Ghana’s Supreme Court landmark Saga: An Opportunity Being Missed?

By Kofi Ayim

The almost universal saying that a fish rots from its head may be an apt proverbial characterization of the ongoing Supreme Court proceeding in Ghana.  U.S. President Barack Obama in his maiden visit to Ghana urged African countries to build strong institutions instead of strong men. Ghana’s emerging democracy cannot now boast of one institution that comes close to President Obama’s dream for a stronger Africa. In most of Africa, Ghana included, the armies are the most organized institutions. No wonder they could and can take over the institution-less countries at will. Until then we could look to the judiciary to have the best opportunity to establish a viable and strong institution. When it succeeds it will serve as a counterbalance to the army, the executive, and legislature. In this the current challenge of the 2012 Presidential elections by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in Ghana’s Supreme Court may be just the rare chance that the country has to grow one important institutional arm in the body of its supreme court. This would call for a court that will ascribe to the highest standards of fairness and impartiality. 

The NPP vehemently protested the selection of Justice William Atuguba as the presiding judge of the 9-member panel of Supreme Court judges. The basis of the protest was that Ghana’s newly elected President John D. Mahama had appointed a nephew of the presiding judge as his executive secretary.   It did not help that the appointee’s name was Raymond Atuguba. Should Supreme Court Justice William Atuguba have declined the appointment and completely removed himself from the panel?  Well, before the matter could be debated to a logical conclusion, the NPP rescinded their protest because they found out that at least one of the  other judges were also closely related to some of their own leading members.  Poor Africa, the expediency of blood relations and nepotistic appointments waylay any attempt at impartial and transparent institution building.  Right out of the gate the chance to set the Supremes apart in Ghana could be judged (excuse the pun) as missed. Not so fast, said Justice William Atuguba: “some losers would rather appeal a (lost) case, no matter how frivolous, and there is nothing anyone can do about it”. He made this observation at a presentation in February 2013 at Fordham Law School

It is difficult and would not be fair to conclude at this stage that Justice William Atuguba is biased in favor of the incumbent president and his political party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), but the lack of firmness that has characterized the proceedings of the electoral panel is worrisome. The onus lies on Justice Atuguba, as chair of the panel, to correct this anomaly.

We can make some observation s about the management of the Atuguba-led court. He appears to allow the lawyers pleading or challenging the evidence to sidestep the professional and courtroom decorum and yell insults at each other and simply misbehave. Attorney Tsatsu Tsikata, the lead counsel for the NDC has screamed “Shut up!” at his counterparts.  When this initial “salvo” was not seriously challenged and addressed by the bench, Mr. Philip Addison lead Counsel for the Petitioners took a cue from the development, as did the witnesses. They’ve become sarcastic to questions and answers. And Tony Lithur representing President John Mahama has flung papers all over the court out of anger or frustration. We can only appeal to the presiding Supreme Court Justice and his other eight colleagues to seize control of the court if there is any chance of showcasing Ghana’s Supreme Court as a potential, effective, and useful institution.  After all, the Supremes are setting examples for Ghana’s lower courts and for that matter courts in other parts of Africa. Yes the world is watching so someone has to be the grown –up with no tolerance for antics and stupidity in the highest court of the land. Ghana is waiting. Prospective investors are waiting. Certainly President John Mahama is waiting to know whether he does have the mandate to lead the country. Oh yes Nana Akufo- Addo who is the chief plaintiff of the case is waiting to find out if at last he would  be given either a direct  seat as the new  president of Ghana, asked to be one of the two candidates in a runoff, or simply wished better luck next time. We shall not advance a conjecture. That is where the supreme court has to do its job to listen, be fair, control the court, and render  a fair and generally correct judgment, and soon enough.

The firmness, fairness, and objectivity of the judges in this landmark case are paramount. It could eventually determine whether Ghana progresses up the ladder of socioeconomic relevance or retrogresses into an unending political abyss.

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Posted by on Jun 15 2013. Filed under Community News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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