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Opinions of Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Columnist: Elorm Kodzo Mawulikem

Mob justice in Ghana; The dividends of a hapharzardly practiced democracy


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Elorm Kodzo Mawulikem

The past twenty years of Ghana’s return to constitutional rule has seen an upswing in indiscipline and lawlessness at different levels.

For those who have witnessed the days of revolution of the 1980s, a nostalgic past, characterized by its apparently high levels of discipline, is far more preferable to the downward spiral of this depressing present.

For these people, their wishes will remain fantasies because Ghana has chosen the path of democratic governance and has, for the good of us all, left behind the dark days of brutal military rule. Our toddling democracy, however, has a wild beast cunningly gaining grounds in our country’s governance system with a foot-in-the-door phenomenon.

This wild beast is mob justice. In its telling features, mob justice is that case wherein citizens become the law unto themselves, where they wrest power from the legal system, and where, in one fell swoop, they serve verdict on suspected criminals.

Its actors are decidedly a boisterous, large, disorganized crowd who resort to violence and destruction in the misguided attempt to ensure fairness and equity that only institutionalized public bodies can legitimately provide. In mob justice, perpetrators experience deindividuation as their selfawareness is almost lost to them. T.T.

Fortune poignantly observes this about mob law: “It is the most forcible expression of an abnormal public opinion; it shows that society is rotten to the core”. Ghana is fast becoming an example of such a rotten society. On the morning of May 29th, 2017, Captain Maxwell Mahama’s murder at the hands of a mob in Denkyira-Obuasi in the Central Region hit many Ghanaians. Many of us watched footage of his slow and painful murder in disbelief, disgust, and anger.

We groped for words and explanations, wondering what could have motivated men, women, and even a young boy, to yank spirit and soul out of such a fine, public-spirited, patriotic soldier.

Nobody deserves to die through such jungle justice and we pray that the perpetrators of this dastardly act are found and brought to justice. The young Captain is but one of several innocent citizens who have suffered the same ordeal at the whims of a disorderly people, dying for crimes they never committed nor were ever convicted of.

But, but, even if allegations for their crimes were true, one question remains unanswered: Does it lie in the discretion of the ordinary citizen to convict and punish a criminal through mob justice?

I was once witness to a case where a man was nearly lynched at Kwame Nkrumah Interchange for a phone he did not steal. But for the forceful intervention of well-meaning passers-by, an innocent man would have lost his dear life. It was this case that presented a daunting reality to me; I came to the grim and true realization that such injustice is a situation any innocent person could find him/herself in.

In days past, mob justice was obviously foreign to our social consciousness. It is alien to the cultures of the various ethnic groups that have formed today’s Ghana. Even before European excursions into Africa with notions of democracy, traditional people had strong systems of governance. Institutions functioned effectively.

In the ancient Anlo Kingdom of the Ewes, for example, there were conventions that governed communities. Suspected criminals had the right to be heard. Committers of crimes were not just sent to ‘Torkor Atorlia” for execution without proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubts.

What was definitely absent and intolerable in the traditional governance system of the day was this aspect of today’s democracy which allows anybody to openly use unprintable words as “useless”, “thief”, etc. on, say, the President of our Republic, and then, when condemned for such utterance, rebuts with the misconstrued concept of a certain right to freedom of speech. Our traditional systems of old had law and order.

Mob justice is incongruent with the basic principles of democratic governance. The apparent inability, or rather unwillingness, of a nation to build strong institutions in a democracy is what incubates and nurtures such vices. A democracy with weak systems and institutions of state amounts to an anarchic democracy. Strong and effective state institutions make democracy thrive.

If the Ghanaian today has little to no trust in many of the institutions of state, it is partly a result of the perception that the lawfully mandated bodies that ought to be the wheel on which democracy run are corrupt and weak. Such corruption has, no doubt, led to the bastardization of most state institutions, and has consequently created a sense of insecurity among ordinary citizens.

The result is a recourse to extra-legal forms of justice, including mob action. The growing distrust and lack of confidence in the judicial system does not seem to help our course. An ordinary citizen sees the legal system as an institution that is easily manipulated by the mighty and affluent against the commoner and the less affluent.

The sharp rise in lawlessness that we are experiencing will most certainly easily emerge in a country that had some of its Judges of some courts caught on tape in a corruption scandal, as was most recently revealed in the investigative work by Anas Aremeyaw Anas and his Tiger Eye PI organization.

Our justice system is gradually losing its credibility, with resultant psychological consequences for the generality of our citizenry. When citizens perceive institutionalized protection and justice systems as weak, the attempt to secure justice themselves by any means possible becomes tenable whether or not such means are legal and humanely sound.

Mob justice is certainly one of such means. Furthermore, our judicial processes are long and unnecessarily costly. This feeds mob justice. When people see criminals escape punishment at the hands of the law for sometimes dubious reasons, they will rightly be peeved.

When institutions are perceived as highly partisan, disorder will be rampant. Shortly after our elections last December, we have been witness to the mayhem of militant groups like the Invincible and Delta Forces, whose members have terrorized innocent citizens, burnt down toll booths, locked up offices of government agencies, and chased workers out of their offices. Most grievously, we watched in unsettling horror as members of Delta Force attacked an open court and freed their friends who were standing trial.

We saw how, all of a sudden, the likes of a civilian, Abronye DC, a regional party executive of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), morphed into a one-man law enforcement agency with the self-imposed mandate of retrieving supposedly stolen vehicles of the state from officials of the erstwhile Mahama-led administration. What could have caused a citizen to arrogate to himself the powers of law enforcement agencies and institutions? Abronye DC’s conduct—and many like his—was an act of lawlessness backed by political power. We need to take another look at how our institutions work and what to do to help them work effectively.

On his first trip to Africa when he became President of the United States of America, President Barack Obama made this now-famous statement in Accra, Ghana: “Africa does not need strong men”, he began, “it needs strong institutions”. Without doubt, no governance system can thrive when the institutions tasked with the responsibility to maintain law and order, ensure checks and balances, promote the Rule of Law, etc. are weak and almost non-existent.

Rule of Law is a sine qua non in democratic governance. Without it, a governance model is no democracy at all. If the institutions of state are not strong enough to enforce laws, the wound of lawlessness we are witnessing today will continue to fester. Our democracy can only stand the test of time if we build strong institutions and allow them to work effectively.

For a President whose legal acuity and advocacy for the Rule of Law are not in doubt, all I ask as a citizen is that he leads the way in making our state institutions strong and effective so we can nip the reign of a potential nation-wrecker in the bud. The president has rightly elevated the slain soldier to the rank of Major. Plans are already afoot for a physical memorial in his name.

The surviving spouse and kids will benefit from an education fund to be established, and, we all will mourn this loss with a state burial. Beyond the posthumous honors, however, the most useful respect we can pay to the memory of Capt. Maxwell Mahama is this: We must reflect on this moment as a fresh start and a new chapter for a detailed discourse on this ruinous phenomenon. We must collectively resolve and take pragmatic steps to avoid such occurrences forever.

May Ghana never see or hear an event such as happened on that sad Monday morning in DenkyiraObuasi. Author: Elorm Kodzo Mawulikem

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