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.

BY BUBU KLINOGO, A JOURNALIST.

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.

BY ANTHONY KWEKU ANNAN

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.

BY STEPHEN AGBAI, A SOCIAL COMMENTATOR

Need To Preserve Peace In Ghana

Anytime the country is approaching a general election, the fear of Ghana being plunged into war, becomes a recurring topic of discussion. In many instances, opposition parties point at the Electoral Commission as the sole institution that is responsible for the peace of the nation within that period. With another election in the offing, the EC has once again come under some bashing as not doing much to safeguard the peace of the country with a raging controversy over the voters register. But, it is a wrong notion to think that it will take just the EC to maintain peace in Ghana. It is erroneous if not funny to think that Ghana's EC has ever, or is likely to rig the outcome of the election in favour of any party or candidate. It is an open secret that it does not take the Electoral Commission to instigate the snatching of ballot boxes and intimidation of electorates which are all forms of rigging.

When it comes to the maintenance of peace, the constitution assigns that responsibility to the police and to some extent, the other security agencies. These institutions must therefore act more professionally in this electioneering season. The police and the military must ensure that motor riders who intimidate voters are treated as criminals and dealt with accordingly. It is also significant that the police have declared political vigilante groups such as Azorka boys, invincible forces and Bolga Bull dogs illegal organisations. But the police administration is taking too long time in banning them. What we have witnessed over the past several months is more of rhetoric, or empty threats of banning the groups. As the police consider banning social media temporally, they should consider wiping out those criminal elements during the eve of the elections. This is the time for the police to crack the whip by arresting all those who still carry themselves about as members of such groups.

By the way, what was the outcome of investigations into weapons allegedly found at the premises of a certain political party? The police must not hide such information from the public. Citizens deserve to know whether or not it is true that the weapons were found there, the owner or owners and what they were meant for. As the police are expected to act professionally, government should also resource them with all that they need to execute their responsibilities with the level of professionalism expected of them. Equally important institutions whose work is very paramount to ensuring the peace of the nation at this critical moment is the National Commission for Civic Education. This institution must also be adequately resourced to give the citizens the education they need to resist the temptation of gullibly swallowing sentimentally whipping information from political demagogues. We equally expect all political parties to shy away from comments that have the potential of whipping the sentiments of their members.

Just like the political parties, the media must be circumspect with the kind of news they put out there especially on the voting day and before the results are declared. Having said this, the media should still be able to protect the sovereign will of Ghanaians by exposing wrong doing. Above all, every citizen must put Ghana first before any other thing. The best way to do this is to abide by all the laws of the land, top most priority in this matter is to defend the constitution by reporting anything that amount to the undermining constitution. The Electoral Commission must demonstrate high level of fairness and transparency as far as this election is concerned. When everyone plays his or her part, there is no doubt that the country will come out of the election unscathed.

BY ALI BALA, A SOCIAL COMMENTATOR IN SENYA-BERAKU.

Early Posting of National Service Personnel

In an unprecedented move, the National Service Secretariat has completed deploying a total of 70 thousand 407 National Service Personnel to various institutions across the country for the 2016, 2017 service year, three clear months ahead of the commencement of the service.

About 30 thousand more are expected to be posted in due course, bringing the total number of personnel who will be doing national service to a little mpre than 100 thousand.

The National Service Secretariat needs to be commended for its pro activeness in ensuring the timely release of postings this year.

According to a statement signed by the Acting Director of the NSS, Dr. Michael Kpessa-Whyte, the early release of the postings was to afford prospective service personnel, sufficient time to prepare before they take up their postings later in September.

The statement adds, and I quote. “the early release was to offer user agencies sufficient time to organize in-service orientation and training programs for the service personnel posted to their outfits, to adequately prepare them to take up the challenges as they transit from school life into the world of work,’ unquote.

Often, placements have been made too close to the start of the service and personnel are not given enough time to prepare to take up their positions, some of which are very far from their places of abode.

With the early postings, common challenges such as lack of accommodation, limited spaces at establishments where service persons are posted and mix-ups will be cleared before the actual commencement of the service.

It is significant to state that national service has come to stay as a very effective way of inculcating in the youth a sense of responsibility and independence, as well as experience in the management of their resources and their chosen vocations.

However, the NSS has an uphill task in placing all service personnel in jobs where they could get practical experience to top up their academic knowledge in various fields because there are only few places in industry for them.

