Monday, 29 August 2016

Security In Ghana

It is beyond controversy that the greatest need of any human being and for that matter every nation is safety and security. It is not surprising therefore that governments invest heavily in their security agencies. Ghana is no exception. Successive governments have done their bit in terms of equipping the security services, especially the police. Despite all these efforts, many citizens believe that there are still a lot of loopholes in the system which is exploited by miscreants. It came as a relief when the former Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Alhassan introduced the visibility programme. By that, police officers are deployed to vantage locations throughout the country. No one needs scientific proof to conclude that the visibility programme has boosted security in the cities and towns as well as along the highways. It is common knowledge that armed robbery and other crimes have been major issues of concern to many Ghanaians for many years. However the sight of the police and their open display of weapons and vehicles have done a lot to keep criminals at bay.

Though the situation is a lot better now, it gives no cause for complacency. The police must improve on their operations to provide maximum security to the citizens. It is however worrying that some criminals have found their way into the police service and are bringing the name of the service into disrepute. It is sad that the police who are trained to protect the public will now turn to be terrorising them.

The incident at Afram Plains in the Eastern Region where two armed police officers attacked a GCB bullion van in an attempt to rob it is most disturbing. This brings to question the process which is adopted to recruit people into the service. One is also tempted to ask what background checks are done before people are enlisted. Now, it is uncomfortable seeing police officers carry gun as one cannot be too sure what they are likely to use the gun for. It is usual to see police officers wield sophisticated weapons like AK47 as they walk along the streets and on motor bikes as well as on board commercial vehicles. It is justified that people will express genuine fear upon seeing police and other security officers with weapons.

The Inspector General of Police and his administration must put in place immediate measures to restore public confidence in the service. The police can be commended for being able to re-arrest the two police officers who escaped. Their escape gave the wrong impression that they were deliberately let loose. Now that they have been re-captured, they must be made to face the full rigours of the law. Despite the conduct of these two police officers and a few others, the overwhelming majority of the men and women of the service are above reproach. Let them not be demoralised by the conduct of the few miscreants who are bent on dragging the image of the service in the mud. Let them continue in their efforts to provide security to the nation.

This is very critical as the elections approach.


Intemperate Language In Ghana's Body Politic

It came as a joyous daybreak to end a long night of captivity when the world witnessed a new flag replacing the Union Jack. Those who thought it was impossible had a rude awakening when the Red, Gold, Green and the Black star was hoisted in the place of the British Flag. It was a dawn when the forebears of Ghana's independence promised in their speeches that democracy would be practised in its truest meaning. About eight centuries ago, before the Magna Carta, it was impossible to challenge those in authority either in words or in action. The future looked promising as citizens had hoped that their freedom was guaranteed. In that light, the founding fathers of this country laid down their lives and fought for its independence so democracy would be practised. After more than half a century on, the question on the lips of many is, is Ghana really practicing democracy?

Ideally, democracy is to tolerate dissenting views. It is meant to collate different ideas for a common purpose. And more often the majority carries the day in decision making. Unlike before when only monarchs and their courts made laws and decreed on their subjects, democracy seeks to give power to the subjects, and as well subject those in authority to the power of the law. Now, the king, the president, the judge, the legislator and the clergy can be questioned when they go against the laws. Democracy comes with respect for individual freedoms and rights. It is however unfortunate that some people are indulging in certain unacceptable conducts in the name of democracy.

