Congrats in order, and some sunshine in the gloom

BY: Ajoa Yeboa-Afari

Two weeks ago, this column ended with felicitations to all the women parliamentary aspirants who have emerged victorious in their parties’ primaries, and are thus getting ready for Election 2020. 

This week, again congratulations are in order, to Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang who on Monday, July 6, was named as the running mate of former President John Mahama for the elections. This is the first time a major political party has put a woman on its presidential ticket.    

Hers is certainly not a new name to the Ghanaian public. She is celebrated as the first woman Vice-Chancellor of a university in Ghana, the University of Cape Coast (UCC), appointed in 2008. She was also Education Minister under President Mahama.

Taking a stroll down memory lane, another interesting aspect of her nomination is that she is the second woman Vice-Presidential candidate linked to the UCC. In 1992, Professor Naa Afarley Sackeyfio, a former UCC lecturer, was chosen by Mr Kwabena Darko of the National Independence Party as his running mate.    

But the UCC ‘duo’ can’t claim all the credit. In 1979 (Third Republic), Lt-Col Christine Kwabea Debrah was the trailblazer, the running mate of Independent presidential candidate, Dr R.P. Baffour.
Col Debrah, a nurse by profession, was the first Ghanaian Matron of the ‘37 Military Hospital, in Accra. (She died in 2014.)
As some political observers were quick to point out on social media platforms, other past vice-presidential contenders include Eva Lokko, “the first Satellite Communications Engineer in Ghana” and a former Director-General of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. In 2012, Ms Lokko won the nomination to partner Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom of the Progressive People’s Party. (Ms Lokko died in 2016.)

Fast forward to this year: On June 30, the Voters Registration exercise began and recorded an unexpected, bigger turnout than even optimists had expected. More than 2 million elated applicants had received their Voter ID at the end of Phase 1, the Electoral Commission announced.

Nevertheless, notably at the beginning of the exercise, alarmingly, the reckless refusal of many people to observe the coronavirus protective measures was in full display at some of the registration centres. Even where masks were on, some people had apparently forgotten about social distancing. Happily, the EC has been addressing the concerns.

No doubt it is this irresponsible attitude and of course the shocking, steady rise of the COVID -19 infections that has led to a robust law to enforce the wearing of masks, Executive Instrument (EI) 164. Signed into law by President Nana Akufo-Addo on June 15, it has been described as “harsh” by the Ghana Bar Association.  

The EI 164 stipulates that it is now a criminal offence not to wear a mask in public. “Persons who are found guilty … will be fined a minimum of GH¢1, 200 or a maximum of GH¢6, 000 or will be sentenced to between four and 10 years in prison” (Daily Graphic, July 2, 2020). It is to be in force for three months and applies to the whole country.

A news release signed by GBA President Mr Anthony Forson Jnr said “the GBA is concerned with and finds the punishment imposed in respect of persons who breach Act 1012 and E1 164, harsh.”

The association therefore proposes “a fine of not less than 10 penalty units and not more than 150 penalty units, or a term of imprisonment of not less than one month and not more than two years.”

I agree with the call by the GBA that the penalties should be reviewed, made less stringent.
Besides, it seems to me that the severity of the sanction could lead to a situation where those who are to enforce the law might, out of sympathy, look the other way when they come across offenders.

Meanwhile, the aggressive virus continues to wreak havoc everywhere, including the death on July 1 of Mr Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie, popularly known as ‘Sir John’, a former General-Secretary of the ruling New Patriotic Party. He was, reportedly, a victim of the virus, like the scores of others in the regular updates by the Ghana Health Service.

Tributes have been pouring in for Sir John, notably about his sense of humour and witty remarks. Particularly quoted is his now almost institutionalized “fear delegates” caustic observation made when in 2014, he lost his re-election bid, despite allegedly having received assurances from the delegates that they would vote for him.

Personally what I will always remember him for is not how he expressed the precarious nature of political party candidature, but rather how in 2015 he conveyed his view of the then Government of the National Democratic Congress under President Mahama.

He reportedly said, in Twi: “NDC abere so yi, mako koraa nnyϵ ya!” (“In this present era, under the NDC, even pepper is no more hot!”)

On a related note, the myriad of establishments donating to the COVID-19 Private Sector Fund, launched by President Akufo-Addo on March 29, is so impressive! Hardly a week goes by without donations being received by the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees, former Chief Justice Ms Sophia Akuffo.

It’s encouraging to know that there are so many compassionate institutions in our country! This is uplifting, to say the least; some sunshine in the gloom.
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