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Opinions of Thursday, 14 February 2008

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

Minister of State at the Interior is Out of Order!

The case has garnered banner headlines for sometime now; perhaps a year now. We are, of course, talking about the case of the two British teenage girls who were reportedly caught with six kilograms of an illegal substance at Ghana’s Kotoka International Airport (KIA). The illegal substance turned out to be cocaine, a drug that has been wreaking untold havoc on the otherwise staid and placid Ghanaian culture in recent years.

And on the latter score must also be remarked the fact that until Flt.-Lt. Jeremiah John Rawlings burst onto the Ghanaian political landscape with his high-minded, albeit decidedly vacuous, rhetoric about probity and accountability in public and moral conduct, the widespread culture of illegal drugs currently raging across the country did not exist. And here, also, must be highlighted the grim fact that Flt.-Lt. Rawlings was the first Ghanaian leader to freely and cavalierly chain-smoke on national television.

Interestingly, Mr. Rawlings has, himself, admitted that while he has chain-smoked tobacco in the form of cigarettes, the founding-proprietor of the so-called National Democratic Congress (NDC) has never smoked such upgrade substances as “Weed” (or Indian Hemp), otherwise known as Mary Jane or Marijuana, the Spanish nominal equivalent of the former. One thing, however, can hardly be gainsaid: and it is that the former chairman of the so-called Provisional National Defense Council’s public smoking during the course of his twenty-year-rule in Ghana did not set a good example for our youth. Couple the preceding with the widely known fact that young people who smoke “Weed” and cocaine and/or crack invariably began the practice, and habit, with a puff, or toke, of a cigarette, and the striking picture that emerges requires no expert interpretation. In sum, it is not far-fetched for anyone to suggest that if, indeed, he had not initiated the current wave of illicit drug use, at least Mr. Rawlings, by the very fact of his egregious public behavior has, almost incontrovertibly, contributed to youthful drug-abuse in no small way.

Then also, it is hardly surprising that in recent times, big-time drug barons and cartel-runners who came under our national-security radar, have been fully confirmed to have had intimate working relationships with staunch and prominent members of the so-called Provisional National Democratic Congress (P/NDC), which dominated the Ghanaian political landscape for nearly a generation, the longest and most checkered tenure in the 50-year history of postcolonial Ghana. In this article, however, we are primarily concerned with some remarks attributed to Nana Obiri-Boahene, Minister of State at the Ministry of the Interior, whatever the meaning of such Byzantine cabinet, or sub-cabinet, designation. In a Ghana News Agency (GNA) news item that was published in the edition of January 30, 2008, the former New Patriotic Party (NPP) regional chairman for Brong-Ahafo, reportedly claimed that the imposition of a one-year sentence, severally, on the British teenage girls arrested at the Kotoka International Airport by a legitimate court of law is “rather too lenient, even though the court acted within the confines of the law.”

On the preceding score, perhaps, somebody needs to point out to Nana Obiri-Boahene that under our current democratic dispensation, the Fourth-Republican Constitution clearly stipulates the salutary non-interference in judicial affairs by members of the executive branch of government. What the latter means is that if the Deputy, or Assistant, Interior Minister – or whatever the meaning of his job description – felt so strongly about the one-year prison sentence handed the two British, teenage cocaine couriers, the most appropriate forum for the minister to have channeled his grievance for redress ought to have been at a cabinet meeting, culminating in, perhaps, the submission of a bill to Parliament seeking legislative approval of a revision of the guidelines of the law by which the presiding judge issued his/her sentencing order.

As it stands, Nana Obiri-Boahene appears to be second-guessing the presiding judge or impugning his/her professional conduct, even though, oxymoronically, the ministerial critic also claims to fully appreciate the fact that the court and/or the presiding judge had acted within the legitimate confines of the law. Needless to say, it is this kind of executive kibitzing, or flagrant interference, that partly precipitated the Mafia-style execution of the three Ghanaian high-court judges, namely, Justices Koranteng-Addow, Agyepong and Sarkodie by executive operatives of Mr. Rawlings’s government.

On a more humane and constructive note must be recognized the fact that in all probability, the presiding judge(s) took into significant account the age of the convicts, particularly their chances for promptly mending their antisocial ways and thus retooling themselves as more productive members of society. In sum, what Nana Obiri-Boahene needs to appreciate is the fact that punitive judicial measures are both deterrent and redemptive. In other words, it is the primary objective of the courts to both protect society against the pathologically and tangentially antisocial, as well as redeem the convict from the unproductive pursuit of self-destruction.

Ultimately, the law is not the personal instrument of any individual citizen, irrespective of status. In sum, the law is a dispassionate, or impartial, instrument for the collective protection of society. It is therefore insufferably presumptuous for any individual member of society to pretend as if the law ought to hermetically meet his/her personal standard of what approximates fair sentencing.

Of course, as adumbrated above, ours is a fallible human society with well-intentioned albeit ineluctably imperfect institutions. And the sooner we come to grips with this elementary reality, the better we stand to be properly served.

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English and Journalism at Nassau community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of “Sounds of Sirens: Essays in African Politics and Culture” (, 2004). E-mail:

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