As a result, the beauty of democracy is being destroyed. The most worrying trend is the use of abusive and intemperate language in Ghana's body politic. The jaw-jaw idea of democracy is giving way to war-war and the brain power giving way to blow power. Now, freedom of speech is expressed through insults, character assassination, mudslinging, and vitriolic rhetorics. Since the repeal of the criminal libel law, circumspection and decorum have been thrown to the dogs. The repeal of the criminal libel law has become more or less a blank cheque for reckless and unguarded comments. It is disgusting that people resort to bad mouthing those in authority and those who hold different views to theirs. Must this continue? Insults of adults and others under whatever circumstance is unGhanaian. Ghana is the centre of the world, it is the gateway to Africa. The world looks up to this country. Let us not be polarised by self-centred individuals for their parochial interest. We are the gold, when we lose our lustre through slaying one another, strangers will inherit our land. Let us interrogate, decipher and pore on conflicting views to ours. We do not come from the same home, or school and therefore our views would not be the same.

By all means, let us agree to disagree. But as a progressive society, let us see farther from what we deem as sacrosanct in our views and consider that of others. In so doing, Ghana will be great again.


Remission of Montie Three Sentence

Without mincing words and without a shadow of doubt, President John Dramani Mahama got it right. The question that needs to be answered is what did the President do? The facts are bare. In the first place, the President accepted the conviction of the Montie three. He also accepted that the court was right in slapping both fine and custodial sentence on the contemnors. The President however disagreed with the severity of the sentence and therefore reduced it. He did that by exercising the powers conferred on him by Article 72 clause [1D] of the constitution. Not under Article 72 clause [1A], [1B] or [1C]. What the President did is a remission, not a pardon, not a respite and not a substitution. In essence, the President disagreed with the call on him by the petitioners to pardon the Montie three.

The President however rightly accepted a reduction of the sentence. It is important to note that the citizens of this country have chosen the path of multiparty constitutional democracy in which they clearly committed themselves to the legal supremacy of the constitution. It is the people of Ghana who are sovereign and supreme. One deliberately used the term legal supremacy because we do not govern only by law. But we also resort to morality and good conscience in governing a nation. In a multi-party constitutional democracy, none of the three arms of government is supreme. None has final authority on all the powers of government and none is superior over the others. Only the constitution is supreme in all matters of law. There is however enshrined in the Constitution the doctrine of checks and balances. Surely because the nation is governed by fallible mortals and not angels.

In that respect, any of the arms of government can err. Check on one arm of government by another cannot by any stretch of imagination or argument be said to be an interference with the function of the arm. The Judiciary can and has on a number of occasions declared the acts or conduct of the Executive unconstitutional, or ultra vires and therefore void and of no effect or voidable. The Judiciary has struck down such acts or conduct on many occasions. Could that be said to be interference in the function of the Executive? The Judiciary has dealt similarly with the Legislature. An example is a section of the Chieftaincy Act recently passed by Parliament. It is noteworthy that in exercising the powers conferred on him by Article 72 (1), the President is not called upon to resort to the provisions of the Prison Service Act. It is only under Article 72 (2) that the President is called upon to, apart from the advice of the Council of State, be informed by the other matters stated in Article 72 clause (2). The President swore an oath to at all times preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the Republic of Ghana. The President swore to dedicate himself to the service and well-being of the people of the Republic of Ghana and to do right to all manner of persons. The President has just abided by this oath. Congratulations Mr President. Having said that, it is also instructional to comment on the strange animal call contempt.

The current state of the law in Ghana supports the exercise of the power of the Judiciary to punish for contempt in facie curia (in the face of the court) and ex facie curia (out of the face of the court). Except that in the case of ex facie curia there is doubt as to whether the court could act as the complainant, the prosecutor and the judge at the same time in its own cause. One is of the view that in the case of contempt ex facie curia the court ought not be clothed with such powers.
This view is supported by some judges as shown in a number of decided cases including the one on Liberty press. In such cases, the Attorney General has a role to play since cases of contempt are quasi criminal in nature. Applying civil procedure rules and process to try such quasi criminal matters run contrary to all known principles of a fair criminal trial. In such cases the court is not clothed with the evidence. This has to be adduced before the court. The evidence has to go through the acid test of examination by both the prosecution and the defence and even the court. In contempt trials the critical examination of the Prosecution and defence is regrettably absent. It is therefore worth counseling that the exercise of the power to convict and punish for contempt be exercised with utmost restraint by both the Judiciary and Parliament.


