By Selorm GBORBIDZI, Accra
The Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) has called on two of the recently-appointed Commissioners to the Electoral Commission of Ghana, namely, Dr Peter Appiahene and Hajia Salima Ahmed Tijani, to resign in the supreme interest of the state.
This is because in CODEO’s view, the appointment of the two new Commissioners is an affront to the spirit of the Constitution, which stipulates that persons appointed to the Commission be persons who are not publicly affiliated to any political party.
At a press conference held in Accra on Wednesday, CODEO said, “We are painfully aware that voluntary or constitutionally-grounded revocation of these unfortunate and democratically problematic EC appointments by the President is extremely unlikely. However, nothing stops the affected appointees, namely Dr. Peter Appiahene and Hajia Salima Ahmed Tijani, from voluntarily and honourably resigning from membership of the EC.”
Such a move, they stressed “will be in the supreme interest of our country’s continued democratic progress, election peace and credibility, and indeed the overall national interest.”
The Election Monitoring outfit noted that while both appointees meet the generic benchmark qualification stipulated under Article 44(1) (that is, the same qualification one must satisfy to be a Member of Parliament), “the spirit of the Constitution demands far more in the way of one’s suitability to be a member of the EC.”
CODEO also shot down attempts to downplay the concerns raised by some sections of the public regarding what it considers as “problematic appointments,” noting that “if it did not matter who sat on the Electoral Commission, we could put anybody at all on it and the Appointing Authority would not need the advice of a Council of State in the appointment process. Indeed, the overwhelming evidence, both from our own experience in this Fourth Republic and from other countries in Africa, shows that counting and collation of election results, not just the voting process, are the principal sources of electoral disputes and election-related violence and conflict.”
They continued by saying that “when it comes to trust and confidence in an Election Management Body, the composition and membership of the Electoral Management Body matter greatly,” especially considering that “building and sustaining trust and confidence in an EMB is a delicate business.”
They pointed to the growing evidence gleaned from various editions of the Afrobarometer survey, which show clearly that there are declining levels of public trust in the EC, with trust ratings declining steadily since 2008.
Rev Dr Fred Deegbe, who addressed the media said that “In 2004, close to half (48%) of Ghanaians trusted the EC. The EC’s trust ratings reduced by 8 points to 40% in 2008. In 2012, this dropped drastically to 27%. The Commission’s trust rating continued to trend downward in 2014, decreasing that year to 18%. The EC’s trust ratings saw a boost in 2017 to 25%, but still significantly lower than in previous years. The slight increase in trust ratings for the EC was, unfortunately, short-lived. In 2019, trust in the Commission dropped to 21%; and in 2022 (the most recent survey), public trust in the EC dropped to an all-time low of 10%. Trust in the EC is too important for our democratic and social peace and stability for it to remain this low or get worse.”
CODEO in a thinly-veiled criticism of the President, said, “using that appointing power to appoint known partisans or persons with severe partisan conflict of interest relationships onto the EC undermines the spirit of non-partisanship that underpins the model of EMB that the Framers of our Constitution have left us.”
They continued, “contrary to views expressed in certain quarters, the designation of the President as the Appointing Authority, subject to the advice of the Council of State, does not mean that the President, being a party politician, is free to appoint to the EC persons who are known partisans or whose partisan affiliations create an apparent conflict of interest in the performance of their duties on an independent and nonpartisan EC.”
Touching specifically on the two Commissioners whose appointment had led to such indignation, CODEO, drawing on evidence from social media that show that Dr Appiahene is an activist of the New Patriotic Party in the Bono Region, with one social media comment from January 2021 headed ‘DR APPIAHENE for BONO Region’; while in another instance, he is featured on an NPP-labelled flyer as one of six prospects for the position of Bono Regional Minister.
In a separate video, he is seen and heard participating in a radio program “Anopa Nimdee Adwasuo” on Nimdee FM 95.1 (Sunyani) as a self-identified NPP partisan and activist in the Bono Region and naming one Kwame Baffoe (popularly known as Abronye DC) as his [Party] Chairman.
In the case of Hajjia Salima Ahmed Tijani, CODEO has found out that she married to one Sheikh T B Damba, a leading member of the NPP who was formerly the Second National Vice Chairman of the party and served as Ghana’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2017 to 2021.
She is also the daughter of Hajia Samata Gifty Bukari, the first elected woman First Vice Chairperson of the NPP in the Northern Region.
They also made that claim that she is the sister of Hajia Abibata Shanni Mahama Zakariah, who is currently the CEO of Microfinance and Loans Centre (MASLOC), and contested the 2020 NPP primaries for the Yendi constituency and has already publicly announced her intention to contest again for the Yendi seat in 2024.
CODEO is therefore of the view that “Madam Salima Ahmed Tijani’s multiple close familial relationship with leading and active NPP figures raise apparent conflict of interest concerns and, for that matter, a legitimate perception and appearance of a lack of independence.”
In view of the above, CODEO has called for a constitutional amendment to make the process of nomination and appointment to the EC explicitly inclusive and transparent.
They also proposed that “in filling a vacancy on the EC (and other independent constitutional bodies), the President, acting in his role as Head of State, propose and make public the names (and biographical information) of candidates to be considered by the Council of State.”
They also advised the President consult key stakeholders, including political parties represented in Parliament, in coming up with the list of candidates to be submitted to the Council of State, who will then invite petitions and other inputs on the proposed individuals from the public as part of a process of vetting and shortlisting the candidates.
The Council of State would then shortlist and rank the final candidates and make appropriate recommendation to the President.
As an additional stamp of stakeholder approval in an amended constitutional process, the nominee should be required to receive the approval of Parliament prior to their appointment by the President.