The absence of Ex-President John Mahama from Ghana’s 63rd Independence Day celebration at the Kumasi Sports Stadium and the circulation of an empty chair with his name embossed on it to ridicule him, has taken away the beauty and shine the event would have brought.
But in the end, neither the messages of President Akufo-Addo, nor his Special Guest of Honour, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Keith Christopher Rowley, are on the lips of Ghanaians and even the media, except the absence of Mr Mahama, who is going into a third contest for the Presidency with Akufo-Addo, after their 2012 and 2016 elections which they each won.
Since Friday, when the national event took place in the Ashanti region for the first time, all discussions have been about ex-President Mahama and not the beauty of the ceremony which saw students, traders, military, police and other state security agencies, as well as professional bodies, marching in a full-to-capacity stadium under the scorching sun.
The absence of the former President, sparked mixed reaction with some largely members of the NPP, accusing him of not showing statesmanship, while others in his party the National Democratic Congress (NDC) , insist he was right in not attending because, he had not been accorded the needed respect by both the President and his appointees.
Some cited the unfriendly handshake from President Akufo-Addo to his predecessor at the Kofi Annan Forum sometime last year, insisting things were not right.
It is not exactly clear what caused the failure of the former President from attending the function. But Photos of an empty seat labeled with the name John Dramani Mahama flooded social media amidst suggestions he deliberately refused to attend.
The picture in circulation had former President John D. Mahama, printed on a chair next ex-President, John Agyekum Kufuor. The chair had the event brochure on it.
While, some people looked straight into the camera used to take the picture of the empty chair with some wearing a smile, ex-President Kufour, appeared to be showing his disapproval, as he had his head bowed. The chair was later occupied by the National Chairman of the NPP, Freddie Blay.
Interestingly, although Ex-President Jerry John Rawlings, was not at ceremony, the chair was seen of him labeled, empty and with brochure like that meant for Mr Mahama, suggesting the label and picture was meant to embarrass him.
But a former Director of Communications at the Presidency under the erstwhile Mahama administration, Stan Dogbe, has intimated that the presence of former President Mahama at functions with President Akufo-Addo often irritates the latter.
Stan Dogbe, close working staff of the former President, wondered why members of the governing NPP, appear to be showing inordinate interest in the absence of Mr Mahama from the 63rd Independence Anniversary parade
However, Mr Dogbe, believes the talk about the absence of his boss is selective and mischievous.
“It is interesting how Brand #JohnMahama has completely overshadowed the 63rd Independence message of the President to the people of Ghana.Or there was no message, judging from the zeal with which social media hounds of the government and some news outlets chose to focus on the publication of a supposed empty seat of the former president at the Kumasi event.
Some government workers, including a media officer at the Presidency, Charles NiiTeiko Tagoe, and supporters of the ruling party, have tagged me in their posts of the supposed empty chair. Truly, I am still trying to understand what their concern or interests are, because their boss, Nana Akufo-Addo, does not like the idea of #John Mahama’s presence at events and Programmes he’s also at” Stan Dogbe wrote on Facebook.
He stated further that, former President Mahama, is not required to be at every state function and wondered why the absence of former President Jerry John Rawlings, did not cause concerns as compared to John Mahama.
He added “Fact states that President Mahama, is not required to be at every event he is invited to. And the same applies to the President. That is why the VP Bawumia and other Ministers, have and continue to represent him at various activities he’s invited too, and often after the invitations are accepted. Was the President at the annual 28 February Crossroads shooting incident and the Milo sponsored State Award for School Children? Are these indicative of him acting childishly and leaving these roles for the VP?
In Tamale last year, was former President John Agyekum Kufuor there, and is government suggesting that by his absence he did not act as a Statesman and therefore petty, knowing the seeming discontent among some of his loyalists within the system?
Was President Rawlings at the Friday event in Kumasi? And why was his chair not labeled supposedly and photographed and circulated?”
Though Mr Dogbe, did not give reasons for the absence of the Presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress at the Independence Day Celebration, he asserted that President Akufo-Addo, abhors the presence of the former President at events both have to attend.
“Let us remember that while President Mahama had and still demonstrates a great sense of oneness and respect for all, and has demonstrated it wherever he is and with all including political opponents, same cannot be said of Mr. Akufo-Addo. He crowned his abhorrence of Mahama’s presence with him at events with his embarrassing outing in September 2019 during the Kofi Annan International Forum. So why would Mahama’s absence at Friday’s event be a matter of concern to him and his people?” he questioned.
