The National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) is one of the most important institutions established by the 1992 Constitution to help in awareness creation and to help the citizenry imbibe the virtues of civic duties and responsibilities. But, most often, it is forgotten despite all the work the institution does.
Last Tuesday, the NCCE held a national dialogue on peace and preventing violent extremism in the country in Accra. It was on the theme: “Peace and Social Cohesion in the context of Violent Extremism." Our Political Editor, Mr Albert K. Salia (AKS), later interacted with the NCCE chairperson, Ms Josephine Nkrumah (JN), in her office on a wide range of issues including her background and events in the country.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
AKS: Good afternoon Madam. First of all, who is Ms Josephine Nkrumah, the chairperson of the NCCE?
JN: In my current occupation, I am a public servant. I am a lawyer by profession. I was called to the Bar in 1997. I have always been passionate about Ghana but my passion has always been driven in the private sector with the specialisation in maritime law. I did a lot of work within the ports community of Ghana and also acted as a local consultant to the International Maritime Organisation. Beneath all of that was a value set that was instilled in me very early – to be responsible, to work hard and try to do the best in whatever I set my hands on to do. With God’s help, that’s what I try to do daily as a public servant and chairman of the NCCE.
AKS: Will you share with us some of your dreams while growing up?
JN: When I was growing up, I had a fierce sense of justice and fairness and so from a very early age, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. And so, everything I did right from Form One was driven by the desire to be a lawyer and to be a great advocate in terms of seeking justice for people. Even though academically, I was considered more inclined to the Sciences, I opted to do Arts in order to pursue my dream of becoming a lawyer.
Have I realised my dreams? To some extent, I became a lawyer and served in private practice for a while and I enjoyed that tremendously. What I did not see too much was perhaps the sense of doing more in the justice space, public justice space. But I think that in a private capacity I was also interested in anything around the sea. I think that was born from the fact that my father is a retired Naval Captain and I was always fascinated by the Navy and whatever that was associated with maritime.
And so when I completed my law course, I had two things I wanted to do – either work with the environmental sector or work with the maritime sector. And one of it came through for me and that was working with the maritime sector. So, I pursued my Masters in Maritime Law.
When it comes to the environment, I am very passionate about the environment. I am particular with what I do that will impact on the environment either positively or negatively. But it is one of the dreams that I have not realised but I know is firmly on the burner.
One other thing is to make sure that people realise their full potential. So, I am keen to see what the youth can do, what I can do to support them through mentoring programmes, through support, advice networking in order to see certain persons realise their potential.
I think all of that also is born by a fierce sense of believing that everyone has something to contribute to the world. Everybody must be given that opportunity. Of course, having something to contribute to the world is one; you must also have proper sense of certain values that you espouse because those values really equip you to realise your dreams. I like to see that people are disciplined, people are hardworking, people are honest and with a fierce sense of integrity.
AKS: How did you get appointed as the NCCE chairperson?
JN: I had the honour to enter the Public Service sometime in 2015 as a Deputy Chair of the NCCE and then in 2016, I was elevated to the position of chairman of the commission. So, I have been here for some six years. It has been exciting and at the same time rewarding. It has its challenges but life without challenges is dull.
I think that my previous experiences in life coupled with my own upbringing have probably equipped me to serve in the capacity in which I serve now.
AKS: How would you explain the work of the NCCE to the ordinary Ghanaian?
JN: To the ordinary Ghanaian, the work of the NCCE is to instil in every individual a certain consciousness of the values you bring to the table or to the community for the collective good of your community. So, for us at the NCCE or from my perspective in the NCCE, our work is to raise consciousness of how you serve your country either in public or private capacity. You do not have to necessarily be in the public space before you serve. Your service at home, at work, your service at the community level, all contribute to the larger community of Ghana.
Our core mandate at the commission really is to educate the populace on the principles and objectives of the constitution. And the principles and objectives of our constitution really is to govern within a democracy. So, what we do is to create that space or enabling environment by raising the consciousness and awareness of people in order to sustain democracy through the various arms of government, stakeholders and every structure of society has a role to play.
That is what I will say in a nutshell.
AKS: We have observed that the NCCE has been busy with seminars on national cohesion and security issues of late. What is the motivation?
JN: Now, coming down to violent extremism and national cohesion, no nation has thrived or has flourished or has risen where there was no peace, where there was no stability. It is true nations are built on the pillars of national cohesion and peace. And for the NCCE or for Ghana that has chosen the path of democracy as our system of governance, it is important for us to appreciate that democracy can only thrive and flourish when we have that peace and when we have that national cohesion.
