I have read the interesting opinion piece on the above subject published on myjoyonline.com dated 01.01.2021 authored by E.G. Buckman. The article sought to present some of the issues the NPP needs to consider in the choice of its next presidential candidate. It contains some good points that the party can consider in the post-election analysis to inform our preparations for the next elections. However, the article also contains some erroneous, unsubstantiated, outmoded and potentially dangerous arguments that the party membership and its delegates cannot afford to engage in the 21st century Ghana.
From the looks of it, the author is simply seeking to discredit Dr Bawumia and dwindle his chances of securing the support of party delegates to lead the party into the 2024 elections. For example, it is disingenuous to describe Dr Bawumia as one of many good people in the party. Without an iota of doubt, many political analysts will simply disagree with this assertion. I believe strongly that people seeking to compete with Dr Bawumia for the leadership of the party will themselves agree that Dr Bawumia is one of exceptionally few candidates who should be given the opportunity to lead the party at this crucial moment, not least, because of his exceptionally good qualities.
With the exception of the president and former presidents, it is almost certain to argue that Dr Bawumia is the most tried and tested and easier to market candidate in Ghana than any other potential candidate in the NPP today. That Dr Bawumia has fortified the fortunes of the NPP nationally is self-evident. His appeal transcends religion. The Dr Bawumia leadership call is not grounded in NDC’s poking of the NPP to front a non-Akan; it is the time that has just arrived and the peculiarities of it call for him. He has demonstrated leadership; he appeals to a bigger proportion of floating voters and anchored prominently in both his base regions and the NPP strongholds. That said, the main objective of this article is not to sell Dr Bawumia but to correct the erroneous argument by the author that a Northern Muslim should not be given the chance to lead the party as its flagbearer.
The claim that Christians will not vote for Dr Bawumia because he is a Muslim is problematic and based on the author’s own personal opinions and perceptions. At best such arguments are unfounded and unsupported with evidence. This is a very divisive issue and I completely disagree with the author on it. Yes, there would, perhaps, be some people who will vote purely along religious lines, but the question is what proportion of the electorate would do this at the expense of good policies and good governance of the country? In fact, the NPP has never presented a Muslim presidential candidate and no major political party has done this in the 4th republic – so where did the author get that argument from?
Yet, the author has not made any attempt to discuss the potential impact of the perception by a section of Ghanaians that the NPP is an Akan party, on the fortunes of the party in 2024, should another Akan be chosen to lead the party. The geographical/ethnic origin of the presidential candidate of the NPP seems to be a more potent issue in the eyes of our political opponents than religion. A good example of this can be read in the article by Haruna Attah which was published by Class FM during the 2016 election campaign season.
In that article, then-President John Mahama allegedly made the comment on his campaign platform to the effect that the NPP only “uses northerners” to win power and “dumps” them afterwards.”. It is therefore surprising that the author rather conveniently chose to ignore and dismiss this issue when he knows very well how the NDC has sadly capitalised on it – covertly or otherwise. Moreover, E.G. Buckman in his submission, mentioned a winning formula, i.e. Southern Christian presidential candidate and Northern Muslim vice-presidential candidate and sought to describe it as “almost worked to perfection over the years”. If that is the case, then why did the NPP lose the 2008 and 2012 elections with the winning formula? This so called “Winning Formula” as described by the author openly calls for the perpetuation of a second fiddle status on Muslims and Northerners in the party and should be condemned by all. It is crucial to note that the political landscape is not static and the local political dynamics change over time. Consequently, yesterday’s winning formula may not necessarily be effective today.
I strongly urge the author and people with the unsubstantiated opinion that Christians will not vote for a Northern Muslim candidate to broaden their horizon and go beyond their personal opinions. They should strive to and take lessons from other countries around the world. For instance, in the US where blacks are a minority, Barack Obama won the presidency over John McCain in the 2008 elections; and where protestant Christians are the majority, a catholic won the 2020 presidential elections. In the United Kingdom the present Mayor of London, the capital city of the UK, is a Muslim and was elected 2016. There are similar examples in sub-Saharan African countries too. For instance, Rwanda has a Tutsi minority president, Paul Kagame, but Hutus are the overwhelming majority ethnic group in that country.
In Nigeria, both Muslim and Christian candidates win power when they are presented and marketed accordingly by the right political parties. Even in Ghana, the majority of people vote along party and personality lines, not along religious lines. To suggest that in a country of majority Christian population electorates would always vote on religious lines is itself ridiculous. In the just-ended presidential elections, Mr Christian Kwabena Andrews of the GUM party was not only a Christian but also a priest. He garnered only 0.42% of the national vote. If religion was a primary factor to voters, he would have polled significant votes to accord with Mr Buckman’s reasoning – that did not happen. These examples suggest that religion does not really matter if the candidate is accepted and well presented by unified party machinery. To that end, this issue of religion raised by the author is inconsequential and party members and delegates should not allow themselves to be divided along religious lines. Attempting to bring religion into the politics of Ghana in this manner is very dangerous for the advancement of our motherland.
Let me also seize this opportunity to remind NPP supporters and sympathisers that we are one party with a common goal: to maintain power and lead in the development of our country for the betterment of the Ghanaian people. Like most political parties in Ghana, NPP is made up of Ghanaians from different socio-cultural backgrounds, including ethnic and religious persuasions, and all efforts must be made to avoid dividing us along ethnic/cultural or religious lines. In projecting our candidates, we should focus on issues and be guided by objectivity and, wherever possible, use robust scientific evidence to support our arguments. We should present and highlight the strengths of the candidates we support and avoid making sweeping generalisations and trying to discredit our internal opponents. Failure to do this is simply arming our opponents with bullets to use against us come 2024 and beyond.
The two main political parties in Ghana have their strongholds. For example, Ashanti region for the NPP and Volta region for the NDC. This phenomenon is common not only in Ghana but also in other countries such as the US and the UK. For instance, in the US some states are predominantly Democrats whilst others are predominantly Republican. Also, in the UK the Northern part of the country is predominantly pro-labour whereas the Southern parts are predominantly pro-Conservative. There is no evidence to suggest that these regional party loyalties shift based solely on the origin of the presidential candidate (or leader) of the party. By extension, there is no evidence to suggest that a candidate selected from the Northern or other part of Ghana will not gain the support of voters in the strongholds of the NPP.
For example, the Volta region has consistently and wholeheartedly supported the NDC regardless of the origin of the presidential candidate. Similarly, in my opinion, the Ashanti region is NPP and NPP is the Ashanti region and will arguably remain so for generations. With this in mind, the choice of a candidate to lead the party should be based on their calibre and personal qualities, including their experience and track record as well as their ability to attract floating voters, make significant electoral gains into some of the other “not so loyal” or swing geographical regions and unite any perceived factions/groups within the party – not based on unfounded religious bigotry.
As I mentioned above, bringing religion into the political discourse of the country is divisive and very dangerous. It will play into the hands of our political opponents and sadly into the hands of fascist groups. As a nation, we do not want to go down that route. Ghana has enjoyed peaceful co-existence between the three main religions in our society and we should be doing our best to preserve this God-given peaceful atmosphere for the benefit of our homeland, Ghana. As agents and ambassadors of our political party, our ultimate goal is to ensure peace and development and the message we preach has the potential to influence some sections of the population. It behoves political activists to preach the message of peace and unity of our society not promote division for our parochial interests.
The writer is a member of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) Nasara group in the United Kingdom