The decision by state officials to label a seat for former President has been questioned by the NDC.
The party claimed it was deliberately done by the State Protocol with a possible connivance of some NPP officials, to portray Mahama, who is seeking to regain power in the 2020 presidential election, as unpatriotic person.
Appearing on TV3 news analysis show, The Key Points on Saturday, Communications member of the NDC, Brogya Genfi, said it was unfortunate that the State Protocol would conduct itself in the manner it did with the former President.
He admitted that, although Mahama was duly invited to attend the programme, he indicated to the State Protocol that he would not be able to attend the event because he was going to be out of town on March 6.
“And so we were all surprised when they labeled a chair in his name and captured it when the State knew he was not going to be there,” Mr Genfi stated.
He added: “That’s very unfortunate that the state protocol of our nation will, maybe in connivance with some party officials, will do something to try to tarnish the image of the former president”.
He did not understand why the State Protocol will do something like especially when former President John Rawlings who was also absent at the event, was not given a labeled chair.
“Former president Rawlings was not there, I didn’t see his empty chair labeled and a picture taken… I’m telling you on authority that the state knew former president Mahama was never going to be at the event. So why do you provide a seat for him, put a tag [of] his name on it and then take a picture of it and start to troll him on social media. It is very, very unfortunate,” Mr Genfi protested.
Also, he has rejected claims that the NDC boycotted anniversary parade, saying “there were many members of parliament from the minority side at the event. The regional executives of the NDC were highly represented by the Regional chairman and other executives so we didn’t boycott the event”.
Commenting on the matter, a senior lecturer at the University of Education in Winneba, Dr Ahmed Jinapor, raised concern about the level politics introduced into the celebration over the years.
“I think generally, the way it is organised and done looks overly political,” he stated.
Though he also raised concerned about the chair given to Johm Mahama as against what was assigned to former President John Kufuor, he said that was not to say the latter got preferential treatment.
“Look at the chair that President Kufuor was sitting on, look at the chair that is labeled Mahama and look at the other chair, you can see that it is not the same,” he said.
Meanwhile, former President Rawlings, has explained he excused himself from the 63rd national Independence Day parade in Kumasi to join the people Sogakope to celebrate the day.
According to him, it was to show solidarity with the people of the area, following the recent spate of violent attacks, which culminated in the death of the assemblyman of the area, Marcus Mawutor Azahli last week.
The former president, also urged the police administration to equip its men to enable them perform their roles effectively, urging the people and the security agencies to be vigilant to prevent such violent, criminal attacks.
A statement issued by the former president, said he joined the Sogakope people “to express my condolences and sympathies to all that has happened over the last month”.
He said, he was hopeful that correct information would be forthcoming to ensure that those responsible for the savagery are dealt with.
“I think some of these things happen because some of the killings that have been going on in this country and especially in this area are not being dealt with appropriately, so people feel they can do things like that with impunity and get away with it, knowing they will not pay the price with their lives as well.
Describing the parade as one of the most impressive he had witnessed since he started observing the annual District event, former President Rawlings expressed his admiration for the energy on the ground and urged the people to preserve and use it for the benefit of the area, the region and the country.
He also advised students and the youth to desist from the illicit use of drugs such as tramadol, urging them to appreciate the pain their parents endure to raise resources to educate them. He said it was imperative that they studied hard to achieve the highest academic qualifications to enable them to contribute their quota to the development of the community.
President Rawlings, also cautioned okada riders and other commercial drivers to desist from drink driving, as that had been responsible for increasing reports of motor crashes in the area.
“If you are an okada rider or a driver and you want to go and die, go and die, but do not take along people on your bike or in your vehicle and drive irresponsibly or drunk or tired and kill people,” he warned.
On the erection of speed ramps within the South Tongu area, former President Rawlings, described most of the ramps as ‘obstacles’ that weaken vehicle shock absorbers and springs leading to preventable road accidents.
“We are doing something very illegal. In trying to slow down vehicles on the roads around where we live, we are building illegal, illegitimate and inappropriate speed ramps.”
Flt Lt Rawlings recalled how a Volta River Authourity (VRA) official who had an accident over one of such ramps, developed a serious injury to the vertebrae.
He said there was a proper way of constructing such ramps and called on those responsible to ensure they construct such ramps responsibly.