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Opinions of Saturday, 17 August 2013

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Justice Atuguba’s Sermon, Did Politicians Hear him?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

History is yet to be made on August 29 but Wednesday August 14, 2013 will go down in Ghanaian political history as the day the ordinary people found a voice in the highest court of the land. The nine Supreme Court Justices hearing the presidential petition turned the last of the hearing into a powerful sermon to tell the ruling elite and the powerful political class, what they do not want to hear or what they know but pretend not to know. In this article, I want to discuss some matters that were raised in court, particularly, the culture of silence and the failure or unwillingness of, especially, leaders of the two leading political parties to condemn and sanction wrong doing by their leading members.

I was dumbfounded watching proceedings, the sermon by the Presiding Justice, contributions from the other Justices and the display of court room excellence by counsel Ayikoi-Otoo. There is no doubt that the Justices could not have got a better spokesperson and Mr Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie could not have had a better Attorney. Indeed, Justice Atuguba did not only speak for the nine Justices but perhaps, expressed the views of the totality of the Supreme Court, senior judges of the Judiciary as well as the whole nation. The beauty of it all was that, the Justices were magnanimous and tempered justice with mercy by restraining themselves from passing custodial sentences on the accused.

When we read the media headlines, including mine above, one would assume wrongly that, this was a decision of only the Presiding Justice. No, that is far from the truth. For those who may not be privy to how a panel of judges work, they meet almost daily (sometimes before and after each hearing) to discuss their work. As we saw throughout the hearing, sometimes, they go into chambers to debate and reach their decisions but when the decisions are made, it is the task of the presiding Justice to speak for all of them. What he says might have been agreed with his colleagues in advance, though not the exact choice of words or tone of delivery. Her Ladyship, the Chief Justice could not have chosen a better presiding Justice and if he was chosen by his colleagues, it was a job well done. It would not be an understatement to say, they reserved the best for the last one day of hearing. I hope judgment day will surpass all.

Justice Doste remarked that, he felt sad as a Ghana when none of the leadership of NPP condemned what Sir John was found guilty of saying. That is something which beats my own imagination as far as NDC and NPP are concerned. No matter what their leadership and members do, say or do not, be party leader, chairman, secretary, MP, communication team or ordinary members, more often than not, there is not only absolute silence from the leadership but also tacit approval and public support to the extent glorifying such acts and omissions that are condemnable and abominable.

Let me give a few examples. When the National Chairman of the NDC, Dr Kwabena Adjei said, if the Chief Justice would not clean the Judiciary, they will do it for her and that there are many ways of killing a cat, no one from NDC condemned his ignorance and stupidity. Instead, some sought to justify such abhorrent, criminal, unconstitutional and perhaps, treasonable statement. What shocked me most was when a journalist asked the then President, the late Atta-Mills about this irresponsible statement, rather than the President condemning his party Chairman, as coward that he was, the former Law professor got angry and asked if he looked like a cat killer. Again, when Nii Lante, a presidential staffer at the time prevented Ghanaian citizens of voting age and of sound mind with non-Ga names from registering to vote in their constituency, which he was contesting as an MP, that criminal act was not condemned by his party leadership. I can give many examples by NDC leadership and members including the various name calling and unsubstantiated but very damaging allegations against individuals and their opponents, especially Nana Akufo-Addo.

NPP is no better if not worst. Who condemned Nana Akufo-Addo’s “all die be die”? Instead, various explanations and interpretations were given and some even printed it as slogan on t-shirts and claimed it would be a campaign message. Was NPP not forced to reluctantly issue a statement not condemning but distancing the party from Kennedy Agyapong’s incitement to ethnic hatred? Not only that, but he was given a hero’s welcome when he was released from custody by being showered with talcum powder. Again, yesterday, despite what happened at the Supreme Court, Sir John was given the same hero’s welcome by the party faithful at the party headquarters. What a nation and people are we?

