Over the weekend, the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, in accordance with Article 144 (1) of the 1992 Constitution and in consultation with the Council of State, nominated Supreme Court judge Justice Sophia Akuffo, who is rumoured to be his distant cousin, as the next Chief Justice.
President Akufo-Addo told the media at a news conference at the Flagstaff House, that he considers Justice Sophia as the best person to lead the judiciary at this time in history.
He went further to state: “I have known Justice Sophia Akuffo well, for over forty years…she was my first junior in practice…[and] she impressed me considerably with her hard work, her capacity for detailed research, her independence of mind and spirit, her honesty and integrity, her deep-seated respect for the rule of law.”
These qualities, the president said, would be useful for the positive turn-around of the judiciary that has suffered some setbacks after some of its members were implicated in a bribery scandal recently.
As noble as his intentions might be, his statements raised concerns as many wondered if Justice Sophia Akuffo, being his cousin, is fit for the position or if she only got appointed because of her close relationship and work with the president.
Even though many Ghanaians, including the Minority in Parliament, have hailed Justice Sophia Akuffo as an equally qualified and competent Justice of the Supreme Court, many are also citing the growing nepotism in the Akufo Addo-led NPP government.
Prior to her appointment, Supreme Court judges, Justices Jones Dotse and Anin Yeboah, were tipped for the job and persons who advocated for the two wove into their defence ethnic and political considerations.
It is somewhat a known fact that most presidents whose constitutions give them the right to appoint into various public offices or positions appoint or nominate one who will seek and protect the interest of the president while exerting the expected duties to the best of their abilities.
That notwithstanding, Justice Sophia Akuffo has been one of the longest serving Supreme Court judges in the country serving from November 30, 1992, after being appointed by then President Jerry John Rawlings. She will now take over from current Chief Justice Theodora Georgina Wood who will be retiring on June 8, 2017, after being successfully approved by Parliament.
Prior to her appointment as Chief Justice, Ms Akuffo has been one of the leading voices in the country on issues of human right, rule of law and children’s rights. She had served on the continent’s judicial bodies such as the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, where she ended up as its President. She has also been a member of the Governing Committee of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute and the Chairperson of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Task Force.
In as much as she is the president’s distant cousin, her qualifications are noble and her appointment is one which is well deserved. Justice Akuffo will be the fifth Chief Justice under the fourth republic after Isaac Kobina Abban who served from 1995 to 2001, she will also be the second woman to occupy this position and the 13th Chief Justice in the history of the Republic of Ghana.
In addition, growing concerns about the president’s intentions are also making the rounds because according to Article 154(2) (a) of the 1992 constitution, the Justice of the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal shall vacate his/her office “on attaining the age of seventy,” and upon attaining the retiring age, article 145 (4) provides that a Justice of the Superior Court “may continue in office for a period of not exceeding six months after attaining that age.” Justice Sophia is currently 67 and will automatically serve for a period of 3 years before approaching the retirement age.
When this happens, it will then allow for the appointment of a new and probably younger New Patriotic Party-inclined Chief Justice by President Akufo Addo ahead of election 2020 and subsequent polls.