It is oft forgotten that one of the sparks for the monumental 2012 election petition started in the Dome-Kwabenya constituency. The seat located within the Ga East District had Sara Adwoa Safo of the New Patriotic Party contesting against the National Democratic Congress’ Sophia Karen Akuaku.
She polled 53,373 to beat her closest contender, Sophia Karen Akuaku of the NDC who managed 35,536 votes. Most important though, the Dome-Kwabenya MP apparently smelled a rat and demanded nine recounts of the collated votes in the constituency and managed to turn an extra 15,000 ballots into Nana Akufo-Addo bag after the review. This moment was one of the building blocks for 2013’s landmark election petition.
Just this year, in a meeting with the 631 delegates in the Dome-Kwabenya constituency, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, Parliament’s Majority Leader, hailed Adwoa Safo saying: “but for the vigilant work done by Honourable Adwoa Safo in Dome-Kwabenya in 2012 by uncovering the rigging machinery of the NDC which led to the infamous election petition, the NPP probably may never have won the 2016 election.”
The importance of that moment within the party is clear. But as we know, the election petition did not work out for the NPP but many consider the resolve of Adwoa Safo as the cornerstone in her growing prominence in the NPP. Since the party came to power in 2016, she has risen to become deputy Majority Leader and the Procurement Minister.
The Dome-Kwabenya stronghold
Formed prior to the 2004 elections after being carved out of then-Abokobi-Madina constituency, the Dome-Kwabenya constituency has been an NPP stronghold in the Greater Accra Region. On the parliamentary side, the NDC is yet to cross the 40 percent mark in the constituency with its best performance coming in 2008 when Zita Okaikoi (as she then was) captured 39.5 percent of the vote.
The NPP’s dominance remains consistent on the presidential side of things with John Evans Attah Mills doing well to amass 38 percent of the votes in 2008, a high for an NDC presidential candidate.
The usual gerrymandering concerns raised in the wake of the formation of the new constituencies would appear to hold water as the constituency Dome-Kwabenya used to be part of, had only had NDC members of Parliament until 2016.
The population of Ga East Municipality, according to the 2010 Population and Housing Census, was 147,742 representing 3.68 percent of the Greater Accra Region’s total population. The total household population in the Municipality was 144,863 with over 90 percent of the household population living in urban areas.
It had 40.3 percent of the population below 20 years. Children constituted the largest proportion of the household members accounting for 36.8 percent. This probably means 10 years on, a lot more people are part of the voter population which indicates an increase in the voter population of 138,557 for Dome-Kwabenya. The current estimates of its voter population are hovering over 150,000.
The census revealed favorable employment numbers with about 70 percent of the population aged 15 years and older being economically active while about one-third were economically not active. Of the economically active population, 92.1 percent are employed while 7.9 percent were unemployed. Given strenuous year the country has just had because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the unemployment figures are sure to rise.
Major suburbs of the constituency include Dome, Taifa, Kwabenya, Agbogba, Haatso and Atomic Roundabout and Ashongman.
“Almost all the ethnic groups in Ghana” are said to exist in the district, according to the 2010 Population and Housing Census, although Akans seem to have a slight majority over Gas and Ewes in that order. “This situation is especially true for areas like Dome, Taifa and other urban communities, the report notes.
The more NDC-friendly Ga communities are however mostly found in Abokobi, which, as we have noted, have been separated from the Akan friendly Dome-Kwabenya suburbs.
Primaries will be the real battleground
Apologies to Faustina Elikplim Akurugu, the NDC candidate going into 2020, but some of these demographic indicators point to why the NDC has stood no chance against the NPP. So, since 2004, those looking for any form of election excitement in Dome-Kwabenya have tended to focus on the NPP primaries.
The current Speaker of Parliament, Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye, was the first MP for the area. He served for two terms; from 2004 to 2012 till he decided to step down for a fresh face in the 2012 polls. Waiting in the wings was his son, Mike Aaron Nii Nortey Oquaye Jnr, who was hoping to carry the mantle from his father.
But Adwoa Safo, who was called to the bar in 2004 and serving as the first legal officer of the Public Procurement Authority, had been sowing her own seeds and was already well known in the constituency by the time the primaries ahead of the 2012 polls came around, she had contested and lost “miserably” to Prof Oquaye in 2007.
The votes in her losing effort were being counted when she gave birth to her first child. “I had my baby in my hands and I was crying that I had lost the election,” she recounted to Metro TV in 2012.
But it was joy leading into 2012 and beyond as she has won two primaries and two parliamentary elections. She overcame Mike Oquaye Jnr and Robert Osei Bonsu in 2011 and trumped competition from Isaac Amofa, amid cries of favouritism and classism, in 2015.
Whilst Isaac Amofa’s claims cannot be substantiated, there is no denying the fact that the two candidates that have gone through vetting in Dome-Kwabenya in the last decade have had influential fathers.
Mike Oquaye Jnr is, of course, the son of the former MP and current Speaker of Parliament and that comes with its own merits, social capital and grooming towards political power. But Adwoa Sarfo is also the daughter of an inventor and icon of applied sciences in Ghana, Apostle Safo Kantanka.