That explains why different modules have been developed in sanitation, road safety, fire prevention, traffic control, among others, to ensure that all personnel are placed in places where they can effectively serve the country.

Even though the essence of national service is to create avenues for students to serve the country after school, the secretariat needs to iron out any bottlenecks in administration to ensure that personnel are paid their allowances on time so that national service does not become ‘national suffering’, as is often referred to.

It is pertinent to say that no matter where personnel are posted, they should be able to serve the nation with humility and pride, that is why they should not be made to suffer unduly by way of unexplained and unnecessary delays in the payment of their monthly allowances.

It is a fact that some places where personnel are posted to to deliver their services are so remote and deprived and the only motivation for such personnel will be the regular and timely payment of their allowances.

Going forward, there will be the need to consider an upward adjustment in the current monthly allowance paid to service personnel, in view of the increases in the cost of living in the country.

Similarly, beneficiary user agencies and institutions should also consider giving service personnel a token every month to motivate them to give off their best during the service period.

Service personnel are urged to give their best as they serve the nation, since, by so doing, they will not only carve a niche for themselves but also gain permanent employment as a result of their hard and dedicated work.

Nonetheless, national service still remains a service to the nation, by which the service personnel pay back society’s investment in their education, for which reason compensation should be secondary.

After all, former US President John F. Kennedy, once said, “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”.

God bless Mother Ghana.




BY DAN OSMAN MWIN, PRO, MINISTRY OF EDUCATION.

Over Glorification Of Alcohol In Media

Each and every day, Ghanaians start their day with advertisement about one alcoholic beverage or the other. These adverts are so common that even the youngest child can recite the lines. It is so much so that, if your alarm clock fails to wake you up in the morning, an alcoholic beverage advert will. Research shows that, purposeful production of alcoholic beverages is common in many cultures and often reflects their cultural, sociological and religious peculiarities as well as their geographical conditions. Discovery of Stone Age jugs suggest that, intentionally, fermented beverages existed at least as early as Neolithic period which is about 10,000 BC.

The oldest and most popular alcoholic spirit produced in Ghana and other West African nations by distilling palm wine and sugar cane juice is referred to as "Akpeteshie". Other names for this drink include apio, ogogoro (in Nigeria), sodabi, keley and "kutuku" (in Nzema). The word akpeteshie comes from the Ga language -ape teshie- to wit "they are hiding ," referring to the secretive way in which non-European inhabitants of the then Gold Coast were forced to enjoy the beverage. Nobody can ever dispute the relevance of alcoholic beverages in the society. Studies reveal that moderate amounts of alcohol in the body reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and death by 18 percent. Other medical benefits of alcohol include it being used as a steriliser for medical tools, improved mental health, long-term cognitive functioning and work performance. Intake of alcohol in moderate quantities also helps in mood enhancement, stress reduction and sociability. As there are two sides of every coin, so is alcoholic beverage. As said that too much of everything is bad, excess intake of alcohol is equally bad. It is no secret that alcohol intake can cause major health problems including cirrhosis of the liver. Major injuries and even death can occur through alcohol influenced driving. Excessive alcohol intake can also pose such medical risks as anaemia, cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, seizures, gout and many more.

People have different reasons why they take in alcoholic beverages. Careful scrutiny of the reasons shows that they are more of excuses than reasons. Whilst some drink out of curiosity, others drink for the effect it has on them. One obvious reason why a lot of people are taking to alcohol is because of intense advertisements in the media. Most of these adverts suggest that these alcoholic beverages give sexual stamina to men. This reason is a bait enough to capture the hearts and attention of unsuspecting youth into acute alcohol consumption. According to the Liquor Licensing Act 1970 (Act 331), “Advertisements should neither claim nor suggest that any alcoholic drink can contribute towards sexual success or that can enhance sexual attractiveness.” Clause (a) of the same act says that “advertising of alcoholic drinks should not be directed at persons under 18 years. It is undeniable that about ninety percent of alcoholic beverage adverts in this country are in contravention of this act.

