By Jide Ojo
“In view of the happenings on the continent, and, indeed in West Africa, the entire world is looking up to us to maintain our status as a beacon of democracy, peace and stability”
– Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, in a national broadcast on December 6, 2020.
Nigeria, though hit by the second wave of economic recession in five years in November, is Africa’s biggest economy. That is something to cheer and brag about even though the country battles high unemployment, poverty and inflation. However, how does the country fare politically when compared to Ghana, our West African neighbour, with which we share a lot in common? This comparism stems from the fact that Ghanaians, on Monday, December 7, went to the poll in the country’s eight consecutive general elections since the start of her Fourth Republic in 1992. The elections are to choose the next occupant of the Jubilee House, Ghana’s presidential villa, and 275 members of parliament. By the time you’re reading this, it is hoped that all the results would have been out and winners emerged for all contested positions.
I had the privilege of being in Ghana in 2008 as a Carter Centre Short Term Election Observer and in 2009 for a two-week long BRIDGE (Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections) training. As the saying goes, “one eyewitness is of more weight than 10 hearsays”. Yes, while there have been rivalries and several spats between Nigeria and Ghana dating back to the 60s, the two countries share a lot in common. Among the similarities between Nigeria and Ghana are: Both are former British colonies and therefore Anglophone countries; they both have a long history of military coup de tats; they are both in their Fourth Republic running multiparty democracy; Despite having a de jure multiparty system, they are both de facto two party countries. While the two dominant political parties in Nigeria are the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party, in Ghana, the dominant political parties are the New Patriotic Party and the National Democratic Congress.
Both countries have presidents who are septuagenarians. While Ghana’s Nana Akufo-Addo is 76, our president, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), is 78 years old. Both countries are members of the Economic Community of West African States and long-time trade partners; both countries run a presidential system of government of four-year tenure and maximum of two terms for executive positions. Both countries now sign peace accords ahead of presidential elections. Voting age in Ghana is 18 just like in Nigeria. The two countries are currently facing security concerns especially from separatist movements. While the Nigerian government is having a running battle with the Indigenous People of Biafra in the South-East, Ghana is facing the Western Togoland separatist movement seeking self-determination in Volta Region. Both countries are also grappling with COVID-19 pandemic.
On the flip side, while voting age is 18 for both countries, the minimum age qualification to contest election as a Member of Parliament in Ghana is 21 unlike in Nigeria that it is 25. Ghana has more female representation in parliament than Nigeria. From the 2016 parliamentary election, out of 275 parliamentary seats, 35 of them were women. In Nigeria out of the 360 member of the 9th House of Representatives there are only 11 women.
Ghana’s ballot paper is in three columns. It has the candidate’s picture, logo of the party and column for voting. Attempts by Professor Maurice Iwu’s Independent National Electoral Commission to have pictures of candidates on the ballot paper ended in fiasco as raft of court judgements close to elections messed up the nomination and made the bulk of ballot paper earlier printed useless. Elections have to be suspended and postponed in many constituencies due to the frequent change in the name of the candidates. Ghana has a provision for special voting which enables personnel who would not be able to cast their ballots on the Election Day to vote early. Unlike Nigeria which runs a bicameral legislature, Ghana has a unicameral legislature. Unlike Nigeria which has two electoral management bodies i.e. INEC and State Independent Electoral Commissions, Ghana has only one which is the Electoral Commission of Ghana which is at present headed by a lady, Mrs. Jean Mensah. Ghana’s electoral commission has seven members (Chairman, two deputy chairmen and four other members), Nigeria on the other hand has a 14-member Commission, (Chairman, 12 national commissioners and the Secretary).
There is certainty in the date of general election in Ghana. It is December 7 of the election year. This is similar to that of the United States of America where election holds on the first Tuesday in November of the election year. However, in Nigeria, the election date is fixed by INEC, not the Constitution. For a presidential candidate to win outright in Ghana, he or she has to win 50+1 of the valid votes cast unlike in Nigeria where the condition precedent to win executive position such as the president, a candidate needs to score 25 per cent of valid votes cast in at least two-thirds of the country in addition to having a majority of the valid votes cast.
During elections in Ghana, there is no total lockdown or shutting down of the economy. While the average voter turnout in Nigeria has been under 40 per cent, Ghana has consistently recorded high voter turnout of over 60 per cent. Ghana has a more mature political culture than Nigeria, as elections in the former Gold Coast do not record the cases of electoral violence being documented here. Campaigns in Ghana are more issue-based than the dance drama we see at political rallies across Nigeria’s major cities, full of high on hate speech and low on issues. Ghana also has a provision for independent candidacy, a provision that “Big Brother” still aspires for. While Ghana has to conduct her 2020 General Election under the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria was lucky to escape a similar fate as we have had our general election in 2019 before the pandemic even though both INEC and SIECs have also had to conduct a flurry of off-cycle governorship elections, by-elections and local government elections during the raging pandemic.
Truth be told, Ghana has better political credentials than Nigeria and we can learn and borrow a number of useful ideas from our dear neighbour. Things like civic political culture, early voting, independent candidacy, robust political party management system, constitutionally backed date for elections, election of more women into executive and legislative positions, a more “genderised” electoral commission and more issue-based campaigns are some of the useful lessons and ideas we can loan from the land of the Black Stars.
– Follow me on Twitter @jideojong
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