Ghana votes, Nigeria hopes

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GHANAIANS head to the poll today, 7th December, 2020 to elect their president for the next four years in a race widely billed as a “battle of two giants.” Incumbent President Nana Addo Akufo-Addo of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) is facing-off with former president, John Dramani Mahama, who is the torchbearer of the National Democratic Congress (NDC).

Although there are 12 candidates vying for the presidency, including three women, and for the first time a woman standing for vice president on the ticket of a major party, the contest is effectively between Akufo-Addo and Mahama. It is also the third consecutive election the two politicians are squaring up for the highest office – with both having previously won apiece: Akufo-Addo in 2016 and Mahama in 2012. Whereas it is the third match-up by the ‘big two,’ however, it is the first time in the electoral history of the West African neighbour of Nigeria that voters are having to choose between a sitting president and a former one. Expectedly, therefore, the stakes have been uncommonly high as the two candidates, leading up to today’s poll, waged their respective campaign on Ghana’s economy, infrastructure development, education and corruption-related issues. Akufo-Addo, 76, touted the economic growth achieved under his current tenure and improvement in social services, among other feats. Mahama, 62, on the other hand, vaunted infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, schools and hospitals put in place during his presidency and promised to do more if re-elected.

This will be the eight general election since the country of some 29million people returned to democracy nearly 30 years ago. It is noteworthy that since Ghana began holding multi-party poll, the two major parties namely centre-right NPP and center-left NDC have alternated stints in power and elections were historically close. In 2012, Mahama narrowly defeated Akufo-Addo with 50.7 percent of the votes, while four years later, Akufo-Addo unseated Mahama with 53.8 percent of the votes. A candidate must poll at least 50 percent of the votes to be elected in the first round. In today’s election, besides choosing the president, Ghana’s roughly 17million registered voters will also elect 275 legislators from a field of 914 contestants for the country’s parliament.

There is reportedly a high level of confidence among citizens that the National Electoral Commission (NEC) of Ghana will deliver a fair poll despite partisan bickering over its neutrality considering the mode of appointment of its helmspersons, which is statutorily by a sitting president, and the factor of weak electoral infrastructure across the country that makes the commission rely on government structure for polls logistics. Electoral commissioners in Ghana have security of tenure and recruitment of permanent as well as ad hoc staff is not subject to government control. But at the leadership level, a chairperson can be removed from office and a new one appointed by the president. This reality stoked doubts over the commission’s independence by opposition parties and accounted for much of the pre-election tension. Historical evidence, however, weighed in favour of the commission holding ground on its neutrality. Another contentious factor of the country’s electoral process is the voter register, the credibility of which seems to be in perpetual partisan dispute – apparently so because the victory margin in Ghanaian elections is typically slim and, hence, outcomes could be easily misdirected by perversions in the voter roll. All those disputations regardless, the country is safely berthing at the polls today.

For us in Nigeria, it is better that Ghana gets done with this election, whatever its outcome, because it seems the case that the ferocity of partisan duelling towards the poll largely informed the nationalistic streak which has made Nigerian traders in that country collateral victims. A few months back, the traders came under heavy hand as the Ghanaian government locked up no fewer than 250 retail shops for alleged reason that the operators failed to meet up the $1million minimum equity stipulated in the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) Act for foreigners going into retail business in the country. The traders sought the help of their home country’s government, complaining that despite the stipulated equity being out of reach for many of their members, even those who managed to pay as well had their shops locked up. They further argued that Nigerian traders were singled out for implementation of the minimum equity requirement.

The Nigerian government duly protested the treatment meted out to its citizens in Ghana and engaged Ghanaian authorities on multiple fronts, but not much has been achieved till date to succour the affected traders and many have called on Abuja to facilitate their repatriation back home. Against protestations by Abuja that the Ghanaian measure violated the principle of sub-regional integration, the government in Accra cited Nigeria’s unilateral decision to shut its borders last year over smuggling, despite that it badly hurt other member-nations of the sub-region, to assert its protectionist sovereignty. People who know the workings of the Ghanaian society have argued, however, that there is more of politics than strict commerce to Accra’s posture. According to them, the raw deal against Nigerian traders derived from some Ghanaians piling pressure on the Akufo-Addo government to curtail the dominance by Nigerian enterprises in their country and create idle (as opposed to competitive) space for Ghanaians traders to flourish. There is obviously political capital entailed in obliging such pressure, which the election in view might have strongly encouraged.

Early last week, with the poll only a few days hence, the Nigerian traders raised fresh alarm that more of their shops had been marked for another round of closures – a development not beyond the possibility of design to milk out the last drops of electoral capital. President of the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) Ken Ukaoha reported that Ghanaian security agents had pasted notices on the shops of his members requesting the proprietors to show up at the Ministry of Trade and Industry with evidence of payment of $1million. “It is senseless that you asked a community to leave your space, and while they’re preparing with their government on how to act on your demand, another round of closure is being effected,” Ukaoha said in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja as he canvassed urgent intervention by the home government. The catch is, previous interventions including presidential exchanges between Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari and Ghana’s Nana Akufo-Addo, legislative diplomacy initiative by House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila as well as bilateral parleys at ministerial level between the two countries have thus far failed to break the gridlock.

It is not beyond contemplation that the anti-Nigerian drive by Ghana could lose some steam after today’s poll. Not that there is any question about Ghanaians having the absolute prerogative to elect whomever they want as leader; but whoever it is they choose, there would at least no longer exist the motivation of questing for electoral capital to drive the anti-Nigerian sentiment. In effect, if Akufo-Addo returns as president, his government might be less uptight and better disposed to reaching a middle ground with Nigeria on issues that informed the contentious trade policy. On the other hand, if it is Mahama, it seems a long shot that he would toe the hard line of Akufo-Addo’s government considering the liberal orientation of his political platform. Either way, Nigeria gains something.

So, however it goes, Ghana’s election today holds out some hope for Nigeria and we must thus wish that country the best with its experience at the poll.

The Nation

– Dec. 8, 2020 @ 08:55 GMT /

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