Some call him Mugabe, but majority of Ghanaians call him “Leader”. Leader, is the name synonymous with Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin , the 2nd Deputy Speaker of Parliament and the longest serving legislator in the history of Ghana. Alban Bagbin has become the face of Ghanaian politics not for his 25 years so far in parliament and still counting, but for the extraordinary role he played as two terms Minority Leader, twice Majority Leader and Chairman of some strategic committees of Parliament such as Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Committee, which he chaired twice, Public Accounts and Appointments Committee.
It is with no surprise that as one of the events marking his 25years in Parliament and 60 years of life, Parliament took time off one day to celebrate him. Some Members in their comments proposed the acknowledgement of his contribution to the development of Parliamentary democracy in Ghana with the erection of a statue or naming of a building after him in Parliament to honour Him. Bagbin is certainly an icon of his generation.
Recently in his hometown, Sombo, in the Upper West Region, the long awaited question of whether it is time for the Hon. 2nd Deputy Speaker of Parliament to run for the Presidency was answered. Yes, he has accepted the challenge thrown to him by his colleague MPs, at the launch of the activities marking the celebrations, foot soldiers of the NDC who troop daily to his office, and elders not only of his Party but the general public as a whole. Hon. Bagbin will certainly contest the Presidential primaries of his Party.
While different interpretations to his ambition were given by his antagonists, many ardent followers of the astute politician were of the view that the integrity, honesty and credibility of the experienced and learned politician will sail him through. This was succinctly echoed in the speech of the Guest of honour at the launch, Dr. Emmanuel Akwetey, Executive Secretary to the Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG). However, as a devoted follower of Ghanaian and African politics in general, it is important to tease out where Hon. Bagbin actually got it right, where he went wrong and the untold story of his life.
The Second Deputy Speaker is an exceptionally patriotic public figure, highly respected by Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians alike. Hardly will one speak about Parliament, the legislative arm of government across Africa without the mention of Alban Bagbin by a participant in the discourse.
It is this revered Ghanaian identity that made some of us walk with shoulders high and with pride that once again one of our countrymen has excelled in politics and is regarded as an institution by other Parliaments across the continent of Africa. With his hard work, honesty, openness, consistent-commitment, integrity and competence, Hon. Alban Bagbin has since 2006 trained, lectured and mentored Members of Parliament of Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and his home country, Ghana. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has had to rely on him, at short notice, to respond to their calls to various orientation and capacity building workshops of MPs. He also responded to the call of the Coalition of Civil Society Organizations led by Parliamentarians for Global Action to lead them in the preparatory meetings and dialogue at New York, USA, of the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court.
While visiting the Parliaments of Uganda, Liberia, Nigeria, Benin to complete my research on the capacity and workings of the legislature in Africa, my encounter with MPs in the various countries gave me a sense of pride as a Ghanaian when they confessed their admiration for the 2nd Deputy Speaker of Ghana’s Parliament. They confessed to his experience, trustworthiness, honesty and extraordinary competence in various areas of parliamentary democracy. Thoughts of such ululation of Hon. Bagbin, reminds me of the early days of Chairman Flt Lt. Jerry John Rawlings in whom citizens of many countries in the third world at the time, craved with desperation to catch glimpse of and wished he was the Head of State of their home countries. To them, Rawlings was a hero, a man of integrity, a nationalist, a reformist, a savior and a Junior Jesus (J. J.).
From his early days in Parliament, the young, courageous and confident Bagbin inured himself in Parliament to the admiration of Ghanaians. There is no wonder that when the NDC lost power in the 2000 general elections, the elders of the Party nominated him and he was readily endorsed by his colleagues in Parliament to serve as Minority Leader of the NDC caucus in Parliament. Young, fresh, honest, truthful, exuberant, strategic and with an eagle eye for merit, Alban Bagbin led the NDC with vim and vigor and succeeded in sweeping Ghanaians off their feet.
