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Opinions of Friday, 23 July 2021

Columnist: Kofi Ata

Are Ghana’s security agencies causing insecurity to Ghanaians?

The Ghana Police discharging their duty The Ghana Police discharging their duty

In the recent past, abuses of citizens by Ghana’s security agencies, particularly, the police, national security and the military have been disconcerting.

Among those that have attracted national attention include the storming of Citi Fm premises by the SWAT Team of National Intelligence Bureau (NIB, formerly BNI) to arrest a female journalist after they had arrested her male colleague earlier for an alleged illegal entry and subsequently subjecting him to abuse. There is also the incident of police illegally arresting FixtheCountry members in front of the High Court.

This was followed by police cum military intervention at the Ejura demonstration following the murder of Kaaka, where a soldier was seen aiming at demonstrators who were running away resulting in the loss of human lives and the establishment of a ministerial fact-finding committee.

The other was soldiers going on a rampage on the street of Wa and molesting innocent people just because one of them had lost his mobile.

In addition to the above, there were incidents of either the police, national security or the military firing guns in some areas during the 2020 parliamentary and presidential elections that also resulted in the loss of some innocent citizens. These are some of the incidents that have been reported by the media.

This article is a brief analysis of the security or insecurity Ghanaians are experiencing as a direct result of abuse by the securities agencies, the very institutions that are required to ensure and safeguard the security and peace of Ghanaians and foreigners within the territories of Ghana.

The questions I am sure Ghanaians want answers to are: why are such abuses on citizens by the security agencies under the constitutional dispensation of rule of law and not by the barrel of the gun as experienced under military dictatorships, especially under the AFRC and PNDC era relatively common these days?

Is it because Ghanaians are becoming more indisciplined, or asserting their fundamental human rights under the constitution? Is it because the security agencies have now become more gung ho or trigger happy? Or is it the usual Ghanaian mentality of, “I will show you where power lies”? Could it also be because the state is more willing to get the security agencies involved in dealing with dissent or civil disobedience?

Let’s briefly consider some of the unfortunate and tragic incidents. The first was the Citi Fm journalist who was arrested and molested by the NIB for an alleged illegal entry into a security zone. Despite the guy identifying himself as a journalist, the powers that be at NIB subjected him to abuses, including beatings.

I am not sure whether that was because those powers felt outsmarted by the journalist for securing entry into an area he should not have or simply because they felt he was up to mischief by making the government unpopular with his journalistic investigative work.

The NIB officers disregarded his rights under the constitution and subjected him to abuses. In fact, in some jurisdictions, NIB would have been more interested in how the journalist gained access into what is considered as a security zone and if his methodology was shrewd enough, BNI could have secretly engaged him as a part-time agent for the NIB since most people will consider him as a journalist first.

In other words, NIB would have regarded him as an asset that his skills could be tapped into in the interest of state security. Instead, he was shamefully and unlawfully subjected to flagrant abuse for conducting legitimate journalist duties.

What is sad, was the fact that the journalist was doing work of public interest. He wanted to find out what had happened to vehicles that had been purchased with taxpayers’ money in order to update a report on the same subject that he had done earlier. How this could be a crime or sin to be subjected to beatings by officials paid by the state with public funds is anyone’s guess?

Some will argue that NIB was right to punish him because he entered a security zone illegally. For those who make such an argument, be reminded that journalists can use any means necessary to acquire information that is of public interest. In other words, the end justifies the means.

Another worrying aspect of this unfortunate incident was that those involved were not sanctioned so there is no deterrent to such abuses of citizens by security agencies and therefore, it encourages officers of security agencies to take the law into their own hands and do as they wished since they would not be held accountable for their actions and omissions.

The most disturbing was the Ejura police and military intervention that led to the loss of lives from gunshots mostly likely from armed soldiers. It was chilling to see a soldier kneel down and aim at defenceless people running away for fear of their lives.

Even if the soldier did not fire any live bullets, the gesture of kneeling and aiming the gun at people was an unpardonable act of sin. Even under the laws of war or armed conflict, such behaviour is illegal and unacceptable under the Geneva Convention. In war and armed conflict, when combatants give up their arms and pose no threat to the opposing party, they cannot be shot at but only arrested.