Consequences Of Bishop Obinim Flogging Saga

Actions it is said call for reactions. However, it is not all reactions that are legal or appropriate. The flogging of a girl and her boyfriend by Bishop Daniel Obinim in his church has attracted mixed reactions from a section of the public. While some see his action as a deterrent measure others find it to be absurd, inappropriate or even illegal. Bishop Obinim had no moral right to flog the teenagers, when he has not instilled in them attitudes and values and yet expects the two minors to exhibit good behaviour. He has openly, admitted to his weakness of not being able to exercise his parental supervision as a substitute father. It is important to point out that the psychological trauma experienced by the victims could make them withdraw from societal interaction if they are not given effective counseling. All parents and guardians must understand that parenting or child-upbringing is a full time job which is expensive and time consuming. We should not expect children to be angels when we have directed much of our resources and time to other ventures at their expense. A renowned American pastor Osteen says “the reason children get in trouble can often be traced to the fact that they do not have positive role models in their lives."

One issue that surprised many Ghanaians is the seeming endorsement of Bishop Obinim’s action by his congregation. This has led to more questions than answers. Was the silence of the congregation over Bishop Obinim’s action out of faith? Or over subscription to the biblical quotation or is it that Obinim is always right? Any positive response to these principles is suicidal which can be likened to the proverbial donkey Boxer who suffered his pitiful death as a result of his naive trust in his master, Napoleon. What is refreshing however is that government agencies in charge of child protection and human rights lawyers have challenged Bishop Obinim’s action as a clear violation of the fundamental human rights and dignity guaranteed under the 1992 Constitutions of Ghana, the Domestic Violence and the Children’s Acts.

It is high time to apply the rule of law so that the so- called men of God who violate the law under the pretext of their religious beliefs and more often with the support naive congregants can be dealt with. The state must evoke its powers to ensure that religion serves the right purpose and not to be used as a tool to oppress innocent Ghanaians. One takes consolation in the fact that institutions mandated by the state to ensure compliance and administration of justice have filed complaints against Bishop Obinim for investigation and prosecution. It is the hope of Ghanaians that appropriate sanctions will be applied to deter others if found culpable.

By Lawrence Bodong Tophelilew, Graduate of UDS- Wa campus (BA Social & Development Administration) (0246241944/0206505741)

Monday, 11 July 2016

Asawase Stampede

Ghanaians woke up Thursday morning to the horrific news of nine people losing their lives in a stampede that ensued after confusion broke out during a night jam to mark Eid-ul-Fitr at Asawase in the Ashanti Region. Eid-ul-Fitr is observed by Muslims worldwide to mark the end of Ramadan, which is a 30 day obligatory dawn to dusk fasting, where they restrain from food and water and other fleshly desires. The Eid or Sallah as it is popularly called is therefore an occasion for the adherents of the Islamic faith to rejoice over their triumph over hunger, thirst and most importantly, sin. For such an occasion to turn tragic is to say the least very pathetic and regrettable. This however calls for the need to take a second look at how such occasions are observed. Time and again, the youth have been advised to celebrate such festivals in moderation, but they often turn deaf ears to such calls.

One characteristic of Eid celebrations which has over time been a nuisance to society is the reckless riding of motorbikes, especially by the youth. It has taken the Police a lot of effort to bring the situation to some appreciable level of control. In the past, many lives were lost through accidents as a result of such irresponsible motor riding. As the Police intensify their effort to bring such lawlessness under total control, the Eid celebrations, just as all other celebrations including Christmas, Easter, and Valentine's Day have assumed a different mode and form. Beaches and drinking spots have now become celebration grounds. Even though investigations are still ongoing, it will not be farfetched to suggest that some of the people in there might have been intoxicated. Of course, it is true that it was an occasion for Muslims, and by Quaranic teachings, Muslims do not patronize alcohol. As to whether every Muslim abides by that teaching is a different ball game. The point must also be made that the emergency exit at the community centre where the jams were being held leads to a drinking spot. No matter how one looks at it, Eid has assumed a secular dimension, and to that extent, all manner of people including non-Muslims actively take part in the celebrations. The unfortunate incident at Asawase should be a wakeup call to all that religious activities ought to be kept as sacred as they are supposed to be.

