The recent jail sentence handed former lawmaker for Chiana-Paga, Abuga Pele, for allegedly causing financial loss to the state has prompted “massive” street protests in the Upper East region with the General Secretary of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Johnson Asiedu Nketia, coming under intense fire.
A crowd of constituents, armed with pointed placards, spilled into a highway on Sunday in the busy border town of Paga, chanting justice slogans as women wept openly and some angry-looking men could be heard saying the veteran politician had been unfairly reduced from a “statesman” to a “scapegoat”.
“A scapegoat because there are big personalities who squandered monies. We all know for a fact that Humado was indeed the one who signed [those contracts]. And why is Humado roaming? He’s free out there and Abuga Pele is languishing in prison. This is not justice. It is absolutely unacceptable,” ranted Maxwell Akanuwe, Assemblyman for the Longo Electoral Area, at the afternoon rally.
Asked by Starr News the reason she was in tears in the street, an inconsolable woman wearing an Islamic veil, Bimata Nurudeen, replied as she held a placard above the milling crowd: “I’m not crying for myself. I’m not crying for Abuga Pele. I’m crying for the orphans in this constituency whose school fees, feeding and hospital bills Abuga Pele was taking care of before February 23, 2018.”
February 23, 2018, is the date an Accra High Court convicted Mr. Pele, who is a former National Coordinator of the Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency (GYEEDA) now renamed the Youth Employment Agency (YEA), together with Philip Assibit, an industrialist, of willfully causing financial loss to the state. The two men were passed a combined jail term of 18 years — 6 years for the former legislator and 12 years for Mr. Assibit.
“We are so disappointed in the NDC” — Protesters snarl
Observers say Sunday’s public protests were registered by constituents from the various political shades in a constituency known to be a stronghold of the country’s biggest opposition party today, the NDC, who lost power just 16 months ago.
But the gathering clearly drew more notable faces from the NDC, the party to which Mr. Pele belongs. Those NDC supporters appeared to have been desperately searching for a fitting channel to pour out their venom on some big shots they believed scapegoated Mr. Pele from within the party.
A news conference that climaxed the street protests, held not too far from the road that links Ghana to Burkina Faso, finally gave them that golden chance. And the NDC’s General Secretary was dragged over a bed of burning coals in a coordinated verbal attack.
So much was the wrath that if there had been a statue of Johnson Asiedu Nketia in the constituency, a mob of protesters would have pulled it down yesterday in the manner Saddam Hussein’s effigy came down apart after the Battle of Baghdad in 2003.
“We are so disappointed in the NDC because this case started in the NDC regime. They didn’t take the matter serious. Apart from that, during the primaries, some strong people were against him— especially Asiedu Nketia. Those people were even praying that Abuga Pele should be sentenced. They envied him because of his popularity and plotted to bring him down,” fumed Sulemana B. Kukuje, an old member of the umbrella party.
In the words of Karim Kumoriwo, another elderly staunch NDC constituent, Mr. Pele’s problems began when he became “the right-hand man” of the late President John Evans Atta Mills. Abuga, he said, was being groomed as a presidential candidate by Mills until the Mahama Administration took over following Mills’s death in 2012.
“When Atta Mills was out, things started to change. The Mahama Administration sidelined Abuga Pele. That is where Abuga Pele’s problems started. If you had a bag and you didn’t like it and you dumped it in a dustbin and Zoomlion came and picked the bag and burnt it, would you blame Zoomlion? You wouldn’t blame Zoomlion. You should blame yourself because you put your bag in the dustbin.
“It was NDC who put Abuga Pele inside the dustbin. So, if NPP government came and burnt Abuga Pele, it’s not their fault. We are in a dilemma as to whether we should support the NDC again in this constituency,” explained Mr. Kumoriwo as an enraged woman shouted in the background, “No, it’s over for the NDC in Chiana-Paga!”
Why protesters believe Abuga Pele is innocent
The Sunday’s sun was so frying mobile phones were shutting down on their own at the rally ground. The red bands on the heads of the protesters dripped freely with warm sweat like heavy raindrops from eaves that are very steep.
If even old men and women were spotted in the gathering, carrying placards which some used to block the blazing sun from microwaving their already-wrinkled faces, the irrepressible zeal displayed for “justice” by the heartbroken youths as they paid no attention to the wrathful sun is, perhaps, needless to say.
The only moment they took shelter from the sun was when time was due for a 3-page press statement to be delivered at the news conference. The statement, read by Donald Tumyeridam, highlighted some reasons the protesters, who identified themselves as “The People of Chiana-Paga”, are of a strong conviction that Abuga Pele deserves an acquittal, not a verdict.
“The then sector minister, Clement Kofi Humado, gave a ceiling to Honourable Abuga Pele as to how much he could authorise for disbursement, not exceeding Gh¢20,000. What baffles us is how an amount of 4.1 million Ghana cedis could be released without recourse to the directives of the same minister and the procurement procedure as required by law.
“In his handover notes, Honourable Abuga Pele wrote that some of the contracts were not going to inure to the benefit of the nation and, so, such contracts should be cancelled. Abuga Pele’s resistance was to prevent the state from losing so much money. However, Clement Kofi Humado paid no heed and went ahead and signed the contracts. Rather interestingly today, the advocate of such an excellent idea is languishing in prison whilst the [wrongdoers are] walking freely,” the statement said.
Whilst making it known at the presser that Abuga Pele’s sympathisers would initiate a court appeal anytime soon against the verdict, the protesters also appealed to President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to “take a relook into the case to help settle the misdemeanour that has characterised this very case”.
“The judge made it clear that Honourable Abuga Pele never benefited from any of the payments, meaning he did not steal anything from the state, but was rather reckless in signing the document. We want to see the full contract document, those who were involved in the payment and signing, starting from the Finance Minister to the Auditor General, the sector minister and all those who played leading roles in the payment of the money to the Goodwill International Group (GIG).
“Until this is done, we will believe that in the court of the fowls, the cockroaches have no say. We the people of Chiana-Paga believe that the law should not be wielded as a big stick by powerful invisible hands to pummel the weak ones. The conviction of Honourable Abuga Pele, notwithstanding the compelling evidence exonerating him, clearly confirms the selective justice system in the country. We believe that selective justice is injustice. We must say that we believe in the fair-minded judges of our country and trust that the impartial panel that will sit on the appeal will, indeed, show that our justice system still carries a lot of credibility,” the disappointed constituents affirmed in that press statement.