Ghana: Supreme Court Upholds Mahama’s Presidency

Against a backdrop of well-armed security personnel, the nine-member Supreme Court panel that heard New Patriotic Party’s (NPP)  petition to invalidate the election of John Dramani Mahama, delivered judgment on August 29 upholding National Democratic Congress’ (NDC) John Mahama. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo of the NPP in his acceptance of the verdict said he did not agree but would accept it anyway.  

Reactions to the verdict from Ghanaians and the country’s media are mixed. Talk of corruption and political consideration coming from both the media and individuals are pervading the air waves. Gabby Otchere Darko, Executive Director of the Danquah Institute and a lawyer described the judgment as corrupt. Tsatsu Tsikata, a lawyer and the leading attorney for the NDC singled out one of the judges for condemnation as being too partisan. Both gentlemen are receiving the flack for their pronouncements.

The pattern of ruling among the judges indicates either a total disregard of the issues raised in the petition as without merit or not enough to invalidate a presidency. Contrary to Tsatsu Tsikata’s observation, most of the judges, particularly those appointed to the court by NPP’s President J.A. Kufour, voted mostly without regard to political affiliation. And those include Justices Adinyira and Baffoe Bonnie. On the other hand all three judges appointed by the ruling NDC voted to dismiss all the issues raised in the petition by the NPP.

In his written submission, the President of the panel Justice William Atuguba, while citing various authorities to admit the legitimacy of some of the issues raised by the NPP leader, he at the same time rejects them on the strength of the law. On unsigned electoral results by presiding officers for instance he writes among others: “It is true however that … an unsigned Election petition is a dud document to be struck out but Election petitions are sometimes treated very strictly because of the element of protraction over the outcome of the exercise of the franchise…. Even there the court bemoaned the days of technicalities in the administration of justice and liberally held that where there are and if a listed solicitor’s agent signed a petition it should be accepted as valid.” Equally he dismisses the issue of over voting and voting without biometric verification “except to the limited extent admitted by the Electoral Commission’s chairman, which cannot impact much on the declared results.”

Indeed Atuguba’s submissions carries so much weight with those judges who voted with him that Justice Adinyira on her part dismisses the relevance of the law in adjudicating such petition as filed by the NPP. She further submits that the Petitioner could not prove beyond the reasonable doubt that its allegations are valid enough to unseat John Mahama as president of the Republic of Ghana.

A dissenting voice to the majority of six who voted en masse to throw out the petition, Justice Julius Ansah, writes on over voting  that  it [over voting] “cannot be trifled with in any election much less a Presidential election and so if the petitioners were to make out a case of over voting they are required by law to furnish this court with all the pink sheets in the MB-C series and to also demonstrate that on the face of the pink sheets there was a real case of over voting.” Ansah invalidates both the election of John Dramani Mahama as president and the declaration of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo as president. He would rather recommend that the EC re-run the elections in all the polling stations where the infractions took place.  

The justices mentioned above represent much of the views expressed by the bench in the case of the petition. Unfortunately not much is said of electoral reforms. Atuguba makes a passing remark saying: “… for the easy future ascertainment of the number and electoral location of pink sheets in the electoral process their numbering should be streamlined.” Strangely enough the European Union (EU), just a day after the verdict expressed its wish to help Ghana reform its electoral processes. Does it mean peace in Ghana is more important to foreigners than Ghanaians themselves?

In the opinion of the average member of the opposition NPP or even some of the smaller parties, the judgment has opened the floodgates for electoral malpractices in the future. Indeed many believe it is the postponement of major civil disobediences to 2016 during the elections. They question the wisdom in dismissing the enormity of the evidence adduced by the petitioner at court. As Ansah observes, if voting in some polling stations had to be annulled then it is incumbent on the Electoral Commissioner to have annulled all those places where over voting was discovered. As it now stands, over voting is now legalized, so parties can now stuff ballot boxes and get away with it, so say many Ghanaians who think the issue has not been adequately addressed.

