Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore him. Some people say he is obsessed with power. Others think he’s just overzealous. No matter the lens through which you view him, Accra’s metropolitan Chief Executive, Alfred Okoe Vanderpuije, is the talk of the town.
His notoriety as Mayor since 2009 is unmatched, at least since Ghana entered democratic rule in 1992. Mr Vanderpuije ranks highest not for being the best in terms of performance but because he is deeply steeped in controversy!
The ‘swagger man,’ whose resemblance to American Hip Hop star Rick Ross has earned him the sobriquet “Uncle Rick Ross,” appears untouchable in his position despite what many consider to be his high-handedness and poor performance as a mayor.
Many people, including market women and other politicians, have at one point in time or another called for Mr Vanderpuije’s dismissal, but that did not happen. Did those people fail to make a cogent case to President John Mahama, or he simply did not pay attention?
Just in case you missed it like President Mahama apparently did, let me enlighten you about some of the mayor’s obnoxious adventures to enable you to be the judge.
Dishonouring our heroes and heroines
Someone asked me: “Is it that controversy knows Mr Vanderpuije or otherwise?” My response was simple: “The man is controversy itself!” In June 2011, he set off on his peculiar set of misguided adventures and made what could be considered a hasty and unreasoned decision.
Leading some of his cohort of Assembly Members, Mr Vanderpuije ignored an intense public outcry and changed the name of Ohene Djan Sports Stadium back to Accra Sports Stadium.His justification for this decision was that the stadium is on Ga land. His reason, I found lame, and above all, smacked of divisiveness in a country that has progressed in national unity.
In principle, it was not even within the power of Mr Vanderpuije and his Assembly to rename the stadium – that is the mandate of the National Sports Authority, which is responsible for all stadia across the country.
Notwithstanding, those with the power and responsibility to do so neither called him to order nor reversed his decision. And no one dared take the matter up in court, not even the National Sports Authority. It was evident by their silence and inaction that the decision was politically influenced! Is this what leadership has been reduced to?
Anyway, as if that was not enough for him, like Oliver Twist he wanted more! And this time, it was Okoe against Okoh, a national heroine. In July 2013, Mr. Vanderpuije’s renaming hammer struck at Theodosia Okoh, whose name was on the national hockey stadium in recognition of her work in putting hockey on the national sports agenda.
Without any shred of respect for the woman who not only designed Ghana’s national flag but also was instrumental in laying the foundation for the playing of hockey in Ghana, Mr Vanderpuije stripped her name from the stadium and replaced it with that of the late President John Atta Mills.
Again, his reason- to honour the late Mills for his achievements and contributions in that sport – was far from satisfactory for many. Was the naming of Accra High Street after him not enough? In any case, how can stripping national recognition from the woman who created opportunities for the late President to play hockey be the best way to honour him? Even Mills would have kicked against this decision if he were alive.
Fortunately, the backlash from this insensitive action was too much for the government to bear, prompting President Mahama to intervene. He summoned the AMA boss to answer why he had made such a unilateral decision without recourse to the office of the President.
Ms Theodosia Okoh’s name was restored on the hockey stadium and both President Mahama and Mr Vanderpuije apologised.
But was that enough? The action by President Mahama, although commendable, in many people’s minds could only have been sufficient if he had sacked Mr Vanderpuije. The mayor’s action humiliated the government, the office of the President, the Assembly and Ghanaians in general. But Mr. Vanderpuije survived.
By all indications, it appeared the mayor had considerable clout within his National Democratic Party that made him untouchable no matter how many scandals mired in.
‘Desperado’ leadership style
His style of leadership is almost comparable to the one-time dreaded WO Salifu Amankwa, who had the backing of Government to terrorise people at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle during the PNDC era.
Like Salifu Amankwa, Mr Vanderpuije did whatever he liked without regard for people’s rights. Anytime he commanded, his entourage kowtowed without consideration or objection. He became more of an Inspector General of Police than a mayor. Shouldn’t the President have considered him for that post instead?
If not for controversy and attention seeking, why would Mr Vanderpuije organise a press conference to arrest a building inspector who works with him in the same building?
In November 2012, Vanderpuije organised a press conference, at which he caused the arrest of a subordinate, Christian Ababio, over claims of being corrupt in the wake of the Melcom building disaster that killed 81 people.
Some held the view that Vanderpuije should have alerted the police to investigate the man and when found liable, arrest him rather than the charade that came on. Others said it served as a public example to all who flagrantly disregard the value of human life for their personal gains that it won’t be tolerated any longer. Still others contended that the mayor, too, was ultimately responsible by virtue of his position and so should have resigned.
In August 2014, Vanderpuije again caused the arrest of a plantain seller. His crime? The man allegedly failed to partake in a clean-up exercise at Agbogbloshie in Accra where traders were busily de-silting gutters. Was he ever processed for court or cautioned? No one knows.
And then in September the same year, he again arrested a journalist and television crew. The team had gone to Mensah Guinea, a slum in Accra, to film the harsh conditions under which the residents were living after Mr Vanderpuije and his Assembly had gone to destroy their makeshift dwellings.
The Mayor later said: “I had received a call that reporters from Adom TV had come over here and told the people they are here to help, so they got them to lie down on the ground in batches and they were filming them to make a case that Government had made them homeless.” No matter if the crew was engaged in ethical or unethical journalism, is it an arrestable offence? The case is still in court.
But that was still not enough to stop Mr Vanderpuije. It appeared he either had a penchant for showing off his power or took delight in embarrassing and mishandling people just to get attention.
In early November 2014, he grabbed the headlines again and for days, he was trended on social media.
In a video that went viral, Mr Vanderpuije manhandled and arrested a trotro (commercial) driver who was trying to get through a crowded street in the Central Business District during another clean up exercise to rid the city of filth.
This driver was arrested for honking and allegedly recklessly driving. Some claimed the driver was at best, disturbing the peace; hardly an arrestable offence, while others argued the mayor was again making an example out of those whose actions endanger the welfare of others.
In all these instances, the police speedily obeyed the orders of the mayor without getting first-hand information or doing an independent preliminary investigation, let alone analysing to see if there was a legal basis for the arrest in the first place.
The grand anti-climaxOn Thursday, January 5, 2016, the adventures of the mayor hit an anti climax when he was paid in his own coin in an attempt to pull what has been described as one of his usual attention-seeking stunts. He was simply humiliated on national television.
As if Former President Jerry John Rawlings had over the years been observing how the mayor humiliated some people in public, he snubbed the mayor when he tried to exchange pleasantries with the former who was walking on a red carpet to the Parliament House for President Mahama’s last State of the Nation Address.
— #ElectionCommand (@onua951fm) January 5, 2017
The one thing that is for sure is that all these cases without doubt opened the mayor and his office to criticism, whether justified or unjustified.
At least for now, the first chapter of the adventures of Okoe Vanderpuije has been closed after an eventful eight years! But will a second chapter be opened, and how action-packed will it be in the next four years as he enters parliament from January 7?
By Stephen Kwabena Effah|3news.com|Ghana
Disclaimer: The author is a News Editor for 3News and views expressed in the article are his, and do not reflect or represent that of the organisation in any form whatsoever.