The situation where Easter, Christmas and Eid become days for promiscuity, alcoholism, smoking and other negative conduct and vices should be a thing of the past. According to some sources, Eid is supposed to be held at open fields and big halls, especially in the morning, to be followed by merry-making, characterized by sharing of meals and visits to friends and relatives. This concept of night jams is alien and an adulteration of the objective of the occasion. What is even most unfortunate about the Asawase incident is the fact that, the authorities there, by divine guidance or whatever, foresaw such a situation and therefore ordered that there be no after party activity at the town park where the eid prayers were held. They went a step further by locking the gates to the field and deploying security personnel to protect the area. But unfortunately, the youth had other options as they invaded the community centre built many years ago to accommodate just about five hundred people. Ultimately, there was massive overcrowding. The autopsy showed that the nine people who lost their lives, died from suffocation. Going forward, religious authorities, the law enforcement agencies; particularly the Police and local traditional and political leaders must re-double their efforts in ensuring sanity in our societies.

We cannot allow our citizens to die such needless and avoidable deaths. May the dead rest in peace, and to the injured we say, speedy recovery.


Circulation Of Arms And Ammunition

There are periodic reports of discovery of arms and ammunitions being conveyed from one point to undisclosed destinations in this country. Consignments of guns and cartridges, explosives and other lethal weapons are uncovered at the borders, hidden in travellers’ luggage or specially-contrived compartments on vehicles. It always takes a lot of intuitive diligence, and sometimes tip-offs, to come upon such hiding-places of deadly weapons being smuggled into the country or being transported inland. Sometimes the smugglers manage to escape detection and payment of duties by using unapproved routes, to avoid Customs and Preventive officials at the border posts. All the same, some of them are eventually caught at Police and or Customs road blocks. There are also locally-manufactured shotguns of various sizes, usually small and handy. These are normally patronized by hunters and farmers. The trade in arms and ammunitions has been a genuine or legal business in the past. Licensed Arms Dealers could import shotguns (usually long, single- or double-barrel models), into the country. Buyers were and are still required to acquire permits to possess and use them for specific purposes such as hunting. Keeping shotguns for self-defence was hardly a remote objective, because self-defence or ‘personal security’ had not been a major concern until the recent thirty or so years, when armed robbery has been on the upsurge.

Another burning concern has been the presence of Fulani herdsmen who are armed to the teeth with AK47s originally supposed to be used by the Police and special Security operatives. One really wonders how such people manage to come by those weapons. The arrest of a Ghanaian in the United States of America who, allegedly, had hidden a number of firearms and stuffed canvas boots with thousands of US dollars, in fridges intended for shipment to Ghana, has hit the headlines and social media not too long ago. Initial reports indicated that the suspect was still being quizzed for the needed information on the prospective consignees in Ghana, or any others behind the transaction. The incident has a lot of significance at a time the Nation is preparing for a crucial election in less than five months.

Again, there was a situation whereby one of the major Political Parties had attempted to train a group of people to protect some of its leading personnel before, during and after the elections. Also, an exercise carried out by the Electoral Commission, to register potential voters who had attained 18 years or had not registered before, turned violent in certain areas. People brandishing dangerous gadgets caused mayhem and inflicted wounds on others. The need for extra vigilance by the security agencies cannot be over-stressed. Already, there have been pockets of hot spots in some parts of the country. There are frequent clashes between neighbouring ethnic groups and even clans, over deep-seated issues which seem not to be settled satisfactorily.

