Ghana: President Mahama’s 4,800 witnesses and the NPP leaders’ headache

By IndepthAfrica
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Jan 16th, 2013
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By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Folks, there is more trouble in Osonokrom. President Mahama’s intention to call about 4,800 witnesses to testify for him in the NPP’s election-related case now before the Supreme Court has sent serious shock waves through the NPP elements. Why?

Some are worried that such a tall list of witnesses will prolong the hearing of their case to an unbearable psychological, emotional, and physical limit. There is a gut feeling that calling all those witnesses may take the trial to well over 9 years to conclusively determine.

Others are afraid that any protracted determination of the case could get them close to Election 2016 by which time they wouldn’t have been able to put their house in order in readiness for the elections. It means that whatever harm this electoral dispute would have done to the party cannot be repaired and the party strengthened to improve its standing. The fear is that the party will be disadvantaged.

Some are disturbed that an “unnecessary” delay will not make it possible for Akufo-Addo’s fate to be reversed early enough for him to be declared the winner of Election 2012. In effect, their dream may take too long to materialize. They seem not to have the capacity to contain the fallouts.

Thus, the best way to ensure an “expeditious” determination of the lawsuit is for the Supreme Court not to allow President Mahama to complicate matters by calling all those 4,800 witnesses. Here is part of their justification for it:

“No court would allow its process to be choked through the presentation of an extremely long list of witnesses. It can either rule, ab initio, that the attempt to present such a list was an “abuse of the process of the court”, or if it felt lenient, order the litigant to “consolidate” the evidence to be provided by the witnesses, and thus put in the witness box, only one or two whose evidence would be similar to that of those on the litigant’s list, except for one or two particulars.”

That is something that I landed upon on my rounds in a discussion forum that I participate in, which should spur a lively conversation here as we attempt to find answers to some questions arising therefrom:

  • Isn’t anybody involved in a lawsuit free to call as many witnesses as will make his/her case strong to win?
  • Is there—and should there be—any attempt to twist legal technicalities to prevent such a step being taken just because the other party is fixated on an “expeditious” determination of the case? To whose advantage will such a ceiling/cap on the number of witnesses be?

We have already heard from a senior law lecturer at the Ghana School of Law (Maxwell Opoku-Agyemang) is cautioning against lining up thousands of witnesses in this lawsuit. He is convinced that such a number of witnesses could create inconsistencies in the accounts of witnesses and that could be problematic.

Whilst agreeing that there is no cap on the number of witnesses a party may call in a civil case, he was quick to add that the court system has its own way of “weeding out unwanted witnesses”. To him, “If you have one witness who is credible, it is better than thousands of pathological liars” (Source: Myjoynline, Jan. 14, 2013: http://politics.myjoyonline.com/pages/news/201301/99883.php).

Although these viewpoints may be tangible, I can read a deeper meaning into them to suggest that they reflect the panic mode into which the President’s intentions have sent the NPP. This senior lecturer may not necessarily be speaking for the NPP, but his views resonate with the subtleties that undergird the NPP’s reaction to its opponents’ stance on the lawsuit.

The NPP members’ main motivation for opposing the NDC’s application to join the lawsuit and President Mahama’s intention to call 4,800 witnesses is FEAR, wrought by the realization that doing so will delay the determination of the lawsuit. Having already conditioned themselves for a speedy trial—probably basing everything on the Constitutional provision that election-related trials will be expedited—these NPP elements have no room for what is unfolding right in front of their eyes.

Who wants a “speedy” trial, anyway? And for what? You will all bear me out that it is only these NPP elements who are talking about a “speedy” trial or an “expeditious” one. President Mahama isn’t in any hurry because he didn’t ask them to go to court. He is in no hurry to push the Supreme Court for any “speedy” trial because he has no need for anything of the sort, having been fairly and freely judged by the electorate and thumb-printed at the polls to be in office.

It is only the NPP that is agitating for a “speedy” trial, which is why after unconscionably contemning the integrity/reputation of the eminent Justice Atuguba only to realize their folly and the fact that they had rather put a spoke in their own wheel, they beat a quick retreat to recant instead of going ahead to put that protest into a written motion for the Supreme Court to act on.

Again, it is the NPP that is gunning for an “expeditious” trial and kicking against the NDC’s application to join the lawsuit, not allowing the Supreme Court to decide on it. Why the rush?

One fact is clear: Ghanaians want the determination of the case to be nothing but FAIR. That is why they are not doing anything to prejudice the case. Unfortunately, it is the NPP which is doing so even though it is the only side calling for a “speedy” trial. How can we expect a FAIR trial when the petitioners are themselves not creating conditions for it?

Interestingly, the President isn’t in any hurry because he has nothing to hide or fear. He was duly elected by the citizens and is ensconced in office already. What should he fear? Why should he want a speedy trial when there is no need for a lawsuit, in the first place? His conscience is clean and he is presiding over a country that needs his acumen to develop. How about that?

In this lawsuit, President Mahama and the NDC will definitely do anything to serve their interests, not those of the NPP. That is why any number of witnesses whose evidence is vital to the lawsuit must be called to testify.

If I had my own way, I would suggest that witnesses be called from all the 26,000 constituencies because even though there were general and specific rules and guidelines on the conduct of the elections, the circumstances and events happening at each polling station weren’t a replica of each other. Each area had its own peculiar happenings for which the polling agents, Presiding Officers, or anybody connected with the polls must be invited by the Supreme Court (if so desired by President Mahama or the petitioners) to do so.

Are some people already panicking? Anxious moments are here, and the gritting of teeth has already begun. It is noticeable. Obviously, a fly will bite an elephant if it can find a weak spot in its tough and thick hide!!

I shall return…