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Opinions of Monday, 5 April 2021

Columnist: Alhaji Iddi Muhayu-Deen

Achimota School should not be allowed to visit injustice on the two Rastafarian students

Injustice anywhere, they say, is a threat to justice everywhere; and silence cannot be an option when things are ill done. This is because, evil only triumphs in a society where people who know better and who could have acted, deliberately refuse to speak and take action when it matters the most.

It is against this backdrop that, we the people of Ghana, exercise our natural and inalienable right to establish a framework of government which shall secure for ourselves and posterity the blessings of liberty, justice and equality of opportunity ENACTED and ADOPTED the 1992 Constitution.

This Constitution, 1992, which recognizes that the sovereignty of Ghana resides in none other but the people of Ghana, in whose name and for whose welfare the powers of government are to be exercised, is replete with provisions that protect and preserve our fundamental human rights and freedoms against possible maladministration and excesses of the State and its institutions.

Constitutional provisions are not put there for fun; they are to be obeyed to the letter; nothing more, nothing less. Institutions of State like the Ghana Education Service (GES) and Achimota School are enjoined to function in accordance with the Constitution.

To this extent, and as provided for in Article 1(2) of the Constitution, any other law [which includes Rule, Regulation, Instruction, Guideline] which is found to be inconsistent with any provision of the Constitution [the Supreme law of Ghana] shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void and ineffectual.

Fellow Ghanaians, I have followed with considerable disquiet, the unending tussle between Achimota School [a PUBLIC educational institution] and some two students who have been denied admission by the Achimota school on account of their dreadlocks which the school argues flout their Rule on ‘acceptable hairstyle’.

Much as, like many have done, I can also advance cogent moral and persuasive arguments in support of the two innocent students against Achimota, I nonetheless want to focus only on the legal or constitutional arguments for the purpose of this writeup, to make my case. First of all, there is no debate that the students are keeping the dreadlocks not for fashion but as a manifestation of their cultural and religious beliefs. There is also no debate that Ghana is a circular State which recognizes every religion and the manifestation of the same including Rastafarianism, which, inter alia, manifests itself in the keeping of dreadlocks.

That being the case, what does our Constitution say about religious and cultural rights? Let’s start with Article 26(1) which states that: “Every person is entitled to enjoy, practice, profess, maintain and promote any CULTURE, language or RELIGION subject to the provisions of this constitution”. Equally, Article 17(2) provides that: “A person SHALL NOT BE DISCRIMINATED AGAINST on grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, RELIGION, CREED, or social or economic status”. That’s not all, Article 21(1)(c) provides that: “All persons shall have the RIGHT to FREEDOM TO PRACTICE any RELIGION and to MANIFEST such practice”.

These explicit constitutional provisions guaranteeing one’s right to religion and to manifest same without being discriminated against, are again reinforced in Article 12(2) which states that: “Every person in Ghana, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, RELIGION, CREED or gender shall be entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms contained in this Chapter [Chapter Five – which is on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms] subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest”.

Beyond the cultural and religious right of the students which is being violated by Achimota School, is also the student’s educational rights as guaranteed in various provisions of the Constitution including Article 25 which confers the right to education and educational opportunities and facilities on all persons.

It cannot be argued by Achimota School that its Rule on ‘acceptable hairstyles’ justifies its decision to violate the students’ right to education only by reason of their [students] manifestation of their religious and cultural beliefs. Achimota school cannot just take solace in Article 14(1)(e) as an exception to the protection of the students’ personal liberty for purposes of education on account that they [the students] have not attained the age of 18.

It is obvious that the school would still not have admitted the Rastafarian students even if they had attained the age of 18 and beyond. This is because the so-called Achimota Rule on ‘acceptable hairstyle’ creates no such exception, thus making the same inconsistent with the very constitutional provision [Article 14(1)(e)] that the school claims it is relying on in this instance. It is also not the position of the school that the dreadlocks have dire health implications on the students, in which case, their position may be tenable.

Secondly, there is an undisputed legal principle that says, laws and for that matter, Constitutions are TO BE READ AS A WHOLE. So, granted that Article 14(1)(e) is so germane to the case of Achimota school, this legal principle demands that it [Article 14(1)(e)] should not be read in isolation, but in conjunction with the aforementioned constitutional provisions [i.e Article 26(1), Article 17(2), Article 21(1)(c), Article 12(2), Article 25] all of which guarantee the right to education and religion, and the manifestation of same by all persons including Children without being discriminated against.

Perhaps, even more, instructive and noteworthy is Article 28 on Children’s Rights which imposes an obligation on Parliament to enact such laws as are necessary to secure the rights of children and ensure in particular that, NO CHILD SHALL BE DEPRIVED by any other person of medical treatment, EDUCATION, or any other economic benefit by reason only of RELIGIOUS or other beliefs [Article 18(4)]. Pursuant to this, Parliament enacted the Children’s Act 1998, (Act 560), to further safeguard the rights of children.

At the heart of the Children’s Act is the Welfare Principle [Section 2 of Act 560) which provides that the BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD shall be paramount in all matters concerning the child and shall also be the primary consideration for any court, person, or institution. Connected to this is the principle of non-discrimination [Section 3 of Act 560] which forbids a person from discriminating against a child on grounds of race, age, or RELIGION.

Having regard to the position of the law particularly the explicit provisions of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana vis a vis the conduct of the authorities of Achimota School in relation to the two Rastafarian students, one can only arrive at one and only inevitable conclusion. The conclusion, of course, is that the students’ fundamental human rights and freedoms as enshrined variously in the Constitution of Ghana are grossly being violated by Achimota School. We cannot and should not allow that to happen.

We cannot and should not allow Achimota School to visit such gross injustice on the innocent students with impunity. The students may be powerless; they may be voiceless; they may be helpless; but the law is clearly and unequivocally on their side. The case of the students is so justifiably clear that even the blind can see, and the deaf can hear.

It doesn’t have to take the court to resolve this simple matter. Just as it didn’t have to take the court for us to allow pregnant women to write exams, something that was abominable in our schools a few years ago. I also think a simple policy directive (document) from the Education Ministry and GES pursuant to Section 4 of the Education Act, 2008 (Act 778) for the conduct of pre-tertiary education in the country including Regulation on ‘physical appearance’ should suffice in RIGHTING this wrong.

Ghana certainly should not be having this conversation today. We are a country of religious and cultural tolerance; a country of inclusion and wonderful hospitality. We are the gateway to Africa and the cynosure of the world. We are the country that hosted the much talked about historic YEAR OF RETURN in 2019, following which we proceeded to launch the BEYOND THE RETURN Initiative, all geared towards encouraging our brothers and sisters in the diaspora (most of whom are from Latin America and the Caribbean region where Rastafarianism was birthed) to consider relocating to Ghana. What signals are we sending to them with this unnecessary Achimota-dreadlock furore?

I wish to conclude by once again calling on all the voices of Justice; voices of Reason; and voices of Good Conscience to speak against this manifest injustice being perpetrated against the innocent students by Achimota. Silence cannot be an option. Remember, today, it is somebody’s child; tomorrow, it may be your child. So, let’s act NOW to not only protect the Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms of these innocent students but also to protect the SANCTITY of our very Constitution, 1992, and for posterity to judge us positively. Need I or need I not say more!!!

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