It’s one of the life’s many mysteries of this world. A son of a pito brewer and a veteran of World War II, from the Upper West Region came a whisker of becoming Ghana’s Chief Justice of Ghana. But as fate had it, despite his healthy close contest with Justice Getrude Esaaba Torkonoo, the President of the Republic used his overwhelming executive discretion to submit to Parliament, Her Ladyship Justice of Supreme Court, for consideration for the Highest Justice position of the land.
Emmanuel Yoni Kulendi may not have been appointed the incoming Chief Justice, but the fact that he came that close, records a commendation; not least, someone from such ordinary background to have risen to the position of a Supreme Court Judge/Justice. Justice Yoni Kulendi’s nail-biting lost may not be heartbreaking to him alone, but many within the Bar; even the Bench and many other Ghanaians. This does not in any way undermine the judicial competence and prowess of Justice Gertrude Torkonoo. No! Far from that.
He is a cynosure of eyes within the legal profession. Although his larger home Region—the Upper West, may be found of Ghana’s map, Issa, his birth place cannot be placed anywhere on the Ghanaian map. Long before the current Chief Justice Kwesi Annin prepared his retiring notes, the credible rumours were that Yoni was running neck-to-neck with Justice Getrude Torkonoo for the highest position at the Bench.
The narrative stated offers a real insight into who Yoni Kulendi, a Justice of Ghana’s Supreme Court is: A very affable lawyer/judge from a very humble background. Instead of that pinning him down, Yoni rather took inspiration from his background. He remained determined right from his primary school days to shake off his lethargic background to offer inspiration to many youth, within his age group to struggle for recognition on the national platform. And he has done that through the legal profession.
Many who have ascended the highest office of the judiciary have come from a very nouveau-riche background. Aside, their elitist family background, they also attended some of what are described as the Ivy Hill institutions of Ghana. They include Achimota, Wesley Girls, Mfantsipim, Holy Child, Adisadel, St Augustine’s among others. Again, most of them had carved a niche at the bench before their elevation to the highest office.
But Emmanuel Yoni Kulendi, breached all such status quo. First, Yoni is not your well known justice of the courts—be it the Magistrate, the Circuit, the High Court, the Court of Appeal and of course the Supreme Court. It’s rather Yoni’s brilliance in private law practice that encouraged and attracted the President, to consider him for the Supreme Court. And so far, he has distinguished himself rather brilliantly in his dispassionate handling of some high profiled cases.
Indeed, Yoni did not get the privilege of attending any of the stated high-profile schools in the country. In fact, he went to little known Ndama primary school in Wa, the Upper West Regional capital; then proceeded to Wa Secondary School, now Wa Senior High Technical School in 1983. Wa secondary was not considered any top secondary school in the North at the time a school like the Tamale Secondary School was reputed to be the University of Northern Ghana.
Special investigations conducted by this author show that as late as the past Monday, April 24th 2023, Yoni was the hottest prospect to succeed outgoing Chief Justice, His Lordship Justice Kwesi Annin, although Mrs. Gertrude Torkeno was also in reckoning thus reducing the contest to a two-horse race. Justice Torkono was Yoni’s senior at the bench and for that matter the Supreme Court. What nearly changed the narrative in Yoni’s favour is his brilliance and affable character within the Ghana Bar Association and the Judicial Service.
With over 30-year practice as a lawyer, many of his colleagues believe Yoni has the character and temperament to succeed as Chief Justice. My further probes showed that even most members of the bench were in favour of Yoni’s consideration. Even most members of the Bar were also in support of Yoni’s selection and that alone defeated the oft-cited spin that Yoni is being considered the position of Chief Justice because he is a protégé of the President, who himself is a lawyer.
Yoni has a legal background spanning some thirty years. Indeed, as a budding lawyer, Yoni did his pupilage at the famous Akufo Addo and Prempeh chambers, continuing working there as a fulltime lawyer before he set up his own law-firm—Kulendi @ Law. At 59 years, Yoni is the fourth-born of seven children of his mother. Yoni spent almost two years in the Wa prisons on remand for his involvement in students rioting at the Wa Secondary School.
He was not charged because the incident was considered an overzealous act by unsuspecting students who were driven more on instinctive intuitions than a pre-conceived desire to cause harm. After serving his remand, he registered at the Navrongo Secondary School for his General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level and came out with flying colours.
He then went to New Juaben Secondary School for his GCE Advanced Level exams in 1987. After his national service in 1987 to 88, he went to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in 1988 to 89, but switched to the University of Ghana, Legon where he obtained Honours Degree in his LLB final exams. Yoni completed his Law degree at the Ghana School of Law where he obtained a barrister of law degree and a solicitor certificate.
Yoni holds a Master of Art degree in International Security and Civil-Military Relations from the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, California, USA. He is also a fellow of the inaugural class of the Africa Leadership Initiative-West Africa and a member of the ASPEN Global Leadership Network and a managing—partner of top Accra law firm Kulendi at law. He is also an associate Barrister and Solicitor at Akufo- Addo, Prempeh Law firm and was assigned to the Legal Aid Board in Accra for his national service after graduating from the faculty of law at the University of Ghana.