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Opinions of Thursday, 4 January 2007

Columnist: Aboagye, Abdulai

AWAKE! Ghana is dying of ALS.

One of the greatest pillars of democracy is the rule of law. The rule of law simply means a country where the law of the land reigns supreme and that the law is no respector of persons or groups. The law is made to take it's due course and offenders are punished by the law. There is no country on earth that has given full meaning to this principle but at least some countries have endeavored to adhere to the principles of the rule of law.

In Ghana however, while we have embraced the tenets of democracy and rule of law there is still one desease which is affecting our attempt to practice the rule of law.That desease is called ABOVE THE LAW SYNDROME or simply put ALS. Above the Law Syndrome is the situation where some individuals, groups or a section of the society are simply above any law of the land and flout them as and when they please. It is the hope of this writer to examine this phenomenom in this article.

In the first place it is important to examine which individauls and groups are above the laws of the country. The first group that comes to mind is government officials . In Ghana every government appointee thinks that he or she is above the law. They flout with impunity the very laws they have enacted and go at every length to fustrate people who want to hold them in check for their actions. They hide under the guise of our culture to do virtually every thing they want. One will not be wrong in saying that in Ghana politicians and people in power think that laws are made for the "SUBJECTS" and not them. This behaviour is not akin to officials of one or two governments but it is rather the case for every government Ghana has had since independence.

The second group of people who are above the law in Ghana is our kings and chiefs. Historically Ghanaians have regarded their kings and chiefs with dignity and respect. However some of our chiefs have used that to always act above the law. Some of our chiefs and kings have total disregard for law and order and any attempt to straighten them is seen as disrespect of our so-called culture. No wonder some of our chiefs have sold and resold lands all over the place and nobody dare question them. This trend is becoming so alarming because of the way criminals and crooks are finding refuge in chieftancy.

The next group that comes to mind is our security officers especially the military. It is an open secret that anybody in military uniform in Ghana thinks that he or she is above the law. Once a person is a "soldier" he or she can do things with impunity and nobody can hold him or her in check. Soldiers can pop up from nowhere and beat, loot and ransack a whole community simply because one of their own has been 'offended' by the said community. In fact, stories of military and to a lesser extent police and customs officers claiming properties, lands, goods etc. which are not thiers abound in Ghana. A story goes that a young man whose land was among one of the several lands being claimed by a soldier, somewhere in Accra, went back and put up a sign "THIS LAND BELONGS TO CAPTAIN APPIAH". Lo and behold his piece of land was saved. Funny as it is, this story tells the extent to which our security officers act with impunity.

Perhaps the most disturbing and annoying group of people who act above the law is the friends, relatives, cohorts and hangers-on of the above mentioned groups. Anybody with any remote link to anybody in power thinks that he or she can act anyhow because if the law catches up with him or her all he or she has to do is to invoke the name of the 'Big Man'. A taxi driver who drives a cab the belongs to a policeman, a soldier or some big shot has total disregard for traffic rules. The friend of the friend of the Minister can engage in all sorts of shady businesses because he or she knows that if anything happens his friend can contact the Minister. What is worse is that gradually crooks and criminals are exploiting this phenomenom. Some of these criminals delibrately befriend big shots as an insurance against thier criminal endeavours. Others falsely use the name of big men to win the trust of their victims or to escape the law.

The effects of the Above The Law Syndrome- ALS is profound. First of all it complicates and frustrate the ability of law enforcement agents to do their work effectively. For example, many investigations have hit a brickwall in Ghana because the culprits were some big men or women who are above the law. In some cases law enforcement agents who dare pursue cases against big shots are either transfered, terminated or framed to keep their mouths shut. This therefore kills the motivation of the few good law enforcement agents who want to do thier job. It is so disheartening and insulting to see a criminal freed because the said criminal is a relative or friend of a 'big man'. One other place where ALS has had enormous effect is road safety. In Ghana most policemen are reluctant to stop cars they perceive to be for 'Big men'. They fear that if the person happens to be a government official or some big shot they may end up losing thier job. And so even if that person is driving carelessly, or is drunk driving, the police fear to stop him or her. Similarly drivers who drive cars that belong to 'Big Men' also flout traffic regulations with impunity.Though disputable,one can still argue that some of the accidents which have killed some important personalities could have been avoided if the police had the "right" to stop such people.

Another effect of ALS is that it kills peoples trust in the justice system. When people get to know that some individuals or part of the community can flout the law at thier will they lose confidence in the system and therefore resort to extra judicial ways of seeking redress when they are offended. This partly explains why in Ghana some people are more interested in mob justice than the legal system. It also explains why some will rather resort to prayers, juju, etc. than to go to the police or the courts.

The question therefore is are there some means of solving this problem?The first and most important means of curbing ALS is political will. Our leaders should be ready to submit themselves to the dictates of the law of the land. Not only that our leaders should demonstrate through whatever means possible that they respect the laws of the land. Leaders should also be willing to discipline or fire their surbodinates who deliberately flout the laws of the land. If they demonstrate by deed and speech that they respect the laws of the land , it will diffuse the perception among the populace that they (the leaders) are above the law.

Secondly there should the strict laws against influence peddling. In some countries it is unlawful to plead with a police officer. Words like 'please' and 'I beg you' are seen as bribery. We can also make laws the ban the use of ones position, social status or acquaintances to some personalities or groups as a means of pleading for mercy or as a tactic to scare law enforcement officers to escape the law.

Law enforcement officers should also be empowered to arrest and trial anybody who attempts to flout the laws of the nation. No attempts should be made to frustrate officers for doing their job. The media should also help in this fight. And as always education is also very important if we want to treat the ALS desease.

Giving meaning to equality before the law is an important step in our attempt to make Ghana a safe secure haven. Giving in to the desease of ALS is a way of making Ghana tow the line of failed states. It is therefore incumbent on all of us to ensure that the rule of law works in Ghana. GOD BLESS OUR HOMELAND GHANA!!!

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.