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Opinions of Monday, 27 September 2021

Columnist: Kofi Ata

Are President Akufo-Addo and Ex-President Mahama encouraging lawlessness in Ghana?

According to media reports, Rev Owusu-Bempah the founder and leader of Glorious World Ministries, and his junior pastors allegedly stormed the house of one Nana Agradaa to beat her up. A video of them brandishing a gun, threatening to kill Agradaa, and boasted that they could kill her, and no police or soldier could arrest them had gone viral on social media.

As a result, the PRO of the Film Producers Association of Ghana (FIPAG), called on the acting IGP, Dr. Akuffo Dampare to arrest Owusu-Bempah and his associates (see, “Arrest Owusu-Bempah and his militant junior pastors – FIPAG tells IGP”, Ghanaweb, September 12, 2021).

The next day, it was reported that Owusu-Bempa and his associate had been arrested by the police (see, “Owusu-Bempa arrested for storming Agradaa’s home with guns”, Ghanaweb, September 13, 2021). This article is a discussion on subsequent events following the arrest and the problem of indiscipline and lawlessness in Ghana.

First, it was disappointing that the Ghana Police did not arrest Owusu-Bempah soon after the threatening video became public knowledge until after FIPAG PRO called on the acting IGP to arrest him, though it was possible the police were unaware of the video until the call for the arrest was made.

It was disappointing because, no one, not even the president of the republic is above the law and to storm someone’s house and threaten to beat her alone is enough for an arrest of threatening behaviour, let alone brandishing guns, threaten to kill her and boast of no police or soldier arresting you for murder.

This man was not only showing utter contempt for the laws of Ghana but also total disrespect for the law enforcement agencies. It was therefore pleasing to read that he had been arrested by the police.

However, what followed after the arrest is something that should disturb every Ghanaian citizen, residents, and visitors to Ghana. I was scandalized to read that Owusu-Bempah after he was granted bail, boasting of how president Nana Akufo-Addo, ex-president Mahama with leading members of NPP and NDC commiserated with him when he was under arrest.

According to Owusu-Bempah, president Akufo-Addo sent the Deputy Chief of Staff to visit him in hospital, ex-president Mahama and his wife also sent a delegation to visit him, the NDC National Communication Officer, Sammy Gyamfi did check on him and leading NPP figures, including the General Secretary, John Boadu, the Director-General of the National Lottery Authority, Sammy Awuku and Assin Central MP, Kennedy Agyapong all showed concern for him. What were these politicians thinking and what do they think they are doing?

What is also shocking to me as an “Odehyie Run Away” observing from afar is that none of the above-named politicians has denied Owusu-Bempah’s claims. I am not saying that it was wrong for them to show concern for someone who was ill but being aware of the reason for his arrest, was it proper and right for such prominent politicians to do so when gun crime in the country is on the increase? In my view, they were wrong to do so.

I say so from my experience working in an advisory capacity for police forces in England over the last two decades. I was involved in the delivery of Race/Community Relations and Diversity training for criminal justice agencies in England (the Police, Crown Prosecution Service, Prisons, Probation, and the Court Service).

I have advised senior police officers on Equality, Diversity, and Human Rights and am currently a member of Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s Stop and Search Community Scrutiny Panel and Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Hertfordshire Constabularies’ Professional Standards Scrutiny Panel.

In the developed democracies, where law and order are respected and no one is above the law, when a prominent, rich and powerful person is arrested for an alleged serious offense, politicians will disassociate themselves from him or her until the case is dealt with.

For example, when Prince Andrew was alleged to have had sex with an American woman, a teenager at the time against her will, he withdrew from all official engagements until the case was over; that is a senior member of the British Monarchy and son of the Queen. Today, no politician would like to be seen or associated with him.

Yet, in Ghana, despite Owusu Bempah threatening to kill a citizen and boasting that nothing will happen to him, prominent politicians from both NPP and NDC including the president of the republic and the ex-president are commiserating with him when arrested by the police? What a country?

By showing solidarity with Owusu Bempah, they are indirectly telling the rest of the country that the rich, powerful, and politically connected will be protected by the establishment.

In fact, they have given tacit approval for his criminal actions because they are telling Owusu Bempah that he is above the law. The most chilling effect of their actions will be on police morale and their ability to fight crime and wrongdoing in society effectively.

By their actions, they are also indirectly interfering with the judiciary, which is unconstitutional. Owusu Bempah is not stupid and he is using his connection with senior politicians to seek favour in the court by publicly making it known the names of powerful politicians who have sympathized with him.

He is directly telling the judge on his case that, even the president and ex-president sent emissaries to visit me in hospital so you cannot touch me.

This is important in a country where politicians decide the fate of judges when it comes to their promotion. Again, it is politicians who decide which cases to prosecute or not to prosecute, delay and frustrate within the court system.

I do hope that the Attorney General will not file a nolle prosequi to discontinue prosecution. That will be dangerous and a slap in the face of the police in general but particularly the new acting IGP.

They should remember that an investigative journalist was threatened and murdered, and no one has been held accountable for that heinous crime. Is it surprising that last week there were two armed robberies in broad daylight, with armed criminals openly operating as if they are above the law?

