The President of Ghana, His Excellency Nana Akufo Addo sometime during the wee months of his first term in office granted an interview to Aljazeera and the journalist threw him a curve: ‘Why is Homosexuality still illegal in your country?’
President Akufo Addo sighed and responded. The thrust of his response came later in his submission when he stated, ‘…these are the social-cultural issues if you like…I don’t believe that in Ghana so far, a sufficiently strong coalition has emerged which is having that impact on public opinion that will say, change it, let’s then have a new paradigm in Ghana.’
That response was however interrupted by another question from the journalist: ‘Is it something you will get behind it?’ And this time, President Akufo Addo latched on it with a stronger response: ‘I think that it is something that is bound to happen and when it happens….’
The journalist wanted more of the President’s view on the subject and she enquired further: ‘What’s going to provoke it, what’s going to make it happen?’ Once more, the President had a response: ‘It’s the activities of individuals, of groups…’
About four years on, it is writ large that the President’s answer has played out very well to manifest reality, and indeed, the activities of Members of Parliament, Civil Societies and Individual Citizens have sparked a clarion debate about homosexuality, to the point where a bill is already in the offing, looking decorative on the desk of Parliament waiting to be debated over and if convincing, receive the blessings of Parliament.
The Ghanaian media for about two weeks haven’t taken their cameras and news coverage off the anti- LGBTQ Bill. This Bill, according to its chief linguist, Sam George, Member of Parliament for Ningo Prampram, will nip the phenomenon and practice of homosexuality and its associated siblings in the bud if passed and assented to by the President of the Republic of Ghana: Nana Akufo Addo.
There’s been a backlash against the Bill in its current state. There are those who say the bill infringes on the fundamental freedoms and association of some identical groups and if passed would culminate into abuse of the rights of persons who are homosexuals, lesbians, queers and its siblings, including plus which caters for future additions of sexual preference and identity.
In the workings of Parliament and the making of laws, the President has a ‘big say’. Article 106 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana which is titled, ‘Mode of Exercising Legislative Power’ provides the constitutional procedure a Bill goes through to become law in Ghana. In all the processes or procedures, there is a simple but powerful word: ‘ASSENT’.
This word cannot be bypassed and for a Bill to transform into an accepted living law it has to be assented to by the President and published in the gazette. It is this ‘assent to’ which makes Bill’s laws. If a Bill is not assented to by the President, and later on published in a gazette, it only remains a Bill.
Clause (7) of Article 106 of the 1992 Constitution says, ‘Where a Bill passed by Parliament is presented to the President for assent he shall signify within seven days after the presentation, to the Speaker that he assents to the Bill or that he refuses to assent to the Bill unless the Bill has been referred by the President to the Council of State under article 90 of this Constitution.’
It gets interesting by taking a turn to clause (8) of Article 106 of the 1992 Constitution. It says that if the President refuses to assent to the Bill (for instance the anti-LGBTQ Bill) which I will nickname as Sam George’s Bill, the Constitution instructs that the President must within fourteen days write to the Speaker in a memorandum any particular provisions of the Bill which in his best view must be reconsidered or re-examined by Parliament. In doing so, the President must attach his recommendations for amendments if he has any.
The other option is that the President can inform the Speaker (Alban Bagbin) who is another staunch crusader of the Sam George Bill that he, (President) has referred the Bill to the Council of State for their consideration and the Council will make their comments if any.
Upon comments made by the President of the Council of State, clause (9) of Article 106 of the Constitution provides that Parliament must reconsider the Bill and must avert their minds to the comments made by the President of the Council of State.
After Parliament has reconsidered the Bill and passed it for a second time by a resolution galvanised by the votes of not less than two-thirds of all Members of Parliament, the President (Akufo Addo) this time will have no option but to assent to it.
Some years after his interview with Aljazeera, President Akufo Addo was berated for his comments on the issue of homosexuality in the interview granted to Aljazeera. This liberation from well-meaning Ghanaians who wanted to know the true stance of their President on the issue chivvied the President to render few words: ‘It will not be under my Presidency that same-sex marriage will be legalized in Ghana.’
Perhaps, that could be true but it may be under his watch that a President would refuse to assent to an Anti-LGBTQ Bill, especially when some lawyers, academics say there are issues of human rights violations in the Bill.
Will the President prove to Ghanaians that indeed it will not be under his Presidency that same-sex marriage will be legalized by his assent to the Sam George Bill without reservations? Will it be under his watch that he criminalizes LGBTQI+ in all its forms by his assent to the Bill or he will reject it and provide his reasons for his refusal to assent to it?
The question finds its voice in the famous phrase of Hamlet: ‘TO BE OR NOT TO BE, AND THAT IS THE QUESTION. This time, it is: ‘TO ASSENT OR NOT TO ASSENT’.