And for us to enjoy the dividends of democracy, a peaceful nation and also looking back at the preamble of our Constitution, where we state categorically that we want to secure for ourselves through the constitutions the blessings of liberty, . . . blessings of equality of opportunity and prosperity . . . then it is important for us to understand that these can only be underpinned by peaceful society, a society that identifies as one irrespective of the diversity that we have – whether it is religion, cultural, ethnic. All those things that make us diverse are also the same things that draw us together as one nation. And I always liken Ghana to a rainbow and I say a rainbow is only beautiful because of the many colours that it has and, therefore, if you take any one colour of the rainbow, it takes away that beauty and that is what makes Ghana beautiful.
And so violent extremism, if we allow it to creep into our nation, would totally dismantle the peace that we require and while dismantling the peace, it will break down the pillars of our democracy and break down what it is that built us to be a strong nation to be counted not only in Africa but also in the global space. So violent extremism is something that the commission has taken on seriously. We are working closely with the Ministry of National Security, working with various security agencies and supported by the European Union as well to fend off violent extremism in all its forms.
Undoubtedly, violent extremism has more or less crystalised in our neighbouring countries. We cannot allow that to take root in Ghana.
AKS: Do we have any evidence of violent extremism in Ghana?
JN: We know intelligence tells us that we have violent extremism or pockets of it or infiltration here. We think we need to raise awareness and raise the consciousness of every Ghanaian in understanding the essence of building a cohesive whole as one nation so that we can properly play a role as citizens in warding off the adverse effects of violent extremism.
A lot of work is going into the drivers of violent extremism. That was one of the key findings in our recent survey in 2020 on the risk or threats of violent extremism in Ghana. Having identified the drivers or triggers as a commission, we are using that as our base study and tailoring our education around this. You will find that some of the very known issues that have plagued us are also the same issues that have been identified as building a fertile ground for violent extremism to take place. You see people continue to talk about issues around chieftaincy disputes, land disputes with ethnic undertones sometimes. People talk about political vigilantism, people continue to talk about a certain lack of confidence in some of our security agencies; people talk about indigenes, migrant settler communities, specifically the Fulani in certain parts of Ghana, people talk about the youth bunch and its attendant unemployment – are drivers of violent extremism.
Within Ghana, violent extremism can be home grown or imported. So, for the drivers within, these are some of the factors that can engender violent extremism. But violent extremism from an imported or cultured here is basically around fanaticism – religious. And even within the religious sphere, the kind of engagement we are having with faith-based organisations is key so that faith-based organisations or their platforms do not become avenues to spread hatred or encouraging religious fanatism but understanding that tolerance is also key for us in fighting violent extremism so that we are not divided by very entrenched positions by very extremist ideas.
AKS: This means that every Ghanaian must take the issue of violent extremism seriously!
JN: As a commission, we think that everyone must take violent extremism seriously and looking at the national security structure as well as the national framework for countering violent extremism and terrorism, it is important that Ghanaians understand that each one of us has a role to play in ensuring our collective security and identifying radicalisation and finding the right avenues for reporting such for appropriate authorities or stakeholders to investigate and stem any untoward activities around violent extremism. We should not hide behind friends or family because when the damage is done, nobody remembers friends or family as we have seen in other countries around us.
AKS: Talking about the triggers of violent extremism, how will you assess the current political situation in our country?
JN: I think, these are exciting times for Ghana. We have practised democracy for almost 30 years and we are a maturing democracy. We are certainly no longer a fledgling democracy. We see that other nations, African nations look up to us for our democratic credentials. So far, it has been good.
Our 2020 elections saw another transition. We had another election petition in the Supreme Court. We allowed the rule of law to take place. We allowed the justice system to work. We allowed our systems of governance to operate so that even when aggrieved, we used the right channels to seek redress and that is another feather in the cup of Ghana.
But sadly, in spite of that we also lost lives. Lives that can never be brought back to this world. That, for me, was a flaw in our democracy. It is something that we should all strive at ensuring it never happens again come the 2024 election.
I also find it exciting because for the first time, there has been a real test to assessing how mature we are as a democracy. Just looking at what is going on in Parliament currently; it can have adverse implications for us or consequences if we don’t put it at the forefront of our mind, the ultimate benefit to Ghana.
But I think what we are seeing between the Majority and the Minority on the issue of a hung Parliament, is part of the process of governance. It is part of both parties asserting what they believe to be their firmest convictions for a better Ghana.
AKS: In situations like this, what will you suggest to be the way forward?
JN: When you come to a situation like that, then it puts to the test the real motive and intentions of Parliamentarians as they represent the people for the collective good of the people. Are we going to look at entrenched positions or we are going to look at what benefits ultimately the good people of Ghana. And that requires cool heads, it requires a lot of consensus building and that has been going on a lot. Everybody is talking about consensus building in Parliament. And it requires compromises by both sides so that it is a win-win for all of us. And when it is a win-win in Parliament, it obviously becomes a win-win for the people of Ghana.