Attempts at peace efforts have had to be re-visited at short intervals. Surprisingly, groups and individuals, including very influential opinion leaders, are clamouring for violence through their utterances on air and in public pronouncements, trying to justify self-defence. There is a lot of suspicion, distrust or lack of confidence these days among people and in the operations of some Public institutions. This is very unfortunate for our present Democratic dispensation. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the campaigns and the elections must take place without any form of intimidation from any quarters. The unpleasant occurrences and experiences of some other countries should serve as a warning to all actors in Ghana.

Fortunately, this country has been blessed to have survived some near-explosive periods till now. Our Security Forces should gird their loins and live up to the assurances they keep giving the nation in the face of such challenges, not only for the impending Elections, but also beyond. After all, Elections are not the ultimate in life. We should be able to live in total guarantee of peace to go about our daily affairs and routines. Hoarding guns, missiles and other lethal weapons will not solve any problems; they will rather aggravate the security situation in this country.


Curbing Abusive And Irresponsible Comments In Media

Article 21 clause one A of the 1992 Constitution guarantees all citizens of Ghana a fundamental human right to "freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media." To that end, it is not in the power of any individual or organisation to deny any citizen his or her right to speak. This, however, does not mean that one can, in the course of expressing oneself in the exercise of one's fundamental human right, infringe others rights not to be defamed, provoked unnecessarily and abused. For every fundamental human right, there exist legal perimeters within which they must be exercised. Unfortunately, many people erroneously think that they have unrestrained and unfettered rights to say and write anything about anybody. No. Freedom and Responsibility are identical and inseparable twins which ought not to be put asunder for convenience. Some people would rather own their thoughts and expressions but disown the responsibilities that go with them. As far as they go, the consequences that their comments produce, that is if they turn out to be negative and distasteful, should be ignored or worse still borne by others who have no reason or obligation to do so.

Consequently, the devil is made to take the flak for it while the perpetrator assumes the role of an angelic hero or heroine. The week gone by marked another blip in our nascent democratic experiment. It began with an attack on the chairperson of the EC by a sitting Member of Parliament, then followed by threats of death against superior court judges by some two discussants on a radio programme. It is noteworthy that after the Ghana Bar Association came out with a press statement condemning the comments, one of the two panelists came out with an apology letter in which he admitted crossing the line of free speech and sought forgiveness. While this is in order, the far-reaching damage done to the hard-won reputation of the bench and the persons of the individual judges as well as the judicial system must be considered and mitigated.

It is true the BNI has taken over the issue but this is certainly not enough. They must be summoned by the appropriate authorities and made to suffer the consequences. That is without prejudice to whatever the individual judges affected will opt for. It is high time our laws were put into full, swift, fair and proportionate effect. If such people are left off the hook, we can be sure that many more of them will emerge from among the public and do all of us in, especially as we enter the last and most critical lap of the campaign period for the 2016 General Election. A stitch in time saves nine, the proverb goes. We can only do this by taking stringent actions against all and sundry that fall foul of the law. The monitoring and regulatory roles of the National Media Commission and the National Communications Authority must be given full expression. They must not hesitate to withdraw the license of any media organisation that acts carelessly and irresponsibly. Thankfully, the Media Foundation for West Africa is already naming and shaming some of the notorious ones, but that is not enough. The cost of plunging this nation into chaos will far outweigh that which will come with closing down stations and denying a few people employment and means of daily bread for a few days. Admittedly, the harm of handing license to extremists who are burnt on plunging this nation into unrest in order to attain their parochial and self-aggrandising interest has already been done.

What we cannot afford to do is to fold our arms and watch them pursue that agenda to the detriment of the general public. There is no such thing as an unfettered fundamental human right. As such, our rights must be expressed alongside utmost responsibility where those who breach the law are brought to book fairly and squarely.