The Upper East Regional Minister, Stephen Yakubu, has converted himself into a ‘goro boy’ (middleman) for the Paramount Chief of Talensi, Tongraan Kugbilsong Nanlebegtang.
While there are many neglected critical issues screaming for government’s priority attention in the region, it is rather now his ‘job’ to lead people who take a strong dislike to the chief’s leadership style to his palace to pacify him with rams and bulls.
Some months ago, the regional minister told one of the chief’s ardent critics, Yaro Tii-roug Zumah, in coercive words to buy a white ram and take the animal to the chief at his palace in the Talensi District’s capital, Tongo, to appease him.
Zumah declined strongly, saying he had done nothing wrong to the chief to warrant an apology and buying a white ram to pacify him.
The regional minister insisted on his demand but the headmaster, also a Talensi native, held his ground strongly.
And very recently — on Friday, 8 September 2023— the regional minister led one Robert Boazor Tampoare, a small-scale miner, to the chief to render an apology to him for criticising him and Shaanxi Mining Company Limited, a Chinese company now called Earl International Group Ghana Gold Limited.
Tampoare’s forgive-me visit to the Tongo chief comes at the time he (Tampoare) is standing a criminal trial in court for fraud-related charges.
And it comes two months after the Tongraan publicly referred to one of the judges, who is sitting on a criminal case involving Tampoare as an accused person, as “my good friend”.
The Tongraan himself came under public backlash after he offered a bull to a Judicial Council delegation this year. A Supreme Court judge, Justice Gabriel Pwamang, led that delegation to his palace on Monday, 26 June, 2023.
His bull gift drew widespread condemnation because Ghana’s Code of Conduct for Judges and Magistrates bars members of the bench from accepting gifts of any sorts from parties who have, or are likely to have, a case before them.
The Tongraan is involved in multiple court cases, one of which is just one step away from the Supreme Court. The Judicial Council’s delegation, in a letter written to Media Without Borders, denied taking the bull the Tongraan offered to Accra.
And he (the Tongraan) had narrowly escaped conviction on Friday, 10 March 2023, at a High Court in a contempt-of-court case before Justice Alexander Graham, the no-nonsense judge in charge of that court at the time.
But the two messengers he sent to execute a contemptuous assignment at the High Court— his own secretary, Richard Sunday Yinbil, and the Chief of Baare, Naab Nyarkora Mantii— were convicted and, surviving a jail term through profuse pleas from twelve lawyers, ordered to sign a good-behaviour bond for six months.
Miner charged a cow and a ram
Yinbil served as interpreter when the regional minister led Tampoare to the Tongraan’s palace last week on the apology visit.
The chief listened from his usual raised platform, his elders separated from him by a not-too-close gap. Tampoare sat sheepishly on the palace floor together with two members of his family, their legs crossed.
The regional minister stood on shoeless feet inside the cone-roofed palace. And he sounded like the words he had prepared to pronounce before the chief had suddenly just left him behind. He interlocked his fingers and placed them fearfully on his tummy throughout his one-minute-forty-second speech.
A polo-shirted District Chief Executive (DCE) of Talensi, Thomas Wuni Duanab, who stood by him, could not help him.
Duanab had, together with Yinbil, accosted a teacher on the Bolgatanga Senior High School’s campus, Milton Aberinga, in January, 2023.
The teacher suddenly came under their attack during lesson hours because an anti-corruption civil society organisation he belonged to— Development Research and Advocacy Centre (DRAC)— had lodged a petition with the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) to launch a probe into some heavy allegations levelled by some small-scale miners against the regional minister and some other bigwigs.
“Royal Highness, I brought your sons. They are here. And officially, I want to plead on their behalf. Temper justice with mercy. Take them again as your beloved sons, to guide them, to teach them, to forgive them. You are the paramount chief. You control the entire district.
“It is you we look up to. We are human beings. We can make mistakes. We can wrong. The good thing about it is that we have realised our mistakes and we have come before you. So, His Highness, that’s my simple message,” the regional minister said as the chief listened from a leather swivel chair he sat in.
Tampoare was fined a bull and a ram after rendering his apology to the paramount chief. The bull was meant for the chief’s departed father, Mosore, and the ram for the chief’s gods.