Within a period of two years the dim fortunes of the NDC had soared. He succeeded together with his able members in the appointment Committee to dispel the perception that only the NPP had the men and women. In fact he proved the contrary, as the Ranking Member of the Appointment Committee. Many were those who use to glue to their TV sets just to watch Hon, Bagbin perform at the public hearing of Presidential nominees to various Ministerial positions. The same performance characterized his role as the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee from 2001 to 2005. No wonder when the party won power in 2008 he became the Majority leader and Leader of the House. He strategically stayed off the position of a Minister of Parliamentary Affairs to enable him have an undivided focus on Parliament without looking over his shoulder to see whether the Executive whip is flopping behind him. This position of Hon. Bagbin fitted perfectly into the policy of a lean government of the Late Prof. Mills, and he readily accepted it.
In early 2010, he was appointed by Prof. Evans Atta Mills to head the Ministry of Water Resources, Works and Housing and in 2012 shifted to the Ministry of Health as the Minister. He was later prevailed upon by Former President John Mahama in 2014 to leave his initial assignment as a member of the “three Wise Men” to return to lead Parliament for the second time as the Majority Leader. After winning his Nadowli/Kaleo seat in 2016 elections, Bagbin became the only person to have won seven (7) consecutive elections in the history of Ghana. By the time the seventh (7th) Parliament of the 4th Republic ends in January 2021, Bagbin, who just celebrated his 60th birthday, would have done an exceptionally historic 28 years in Parliament. It therefore goes without saying that with such a huge capital of knowledge and experience, Bagbin is an institution.
In view of the numerous high-profile leadership roles Alban Bagbin has served with high distinction, one would have thought the learned legislator had earned the veneration and accolade of a leader of the members of his Party. Serving as a National Executive Member, Member of the Council of Elders, and Member of the Functional Executive Committee, chairing the proceedings of a number of National congresses of the Party, all between 2001 and 2016, Bagbin is definitely a well-seasoned and groomed politician – a well-bred and true loyal member of the NDC. Yet, some in his party see him to be otherwise.
Bagbin’s forthrightness and entrenched commitment to the values and principles of truthfulness, fairness, transparency and accountability in governance has cost him some good friends and some level of goodwill within his party. His love for former President, John Mahama to succeed caused him at some point, to openly criticize the former President over his leadership style and this cost him some good friends and disaffection amongst loyalists of President John Mahama.
While, as a person, Alban Bagbin may not be overly charismatic, his infectious smile, generosity, confidence, immense capabilities, coupled with his unquenchable principles of justice, honesty, integrity, accountability and transparency cuts him out as a good leader. His open and bold stance against corruption, high level of emotional intelligence and his unblemished record of long service make many see him as towering above others in the race of his party for the Flag bearer position.
Meanwhile, the grapevine had it that, it was Alban Bagbin, the then Minority leader who virtually talked Hon. John Mahama into accepting to aspire to leadership position of the Country. After Hon. Mahama finally openly accepted in early 2005, Hon. Bagbin put in place a strategy to groom Hon. John Mahama to become an irresistible Presidential candidate of the Party. Information from the Northern caucus has it that at their meetings, in 2007, Hon. Bagbin was a strong proponent of Hon. John Mahama for the high office as against many who sought for him. Later in this paper, I will reveal why that stance of Hon Bagbin at the meetings of the Northern Caucus. No wonder Hon. Mahama become running mate to Prof. Atta Mills.
What is also untold about Hon. Bagbin is that he had in early December 2004, just before the general elections foretold a mammoth audience at a constituency rally in Bole, in response to the query by Constituents why Hon John Mahama was not frequenting home, that he was inundating Hon. Mahama with so much assignments in order to prepare him to become President of Ghana. This was received with a thunderous applause of approval. After the acceptance and election of Hon. Mahama, Hon. Bagbin’s commitment and focus to fulfilling his pledge was total and complete.
