NPP, why fire at Prof Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang when you have a clearer target?

As a doctoral student of political science, I will start off by admitting that I am still learning the trade, and may well misfire on this submission, yet I implore you to follow me through to the end on this one. I am on the issue of the appointment of Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang as the running mate of former President John Dramani Mahama for the 2020 elections. I have read a great number of commentaries from the camp of the NPP, attempting to run down the achievements of the Professor in public service, particularly during her tenure as the Minister of Education, between 2013 and 2017. I am convinced this is a wrong move the NPP might pay dearly for if care is not taken. I think Professor Naana Opoku-Agyemang should not be their target at all, because in their attempt to brand her as a failure at the education ministry, they would have publicized her greatly and increased her appeal to the masses. The mere sight of the Professor would awe every objective observer, and as you hear her speak, her wisdom, decorum, eloquence and demeanor would make it very hard to believe that she is the same person being run down by opponents. I think the Professor is clearly a most valuable addition to the Mahama ticket, and objectively a threat to the NPP. Sometimes, the best way to deal with an opponent who is a threat is to talk less about that individual, and by that deny him/her that free publicity. I think that should be the approach of the NPP on the Professor; they should focus on running down former President Mahama through Dr. Bawumia, and resist the temptation of discrediting the achievements of the Professor. I substantiate my point here with the following reasons.

  1. The Economic and Political Consequences of Educational Policies
Two of the main issues the NPP is selling out to discredit Professor Naana Opoku-Agyemang during her tenure as Minister of Education, are the cancellation of teacher trainee allowance and lecturers’ book and research allowance. Well, from an economic point of view, the NPP has not helped Ghana much with the re-instatement of those allowances. Even in developed economies of the West, no government dishes out allowances on a monthly basis to its students. What most governments do is to convert that into long term repayable loan schemes with marginal interest for the students. Our current SSNIT loan scheme for university students is built on that rationality. What Professor Opoku-Agyemang attempted to do was to ensure a more judicious use of our scarce resources by converting those same monies into repayable loans for the students. The same reasoning went into the scrapping of nurses’ trainee allowance, which has also been re-instated by the present administration.  It is also a much better decision not to cap research allowances for lecturers through the payment of annual flat rates across board for both university teachers actively undertaking research, and others doing virtually nothing in that regard. That would be a very inappropriate use of the state’s resources. All over the world, governments set up research funds and invite proposals from researchers to access as much as their research proposals can convince the government to give in support. The former is prodigal and profligate, the latter is frugal and judicious. Thankfully, the NPP saw great wisdom in Professor Naana Opoku-Agyemang’s decision to set up a national research fund, and did not throw away the idea, but have improved the basic rationale behind it. Of course, they have the right to claim it was their original idea, once they have implemented it effectively. Politically, however, Professor Opoku-Agyemang’s decision was suicidal, particularly at the time. I am convinced the reason the teacher trainees hailed President Nana Addo’s decision to re-instate their allowances was for their individual comfort, and not because it was a great decision of any consequential national value. And those are the kinds of policies which win you votes in the populist democratic system we currently practice. As for the populace, they will always celebrate any government which will give them things for free; any government which will alleviate their economic and social hardships and make them happy for the present time, even if it means piling up debts and setting the stage for a more difficult tomorrow. Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian theory posits that, the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people is the ultimate measure of right or wrong. That perhaps is the summary of our version of successful political leadership: if only I can proffer policies which can make the majority happy or feel happy, irrespective of the cost, I will be hailed as the Messiah of the masses. When the NPP began to promise freebies everywhere to students, including this particular disappointing policy of re-instatement of teacher trainee allowances, I knew the NDC was in trouble, although their policy option was economically more pragmatic. The people always want free everything: free JHS, free SHS, free University education, free water, free electricity, free healthcare, free transport, free allowances, free accommodation, you name them. In 2004, as a student at the KNUST, I gleefully voted for President J.A Kufour, because, months before the elections, he had surprised all of us students on the SSNIT loan scheme with an unexpected loan rebate to the tune of about 150cedis during the long vacation, and had also paid our first semester loan on time. Man had enough money on him three months to the elections to enjoy life. Now, why would I not vote for such a candidate? I didn’t care about the consequences of piling up extra loans to pay at all, at that particular point in time. All I cared about was my comfort, which the government seemingly provided. That is the language best understood in our populist form of democracy, where, according to Abraham Lincoln, the government is ‘‘of the people, for the people and by the people’’. In other words, the will of the people reigns supreme, even if it does not make economic sense. If you decide to do what is pragmatic but unpopular, you are certain to be rejected by the myopic masses. I found that the NPP in 2016 was particularly skillful in playing the populist card, and the people rewarded them graciously for their proposal to bring them ‘happiness’ through the provision of freebies everywhere, including this irrational option of re-instating free allowances everywhere for students and teachers alike. Summarily then, I find the NPP’s attempt to claim that the good Professor failed as a Minister of Education, because she scrapped those trainee and research allowances, as an economically weak argument, which may not appeal to many deep – thinking Ghanaians, who are still undecided on who to vote for. I am convinced that she actually did the right thing, except that in our poverty-stricken setting, she misunderstood how myopic most people are in appreciating economic frugality.
