Two-time presidential candidate in Ghana, member of parliament, attorney general, minister of foreign affairs and opposition leader, Mr. Nana Akufo-Addo, was recently in Nigeria. He has won a reputation as a fighter for social justice and was one of the leading pro-democracy figures in the days of military rule in Ghana. In an interview during his visit to Nigeria, he spoke of being flattered when he was described as Ghanaâ€™s equivalent of Nigeriaâ€™s late social and human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi.
As attorney general in the Kuffor government, Akufo-Addo helped to repeal the criminal libel law that had been used as a weapon of intimidation against the Ghanaian press. He fielded questions on the situation in Ghana, saying the country was not doing well under the National Democratic Congress, NDC, administration. In essence, he is ready to offer himself as the presidential candidate of his New Patriotic Party, NPP.
He also spoke on what Ghana and Nigeria could learn from one another. Excerpts:
How is the political situation in Ghana after the last election?
One thing that we will continue to be grateful for in Ghana is peace and stability. The political activity in the country is very vibrant, but largely lacking in social peace and that is an important matter to us. But as you can imagine, I am on the other side, so my view of what is going on in Ghana is not very complimentary. I think there are major difficulties confronting our country and I donâ€™t think the administration is doing a very good job handling the problems.
The elections of 2012 are now history, our party and the population are getting ready to look at the next election which will be in two years time. Yes, the situation is quite active and we are hearing different voices. So, apart from the political parties as you would expect, civil society in Ghana today is very active in commenting on what is going on in our country.
What are those issues?
The economy is poorly managed and that is bringing difficulties to the people. We have had significant depreciation of our currency; it appears government is in a very serious financial crisis, statutory payments that should be going to public bodies in Ghana are not being made. Teachers, nurses, important segments of society are not being paid. There are arrears of salaries being owed for many months, escalating cost of living, prices going up and in some cases being doubled, serious balance of payment problems. Generally, the management of the economy is not the best and it is bringing a lot of difficulties for the ordinary people. Thatâ€™s our concern. (Blackout).
Do you also have blackouts now in Ghana?
Unfortunately, we used to think that it was a Lagos problem, but it is also an Accra problem. We have something we call â€˜doomsaw-doomsawâ€™, and that is blackout.
Not too long ago, Nigerians were saying Ghana had achieved uninterrupted power supply.
It is not true. We have not managed very well, the bringing up of our gas deposits and, generally, the financing of the energy sector have proved difficult for this administration such that the development of the infrastructure that we need is not taking place. So, you have a great deal of difficulties for our industries getting uninterrupted power supply, having a great deal of difficulties for domestic consumers; we are going through this process of load shedding and, generally, the situation at the energy front is very difficult and very difficult for the ordinary people of this country as well as the business community because, not being able to function means the country is not functioning well. These are the difficulties, these are the issues that are animating the political debate in Ghana.
It is in the news that you are running for the next presidential election in 2016?
That is a fact.
Considering the issues you have raised, how do you hope to address them?
I am coming from a party that has a track record which is very positive; that is the track record of the Kuffor era. When we came into office in 2001, many of the same phenomena that we are seeing today existed then. But within a period of eight years, a very major effort was made to bring stability into our exchange rate, bring stability into the rate of inflation and an environment that allowed businesses to function better than they are doing now.
The issues are simple. First of all, we are borrowing in Ghana at a rate that is compromising the future of our country.
Today, interest payments on government debts are four times the oil revenue that we are getting. That is very, very dramatic statistic because it means that going forward, looking at the future, we canâ€™t even be looking at this particular source of revenue for the development of our country. What is the reason? Government debts in the period in which the National Democratic Congress, that is the ruling party in Ghana, has been in power these past four to five years have quadrupled, borrowing as if tomorrow will never come. That is the major problem of our country and we are not seeing the other side of the borrowing, what it is being used for. If we had seen major expansion of our infrastructure, roads, hospitals and social infrastructure, then you can see what is being done. Let me give you another example.
In the election year, 2012, we had a deficit of US$4 billion and, in terms of our GDP, it represented something like 11%. Every year, World Bank has calculated that we have an infrastructure deficit of $2 billion a year. But that year without meeting the $2 billion target, you are able to create a deficit of $4 billion. So, the question continues to be asked, it is asked by me, it is being asked by other figures in the opposition, what is happening to our money? All the borrowing that is taking place, what is it being used for?
So, itâ€™s true I am contesting. I have tried twice in 2008 when I was the candidate of the ruling party and then as the candidate of the opposition party in 2012. I have examined myself and feel that I have the support within my party, and also, within the country and I believe that I still have the energy and the drive and the commitment to try again. So we will see, God willing, I am in good health; I will try again.
The dire picture you paint, is it not because you are in opposition?
No, the statistics are there. They are not my statistics. Make the investigations for yourself. It is difficult to massage statistics; rate of interest, rate of inflation, deficit and all those things are not things that can be manufactured. They are there in the public domain. Of course, the normal thing is for the opposition to oppose and to criticise, and it is good. It keeps governments on their toes and, in itself, that exercise is good for the society. But beyond that, you are journalists, it is your duty to be the watchdog, check the facts that I am giving you to see whether I am talking out of the back of my mouth or whether I am saying the truth. Those are the facts I have put before you, check them and see whether they are true or not.
What is going on in the management of the Ghanaian economy is not helpful for the future.
Have you ever heard of Chief Gani Fawehinmi?
Of course I have. Famous Nigerian lawyer, human rights activist and everything.
To some, you are like Ghanaâ€™s Gani Fawehinmi. Do you think Fawehinmi would have served Nigeria better if he had entered into active politics?
That is a difficult one for me because I am not familiar with all the nuances of the Nigerian situation. He was a man all of us admired very much because of his courage. He was a character who was prepared to speak out when he saw things were going wrong and never worried himself about the consequences.
I am, however, flattered by the comparison
What do you think Ghana can learn from Nigeria or what do you think Nigeria of today can learn from Ghana?
I think the most important thing that we have been able to do in Ghana is to grow our democracy to the extent that twice in a decade we have been able to supervise peaceful transfer of power between the two main contending parties, from the NDC to the NPP and from the NPP back to the NDC. Those two events in 2000 and 2008 have really given a big impetus to the development of our democracy and shown our people that it is possible, without violence, without intervention of soldiers to change government if the government is, in the view of the majority, not going in the right way.
You have not had that experience here; it has been so far one way. People are telling us that this time around, it is going to be a closer contest, but I donâ€™t know, I am not prepared to comment on that, but I think that that phenomenon is an important phenomenon that nations need to go through and I believe that next time or the time after, it would be a good thing to see that happen here in Nigeria. But please donâ€™t make a headline that I am calling for a change of government! I am not. I am just saying that if you are asking what you can learn from Ghana, I think that that is the biggest lesson so far that Ghana can give and I think that is why people are talking about Ghana as a beacon of democracy. We have been able, twice in the fourth republic, to have this alternative groups coming in into office.
What then can Ghana learn from Nigeria of today?
This may not be very flattery to Nigeria, but I think that the most important thing that we can learn is how best to make sure that resources that we have in our country are used for the benefit of our people. Some of us still find it difficult to understand how come Nigeria, with all its wealth, oil and all that, still has blackouts and these things that you know about. I think what we have to try and do is to make sure that we donâ€™t go down that way!