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Opinions of Monday, 3 August 2015

Columnist: Asubonteng, Bernard

Is this Democracy? May God, Allah…Have Mercy on Ghana!

By – Bernard Asubonteng

Admittedly, Ghana’s democratic trajectory is relatively “smooth-sailing” compared to countries such as Burundi, Cameroun, DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and a host of others spread across the continent. If we were to operationalize democratic progress in terms of the standards of the prevailing political systems in the foregoing nation-states, then Ghana is an “advanced” democracy, hands down! But time-tested democratic governance is not defined and measured along the referenced mediocre benchmarks, which unfortunately seem to have become an inherent part of Africa political narrative. Representative democracy is not predicated on the mere presence of the executive, legislature, and judiciary branches; nor does it blossom with regard to freedom of expression including the press, that is constantly under threat of libelous lawsuits and parliamentary ego-trip inquisitions. This is to say authentic democracy does not reside on the fringes of abstract theories; it thrives buoyantly on pragmatism and selfless trade-offs.

There is a consensus of opinion among a sizable number of political experts that legitimate democracy cannot progress and endure without the establishment of unshakeable institutional support systems such as efficient and well-paid law enforcement agencies, including state prosecutors; professional bureaucrats “blind” to the government in power; independent court system whose supreme interest is equality and the due process of the law. The latter observation strongly encapsulates the age-old democratic axiom that no citizen in a country, including the president, is above the law. Shall we also add that under democratic rule, even if a case involves the head of state on one hand, and an ordinary citizen on the other, the due process and equal application of the law must be allowed to run their full course.

The preceding point brings us to the latest media reports of an alleged assassination plot, on President John Mahama, by one Charles Antwi. The attempted murder suspect (hastily convicted), based on numerous media accounts, was “unusually nervous” sitting in the church where the Ghanaian president and his family worship many times a year. Whatever actually motivated the hastily convicted man (Charles Antwi) to carry firearm unlawfully on his person, let alone sat in wait at that sanctuary for his alleged target (President Mahama?), was not only repugnant but also it was senseless overture by a demented person. It must be emphasized that in democracy, the right way to get rid of an incompetent president and other elected public officials is through the ballot box and not via any violent means.

In fact, our focus here is not on Mr. Antwi’s guilt or innocence; rather, it centers on the shabbily legal process by which the allegedly confessed attempted killer was convicted barely two weeks after his arrest. Regardless of a victim’s high-profile status or the severity of a case, under democratic rule, a suspect is not found guilty and sentenced quickly within few days after capture by a one-person judge acting as jury-cum-psychiatric expert. Thus, it is depressing and a mockery of democratic justice to hear an Accra Circuit Court judge, Mr. Francis Obiri, constructing a flawed argument that somehow it is legally right to rule out the suspect’s mental unsoundness on the basis of his so-called “sane” demeanors during the court proceedings.

Lest we forget, where did Judge Francis Obiri receive his psychiatry expertise or clinical psychology degree from? What kind of medical advice helped the judge to reach the firm conclusion from his judgment desk that Mr. Charles Antwi was mentally fit or unfit to stand trial? Some of us are just curious to know. Watching and listening to many of these Ghanaian policymakers and shapers pronouncements—judges included—they make one wonders if many of these people sincerely care about Ghana’s political future progress. One notable fact about democratic governance is irrefutable: Since, fundamentally, it’s based on the rule of law as opposed to the rule of one person, the system strongly needs impartial interpretation of the law to make it function efficiently. This assumes that the judges operating in modern-day democracy cannot be the minions of the ruling government or anyone else, period!

Democratic rule is not perfect, but it really is a fortification against something worst—tyrannical rule. As many political intellectuals contend, democracy is a “messy” proposition, because policy decisions or laws are made through complicated, snail-paced process, coupled with fiercely divergent debates molded by constitutional constraints. Unlike ideology that is commonplace in one-party rule, democratic system is relatively complex and tedious. As a result, any well-trained and impartial judge tasked to interpret the law needs to be more circumspect and ethical than he or she is expected under dictatorial rule.

Again, it is shameful and a travesty of justice for a judge, in a country that has Supreme Court with bold inscriptions on its building: “MARTYRS OF THE RULE OF LAW,” to hastily hand down a10-year prison sentence for a suspect who has no access to a lawyer as well as any reliable medical evaluation. Clearly, Justice Obiri’s ruling on Tuesday July 28, 2015, regarding the 36 years old Charles Antwi, flies in the face of equal application of the law and the due process—the two indispensable building blocks for democratic advancement. In that regard, it keeps many well-meaning Ghanaians thinking: Is this democracy? If this is the general belief then may God, Allah…have mercy on the motherland because Ghana has a long, long way to go!

The author is based in the United States. He teaches political science, Critical Thinking and media influences on American culture at the university level. He can be reached at: asubonteng@globalpulpit.com .