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Feature Article of Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.

The Supreme Court versus Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie

Piri-piri-piii: The Supreme Court versus Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Monday, July 8, 2013

Fellow country men and women, have you yet booked your front seats at the ringside? If you haven’t, do so immediately because a major boxing tournament will soon begin in the dark chamber of the Supreme Court. The pugilists will be the Supreme Court and the NPP’s General Secretary (Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, also known as “Sir John”). The long overdue bout—the fifth in the series between the Supreme Court and those infringing the criminal contempt clause—promises to be more than fascinating.

The alarm bells at the Supreme Court are already tolling loudly, beckoning Owusu Afriyie to the dock to answer for his comments that have nettled the 9-member panel hearing the NPP’s petition concerning Election 2012.
The Supreme Court says it has taken “judicial notice” of “some potentially contemptuous comments” made by him and that it intends “advising” itself on the matter before the end of today’s hearing.
Will he be “man” enough to dance to the tune that he has stridently called? Or will he seek refuge in some big shots to avoid being humbled? Will anything happen Nicodemously to put the lid on his case?
He has begun it already: “I didn’t hear my name was mentioned in court today. I am only hearing it from you for the first time. I was in the court but never heard my name was mentioned over making contemptuous comment. I heard them mentioning a certain Sir John but I didn’t know it was me so I won’t say anything for now,” he bellowed. (Source: Myjoyonline, Monday, July 8, 2013).
Now, is Owusu Afriyie hiding behind “technicalities” to say that his official name is Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie and not the “Sir John” that he is widely known to go by? Eih, these people?
When host of the show, Kwadwo Asare Baffour Acheampong (KABA) attempted to play the voice of justice Atuguba to him, Sir John refused, responding that “please I can’t listen to it now because in this technological age, anyone can doctor a voice purporting to be yours so let’s wait for me to be called first”. (Source: Myjoyonline, Monday, July 8, 2013).
His contemptuous comments range from a direct criticism of the Supreme Court over its handling of the criminal contempt case involving the NPP’s Sammy Awuku; claims that the Supreme Court judges' reaction to public comments on the proceedings in the ongoing presidential election petition was an attempt to cow people from expressing themselves; arousing disaffection for the judges (the conduct of the Supreme Court Judges in the infamous Sammy Awuku encounter is appalling and must be condemned); criticism of the Court for glossing over similar “contemptuous comments” attributed to President Mahama; and a veiled threat to Justice Atuguba “to be careful with his actions”.
The Supreme Court won’t have any of that show of force and affront to its integrity. Owusu Afriyie has stepped on a landmine and committed criminal contempt for which the Court will determine what to do next to rein him in.
Many factors make Owusu Afriyie’s case intriguing and particularly poignant, if not overwhelming.
1. He is a lawyer who, presumably, knows the letter and spirit of the law and should be the last person to confront the law.
2. He is aware of moves being made by the NPP leadership to provide guidelines on how its functionaries (especially political commentators) should behave following the Supreme Court’s stern actions regarding criminal contempt. Just yesterday, those guidelines were issued to be strictly adhered to. Owusu Afriyie knew all along that such guidelines were being formulated and should have restrained himself from flouting any of them even before the entire lot was made public. But he didn’t, which worsens his situation.
3. As a top-ranking member of the NPP, he is heavily invested in this legal challenge by the NPP petitioners to the status of the Electoral Commission and the Presidency of the country as far as the performance of constitutionally mandated functions by such a statutory body and the fount of honour and authority in Ghana are concerned. He is the general Secretary of the NPP, a position that makes him the wielder of enormous powers and the bearer of a political clout that can cow dissenting voices into submission.
He has demonstrated that power in his recent verbal confrontations with Nana Akomea, the Communications Director, whom he threatened to flatten if he dared challenge his position.
All these years, Owusu Afriyie has bulldozed his way through the political terrain, muscles heavily flexed and ready to take on anybody whose utterances or actions run counter to his. We have heard him make several unguarded and misguided statements that haven’t left us in any doubt as to how big he feels in his own shoes.
He has on numerous occasions taken on President Mahama and tongue-lashed him just because of Election 2012. He is on record as completely tearing Dr. Kwadwo Afari Gyan’s reputation into tatters; and in concerted efforts with Kennedy Agyapong, he has wished that God would kill the Electoral Commissioner for stealing the elections for President Mahama.
