that we must go after. If Ghanaians come to Nigeria and engage in criminal activities, they must be dealt with. And if Nigerians come to Ghana and engage in crime they must be dealt with. But those who are residing quietly and doing their businesses legitimately, I think we should allow their business to prosper.

Realnews: What do you make of the issue of the lecturer that criticized the Ghanaian government and was forced to leave Ghana?

Mahama: It was unfortunate and I followed that story. He was speaking within a certain context; he was talking to his countrymen about the system in Ghana and how to beat the system. I didn’t hear the whole tape completely, but the question is he didn’t go through due process. The university relieved him of his job first and after that the authorities deported him.

I believe we must respect the rule of law. If there was something he could have used the legal process to determine whether he has done anything against the laws of Ghana, if he had it was right to deport me. But the next thing we heard was that the university had sacked him and the immigration declared him as unwanted person and deported him. I think it was most unfortunate.

Realnews: Looking at democracy in Africa, you were among those that persuaded the former Gambia president to handover, considering the threat of democracy in some African countries; do you think that democracy is actually under threat in Africa?

Mahama: Not under threat. I think that it is still maturing and we can do better. If you look at our electoral system in Ghana, when we started in 1992 and you compare it to now, there have been a marked improvement between 1992 and now. Anytime we conduct election, we identify what the loopholes are and then we do corrections.

Right now, we are using biometrics registers. We are doing verifications. We have verification machines to be able to tell that this person is actually who he says he is but he is able to vote. And make sure that we are able to compare the number of people who were verified by the machine and the number of votes in the ballot box. What is left is for the parties to ensure that nobody tampers with the process and that is where the difficulty is because when a party sent tugs to go and scare everybody from the polling station and burn the ballot papers and all that. That one is completely out of the electoral process.

So it is not the democracy or the electoral process itself, it is the attitude of the people and that is what we must deal with. We must let the will of the people express itself even when you have reservations. In the last elections there were few reservations. My party came up with issues about incidence that took place in many areas and all that, but once the will of the people have been expressed I have to abide by the decision and conceded the election. And it is my hope that when the people express their will in 2020, if I do win my successor will also abide by the will of the people.

Realnews: You have been on observer missions, what do you make of the elections we had here in Nigeria?

Mahama: Actually I didn’t follow the elections. You had elections in two states, Bayelsa and Kogi.

Realnews: I mean the general elections in 2019?

Mahama: I actually didn’t follow. I was just seeing news reports but there were few disturbing videos that I saw. But the point is because I was not directly involved in the election, what we do is if there are incidence in an election, the issue is where they enough to have changed the result because sometimes there could be an isolated incidence in a couple of polling stations. But they don’t materially change the result of the election. That is what you should always look at. Was it widespread, I couldn’t judge from the videos that I saw?

I saw a few videos, but Nigeria is a big country and I don’t know the number of polling stations affected and that is why I cannot make any judgment on the quality of the election. But when I go as an observer then I’m engaged in the electoral process and we have access to more information. With this you have to make a judgment whether the election meets the international standard the country has signed onto.

Realnews: The situation in Guinea has it changed?

Mahama: There have been demonstrations and people have died and many people have been injured. It is most unfortunate and it is my hope that ECOWAS will get engaged as quickly as possible to try to resolve the matter. My understanding is that there is fear that the president wants to run for a third term and that is what is creating the problem. We have seen a few examples. I was engaged in Burkina Faso when the president wanted to run for a third term and you saw the explosion that took place in the country.

We were sent to re-stabilise the system and install the transition government and then eventually elections were held and Burkina Faso was stabilized again. It is ECOWAS responsibility to engage now and make sure that what happened in other places does not happen in Guinea.

Realnews: But in Burkina Faso, it is not yet Uhuru?

Mahama: It is not yet Uhuru because of terrorism, insurgency, especially in the northern part and so all of us are looking on with a lot of concern.

Realnews: It is your neighbour?

Mahama: Insecurity is coming from Mali and it is spreading into Burkina Faso and also Ghana too has to be at alert because Burkina Faso is our immediate northern neighbour. I know that from my time and even to this current government, some measures have been put in place to deal with any insurgency that comes through our borders.

Realnews: One striking thing I notice in your answer about Ghana, you said after an election the lessons are learnt and you make some changes, but it is the opposite here. Our elections instead of progressing, we are going backward. In 2015 we said it good, but now it has gone back to the 1960s from what happened in just two states. For me I’m seeing some signs that probably the military is not really leaving us alone. If you notice since we came back we have had two former military heads of state as political heads of state and they don’t want change. How do we go about it?

Mahama: Whoever is elected the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces. I know Obasanjo was a military officer, Yar’Adua was not, Jonathan was not and then President Buhari. At least in the four presidents so far, you have two civilians and two military. I haven’t done a comparative study of the presidents, but there can be constitutional dictatorship too.

Even though the constitution expels, people can push their limits and do things you might interpret as unconstitutional. America is having its fair share in Trump, pushing the limits of their democracy. The thing is that the system must be resilient to be able to resist an abuse of power.

Unfortunately, we have younger democracies and our institutions are still maturing. We need to strengthen the institutions so that judges can give rulings based on their convictions rather than the fact that they have come under pressure by anybody. But even the most resilient democracies also have their problems like America is having. One will never have thought that America will get to this place, but it means that the cost of democracy and freedom is the eternal vigilance by the people. And so the people must remain vigilant and make sure that their systems work.

Realnews: Sir, is there any other information you would like to give to us Nigerians and Ghanaians who would vote for you in 2020?

Mahama: I believe that as countries we must get our house together. We have great human resource. If you come to Nigeria, if they do things they try to do it to perfection. You take the films, acts, music, academic thoughts and everything. We should be able to transfer this superiority of thought and action into our politics too.

– Dec. 4, 2019 @ 18:10 GMT |

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