Interestingly both fathers are also men of God with Apostle Kwadwo Safo being the founder and overseer of the Kristo Asafo Church whilst Prof. Oquaye is pastor of the Baptist Church.
Build-up to 2020 primaries
Adwoa Safo’s two previous campaign launches have been star-studded by party standards. As Prof. Oquaye’s successor on the Dome-Kwabenya ticket, Nana Akufo-Addo, John Kufuor showed up for what was all but a victory party in the constituency.
But she will have to put the warm memories behind her for what could be her stiffest political challenge yet since 2007. The tensions on the ground suggest the 2020 primaries will be much closer than before with Oquaye Jnr appearing to have taken the time between 2012 and now to build a better foundation for himself. Despite his base in India, as Ghana’s High Commissioner, Oquaye Jr has done his best to stay in the party’s political consciousness although he was more visible and appearing as a talking head on major political shows pre-2017.
The politics in the area has gotten a little dirty with Adwoa Safo reportedly suggesting that there have been threats on her life coming from Oquaye’s side following a scuffle during the Dome-Kwabenya Voter Album exhibition exercise after some people snatched the album.
Oquaye Jnr denied making the threats or having a hand in the incident. His campaign team said the claims were an attempt by Adwoa Safo’s camp to discredit the aspirant and gain some sympathy votes.
To garner his own votes, Oquaye Jnr has promised to cater for the grassroots and reunite the base of the party, which he says has eroded into factions. And he blames divisions on the “selective approach adopted by the MP.”
“I won’t discriminate against anyone. My victory will unite the party and strengthen the existing structures for the victory of the NPP in 2020,” he said when he picked up his nomination forms back in February.
Peter Ampong, a shop owner who lives in Taifa North, certainly believes the upcoming primary will be tough. But his money appears to be on Adwoa Safo. He feels Oquaye Jnr hasn’t done much for the constituency despite his promise of developing commercial enterprises for the youth.
“I think he is riding on the works his father has done. But he has to work for the seat. This is not an inheritance,” Peter stressed.
Another resident, Kwame Afriyie, a banker, thought otherwise, saying Oquaye Jnr was more inclined to work with the youth than the incumbent.
Any accountability for the incumbent?
The advantages of incumbency cannot be denied. Adwoa Safo is seen in many photo ops cutting sods for road projects, hospital construction among other infrastructure endeavours as well as supporting vulnerable groups in the constituency especially in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
But incumbency makes her a bigger target. What has she done about roads and other infrastructure, critics could ask. Why is she still promising after almost two terms as an MP?
Dome-Kwabenya has been noted for its below-par road infrastructure. And Adwoa Safo was recently assuring residents that the selected projects within her constituency will be completed by early 2021. The projects included much-needed infrastructure like the Taifa Gye Nyame drains construction, Taifa Bankyease drains construction, Taifa Obohene Down drains construction, Dome-Taifa Link Road drains construction, Dome Crossing drains construction among others.
Heading into the 2016 election, it was the same story and despite her lobbying, she admitted the roads infrastructure “was woefully inadequate.”
“We ought to see more, considering the large size of the constituency… the major roads are bad and the inner roads are also very bad,” she said in 2016 as she threw some blame towards NDC government of the time.
Adwoa Safo has had four more years, this time as a member of the government, and the fact that these projects are not nearing completion is its own black mark. But her supporters still have enough completed projects to point to, like the provision of some boreholes in public schools in Dome, Haatso, a maternity clinic in Haatso and provision of potable water to Taifa Polyclinic, the completion of the Dome Market, among other interventions.
Mary Essel, an administrative assistant, hailed Adwoa Safo’s projects like “the provision of GHS50,000 to be given out as soft loans to women in the constituency to trade.”
“In terms of infrastructure and roads, most think she didn’t start early but they have seen some improvement”, Kwame Asamoah, a mason, also said in support of the current MP.
To a good amount of people, she has proven capable of delivering on most of her promises to the people.
“She looks committed to complete the numerous massive developmental projects she promised within the Constituency,” Kobby a dealer in roofing materials said.
Adwoa Safo has also not been without controversies. Her infamous request to the struggling NHIS for funding to attend a Harvard short course and her claim that the Community Day SHS located in her constituency generally credited to former President John Mahama was built by her industry exposed her to some public bashing.
Political connoisseurs say no result will be surprising as each of the two candidates has worked hard to deserve a win. But should Adwoa Safo lose on June 20, one thing is sure; social media will be agog with trolls mainly from her political opponents for obvious reasons.
This is a contest with a small electoral college where some privileged 631 people, mostly with ties to each of the candidates, will vote to decide who represents them into election 2020. Often, people with interest in contesting such elections influence the election of their people into polling station, ward and constituency positions as these are the same people who eventually form the electoral college and become delegates.
So by now, the candidates may be working their permutations on how many of these delegates are from their camps. But as has become standard counsel to candidates since the fall of Sir John, the candidates are cautioned to “fear delegates.”
You may call it a battle of the young lawyers, each having some fair achievements to their name and anchored by strong family support and influence. It could be anybody’s game. What is certain though is that any of the two who emerges victorious on Saturday would have booked a place in the next Parliament.