The Trail Of The Tapes

This year’s general elections will be the sixth since 1992 when the country returned to democracy. Initially, political campaigns and strategies were basically rudimentary; perhaps this was due to the fact that mass media technology was also at its elementary stage. The internet was hardly a factor in politics then. Politicians were still in the brick and mortar stage of electioneering strategy and campaign. But at the turn of the millennium and with the explosion of Information and Communication Technology, political strategizing has become a highly sophisticated business. Politicians worldwide are tasking their strategists and publicists to unleash the power of the internet and the social media for their campaign. Communication technology, the internet and the social media are potent potpourris that have blurred the lines between privacy and public interest. In current Ghanaian politics, savvy politicians have fully adopted the new age technologies and have made a few improvisations where clandestine eavesdropping secret voice and video recording technologies are being planted on opponents in a bid to expose their innermost secrets. In most cases, these secret recordings have revealed damning evidence that have dented the reputation of the victim. In Ghana, the phenomenon has come to be known as “secret tapes”. Popular radio host Kwame Sefa-Kayi of Accra-based Peace FM succinctly terms the trend, ‘The Golden Age of Tape Recordings’. The first of the series of damning exposés occurred in 2005 and understandably the victim was the then ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) where its national chairman, Harona Esseku, was secretly recorded and the tape given to a newspaper. The tape allegedly captured him explaining to some close friends that the president at the time, John Kufuor, was personally receiving campaign funds from contactors at his office in the Osu Castle. These contractors were said to be paying money to the Presidency instead of the party headquarters. In the tape, Mr. Esseku reportedly told his listeners during a campaign for re-election that the money was carted to the Castle in order to starve his administration of cash to run the party. That was the beginning of the NPP’s image-denting profile. So effective was the message that it went wildly viral, with the Ghanaian mass media naming it the ‘Esseku kickback’. The NPP quickly became synonymous with a party of ‘kickback’ takers, in other words, a party thriving in bribery and corruption. Seven years after media reports, the former NPP chairman is fighting to clear his name. Mr. Esseku is planning a legal action against Raymond Archer, the editor of the Enquirer newspaper and Joy FM morning show host at the time, Komla Dumor (Komla Dumor currently hosts the ‘Focus on Africa’ programme of the BBC in London). According to Mr. Esseku, who was interviewed mid August on Multi-TV’s current affairs programme, PM Express, he would soon initiate a legal suit against these two gentlemen for propagating a message that has seriously dented his image. “All I was talking about [as attributed to him in the secret tape] was the custody of party funds”. Essentially, he dismissed the assertion that he was talking about funds skimmed off contract sums of contractors. It is unclear how the legal suit will turn out, but since that trailblazing media exposé, politicians have taken a keen liking to secretly taping their opponents and making the tape public. The phenomenon has become markedly prevalent since 2009 and this year, the era of covert voice tapping has hit a crescendo. Political Science Lecturer at the University of Ghana Kwasi Jonah concedes to the trend. “It is becoming a new tool that the two major parties are using against each other,” he told DAILY GUIDE. The Baba Jamal Chronicles In August 2011, the Deputy Minister of Information at the time, Baba Jamal, was indicted by a secret tape that allegedly captured his voice urging a group of journalists to manipulate news and information in favour of the ruling NDC. Baba Jamal was purportedly heard on the tape, believed to have been recorded in the Upper Eastern regional capital, Bolgatanga, inducing the selected journalists with juicy packages including cars if they stage-manage information for government. Indeed, he was specific in the strategy planned to remunerate these journalists. In the tape, he was heard telling the journalists that they would be given monthly allowance for their work through the National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP). Baba Jamal came under serious fire when some radio stations aired the tape. People who called into the radio stations were sure the voice they heard was that of Baba Jamal even though the beleaguered minister was frantically trying to absolve himself. According to him, the tape was a clever manipulation of his voice. He was left off the hook. A similar situation happened to another member of the NDC; this time, despite his protest, the axe fell on him. Kofi Adams’ Raw Deal The Deputy General Secretary of the ruling NDC in charge of Operations, early this year, was suspended for allegedly conspiring with the opposition NPP to ensure that ex-President Mills would not get a re-elected. The tape’s source was unknown, yet the National Executive Council (NEC), led by the party’s General Secretary, Johnson Asiedu-Nketia, accepted the content of the tape. It was used to build a case against Kofi Adams, who despite his protests was relieved of his post. He has gone to court challenging the Asiedu-Nketia fiat. Kofi Adams’ position at the time was understandably precarious; he was the spokesperson of the Rawlingses who have fallen out with the hierarchy of the NDC. The Rawlingses were perceived as working actively to ensure that President Mills was not re-elected. The open challenge of President Mills by Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings amply put that intention into perspective. Therefore the fallout of the Rawlingses-NDC rift made it difficult for Kofi Adams to shake off the accusations of conspiracy, particularly because