Last week’s military interference, which saw some soldiers deployed to the floor of Parliament during the dissolution of the 7th Parliament and the inauguration of the 8th Parliament is likely to be a one-off in extraordinary circumstances where a stalemate was reached during a voting process to elect the now Speaker of parliament, Mr. Alban Kingsford Sumana Bagbin.
Although extraordinary, the incident raised eyebrows throughout Ghana and within the international community about whether the illusion of a truly democratic process in Ghana was being lifted to see behind the veil. CSOs, the former Special Prosecutor and frustrated lawyers (who have witnesses NPP win an unprecedented amount of cases in the last 4 years) have all voiced their concerns at what appears to be the slow-and up until last week -subtle erosion of what can be deemed the outright separation of powers in Ghana.
Even the Chief Justice who was in the legislative house at the time of the election of a Speaker for the 8th Parliament; ran from the chamber into his car when the military entered the House on the 7th January 2021. Perhaps rightly so since at the time of the unfolding chaos, there was no President and Vice President in the country since their tenure had expired overnight. Furthermore, there was no Speaker to step in, and so the only person who could act, per the constitution, as the leader of the country at that particular time until a speaker was elected to also swear in the president-elect, was the Chief Justice.
The soldiers came in the company of police officers whose primary duty was to ‘restore calm and order’ in the August house but did anything but in terms of the worrying sight globally, to see such heavily armed soldiers meddling in the affairs of a sacred institution, the Parliament of Ghana.
The image of Ghana being the cradle of democracy in Africa was dented last weekAltogether with Ghana being the cradle of democracy in Africa, we have perhaps reached a low ebb when Nigerians on social media reflect on whether Ghana wants to compete with ‘Naija’ in a show of madness due to violence in Ghana’s Parliament, with major news agencies largely reporting the military invasion.
Whether our President, Nana Akuffo-Addo, gets a full four more years in office is dependent on the Supreme Court of Ghana’s ruling regarding former President Mahama’s petition for a re-run of the Presidential elections. Until then, Mr Akuffo-Addo has been duly sworn in and his 40+ years training as a lawyer gives us some hope that last weeks’ embarrassing scenes will lead him to remember his decades-long civil and human rights efforts.
He will as such hopefully rise to the challenge of ensuring that Ghana does not descend into more anarchy because of frustrated actors within society who do not believe that the wheels of justice and separation of powers is as apparent as it could be. Legacies matter and there is no better time for a self-acclaimed visionary to loosen his grip on different government institutions in order to allow good governance to ensure less frustrated politicians, CSOs and even lawyers; particularly with a hung parliament that may go either way next Friday in terms of who will become the majority party.
Who deployed the Military?It is still unknown who gave the order for military personnel to be deployed to the premises of the Parliamentary chambers during the voting process for a Speaker for the august house.
Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, a former Majority Leader, disclosed that he asked the Marshall department to invite police personnel into the August house in order to protect the balloting process. This was after leadership from both divides could not reach a consensus to organise a rerun of the balloting on three occasions.
He, however, added that he was surprised when he saw the police come into the Chambers with soldiers heavily armed which he said was “unfortunate.” It is further extraordinary that Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu said he took the decision to further “let them recline to the extreme corners of the chamber so that if there was anything, they could assist us to protect the voting process…”
Whether Mr. Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, the Minister for Defence or our Commander in Chief, the President, jointly or separately gave the order is something Ghanaians want to know and Parliament is likely to deliberate on when they resume this month. For whichever party one supports, Ghanaians in general appear to condemn the deployment of armed military in Parliament and are calling for a probe into the matter which has since cast a slur on the Parliament of Ghana.
For parliaments in every democratic jurisdiction represent the protection of democratic freedoms and overt images that appear to show armed soldiers intimidating and setting some of the agenda is such a sacred place does not allow for the true separation of the legislative arm and could leave room for the slow erosion of such outright separation.
6000 security personnel deployed for the swearing in of President Akufo-Addo and Dr Mahamadu Bawumia.Security personnel secured and patrolled the entire State House Complex, Accra International Conference Centre, Accra Sports Stadium, and the Black Star Square on January 7, 2021.
Parliament’s own Standing Orders provides in Order 30 that Molestation of Members or officers in connection with the performance of their duties and attempted intimidation by threats of Members in the conduct of their duties shall constitute a breach of privilege or contempt of Parliament.
At best, this could be a one-off incident in extraordinary circumstances where both major parties had an equal amount of votes. At worst, if not curtailed now, this could be a slow erosion of the separation of powers as we know it in Ghana and if so, we are to expect more tensions, more anarchy and non-consensus until the matter reaches a critical and perhaps regrettable boiling point.
Amanda Akuokor Clinton is the founder of Clinton Consultancy and an international lawyer who works throughout Africa on bespoke projects. She specializes in corporate law and crisis management.