Traditional chiefs in the Bongo District of the Upper East region have expressed regret over a series of protests staged in the area in 2015 following the dismissal of Professor Ephraim Nsoh Avea as the regional minister.
Rendering an apology to President John Dramani Mahama Tuesday, the Paramount Chief of the area, Bonaba Baba Salifu Atamale Lemyaarum, said the rallies were driven by sympathy.
“At the end of it all, we regretted for what we did. But at least we also had to show sympathy for the sudden removal of our brother and son. John Mahama again in his good wisdom, wanting to demonstrate that he is a father and a father for all, knows what he is doing. He is holding all the cards for his team players. And he knows at what time he has to change any player if the need arises.
“Once again, he has brought our son and our MP, Abongo. He has disgraced us; because when we were demonstrating, little did we know that he had this in mind. I must say we owe the President a very big apology for our action and inaction during that time. And I hope he would accept this apology,” he said.
The chief made the apology, surrounded by sub-chiefs and queen mothers, when the Upper East Regional Minister and Member of Parliament for Bongo, Albert Abongo, visited his palace to officially introduce himself to him as the new political head of the region.
Professor Avea, a native of Vea (a community inside Bongo), was Upper East Regional Minister for only two months after he had served for about twelve months as the Upper West Regional Minister. Mr. Abongo, from Gowrie and Bongo’s longest-serving lawmaker ever with 16 years in Parliament, was appointed Upper East Regional Minister this year.
He voluntarily brought his parliamentary career to a close in 2015 when he announced he would not contest in 2016. The rare decision won him an equally rare round of applause in a country where most legislators are bent on sitting tight in the coveted chair for a lifetime until they are stripped of power and pride.
Dismissed Avea stepped on big toes
Professor Ephraim Nsoh Avea was appointed Upper East Regional Minister in March, 2013. In what came just a few days after the appointment as perhaps the quickest reshuffle in Ghana’s political history, he was reassigned the Upper West Regional Minister. In March, the following year, he returned as the Upper East Regional Minister. Barely two months later, he was dismissed from office.
Government’s silence on reasons for his removal left the swarming admirers of his radical leadership style grope in fury for answers. Speculations were rife that his sacking was triggered by the open war he had waged daringly against deep-rooted greed and age-old corruption in the region. Consistent with his ‘change the status quo” mantra, he grilled influential building contractors over delays in execution and shoddy quality of state-funded projects.
He did not show mercy to even some powerful executives of his party who, as had been the norm, were grabbing more projects than they could thoroughly execute and were answerable to no one for the resulting poor job done. His assessment tour of some factories standing in ruins and some establishments struggling on the brink of collapse in the regional capital, Bolgatanga, blew the cover off some persons who were receiving monthly incomes from government for no services rendered. Whilst his subsequent action saw the termination of such engagements, his frank remarks to those who were board members of inoperative factories in the region painted a pressing picture of uncertainty.
Those he waged war against, it was widely speculated, ganged up against him and masterminded his firing as punishment for political blasphemy against the crooked ‘sacred cows’.
A wave of protests trailed his removal in the regional capital and particularly at Bongo, his hometown.
In Bolgatanga, several groups, including market women and retirees, accompanied by hundreds of police officers and armed with petitions swarmed through the main streets of Bolgatanga and through the highways amid protest songs and waving of placards, hailing the dismissed Regional Minister as a true man of the masses and a goal-oriented gemstone.
No Avea, no vote
In Bongo, demonstrators, clad in red bands to their heads, necks and wrists, waved placards. The inscriptions on those posters boldly read: “Mr. President, you must think again”; “Treat us well, Mr. President”; “JM, your reshuffle is meaningless”; “This is a gossip reshuffle” and “This is Boko Haram reshuffle” among others.
Flying petitions praised Professor Avea’s leadership skills and counted out the developmental initiatives he is said to have spearheaded to help the Mahama Administration make a difference both in the Upper West Region and his own region.
One of the rallies at Bongo saw some National Democratic Congress (NDC) paraphernalia set on fire in the streets laden with songs of protest as police officers lined the roads and keenly watched.
“We are here because of Ephraim,” one Hajia Zainabu Amadu told journalists. “He is somebody who has pity for children and women. We never knew what micro-finance savings was. He introduced it to us in Bongo and gave us work. At times he comes to Bongo to see to our welfare. Even when he sees people walking to the market, he stops and asks them to join his car. Which Minister will do that? In fact, Mahama has fallen flat, demoting somebody who rather deserves a pat on the back. If Avea is not recalled, we will also turn our back on the NDC.”
Whilst Professor Avea, a senior linguistics lecturer, is the first person from Bongo to ever occupy the region’s highest office since Ghana’s freedom from colonial control in 1957, Albert Abongo, a civil engineer, is the first sitting legislator to be appointed to that office in the region since Ghana’s return to democracy in 1992.
His appointment in January, this year, was received with wild jubilation across Bongo. His constituents, who now seem to have forgotten the pain of the past as they relish the pride of the present, have described him as “affable” and “the people’s man”.
A press statement signed and issued by Edward Asekere, Communications Officer of the NDC for the Bongo Constituency, applauded the new Regional Minister for his “experience and skills to help resolve differences and create an enabling environment within our great party to deliver one-touch victory for His Excellency the President and the NDC in the region.”
Mr. Abongo, unlike his immediate-past predecessor, James Zoogah Tiigah, who was widely criticised by the media and disliked by executives and foot soldiers of his own party for being “too difficult to reach”, is receiving applause from the press in the region for making himself available to the people. Much to the surprise of the public, he visited the Bolgatanga Central Market unannounced in the first week of April, this year, to interact with traders and listen to their concerns.
He is currently on introductory visits to paramount monarchs in the region, accompanied by his deputy, Dr. Robert Baba Kuganab-Lem, and an entourage of security chiefs and executives of the NDC. He started off Tuesday at the palace of the Paramount Chief of Talensi, Nab Kubilsong Nalebgtang, received by the District Chief Executive for Talensi, Edward Awunnore.
He is expected to continue with the tour on Wednesday to Bawku and Navrongo ahead of a scheduled visit of Vice President Paa Kwesi Amissah-Arthur to the region this week.