When arrested, they must be treated with respect and dignity as humans and if wounded given treatment, transferred into custody and given further treatment.

What happened at Ejura was not war, neither was it armed conflict but civil disobedience and should have been dealt with by the police and not the military, let alone armed military. It was disappointing to hear a senior army officer appear before the ministerial fact-finding committee to claim that, those who lost their lives were not shot by the military but probably from amongst the demonstrators. That, the soldier has seen kneeling and aiming at the people did not fire. What was he doing, practising at a shooting range?

The Wa incident also beggars belief because, under the military rules of engagement, collective punishment is unlawful and illegal even during war and armed conflict. What evidence did the soldiers have to suggest that any of those they molested and abused stole the mobile phone? Was it not possible that the soldier might have misplaced his mobile phone?

What sort of indiscipline and lawlessness is within the military? Therefore, for soldiers who are not on any official assignment to act with impunity and punish innocent people is not only preposterous but also utter madness.

Why are such rampant abuses happening in Ghana? The common theme in all these abuses is the fact that the abusers know that, no one, not even the individual perpetrators of such heinous acts or their superiors under whose command and watch the criminal acts occurred will be held accountable by the state. Indeed, in the case of the NIB, the accountable officers were more or less rewarded for abusing the rights of a citizen.

No one knows what will happen to those who committed what could be murder in Ejura and we are told the soldiers who went on a spree in Wa dishing out instant punishment to innocent citizens have been sanctioned but the sanction administered to them has not been made public, except that the president has offered a public apology to the people of Wa.

In other words, the failure of the state to properly investigate such human rights abuses and criminal acts by the security agencies, identify the culprits and sanction them appropriately to serve as a deterrent to others, encourages this free all criminal acts by men and women in uniform. Therefore, it is becoming the order of the day rather than the exception.

There is some school of thought that the reasons why such perpetrators are not punished are, these criminals are perhaps doing the bidding of their political masters, therefore punishing them is tantamount to the politicians cutting their noses to spite their faces.

Another is that those who commit such acts are foot soldiers of political parties who are recruited into the security agencies to serve the interest of their party rather than the state. Therefore, their loyalty and allegiance are to their political party and not the state.

As a result, such men and women in arms see those who demonstrate against the government of their party as enemies of their party and therefore have no hesitation in punishing them including using firearms against them.

Whatever the reasons for these criminal acts, one thing is certain. It is dangerous and must be stopped by the government. This is because such criminal and unpunished acts make the government unpopular as well as causing insecurity in Ghana and disincentive to foreign investments.

The solutions are immediate and long term. First, the state must endeavour to investigate such criminal acts speedily and punish the perpetrators without fear or favour. The outcome of such investigations and any sanctions must be made public to build trust and confidence as well as to deter future incidents.

In the medium term, the recruitment and training of Ghana’s security agencies from the police to the army and NIB should be reformed to weed out political influence. In fact, recruitment should be on merit and in some cases such as NIB, only the “la crème la de crème” of Ghanaian society must be recruited as in other jurisdictions.

Ghana police must be properly trained and equipped to deal effectively with civil disobedience and demonstrators in a democratic society with the use of minimum force and avoid the use of arms, if possible. The military should not be involved in such matters but rather national emergencies such as natural disasters and COVID-19.

In the long-term, human rights and the 1992 Constitution must be part and parcel of the training of all those who bear arms. For the military, rudimentary training in the Law of Armed Conflict and the Use of Force must also be incorporated into their training. These measures, if introduced will stop such criminal abuses against innocent civilians and the needless loss of young lives in Ghana.

Last but not the least, the victims of such criminal acts must sue the state and the security agencies for compensation and in some cases make the individual perpetrators co-defendants in the suit. That is, citizens must begin to assert their constitutional rights through civil action in the courts.

The duties of the security agencies are first foremost, the protection of Ghana’s sovereignty and second, the peace and security of Ghanaian citizens and those who reside and visit Ghana rather than the security agencies becoming a threat to Ghanaian citizens as in the above incidents.