Several other instances of loose talk by Owusu Afriyie can be recalled to prove that he considers himself a potentate who can do anything, including tempting Fate.
And his comments against the Supreme Court—as is now being raised by the Court itself—have brought him face-to-face with Fate. And nowhere else but the very venue where the essence of the law is on display. As a lawyer, he will now dance to the tune to be called for him by his fellow “Learned Friends”.
The Supreme Court says it has taken “judicial notice” of “some potentially contemptuous comments” made by him and that it intends “advising” itself on the matter before the end of today’s hearing.
Here is where the Court throws a big challenge to itself. Will it be able to deal with him as it has done to the four others whose fate seemed to have catalyzed the comments attributed to Owusu Afriyie and all others commenting on happenings and daring the Supreme Court? Or will the Court be more rigorous in tackling him (because as a lawyer, he should have known better not to make those contemptuous comments)?
Or will the Court chicken out for fear of taking him to task and ruffling the hornets in the NPP nest? With what implications and consequences for the court itself, the petition before it, and the country at large? Will the Court gloss over his contemptuous comments because he is what he is and any drastic action taken against him could provoke the NPP malcontents into taking the laws into their own hands to cause mayhem?
What will deter the Court from going ahead to tackle Owusu Afriyie? I don’t see any deterrent except the Court’s own disposition or disinclination and unwillingness to punish him as it has done other offenders. If it doesn’t do so, it will cast a huge cloud of doubt on its integrity. It will raise eyebrows for people to question what at all it is worth. Or whether it has two different sets of provisions on criminal contempt—one for the small fries who have already been punished in one way or the other; and another for the big guns who can make any damning comment at all and get away with it unscathed. Remember that the law is an ass and favours the powerful in society!!
Will the Court fail to deal with Owusu Afriyie in accordance with the precedent it has already set or fail to do so and create room for the public to accuse it of discrimination because it is inconceivable for the Court to take swift action against other offenders (with less contemptuous comments) and let Owusu Afriyie off the hook? I don’t think the Court will push itself into that quagmire.
That is why Justice Atuguba’s assessment of the situation is important. According to him, “more terrible things are coming out” despite the Court’s conviction of Ken Kuranchie and Stephen Atubiga to separate terms in prison for criminal contempt.
Hear him further: “…If we take action and others are provocative and we don’t take similar action then it looks lopsided and we don’t want that. Even where we are not lopsided, we accused of being lopsided… We’ve called for the tape and we’ll advice ourselves accordingly”.
We wait to know what that “advice” will be. We are monitoring the situation with keen interest and will definitely be guided by what the Court comes up with. Indeed, this petition hearing has not only exposed instances of weaknesses in our body politic but it has also given as insights into how our Judiciary can help instill discipline in the people. Despite complaints of the Court’s high-handedness and curtailing of freedom of expression following its stern warning and subsequent action to punish culprits, the situation hasn’t improved, which is why the Court’s stance on Owusu Afriyie should remain at issue.
I am more than inclined to believe that once the Court has set the precedent on punishment for criminal contempt, it must follow it through and punish anybody who is deemed to have fallen foul of the law. It is only then that the situation can improve. Law enforcement must not be compromised at all.
It has already been established that the petition hearing is a test for the Supreme Court and the 9-member panel of judges to prove their competence and integrity. It is also a test for the country’s democracy, whether it provides input for reforming the electoral system or not. It is also a test of the citizens’ political maturity or otherwise.
The importance attached to this petition hearing is obviously high, especially because the case is a novelty, being the first in the country’s political history and because it will definitely determine whether the defeat of the NPP at Election 2012 is truly unmistakable. It is difficult not to acknowledge the fact that the challenge to President Mahama’s legitimacy has created hiccups. That is why it is imperative for the Supreme Court to stamp its authority on the hearing so that nobody can pick on anything to cause trouble.
I am convinced that when Owusu Afriyie is taken to task, it will open eyes of those daring the devil and prove to all that the Supreme Court knows how to help us maintain law and order in the country.
In a previous article, I listed instances of criminal contempt against other leading NPP figures and will be watching closely to see how the Supreme Court deals with them. Owusu Afriyie is just one of them, but his cup seems to be running fast now. Is he ready for the bout? Oh, Jonathan! How are the mighty fallen?
I shall return…
• E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com
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