  1. Using Dr. Bawumia as Benchmark and Ideal for Vice Presidency
I am such a big fan of Dr. Mahamadu Bawumia, the Vice President of our Republic. What the man has done with our economy deserves commendation by any objective observer. But, as it is with politics, one can hardly be objective. Putting facts beside facts, the economy of Ghana, under the watchful eyes of the President’s deputy has performed creditably well. But for COVID-19, I believe this government would have shattered growth records this year. This notwithstanding, supposing every Vice – Presidential candidate must be an economist, and possess the flowery economic eloquence of Dr. Bawumia is to me, out of place. You do not have to be an economist to be a good President or Vice President, although being one can help. If you truly understand leadership, you will know that the leader rules through experts; she doesn’t have to be one. What the leader needs to do is to carefully select people smarter than her to superintend over the various sectors, and give them the needed support to function. We are truly blessed to have a Vice President who is an economist; it is fantastic. However, having a Vice President who is an educationist is also a great choice. Academics are given to making evidence -based decisions; they do not easily fall for the popular will. Dr. Bawumia’s background as an academic, for me, has been the secret to his well-informed analysis and decisions in leadership. In Professor Naana Opoku-Agyemang also, we have a potential Vice President, cast in the same frame, however, in a different sense. I do not personally see Dr. Bawumia as being ahead of the Professor in terms of analytical capabilities. On the contrary, I find a very senior scholar in the Professor and former Vice Chancellor, and a very formidable opposition to Dr. Bawumia in terms of brilliance, analytics and even eloquence. My advice to the NPP would, therefore, be that they should not attempt to pit the erudition of Dr. Bawumia against that of Professor Naana Opoku-Agyemang. It will not be a good comparison. If the NPP skillfully ignores the presence of the Professor in the race, and focus on helping Dr. Bawumia to continue washing all the dirty linens of the NDC’s economic programs in public, discerning voters will soon separate facts from propaganda, and retain them in power on the basis of their better performance in government.
  1. The Female/Gender Empowerment Argument
This is perhaps the weakest argument of the NPP against Professor Naana Opoku-Agyemang. I have heard some leading NPP members talk about the Professor’s latency towards gender and women’s issues over the years; how that she has no track record of promoting the interest of her own species. Well, I am convinced the vast majority of Ghanaians do not vote for a candidate because she/he champions gender issues in private or even in public life. The Professor is a woman, but may not have been too much into women’s empowerment issues. Even so, I have my doubts about this claim by the NPP, because, going through her 58pages C.V. online, I found that she has done tremendous work with women all over the world. It seems her work as an advocate has been more at the international level, hence, her lack of local visibility in that respect. All she needs to do in response to the criticisms of the NPP in this regard, will be to position herself now as a champion of gender equality, and the transition will be very smooth for her, because, now she has the audience. She can easily convert that supposed weakness into a formidable strength within a matter of weeks. That is why I believe it is a dangerous path for the NPP to thread. If I were the Chairman of the NPP, I would ask my party to go quiet on the Professor in this area also, and rather focus on hitting former President John Mahama and his erstwhile government with all our arsenals.