The question that needs to be asked is what the Ghana Standards Authority and the Food and Drugs Authority are doing about this situation? In September 2007, the FDA issued a fiat against advertisements of hard liquor and bitters. In March last year, the FDA followed it up with a ban on popular TV presenter, Kwame Dzokoto from featuring in alcoholic beverage advertisements. That was a laudable step but unfortunately the Authority could not sustain that war. It may be true that advertisements do not target kid directly, but in effect children are the biggest consumers of such adverts because they are the highest patronisers of the electronic media. The FDA and the Ghana Standard Board should wake up from their slumber in order to quench this volatile fire before it consumes us all. They should stop being selective in the application and enforcement of the law. In fact every clause and sub clause of the law must be put to work. The media must also think of the collective good of the society instead of the money they will make from running such adverts on their networks. The glorification and adoration of alcohol is unwarranted and woefully out of place.

BY ELORM KPEDATOR, FROM WOE IN THE KETA MUNICIPALITY AND FINAL YEAR STUDENT OF AKATSI COLLEGE OF EDUCATION.

Calls To Decriminalize Marijuana

There is significant academic debate on decriminalising marijuana in the country, and this has received some degree of political and public support. Some have argued that decriminalization will open a floodgate for drug use in the country, while others do not agree and see it as the best way to reduce drug use in the country. In practice, repressive drug laws have neither succeeded in reducing drug consumption nor put traffickers out of their lucrative business. Instead, these laws have only driven and expanded the trade underground. The current drug policy in Ghana is very repressive in nature. It is a control approach that has failed to consider the health and well being of those who use drugs. It makes no room for people who need life saving harm reduction programs such as needle and syringe distribution and opioid substitution treatments. What this kind of regime has done over the years is to marginalize the majority of citizens. Studies have shown that the criminalization of people who use drugs is often more detrimental to their health than the drug use itself and that this approach does not lower rates of drug use.

Moreover, some reports show that the criminal justice response contributes to a climate of stigmatization of, and discrimination against, people who use drugs, which makes it less likely that they will receive impartial treatment from police and the judicial system. Addressing consumption through criminal justice institutions ultimately infringes on fundamental rights of people who use drugs, including the rights to health, information, personal autonomy and self-determination. Ghana’s current drug law also lacks proportionality in the sentencing of drug offenses. For instance, possession and trafficking both attract a minimum of 10 years in prison. It is clear that there is no distinction in the severity of the offenses.
Many countries around the world have already taken steps to amend and update their drug laws – more in line with the ‘Support Don’t Punish’ approach that civil society is advocating. Over time, there has been an increase in drug consumption in the country. This shows that repressive methods are not working, and the collateral damage that comes with the application of these laws are devastating, hence the need to adopt approaches that are evidence-based, more humane, and have been proven to work over the years. The word decriminalization has received a very negative response from society, partly because of ignorance or deliberate confusion of the discussion. Decriminalization applies to the purchase, possession, and consumption of all drugs for personal use. It must be noted that, under a decriminalization model, drug possession for personal use remains illegal and prohibited –but the actions taken in response to this offense do not necessarily lead to criminal sanctions.
In fact, a more effective alternative to punishment can be social protection and detoxification services, health care, treatment of dependence and reintegration into society. Under this module, police resources can be channeled towards stopping more serious crimes, rather than being wasted on harassing people who use drugs. Children are often, rightly, placed at the forefront of political justifications for the ‘war on drugs’. But the reality is that children’s rights have been increasingly violated through the current approaches and the levels of drug control measures while drug use and drug-related harms among children have continued to rise. In 2001, Portugal passed a ground-breaking law when it decriminalized low-level possession and use of all illicit drugs. More than a decade later, the results of the Portuguese experience demonstrates that drug decriminalization – alongside a deliberate shift in public funding from law enforcement to treatment and harm reduction services – can significantly improve public safety and health. There were fears that Portugal might become a drug free-for-all, but that simply didn’t happen. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, “Portugal’s policy has reportedly not led to an increase in drug tourism. It also appears that the number of drug-related problems has decreased including petty stealing among drug users”. Under a decriminalization framework, drug use and possession remain prohibited. What it simply does is that criminal penalties are removed and other sanctions such as fines or treatment requirements are imposed, if at all. Crucially, incarceration is no longer imposed for drug possession or use, and lives are no longer ruined with criminal records. The time to act is now!

BY MARIA-GORETTI ANE LOGLO, IDPC CONSULTANT FOR AFRICA AND MEMBER OF THE WEST AFRICA DRUG POLICY NETWORK, GHANA CHAPTER