How did Hon. Bagbin do it, one may ask? Then as the Ranking Member of the Communications Committee of Parliament and the Communications Director of the Party, Bagbin, as the Minority Leader, proposed to his dear friend, brother and idol to accept to be moved to the Ranking Position on the Foreign Affairs Committee. This was done to eliminate the potential of a collateral damage to his chances to the highest office of the land, in case of a possible slip of tongue in indecent language in John’s submissions on behalf of the party in his conversation with the media and opponents of the Party. It was also to brand and market the Hon. member to the diplomatic community in preparation for the high office. Hon. Bagbin, as leader of the caucus was later to propose Hon. John Mahama to be part of Ghana’s delegation to the Pan-African Parliament where John Mahama gained considerable exposure, experience and a dependable network. On the down side, this conscious and strategic effort of Bagbin to project John Mahama also cost him some friends amongst the Minority MPs who thought Bagbin favored a Northern brother at the expense of other equally qualified NDC MPs.
While Alban Bagbin, (Leader), may be seen as the heir apparent to the Presidency of Ghana as popular public discussions have shown, several questions have been raised about the suitability of Bagbin since he came out a number of times to criticize his own government any time he sees things going wrong. What some failed to know is that Bagbin has always been bold and frank to fight for the common good at the expense of his personal interest. It will be recalled that in 1997, he criticized President Jerry John Rawlings after he appointed then Foreign Affairs Minister, Hon. Dr. Obed Asamoah to hold an additional portfolio as Acting Minister of Justice and Attorney General. This definitely touched nerves particularly that of President Rawlings and Hon. Dr. Obed Asamoah. This was however maturely handle with an advise to Hon. Bagbin by Hon. Dr Obed Asamoah. He nevertheless was still unrelenting in his quest for the right thing to be done.
Hon Bagbin spoke out when the Constituency Chairs of Greater Accra met him as the Majority Leader to complain bitterly of their not getting access to the President, after many attempts, to meet and put their concerns before him. Again Hon. Bagbin spoke out and President Mills, who had earlier not been informed, immediately held a meeting with them before emplaning on his first official visit to America. On his return he called a meeting of all elders and senior members of the Party to cool tempers and galvanize to enable all to sing from the same hymnbook. What is more telling of the man’s character, Hon. Bagbin, even criticized his own colleague Parliamentarians for fueling the perception, which became a reality, that MPs were corrupt. That’s Hon. Bagbin, he has the nerve, the courage and voice to speak out against what he considers not to be in the interest of the country. Definitely this is always at the expense of his personal interest.
But what is yet to be told is that, even the most vicious critics of him and his NDC party will admit that Alban Bagbin cuts across political boundaries. It was not for nothing that the current Majority Leader and Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, wondered how anybody should be thinking of substituting Hon, Bagbin for any other person. To quote him, “how could any coach substitute Messi for Don Bortey at the time the game is very competitive?” The growing general public opinion of many Ghanaians is that Alban is now for the Presidency of Ghana. Certainly no doubt! Combing thoroughly through the NDC party, he stands out as the candidate to succeed John Mahama. Interestingly, his critics especially in his NDC party, loyalist of those he criticized in the past, are watching him closely and are eager to muddy the waters and tarnish his legendary incorruptibility and virtue of honesty and integrity. Now that his Presidential ambition is crystal clear, Bagbin’s resilience and tolerance shall no doubt henceforth be tested to the perimeter. The grand scheme to destroy him before the time of contest, is now activated and in motion. He must also be ready for the elephant attack as he journeys his way up the high mountain.
All the same, inasmuch as we all wish and hope this generation be rewarded with the services of an immensely competent individual at the highest office of the land, Ghanaians should also expect that the road to that office will not be smooth. It has never been any way. We may have to accept the fact that, once again, just as fate did to us by the prodigious Daniel Addo and Nii Odartey Lamptey of the starlet ’91 fame, another of our immensely outstanding sons might not realize his dream of serving his nation at the elite level because he was a leader before his time! For now, there remains a lot to be seen of one of the finest politicians of our time. Let’s relax and enjoy the drama as it unfolds.
By Pius Badu (Dr.)
The writer is a Consultant in Urban Development and a Municipal Governance Expert of the United Nations. He can be reached by email: [email protected]