I think this issue of the hung Parliament is really a true test of our democracy. And I am confident that our Parliamentarians are going to do all it takes to ensure that ultimately whatever decisions are reached benefit Ghana and we don’t come out of this even more polarised as a nation.
AKS: From your work at the NCCE, how polarised are we as a country?
JN: It brings me to the flip side of it, our current dispensation and what goes on in the political space. Nobody can say that are not polarised. We have become polarised as a nation along the lines of party politics and if we are going to overcome this, we need to deepen the awareness around party politics – politics being a contestation of ideas on how to govern. I think if we have a clear road map on a national development plan. It will only mean how we go about it, that is, implementing the national development plan. The only difference will be the mechanisms and routes we choose to take in arriving or journeying on this road map.
Polarisation does not do us good. And when we had this issue of a split down the middle in Parliament, I chose to look at it positively or optimistically because this would really trigger that consensus building, that compromise of how we proceed as a nation and that will trickle down to the people. And so, I hope that this real first test of the hung Parliament on the very critical issue of our budget begins to provide us the avenue that allows people to see Parliamentarians at work, who do not merely act on budget because of majority votes in Parliament.
But under these circumstances, begin to sit down, negotiate, plan, give, take, lose some, win some and let that also trickle down to the people for them to say that, “hang on, a minute. If our representatives in the House of Parliament, our law makers can compromise, can tolerate each other’s views with the objective of finding what best suits us in our journey, then we must also begin to find that as a way of coexistence.” So, this is really a test for us and I hope we will come out as a better people and come out stronger as one cohesive whole. And it will begin the process of bridging that gap of polarisation.
AKS: Based on what is happening in Parliament right now, what message would you want to give to our political parties and their members?
JN: I think from the perspective of the average Ghanaian, this budget has really caused a lot of discourse in the public space. I think from last week, it has dominated the airwaves on some important measures that government thinks it must take for us to lift ourselves out of a certain economic situation. When we all understand that building a nation takes not just the work of the various arms of government but actually involves every single Ghanaian, I think we will better appreciate that we can no longer be apathetic in some of these issues.
It should encourage us to share our views, to be more inclusive and to participate in governance. And I think Parliamentarians understand who they represent and that understanding of representing Ghana or representing their constituents must be the driving force in the decisions they make in the next few days, to enable them to appreciate that they have an obligation, a pledge, a covenant to Ghanaians for our collective well-being. The sovereignty that resides in the people, which is clearly stated in our Constitution, has been delegated to them to act for and on our behalf for us to realise our aspirations as I stated earlier. The cardinal principles that really undergirds the realisation of all of these aspirations, which I said earlier, was the equality of opportunity, of liberty and prosperity.
All of those things are undergirded by accountability, rule of law, universal adult suffrage, unity and stability of our nation.
AKS: In of all these, what should be the role of the larger populace?
JN: For the larger populace to understand that even as we take these important decisions that affect all of us, Ghanaians must begin to play a more prominent role in adding value to our governance system. It is not just about complaints, ranting and raving and seeking our rights. But we should also begin to look very critically at our responsibilities and duties as citizens.
Our Constitution is quite clear on the rights that we enjoy, which are inseparable from the duties we have as citizens. So, you cannot want your rights and shirk your responsibilities. The two come hand in hand and we want to see that actually working. Ghanaians need to be alive to their responsibilities and doing the simple things on a day-to-day basis that enables them to live up their responsibilities. I mean working conscientiously. Are you cooperating with lawful agencies? Are you declaring your income and honestly paying your taxes? Do we respect our national symbols? What are you doing to the environment to safeguard it for posterity? Are you living peacefully and in harmony with others in your community?
AKS:What legacy would you like to leave as NCCE chair?
JN: I think my first legacy will be to the staff of the NCCE and the work that they do. I want to leave a legacy where every staff is motivated enough and inspired to go the extra mile to work. For me, that is key. Allowing the staff to give their best to the commission and work with passion. Because where there is a will, there is a way. For me, it is to instil or inspire for that will to be there.
Certainly, if I am leaving the commission, I should be leaving it in a better state than I found it. All in all, the hallmark of our work as a commission should be one of passion, one of integrity and one that impacts humanity positively.
AKS: What will you be doing after you leave NCCE?
JN: (laughs). It can be many years ahead. But you know, I want to do something in the maritime sector or the environment and I am always open to new challenges, constantly seeking to be challenged in another way to contribute to the development of Ghana. I am more open-minded in that regard and I think that I am always open to a new challenge.
AKS: Thank you very much Madam, for sharing your thoughts with us.
JN: You are always welcome.