Do not appoint Chief Justice based on sheer seniority

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JUSTICE SOPHIA AKUFFO
JUSTICE SOPHIA AKUFFO

On June 9, when she hangs up her judicial robes, Chief Justice Georgina Theodora Wood would have presided over the Supreme Court of Ghana for 10 years, perhaps the longest single tenure in the country’s postcolonial history. Naturally, the question of who best qualifies to replace Justice Wood has become the talk of the nation. Presently, we are being given to believe by the editors and publishers of the state-owned newspaper, the Daily Graphic, that 3 members of the Apex Court are in the running, namely, Justices Jones Victor Mawulorm Dotse and Anin Yeboah and, of course, Justice Sophia Akuffo.

Predictably, the media spotlight has been unduly focused on Justice Akuffo, primarily because she also happens to be the paternal cousin of President Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo (See “Akufo-Addo Shortlists His Cousin and Two NPP-Linked Judges” TheHeraldGhana.com / Ghanaweb.com 5/11/17). There is something at once devious and annoying about the parenthetically referenced Daily Graphic caption on the article. It suggestively presupposes that Justice Sophia Akuffo may be in the race to succeeding the current Chief Justice because of her consanguineal affiliation with the President, although we are also promptly and paradoxically informed that Justice Akuffo is the third senior-most Supreme Court justice, after the retiring Justice Wood and Justice William Atuguba, who had not been shortlisted by the President, and whose supporters and sympathizers are accusing the President of political game playing or downright vendetta.
On the latter score may be vividly recalled that it was Justice Atuguba who presided over the Supreme Court panel that adjudicated the 2012 Presidential-Election Petition, in which the Court curiously decided in favor of then-Interim President John Dramani Mahama. At any rate, these critics have absolutely no merit to their argument, whatsoever, because even in the most advanced of constitutional democracies, appointments to the Court-of-Last-Resort have always been decidedly political. For no President or Prime Minister possessed of sound judgment and mind would appoint a chief jurist with whom s/he virulently disagrees on crucial ideological, ethical and policy matters. But what I really wanted to highlight more than anything else is the fact that the appointment of Chief Judges, in this particular instance the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana, ought to be squarely based on professional competence and not sheer seniority or longevity on the bench.

On the foregoing score, it is quite interesting and very significant to note that absolutely no legal light or expert has been heard publicly disputing the professional competence of Justice Sophia Akuffo, vis-à-vis Justice William Atuguba, for example, or any of the other two shortlisted justices. What this clearly means is that the shortlisting of Justice Akuffo has, at the barest minimum, only a marginal and/or incidental relevance to the fact of the President’s being blood relatives to the woman who, if she gets the requisite and desired nod from both the Council-of-State and Parliament, would become only the second woman in modern Ghanaian history to preside over the highest court of the land.

There is also something bizarre about the fact that nobody has, thus far, alluded to the fact that Chief Justice Wood, who was appointed to the Apex Court by former President John Agyekum-Kufuor, is also a relative of President Akufo-Addo. We must also quickly point out the fact that absolutely none of the critics of Nana Akufo-Addo’s impugned the ethical and/or moral righteousness, or the woeful lack thereof, of Chairman Jerry John Rawlings, when the then-Supreme Dictator of the erstwhile Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) appointed his blood relative and kinsman, Capt. Kojo Tsikata (Rd), as his National Security Adviser and Chief Executioner Plenipotentiary of the PNDC junta. Likewise, no eyebrows were publicly raised when Chairman Rawlings made Mr. Tsatsu Tsikata, another of his clansmen and Capt. Kojo Tsikata’s first cousin, his Special Legal Adviser and the Chief Architect of the veritable death squads that were the infamous People’s Courts and People’s Tribunals that peremptorily dominated Ghana’s judicial landscape for most of the 1980s.

Then, there is also this untenably warped logic that states that if she receives the nod, Justice Sophia Akuffo would be replacing another woman as head of the highest court of the land. Interestingly, these critics appear to have no qualms about the fact that for decades, not only was the Supreme Court wholly composed of men, the replacement of a retiring Chief Justice was routinely from one man to another man. Then also, what has the fact of Justice Sophia Akuffo’s being the paternal aunt of Ms. Gloria Akuffo, our current Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, got to do with the fact of whether Justice Akuffo has what it takes to creditably acquit herself as Chief Justice? Then again, why give credit to Chairman Jerry John Rawlings, for naming Justice Akuffo to the Supreme Court, but deliberately and, perhaps, even mischievously neglect to mention the fact that it was the same Chairman Rawlings who summarily executed Gen. FWK Akuffo, Justice Akuffo’s brother and Ms. Gloria Akuffo’s uncle by firing squad?

And then also, why attempt to victimize these highly educated and erudite and unquestionably competent women for jobs which they clearly have diligently prepared themselves, just because they happen to know and are related to the Chief Resident of the Flagstaff House?

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
English Department, SUNY-Nassau
Garden City, New York

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