Ahead of the December 2016 presidential elections, surrogates and allies of the then-President John Dramani Mahama gleefully threatened to retire Nana Akufo-Addo, the leader of the then-main opposition New Party Patriotic (NPP), from active politics.
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Akufo-Addo, who was 72 at the time, had lost in the two previous elections - first to the National Democratic Congress (NDC) candidate, John Atta Mills, in 2008, and then to John Mahama of the same party in 2012.
The NDC had so relished the prospect of inflicting a third consecutive defeat on Akufo-Addo - a fatal blow to his political career - that they celebrated his victory in the NPP presidential primary in 2014.
A salivating Asiedu Nketia, the NDC's general secretary, told Accra-based Citi FM that the NDC knew what to do to beat Akufo-Addo.
"In terms of age and energy to prosecute an effective campaign, we have a huge advantage over him. The NPP would have been better off electing a younger person to lead the party in 2016."
The NPP, for its part, was weary, angry, and financially decimated after two back-to-back election losses. The party leadership and rank and file had begun to lose patience with Akufo-Addo. All signs pointed to 2016 as his last chance to represent the party as flagbearer. The stakes were incalculable - the very survival of the party was on the line.
The former foreign minister under the J.A. Kufour administration was, thus, faced with a stark choice: To secure victory at the third attempt or suffer a forced, humiliating and legacy-tarnishing political retirement.
Four years on, and in a devastating twist of fate, the same hard choice confronts the NDC's presidential candidate, John Mahama.
For the 62-year-old opposition candidate, what was supposed to be a swift, smooth and sweet victory as the incumbent president in 2016 quickly turned into a bewildering annihilation at the polls.
At the end of that election, Akufo-Addo had garnered 5,755,758 votes (53.7%) while Mahama could only manage 4,771,188 (44.5%).
The vote gap of nearly one million represented a monumental and decisive rejection of Mahama's mandate and a full-throttled embrace of Akufo-Addo's agenda by the Ghanaian people.
Akufo-Addo's victory was so overwhelming and ruthless that Mahama promptly conceded the election, declaring that “each victory belongs to the people . . . and that the true winner is always Ghana."
It was the first time in the Fourth Republic that a sitting president had lost re-election.
2020 election: Victory or retirement
Despite the shock defeat in 2016, the NDC, in an interesting gamble, kept faith with Mahama and elected him to lead the party into 2020.
And, today, Mahama faces the same reality as Akufo-Addo: he must either win the election and earn a second term in office, or lose and sign his own political death warrant.
While victory will help to repay the confidence reposed in him by the NDC faithful, a second straight election defeat will likely provoke a firestorm of intra-party recrimination and outrage, and spark a bitter reckoning about the choice of Mahama for flagbearer.
In 2016, Mahama lost despite a massive incumbency advantage. He had invested heavily in infrastructure and ended a debilitating power crisis that had hampered the economy and made life unbearable for many Ghanaians. However, Ghanaians still showed him exit, determining that he had enabled and benefitted from corruption, and failed to build an economy that worked for the ordinary Ghanaian.
In 2020, without the record and state power he enjoyed in 2016, Mahama begins the race on the back foot. But the former president has moved to deploy the playbook that informed his defeat four years ago, against Akufo-Addo.
Mahama has, especially, sought to tie Akufo-Addo to corruption, accusing the president of running a "family and friends" government and allowing nepotism to fester in his administration.
"Look at all his relatives making money; they are not in the private sector. They are ministers and occupy government positions, and yet he doesn’t have the nerve to sack anybody,” he said in an interview reported by Accra-based Citi FM.
Indeed, Mahama is sure to benefit politically from a drastic and dramatic erosion of the public's trust and confidence in Akufo-Addo's ability and willingness to fight corruption. The president, who, ahead of the 2016 election, vowed to end corruption in public service, has seen his administration get buffeted by one corruption scandal after another.
In a further blow to Akufo-Addo's credibility and image, his hand-picked special anti-corruption prosecutor, Martin Amidu, penned an explosive 27-page letter that, among other damning claims, accused the president of interfering in corruption investigations and shielding his corrupt appointees.
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"...the president whom I trusted so much for integrity only looked like the innocent flower of anti-corruption but he was really the mother corruption serpent under the innocent-looking flower," Amidu wrote.
Mahama 2020 platform
In appealing to the public to give him a second shot at power, Mahama has pledged a "big push" to invest $10 billion in the country's infrastructure, focusing on dualising Ghana's roads, building senior high schools, roads and bridges, and completing abandoned hospital projects.
He has also spoken about implementing an "Agenda One" policy that he says will create 400,000 jobs a year.
Other plans detailed in the NDC manifesto include creating a pension programme for people working in the informal section; legalising commercial motorbikes (Okada); extending maternity leave from three to four months; paying customers of collapsed financial institutions their lost funds; automatically employing teaching and nursing trainees, among other plans.
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Mahama's chances of victory are significantly boosted by his selection of the highly esteemed and highly accomplished Prof. Jane Naana Opoku Agyemang as his running mate.
The former University of Cape Cape vice-chancellor and immediate-past education minister has invigorated the NDC's campaign, especially among women.
Tomorrow, as Mahama makes a date with destiny, Prof. Opoku-Agyemang will be instrumental in helping the former president fashion the positive outcome he needs to avoid forced political retirement.
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