January 7, 1993 was a watershed in the country’s history.
It was the day Ghana turned a new page and decided to return to constitutional rule by electing and swearing in a new President to finally do away with the military regime that had ruled the country for more than 11 years.
It was one of the most important processes that completed the full operationalisation of the 1992 Constitution which ushered in the Fourth Republic.
The country had already experienced three Republics since independence in 1957.
The First Republic (1960) ended in 1966 and with it Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana, who was overthrown in a coup d’etat.
The Second Republic (1969-1972) suffered the same fate, with the then Prime Minister, Dr K. A. Busia, being booted out of office by the men in uniform.
It was the same story with the Third Republic (1979-1981) and its President, Dr Hilla Limann.
With this history, it was the prayer and expectation of Ghanaians and the international community that the efforts that went into consultations, drafting and the referendum which brought forth the 1992 Constitution would not go to waste but that the Constitution and the Fourth Republic would last for generations.
The 1992 Constitution, therefore, became the spirit that bound our collective aspirations as a people and also provided us with a sense of purpose and direction as a nation.
Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, the man who was sworn in as President on January 7, 1993, minced no words about the importance of the 1992 Constitution in his inaugural speech.
“The Constitution is a framework we have created to guide our affairs so that there shall be consistency and equity in our efforts to make life more meaningful for all Ghanaians.
Whether it will fulfil this noble purpose will depend on us using this framework as a tool for progress in a genuine spirit of mutual trust and responsibility,” he said.
In spite of seven hotly contested elections that always put the country on the edge, the Fourth Republic has held firm and is still alive 25 years after its birth.
Five Presidents have been elected under this Republic — Flt Lt Rawlings (1993-2001), Mr John Agyekum Kufuor (2001-2009), Prof. John Evans Atta Mills (2009-2012), Mr John Dramani Mahama (2012-2017) and the current President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo (2017-).
The New Patriotic Party (NPP) government, led by President Akufo-Addo, decided to make January 7 a Constitution Day, and by a letter signed by the Minister of the Interior, Mr Ambrose Dery, on December 27, 2018, the ‘Constitution Day’ was declared a holiday.
A Deputy Attorney-General (A-G) and Minister of Justice, Mr Godfred Yeboah Dame, has shed light on the relevance of the Constitution Day in an interview with the Daily Graphic, with other legal practitioners also sharing their views on the day.
Mr Dame said apart from the struggle for independence, the most significant decision made by the country was the adoption of a set of rules to regulate its affairs as a nation.
“These set of rules are embodied in the Constitution.
The Constitution gave rise to the democratic system of government and also contains the objectives of the country and how those objectives can be met,’’ he said.
According to him, it was important to celebrate the 1992 Constitution, since it is the only constitution that has survived.
“The 1992 Constitution has been the longest and most sustained experiment with a constitution and the signs are that it has come to stay.
In my view, it marks the rebirth of the nation,” he said.
Gary Nimako Marfo
Lawyer Gary Nimako Marfo described the Fourth Republic as the period that ended the “culture of silence’’ of the military regime.
According to him, Ghana had made significant strides in the Fourth Republic, such as the election of five Presidents, the exchange of power between two political parties on three occasions and the deepening of the rule of law.
“Ghana has come of age and I think it is important for us to celebrate this Constitution Day because it is a very important aspect of our lives as a people,” he said.
He said in spite of the achievements, there was still room for improvement.
“We need to strengthen and provide more resources for our legal aid system, so that many people who cannot afford legal services can have access to justice,’’ he said.
Godwin Edudzi Tamakloe
For Lawyer Godwin Edudzi Tamakloe, the 1992 Constitution had done well by putting premium on respect for human rights.
He, however, said there was no justifiable legal basis for making January 7 a Constitution Day and declaring it a holiday.
“The best way to celebrate the 1992 Constitution is for our government to respect the Constitution the more.
It is a better way than declaring January 7 a holiday and afterwards doing undemocratic things in the name of democracy.
For me, Republic Day on July 1 is of more significant importance,” he stated.
Lawyer Martin Kpebu, who initiated the famous legal action that led to all criminal offences being declared bailable by the Supreme Court, said it was good to celebrate the 1992 Constitution because it had entrenched democracy in the country.
He, however, said there was the need to review the Constitution, especially the Executive powers of the President.
“The Constitution has given the President too many powers which I think is not good for us.
We have the African cultural practice where consultation is part of our system, but because our Constitution promotes winner-takes-all, the President wields so much power.
This always increases the political temperature during elections,” he posited.
Another lawyer, Mr Albert Quashigah, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law of the University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA), said there was the need to celebrate the 1992 Constitution but it was also important for institutions and public officials to respect and obey it.
“From what I have seen so far, many public officials and institutions do not regard the Constitution in respect of the limit to their power.
The Constitution Day is only relevant if it has meaning in terms of people obeying the Constitution,” he said.