  1. Social Identity and Election Outcomes in Liberal Democracy
Three main factors determine elections in our part of the world: social and group identity, voter apathy and good policies. Of course, there are other factors, such as vote buying, rigging and the likes. However, if we were to control for corrupt practices, we will soon find that the main reasons why a candidate or party wins an election are the three listed above. In order of magnitude of effect, however, social and group identity is the number one determinant of election outcomes in our kind of populist and liberal democracy. In their landmark analysis of the American democratic system, Professor Christopher H. Achen and Professor Larry M. Bartels averred in their book titled ‘‘Democracy for Realist: Why Elections do not Produce Responsive Governments’’ that social and group identity, more than any other factor, explained voter behavior at the poll. It is a hard truth to accept that the average voter behaves irrationally at the poll; voters rarely consider policies in deciding who to vote for. Issue congruence is a theoretical ideal which never truly sees manifestation in reality among most voters. Similarly, retrospective economic voting, in terms of looking objectively at the performance of the government over the years it has been in power, to either reward or punish it on the basis of its economic performance. Achen and Bartels argue and prove with evidence that voters are generally myopic, and only consider their economic situation in the last 6 months leading to elections. If things are good within those few months, the government is likely to be rewarded, irrespective of their performance in the preceding 42 months. If things turn sour in the last 6 months leading to elections, the people are certain to punish the government, irrespective of the gains made over the last 42 months. That currently is the challenge of the NPP government. Despite their creditable economic performance over the last 42 months, if the current COVID-19 situation does not improve soon enough, and the economy turns sour, the people are sure to turn their backs on them. The reasoning of the masses does not follow objective rationality. Therefore, care must be taken in these last few months to election 2020. Achen and Bartels opine that group loyalty, more than anything else determines voter preference at the polls. Hence, the first question the people ask when a candidate is presented to them is ‘Is s/he one of us?  The people first of all, look for social identification in candidates before deciding to give audience to them. As a Christian and an ordained minister of the Gospel of Christ, the first question I ask when presented with a political candidate is ‘Is s/he a Christian?’ If you are not, you have failed my first and most important test. This doesn’t make sense at all, however, that is just how human nature works, and every serious politician must know and apply this wisdom skillfully. It is unequivocal that the African American community in the United States voted massively for President Obama in 2008 because, in him, they saw one of their own. I am less convinced it was because of the brilliance of his policies for the African American community. We have seen many versions of this reality in our national politics since independence, but more especially in our current 4th Republic. In 2008, the Fantes felt entitled to the Presidency, and aggressively assimilated the Late Professor John Evans Atta Mill’s rather ethnocentric and dangerous rhetoric of ‘Adze pa wo fie a, oye’. The votes of his kinsmen brought him to power, under rather interesting but informative circumstances. It is a difficult puzzle to solve in attempting to interpret why the Ashanti region always votes for the NPP and Volta the NDC, outside the social identity factor. It is almost automatic that when you are born an Ashanti, you must support NPP, and an Ewe, the NDC. This just does not make intellectual sense, since politics in its purest form, must be about ideas, not social and group identities. Suffice to say that none of the regions in Ghana, ever votes for parties based on issue congruence. They all vote because they socially identify with parties and candidates. Immediately Professor Naana Opoku -Agyemang was announced as the running mate of former President Mahama, I saw female friends I have known all my life as NPP activists, suddenly switch sides to NDC, not because they agree with the philosophy and policies of the party, but because they identify with the Professor as fellow women. The Fantes are suddenly beginning to relish one of their own once again in power; some academics are also beginning to switch sides. I am convinced the NDC will win significant votes from the Methodist churches the Professor attends in Accra and Cape Coast. As for the thousands of past and present students of Wesley Girls High School, there may be only a little need for her to appeal to them; she has most of them in her camp already. What about the over 150,000 students and faculty members she superintended over during her time as Vice -Chancellor for 4years at the University of Cape Coast? Certainly, my own sister who attended UCC might be tempted to switch sides on December 7, 2020. As a woman, an educationist, a staunch Christian, and a Fante, what Professor Naana Opoku-Agyemang brings to the table, in terms of the ability to leverage social and group identity is truly impressive. As we know, 51% of our population are females. If our females decide to support their own, on the basis of this social identity theory, we can expect to see a very exciting race this year.  This is also part of the reason why, I believe the NPP should not increase her publicity by focusing on her candidature. She is too decent and elegant to run down. Our society will eventually rise to support a great woman, if it finds the attack on her too vitriolic. My counsel to the NPP will be not to see Professor Naana Opoku-Agyeman as a necessary target to run down. That would be very suicidal, because she represents perhaps the best example of matriarchal distinction in our society. Besides, she didn’t underperform as a Minister of Education during her tenure. What we see instead in the current Minister of Education, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh is someone who has performed better, due among others, to the more strategic and responsive policies of the present administration in the educational sector, which has seen the marshalling of the greatest amount of resources and expertise to any single sector of our society since independence. I think the NPP has a real opportunity in directing all their arsenals on former President Mahama and his weaknesses. Dr. Bawumia has so far been excellent at single-handedly making the former President unpopular in the eyes of many Ghanaians. I believe hitting that same spot over and over again, is a better strategy than going after the distinguished Professor. Source: Godfred Bonnah Nkansah The author is a PhD Student at the Institute of Political Science, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary. His research interest is in youth participation in democratic politics. He may be contacted via [email protected]  Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are entirely the writer’s and do not in any way represent those of or the Media General Group.]]>