of his position as the spokesperson of the former First Family. Double Standards Just when the NDC was basking in its victory of exposing what it calls the manipulation of its arch-rival, the NPP, the nation was rocked to its marrow by another secret tape. This time, it involved the National Organiser of the ruling NDC, Yaw Boateng-Gyan. He was heard on a secret tape conspiring to hire thugs to disrupt the December 7 general elections. Indeed, the exposé in the tape caused intense fear and panic among Ghanaians because Mr. Boateng-Gyan was heard hatching plans to use the thugs to infiltrate the security agencies. In the controversial tape, the vociferous NDC national organizer was heard confirming high-level governmental support for the activities of the thugs who would be conscripted to pose as security operatives during the election. Their modus operandi would be to cause mayhem during the elections in a bid to favour the ruling party. When the popular ‘Yaw Boateng-Gyan Tape’ went viral in August, a clearly shaken Boateng-Gyan publicly admitted that the voice indeed belonged to him. He also admitted to the diabolic plans attributed to him in the tape, but tried to diffuse impact of the content. According to him, the plans were meant for the breakaway faction in the NDC, the National Democratic Party led by former First Lady Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings. His explanation did not wash with several civil society organizations and political parties who were certain that the plans were meant to undermine the democratic process in the run-up to the December elections. Countless organizations called for the arrest of Yaw Gyan. Curiously, the NDC hierarchy did not see anything wrong with the content of the tape. The National Security Coordinator, Larry Gbevlo Lartey, appointed by the NDC government, also dismissed the tape, saying it was not worth his while. The General Secretary of the NDC, Johnson Asiedu Nketia, was quoted as saying the tape was a manipulation by the NPP and was thus not worth the hue and cry from the general public. This apparent attempt by the NDC to shield its member disappointed several people who concluded that the NDC was aiding and abetting criminal acts. Kofi Adams, who was subjected to a similar scrutiny earlier, saw the NDC stance as a contradiction. Even though in his case he insisted the voice in the tape recording was not his but a manipulation, the NDC hierarchy would not hear any of that. Kofi Adams, who was apparently angry at the double standards, was quoted on Accra-based Asempa FM saying what was good for the goose was equally good for the gander “I was not surprised because they planned to get me out of the party. I want to hear them speak the same thing they spoke when dealing with my case,” Kofi stressed. “I thought these were the same people who never believed that a tape could be doctored. They said it is not possible to doctor a voice so they took a fast action against Kofi Adams. Now they are preaching doctoring of voices, Jesus Christ!!! What do they expect Ghanaians to take them for,” he quizzed. “They are being challenged as an executive to let people know that we are not running an animal farm party; we are running a party that believes in the right of all,” he added. Since the Yaw Boateng Gyan Tape, some other tapes have popped up; one of them citing some opposition NPP members allegedly relaying extreme plans to subvert the December election. Maxwell Kofi Jumah, an NPP Member of Parliament in the Asokwa Constituency of the Ashanti Region, was allegedly heard laying bare plans to rig the 2008 election. His colleague, Anthony Abayifa Karbo, was also cited in the same light for planning to disrupt the December polls. Karbo denied the voice in the tape, saying it was a manipulation. Interestingly, this time, the NDC would not accept the defence of the NPP members. Several government and party members of the NDC have called for the arrest of Anthony Karbo and Maxwell Kofi Jumah. An Effective Tool The secret tapes appear to be contested anytime they pop up. However, by the time the authenticity of the tapes is proven, the harm would have already been done. According to Mr Jonah, the content of the tape could be subjected to all sorts of challenges by the victims; the effects, however, are what stick in the minds of the electorate. For instance, the former General Secretary of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Dr. Josiah Aryeh, was reportedly recorded accepting money from the NDC’s arch-rivals, the NPP, to defect shortly before the 2004 general elections. He was also heard exposing his own party dealings and strategies to the NPP. Dr Aryeh of course denied the tape, insisting that it was doctored by his enemies in his party who wanted his ouster. This denial did not stop the denting of the NDC’s image. This consequently led to the suspension of the embattled General Secretary. There are issues raised about the legal implications of secretly taping people’s conversation and the kinds of actions that should be taken against such expose, if found to have criminal implications. Godfred Yeboah Dame, an attorney at the Akufo-Addo Chambers in Accra, told DAILY GUIDE that even though there are strict rules of people’s privacy as a constitutional right, the Ghanaian legal system simply has not seen enough precedents to tackle the abuse of covert recordings of private or public personalities. Hence the acceptance of such evidence from secret tape recordings becomes a dicey call for judges. “Some courts may say that however the evidence was brought in, it is still valid, whether the evidence was stolen or not, it is still evidence,” he said, adding, “Many courts are however leaning towards the protection of privacy.” According to lawyer Dame, even security personnel require special court orders to be able to listen in to people’s conversations Apparently, the politicians know the complex legal technicalities involved in using evidence from covert operations to prosecute anybody, so at the moment, they freely use the tool to deal irreparable damages to their opponents.