Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Asantehene's Destoolment Of Nana Kwantwi Barima II

The controversial destoolment of a Paramount Chief of Ghana by the Asantehene and the subsequent confirmation by an Accra High Court continue to be the subject of debate. Our cultural analyst takes another critical look at the issue
The Accra High Court recently ruled that "the Asantehene has power to destool any chief in Ashanti." This was the judgement in the case: Adansihene v. Asantehene and the Asanteman Council. Any objective and knowledgeable observer of the evolution of Ghana's chieftaincy can question the customary as well as the legal basis of the court's pronouncement. In my own evaluation the ruling is palpably wrong and even ridiculous.

The sanctity of a chief's stool and office is recognised in Akan-Asante custom, the unwritten constitution that has evolved over generations and has been enshrined in the cultural heritage of a people whose traditional political sophistication is awesome.

The Akan constitution, in its own wisdom restricts eligibility to chieftaincy to only a privileged few, namely royals of the particular stool. The ultimate choice of the Chief, however, lies with all the people by way of consensus through the Elders. Similarly, the Akan wisdom on destoolment is that only those who enstool can destool. This customary precept was put to legal test at Dodowa in 1973 when ex Kyidomhene Nana Poku Sarkodee I instituted destoolment charges against Nana Kwaku Boateng II, Omanhene of New Juaben, before the Judicial committee of the Eastern Region House of Chiefs. In reviewing the appeal of this case before the National House of Chiefs in Kumasi in 1976, the august Judicial Committee of the House affirmed the fact that:
"The fundamental customary law of all Akan is that only those who have the capacity to enstool a chief can destool him, in other words a destooment requires the consent of the Kingmakers.
In May 1977, in the Civil Appeal Case No. 105/76 argued before the full bench division of the Court of Appeal, Accra, this superior court of judicature decided by majority to uphold the law as it is. The then Chief Justice, the Honourable Azu Crabbe, summed up the decision aptly in these words:
From the general principles relating to the right to enstool or destool I think it is clear that the right is a group-right vested collectively in the group as a body and not in any single member thereof."
One wonders whether the learned High Court judge, in his seemingly preposterous claim to the effect that the Asantehene can destool any chief in Ashanti, availed himself of the Akan wisdom and legal precedent on the issue. In order to clarify this argument we need to elaborate further the substantive parameters that circumscribe the customary as well as the statutory powers and relationships exercised by the Asantehene vis-a-vis all the other chiefs in Ashanti.

Nobody can deny the subservience of every chief in Ashanti to the Golden Stool (Sika Dwa Kofi), and for that matter its occupant the Asantehene. It is paradoxical and almost contradictory, however, to observe that though the supremacy of the Asantehene is unchallenged, Ashanti ethnic history and political structure exert equally immense limitations on his constitutional powers. The system is one of checks and balances.

All chiefs in Ashanti fall into two convenient categories. First, there are chiefs who are appointed by the Asantehene to stools created by himself, such as for his sons and favourites, namely Mmamandwa and Esomndwa. Second, there are lineage stools which individual origins are shrouded in ancestral myths of particular clan, town, village or family groups. All paramount (Amanhene), divisional (Abrempon), town (Ahene), and village (Adekuro) stools belong to this category.

Of this latter group of stools there are some, including all Amanhene and Abrempon, who swear allegiance directly to Asantehene. Most Adekuro and Ahene, who incidentally constitute the majority of chiefs in Ashanti, do not under any circumstances interact directly with Asantehene. Their affairs are never therefore within the immediate purview of Asantehene. They are answerable to their Elders, Abrempon or Amanhene.

This range in the chieftaincy set-up in Ashanti pre-supposes variations in the constitutional relationships between and among chiefs. It also defines their respective rights and obligations both to subordinates and overlords. One obvious implication of this observation is that while it is true that the Asantehene, for instance, can destool Nana Osei Tutu, his own son whom he recently appointed to the Akyempem stool of Kumasi, it is inconceivable for him to assume powers to destool the Paramount Chief of Mampon or for that matter, the Odekuro of Brahabebome. It is therefore absurd for the Accra High Court to rule that the Asantehene can destool any chief in Ashanti.
An Ashanti Chief being carried in a palanquin by his subjects has the institution been debased by the High Court ruling?
To return to the issue of the purported destoolment of Adansihene by the Asantehene to its analytical context we need to probe further the significant admission made by the court to the effect that: "The Asanteman Council is not a statutory body recognised by law." What this statement means is that the council is only a customary entity. Notwithstanding this fact, the council is not absolved from operating within the law. The law on chieftaincy in Ghana, like the custom of Ashanti, does not empower the Asantehene to destool chiefs.

The law, Chieftaincy Act, 1971 (Act 370) spells out in unambiguous language how a "cause or matter affecting chieftaincy, such as destoolment should be pursued." The learned High Court Judge did not avail himself of Ashanti custom and constitutional arrangements, and more seriously also, failed to inform himself of provisions of the Chieftaincy Act, 1971 (Act 370) in arriving at an erroneous decision. The supervisory jurisdiction in chieftaincy matters vested in the High Court by the Courts Act, 1971 (Act 372) is the loser in this case since it did not benefit from any fruitful research and elucidation of the customary as well as the statutory position on who has the power to destool a chief.

It is humbly submitted here in conclusion that the Asantehene does not in custom and in law have the power to destool the Adansihene as the High Court wrongly asserts. The Asantehene has the right, however, to demand the replacement of a recalcitrant and incorrigible chief. This he does by summoning the Elders of the chief to Kumasi and telling them that the occupant of the Golden Stool finds it impossible anymore to be able to rule Asanteman with their royal.

That is a simple but powerful ultimatum which sends the message that obliges the Elders to retire, consult among themselves, initiate and carry out a sacred duty which they alone have the exclusive and collective right and services. to perform in accordance with law and Ashanti custom.

The judgement of the Accra High Court, in Adansihene v. Asantehene and the Asanteman Council, is perverted and dangerous because it has no basis and precedence in Ashanti judicial history. The ruling is also unenforceable because it is inconsistent with the statute embodied in the Chieftaincy Act, 1971 (Act 370), and contrary to the landmark position on destoolment held by both the National House of Chiefs and the Court of Appeal. Finally, the ruling is bogus and should therefore be scrapped by the Supreme Court for being repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience.

talking drums 1984-09-10 one year covering a region in turmoil