On voting without biometric verification, the majority judgment seems to underestimate the importance of the exercise even as the Electoral Commissioner himself emphasized before the elections in 2012 that disregard of his order would be met with annulment of votes in any erring polling station. What this means is that signatures that authenticate the votes cast in any democratic and civilized world do not matter anymore.

The judgment does not surprise Ghanaians as they recall the attitude of some of the judges toward the legal team of the petitioner and the 2nd petitioner Dr. Bawumia. Counsel for the petitioner Philip Addison had to question the court president’s hostility toward his client

Dr. Bawumia during the trial while lawyers from the other side and their clients were treated with kid gloves. It seems the NPP has been justified in their initial apprehension and protest upon the appointment of Justice as the President. He came out swinging vehemently and angrily at the NPP for daring to protest. It was Atuguba who cynically stated that Ghana is fine as it is and does not need any such issues to disturb the peace.Earlier this year and prior to the deliberations, Justice Atuguba at a forum at Fordam University Law Center in New York City pointed out that because of the current democratic dispensation of Ghana, any loser could go to Court, and there was nothing anyone could do about that. Was he ringing warning bells?  .

Questions also arise over the time and expense made in adjudicating the case if the court intended to ignore all the evidence that the petitioner produced to buttress its case. That has fueled rumors of corruption and bribery of the judges in reaching their conclusions. Most unsavory to the judiciary is its reputation and reduction in its integrity. In Africa such suspicions are usually not unfounded, wild as they could be. This is Ghana where a witness whose only crime was a spat with his girlfriend who happened to be the child of a ruling head of state had his head shaved with broken bottles and jailed by a high court.

Some Ghanaians think that with the current cathartic state of the nation riddled with corruption and the erratic supply of energy, water and the basic necessities of life the judges should not have validated the election results. Unemployment is soaring and labor unrest is rampant. Not much is being done to address the

Most Ghanaians who expressed concern with the petition were apprehensive of the outcome. Fears of dissatisfaction culminating in civil disobedience and violence, especially among the youths gave them cause to worry. A few weeks before the judgment, the Peace Council met all the parties in the case and obtained assurances of compliance with any verdict from the court. Indeed the responses to the judgment have been more than peaceful. It has rendered overhyped all the detailed preparations made to meet the eventualities. It may not necessarily happen this time around but is there any guarantee for peaceful and disciplined elections in 2016? Is anyone wrong to conclude that over voting, voting without verification, unsigned pink sheets, etc. are now legalized? If going to court would not matter why not use force to engage in any malpractice?

In retrospect, if over voting and voting without Biometric Verification could not impact much on the declared results as alluded by Atuguba and some of his brethren and sisters on the bench, then in much the same vein, his face-saving cosmetic recommendations cannot impact much on the Electoral Commission. And like the Americans say ‘if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”.


President Mahama, on his part has often said that his administration has been distracted by the hearings at the Supreme Court and that the confidence to carry out his duties effectively would be renewed when everything ends. The gargantuan judgment payments made to Woyome continues to bounce back and forth the courts without any end in sight. GYEEDAgate does not provide any positive precedence for any action against those implicated in Justice Apau’s probe into judgment payments.

If Electoral Commissioner Kwadwo Afari Gyan’s call for electoral reforms is anything to go by then Ghanaians must brace themselves for something more than a petition. If there is going to be any reforms Afari Gyan’s submissions at the court has eroded any shred of faith Ghanaians had in him to effect any change. On the other hand the tepid references to reforms in the justices’ submissions do not go far enough for any real change other than violence, if care is not taken in 2016. Ghanaians have to do what they do best: pray.

All the bitterness and victory parades notwithstanding, the petition has been a learning process: live telecasting the process has made Ghanaians learn about what the law that was hitherto shrouded in mystery. They have learned about the law in ways that would enlighten the average Ghanaian. And in the final analysis, it should deepen the country’s democratic credentials irrespective of the details that made the elections suspect.

Posted by on Sep 16 2013. Filed under top stories. 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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