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Opinions of Saturday, 19 November 2016

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

The death penalty is not a creative response to murder

File photo. File photo.

Americans have a saying that runs as follows: “Be careful what you wish for; or you shall get it.”

Nana Obiri-Boahen’s angry call on President John Dramani Mahama to expedite the implementation of the death penalty is scandalously simplistic and grossly misplaced. And if I were Nana Akufo-Addo, the 2016 presidential candidate of the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), under whose John Agyekum-Kufuor-led governance Nana Obiri-Boahen served as a junior cabinet appointee, I would think twice before deciding to appoint this evidently unsavorily impulsive man to any position of great or major responsibility.

Definitely not to the very sensitive portfolios of Minister of the Interior, Justice or Defense. For a trained lawyer, Mr. Obiri-Boahen’s reaction to the alleged jailbreak attempt by Mr. Johnson Kombian, the notorious criminal convict, leaves much to be desired (See “President Should Implement Death Penalty – Obiri-Boahen” / 11/10/16).

Mr. Kombian, who is currently being held at the Nsawam Medium-Security Prison, was sentenced to death by hanging in August last year for murdering two police officers in the northern regional town of Nakpanduri.

Either I did not sedulously follow the preceding admittedly heinous event or the hectic duty of writing and publishing virtually on a daily basis, about momentous events in the country, has caused me to so soon forget about the Kombian Affair, as it were. I am, however, very familiar with the name of Mr. Kombian.

The exact details of the catalog or chain events leading to Mr. Kombian’s crime are also not clear to me; not that such knowledge would in any way extenuate the decidedly repulsive and hideous nature of the crime. What I strongly believe we ought to be looking at, however, are the exact set of circumstances under which such horrendous crimes are committed and also the relative frequency with which they are committed. And then, of course, we can begin to seriously deliberate over the most appropriate statutory response to such crimes.

As well, the fact of whether, indeed, the punishment is congruent or commensurate with the crime may also need to be critically examined. I predicate the latter aspect of my argument on the fact that punitive measures, such as that which was reportedly imposed on Mr. Kombian, are intended to serve as a deterrent to both the subject of such punishment and society at large.

Now, we don’t know why all the four presidents the country has had under its Fourth-Republican dispensation, including the swashbuckling and bloodthirsty and pathologically vindictive Chairman Jerry John Rawlings, have each and every one of them flatly refused to implement the death penalty. But what I know for a fact, both through personal experience and studious observation, is that both the legal and judicial systems are not foolproof. And this observation is being made irrespective of the level of development of the country in which the emotionally loaded subject of crime and punishment is being discussed.

Here in the United States, for example, presidents and governors who have been either slow or downright reluctant to apply the death penalty have almost invariably done so with significant regard, or attention, to the fact that crime and punishment tend to be highly racialized.

In other words, the race and/or ethnicity of the criminal suspect often tends to play a major role in decisions pertaining to both the length and the severity of sentencing. For instance, African-American and Hispanic or Latino criminal suspects convicted of murder are several times more likely to be meted the death penalty than suspects officially classified as “Ethnic Whites” or European-Americans. And I reasonably suspect that while it may not be very obvious, especially to members of Ghana’s ethnic majority populace, nevertheless, the frequency of who gets the death penalty imposed on them may very well be ethnically and culturally tinged. Equally significant is the need to factor into the equation the identity, ethnicity and class background of the alleged victims of such heinous crimes.

What I clearly see in the Kombian jailbreak attempt is the glaring fact that rather than house this extremely dangerous criminal convict in a “Medium-Security Prison,” Mr. Kombian ought to have been incarcerated in a “Maximum-Security Prison.” If Ghana does not yet have a maximum-security prison facility, then this is what professionally trained lawyers like Nana Obiri-Boahen ought to be advocating, and not the knee-jerk and infantile ideology of tit-for-tat.

Indeed, were he studiously observant, Nana Obiri-Boahen would since long have come to the morally edifying and practically constructive conclusion that the bloody revolutions undertaken by Chairman Rawlings have not made National Democratic Congress’ politicians and that party’s machine operatives any remarkably less corrupt than their counterparts of the main opposition New Patriotic Party.

Indeed, a credible case could even be made that the NDC operatives are today more thoroughgoing corrupt than the average Ghanaian politician, precisely because of Mr. Rawlings’ bloody revolutionary bouts.

This very traumatic fact ought to inform the likes of Nana Obiri-Boahen that the implementation of the death penalty may actually cause a phenomenal tide in the rate or frequency of murders in the country. There is also no credible evidence indicating that the spate of murders in the country is any higher or lower today than it was during the Rawlings Revolution. It may actually be much lower today, if one stops to think about it.

*Visit my blog at: Ghanaffairs

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