A source at the palace told Media Without Borders that Tampoare presented the animals on Friday, 15 September 2023. The animals, according to the source, were sacrificed to his father and gods on Saturday, 16 September 2023.
Did the Nayiri punish the Tongraan for challenging his authority?
The Tongraan himself had openly challenged the authority of his own overlord, the Nayiri, who installed him as a paramount chief in 2015.
The Nayiri rules beyond the boundaries of Ghana and Talensi is one of the territories that traditionally fall under his authority in Ghana.
Many angry observers, who hold the Nayiri in the highest regard, likened the Tongraan’s action against the Grand Monarch of Mamprugu to daringly stripping the face of a rare ancestral spirit bare in public and blowing smoke in his face from a tobacco pipe.
The Tongraan had expressed a desire to take over installation of chiefs for Namoalug, a traditional area in Talensi.
He also asked the Nayiri to hand over four other traditional areas in Talensi to him so he could be the authority who would install chiefs for those areas. The four other areas include Bapella, Digaare, Nungu and Tolla.
The Nayiri declined his request and gave him a thorough tutorial on some strong historical reasons for which he (the Tongraan) was too far from qualified to install a chief for any of those five areas in Talensi.
Subsequently, the Nayiri installed Nab Kolsong Na-Laam Nyuurib, a retired management accountant at the University of Ghana known in private life as Bernard Bade Bugre, as the Chief of Namoalug in 2018 at Nalerigu.
In the Mamprugu tradition, the Nayiri and the Namoa-Nab (the Chief of Namoalug) are forbidden from seeing each other face to face. For that reason, the Nayiri does not install the Namoa-Nab in person. He appoints one of his elders to carry out the installation at Nalerigu on his behalf.
Chiefs sit on the floor before the Nayiri during installations and during conferences of chiefs at Nalerigu. The Namoa-Nab sits on a pillow made from a hide on both occassions. There is an exclusive blood tie that eternally binds the Nayiri and the Namoa-Nab together in Mamprudom.
After the installation, the Nayiri directed the Tongraan in a letter to see to it that the Namoa-Nab was duly registered in the official gazette of the Upper East Regional House of Chiefs.
The Nayiri also forwarded a copy of that letter to the Upper East Regional House of Chiefs. But the Tongraan did not carry out that assignment.
Instead, the Tongraan wrote to the Upper East Regional House of Chiefs, saying the Nayiri’s application had no basis and should be thrown out.
The Tongraan has not carried out the Nayiri’s assignment to date. And it is not clear if Nalerigu, the Seat of Mamprugu, has penalised him for his actions against the Nayiri.
What is clear is that Talensi natives who utter a word against the Tongraan are invited to his palace in Tongo and slapped with heavy fines to appease him.
In March, 2022, Moses Billa, a teacher, was invited to the palace and fined a ram, a bull and Gh¢1,000 for criticising him.
Billa later relayed how he was made to sit on the palace floor, ordered to take off his nose mask, his pictures taken by the Tongraan’s secretary while he was seated on the floor and the images shown later to people in Talensi.
“The Nayiri is very humble and patient,” one of the Seven Elders of the Mamprugu Traditional Council once said. “The Tongraan draws his relevance from the Nayiri. He is only called Tongraan because the Nayiri put him on that skin. When the Nayiri runs out of patience and withdraws his seal of authority from him, the Tongraan simply will go back to how he was before 2015.”
Development watchers have been very critical of the regional minister for locking his attention on places where he is not expected to be found and failing to pay attention to important issues of public concern.
Those issues include serious human rights abuses being perpetrated by Chinese mining companies in Talensi and a worsening spate of road crashes in the region.
According to the National Road Safety Authority (NRSA), thirty-five people were killed in eighty-five road crashes recorded in the region between January and June, 2023. The statistics have been worse so far this year.
Twenty people were killed in seventy-six crashes recorded in the first six months of 2022. Some traffic lights have remained unserviceable in the region since they went kaput about three years ago under the watch of the regional minister.
At least 16 young men were killed by a Chinese company in Talensi in 2019. And more lives and more limbs have been lost since then in the mine of the same company.
The parents, widows and children of the slain and the injured mineworkers are still grieving across Talensi.
Neither the regional minister nor the Tongraan has consoled them, and chastised the foreign company responsible for the tears of their fellow natives.
Source: Edward Adeti/Media Without Borders/mwbonline.org