Two members of Uganda's parliament have remained locked up for almost eight months as President Yoweri Museveni takes a hard stance against granting ... bail to defendants in one of his latest ploys to curb the opposition.
Alban Bagbin is arguably the most vocal and visible Speaker of Parliament that Ghana has had since 1992, when the West African country opted to return to constitutional rule.
His election was marred by chaos in the House prompting the military to invade the chamber – for the first time in the history of the 64-year-old democratic nation – to restore calm among MPs.
Both sides of the House – the Minority and Majority – have 137 seats each, with an independent candidate owing allegiance to the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP), giving them a slim advantage in the hung Parliament.
Bagbin’s election on 7 January 2021 was inconclusive and the leaders of Parliament had to create a consensus to pave the way for his swearing in.
Citing portions of his oath in his inaugural speech, he promised to be impartial, despite the rancour that preceded his assumption of office.
“[…] I will do right to all manner of persons in accordance with the Constitution and the laws and conventions of Parliament without fear or favour, affection or ill will.’ That last phrase, ‘without fear or favour, affection or ill will’, defines the office of Speaker as an impartial, nonpartisan office. I assure you I don’t take this oath lightly at all.”
One year later, the 64-year-old has been the poster boy of Ghana’s Parliament for the good, the bad and the ugly, dominating news headlines weekly. The Majority side believes he has been partisan in his decisions, deliberately stalling government business.
The Africa Report looks at six reasons that make this particular Speaker of Parliament in Ghana unique.
First opposition speaker
For the first time in Ghana’s political history, an opposition member has been elected as the Speaker of Parliament to work under a president from a different party. In his first address to the House, Bagbin – a staunch member of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) – said he had polled 138 votes as against his opponent’s 136 votes in the 275-seat chamber. This means he benefitted from an additional vote from a member of the ruling party.
Why would anybody resign from a speakership […] when he can be a speaker for four years till the next election?
“Cooperation, dialogue, accommodation, and consensus building must guide this Parliament in the conduct of its business. We must work together for the betterment of Ghana and Ghanaians. That, I believe, is the demand of Ghanaians and the […] message of the 2020 general elections. That is the message in the votes of [the] 136 [members who voted] in favour of Rt Hon. Aaron Mike Oquaye, [and the] 138 [who voted] for Hon Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, with one spoilt ballot, which propelled me to this high office of Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana. The battle is always the Lord’s,” he said.
Bagbin has had an eye on the highest political office of the land since 2006 when he first announced his intentions to run for president on an NDC ticket. He never stood for the party’s primaries and was compensated with the Majority Leader role in Parliament. However, in 2019, he revived his presidential ambition, but lost to John Mahama in the primaries. With the 2024 general elections drawing near, one of his allies, the general secretary of the opposition party, says he doubts Bagbin still wants to become a president after taking up the Speaker’s role.
“If he is there as a Speaker, he will be a Speaker for four years. Why would anybody resign from a speakership – two years in, go and contest presidential primaries where there is a high chance of losing, and then go and stay home after losing the primaries for the two years – when he can be a speaker for four years till the next election?” Johnson Asiedu Nketiah told Accra-based Citi FM.
The ‘Mugabe’ of Ghana’s parliament
Until his election as Speaker, the holder of Executive Masters in Governance and Leadership from the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) was the longest serving member of Parliament, having served since 1993 when the first parliament under the Fourth Republic was inaugurated.
[…] We must create a unique set of values and norms that will give a unique character to our Parliament to set it apart from the colonial legacies of the British system…
“I want to promise all Ghanaians that I [will] put the knowledge, experience and the information I have acquired for the past 28 years as a member of this House at the disposal of Parliament for the collective good of the country,” Bagbin said when he took the oath of office.
First speaker to use soldiers as bodyguards
Bagbin became the first leader of the lawmaking chamber in the current democratic dispensation of Ghana to request the Armed Forces to provide him with soldiers as guards. No official reasons were given for the request, however, the military high command withdrew their men a year after in January this year, saying they were released to him “without proper procedure.”
“It is humbly requested that the personnel are withdrawn with effect from 14 January 2022 while efforts are made to regularise their attachment,” the letter from the Chief of Staff of the Ghana Armed Forces to the speaker said. Bagbin is yet to publicly comment on this.
No more suits and colonial gown
Bagbin surprised many when he dropped the ceremonial, colonial cloak of the Speaker, which was inherited from the British, for traditional Ghanaian wear. Explaining the rationale behind his decision, he said it is to market the Ghanaian culture because the robe is aristocratic. However, he hinted that he might wear the colonial gown for ceremonial purposes.
“Hon Members, this is the Parliament of Ghana, a unique made in Ghana product and we must showcase and market it to the world as a brand. We must create a unique set of values and norms that will give a unique character to our Parliament to set it apart from the colonial legacies of the British system,” Bagbin said on Facebook.
“My outfit today, as the Speaker presiding, is to set in motion that agenda. The practice of MPs decently dressed in traditional attire led by the Speaker is long overdue. Ghanaians accept representation of the people to include representation of the full identity of the Ghanaian.”
Musical chairs in Parliament
As the longest serving MP, Bagbin has served on both sides of the House, depending on which party was in power at the time. In 2005, he was the Minority Leader when the National Democratic Congress (NDC) was the opposition party.
When power changed hands and his party came to power, he found himself on the other side of the chamber as the Majority Leader in 2009. He held that position until he was appointed minister. Prior to becoming the substantive Speaker, he also served as the Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament from January 2017 to January 2021.
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