The problem of development in Ghana and for that matter the developing world is not lacking resources and corruption as most people believe. For the past decade, I have been saying that the greatest threat to Ghana’s development, reducing poverty, and creating jobs for the youth is not corruption but the absence of effective enforcement and compliance of law and order.

The presence of indiscipline and near lawlessness in a country where some people are above the law, act with impunity is a disaster waiting to happen.

The inability or unwillingness of the state to enforce the laws, rules, and regulations without fear or favour, irrespective of one’s political, social, economic, religious, ethnic, gender race, or age, and the citizen's inability or unwillingness to comply with same are the root causes of corruption underdevelopment and extreme poverty in Ghana.

Corruption is only a symptom of the root causes. When the laws, rules, and regulations are enforced and complied with to the letter, corruption will reduce drastically because the perpetrators will know that they will be caught and punished accordingly.

The fight against indiscipline and lawlessness has failed because there is a system of justice that considers rich, powerful, and politically connected as being above the law and as long as some people can get away with anything because they are above the law, corruption will increase and no amount of special agencies created to fight corruption such as Office Economic and Organised Crime or Office Special Prosecutor will succeed in fighting corruption and the police will fail in fighting crime.

In fact, if law enforcement and compliance are effective, the Office of Special Prosecutor would not be needed to fight corruption. The resources for that outfit could be better put to use by the police to fight crime and corruption.

Ineffective law enforcement benefits the rich, powerful, and politically connected more than the poor. It also enables these same rich, powerful, and politically connected to steal and plunder the resources of the state to their advantage and at the expense of the law-abiding, the weak, and the poor who are less connected, and that is why politicians interfere with the work of the police.

That way, the politicians have a leeway to continue to be above the law and abuse their positions to enrich themselves.

It is my view that the new acting IGP has started on a positive note but as usual, his political masters have begun to undermine his efforts even before any results. In the developed democracies, politicians do not get involved with the operational work of the police.

Politicians make the policy in accordance with the laws, rules, and regulations and leave the enforcement and compliance to law enforcement officers. For example, in the UK, senior police officers do not take instructions from politicians on who to arrest, charge and prosecute.

These are matters for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. The police, therefore, are free to arrest whoever breaks the laws, rules, and regulations, investigate and charge them without fear or favour and irrespective of one’s political, economic, social, ethnic, national, religious, gender, age, or marital status.

In fact, a junior police officer can arrest a senior police officer or politician for breaking the law and it does happen. For example, a Cambridgeshire traffic police officer arrested the then Cambridgeshire Chief Constable for driving above the speed limit and the Chief Constable had to resign his post.

This was the head of the police force in Cambridgeshire, yet he was arrested by a junior police officer for breaking the law. Had this happened in Ghana, the police officer would have been transferred or dismissed.

Again, Mr. Jack Straw as Home Secretary was arrested by traffic police for speeding in his ministerial Jaguar in July 2000. This was the minister responsible for law and order and the police in the UK. His ministerial position did not matter, neither did his reason for speeding (that he was late for an appointment), and he was prosecuted but admitted the offense so did not have to go to court, was fined, and given points on his license.

Just imagine a police officer in Ghana stopping the Interior Minister for speeding. Who born dog? Hell would break loose in Ghana. The minister would have asked the officer who had the audacity to stop the minister, “do you know I am?

On my last two visits to Ghana in January and December 2019, I was more than convinced that until Ghana gets law and order enforcement and compliance right, no amount of oil, gold, diamond, natural gas, cocoa, bauxite, and timber extracted and exported as well as foreign loans will bring the required development to reduce poverty.

We travelled to Western, Central, and Eastern regions and I could not believe the lawlessness on the roads by drivers. Vehicles had broken down on the roads due to extreme overloading, yet the police allowed them to ply the roads. Those driving expensive four-wheel cars were above the law and could do whatever they wished on the roads.

In fact, we drove to Kotoka International Airport in one of such cars and as we were just about to enter the airport, there was a road leading to the VIP section of the airport. I was shocked that as soon as the security saw our car they opened the road for us without finding out who we were.

Later my host who owned the vehicle and was driving explained to me that the car was the type ministers and politicians drive so they assumed he was a minister. In the days of terrorism if security officials could be that careless, then Ghana could be in trouble.

In conclusion, no nation has developed in the midst of indiscipline and lawlessness and if Ghana and Ghanaians want real development and growth in peace and security, then law and order must be a top priority.

The key to development is strict enforcement and compliance with the laws, rules, and regulations without fear and favour.

Corruption is not the cause of poverty and lack of development but rather a symptom of the failure to enforce and comply with the laws, rules, and regulations. The fight against corruption should be abandoned and replaced with war on indiscipline and lawlessness through strict law and order enforcement and compliance led by the police.

That could only be achieved if the police are free to do their work without political interference. I am therefore pleading with president Nana Akufo-Addo and his party and ex-president Mahama and his party to stop interfering in the work of the police and instead give their full support to the new acting IGP to enforce law and order to the letter, without fear of favour and irrespective of one’s political, social economic, ethnic, religious, age, gender.

Your actions in the Owusu Bempah case were wrong and you should in the future desist from it. For the Attorney General, please do not file nolle prosequi because it would send the wrong signal that one could break the law and get away with it if you are politically connected to the ruling party.