In any true democratic society, Dr Kwabena Adjei would have resigned or sacked for his “there are many ways of killing a cat statement” in reference to interference with the independence of the Judiciary by the Executive. Nii Lante would have been sacked, arrested, prosecuted and jailed if found guilty and would never have become a law maker, let alone a deputy minister. Equally, Nana Akufo-Addo would have been chastised by his party and forced to offer a public apology or even compelled to step down as presidential candidate, if it was not too late. Kennedy Agaypong would have resigned as MP or recalled by his constituency and Sir John would have resigned or dismissed as General Secretary of NPP. It’s a national disgrace that these men still hold positions of trust in the country.

Sadly, anything and everything goes in Ghana whether under democracy or dictatorship. Resignation and dismissal for wrong doing are not part of the culture of the Ghanaian in position of trust and authority. The society is equally guilty for not being able to demand that such recalcitrant, criminal and persona non grata cannot continue to be in positions of trust and authority in state and non state organs and institutions. I accept that Nana Akufo-Addo is a shrewd politician but perhaps, he got carried away by the spirit realm on the campaign trail as counsel Ayikoi-Otoo revealed yesterday. However, I find it difficult to place Sir John and the others. I am not sure whether they are mavericks, a novices or simply mediocres.

Until yesterday when Ayikoi-Otoo made a political confession, I never knew that Ghanaian politicians can be possessed by the spirit realm. It is no surprise that men of God have been predicting dooms day in Ghana if prayers were not offered before the final verdict of the Supreme Court. So why can’t these men of God exorcise the bad spirit from the politicians? Is that not a sign of their ineffectiveness since some of them are in bed with these politicians? Is that a testimony that they are false prophets? The gospel fact is that, politicians are not possessed by any bad spirit but some are bad individuals. This was just an excuse cleverly manufactured by an excellent counsel in the heat of the moment to save his clients from going down on the sword of justice and I admire him for his ingenuity.

That brings me to the next subject of interest during the hearing. After counsel Ayikoi-Otoo’s par excellence performance and pure display of innovation, I asked myself, why did he not lead the petitioners’ legal team or was not even on the team? Is Ghana, the Attorney General’s Department or any state organ or institution tapping into his expertise? Or is the winner takes all party political making such use of human talent impossible? The man was brilliant and knew what to do at each moment, time and at whatever was thrown at him. When legal authority failed, he abandoned law and used common sense approach. He even had the audacity to bring his birthday in and demanded (not ask or plead for) a birthday present from the Justices. He is got balls to be humorous in the midst of fire and brimstone. What an attorney? It’s unfortunate that even within the NPP family, his talents and expertise are underutilised (see “Use me more – Ayikoi Otoo tells NPP”, Ghanaweb, August 15, 2013).

In a recent telephone discussion with my good friend, Prof Asare on development challenges facing Ghana, we both agreed that the biggest enemy to progress in Ghana is the failure or the unwillingness to enforce rules, regulations and laws in our motherland. Most people think it’s corruption. I disagree with such people. Unless Ghanaians, the leaders through state and non state organs and institutions begin to enforce the numerous rules, regulations and laws, every effort at development and the fight against corruption, poverty, ignorance, disease and want will fail miserably. Indiscipline and total disregard for law and order within Ghanaian society are the root causes of corruption, low productivity, death on the roads, lack of infrastructure development and the many associated negatives.

If I was asked to prescribe one single medicine to cure Ghana’s multitude of illnesses, I have only one medication. I will ask the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary to stop making new rules, regulations and laws and instead, enforce the existing ones to the letter just for one year. That MUST be done within the confines of democratic principles of rule of law and no brutal force should be used by state and not state actors such as the police. Within one year, Ghana will have more than enough resources to pay teachers, doctors, civil servants; build more and better schools, hospitals, roads in addition to sufficient and regular supply of energy and water. Ghana will not be going out with a begging bowl to donation nations for alms but become self-sufficient in many areas if not a donor herself. After one year, the prescription could be evaluated and reviewed as to whether it should be continued or discontinued for not achieving its objectives. President, Mahama I challenge you and your government to experiment with my medicine for only six months.

The difference between the developed world and the developing world is not only the willingness but the ability to enforce rules, regulations and laws better than developing and poor countries such as Ghana. If the rules, regulations and laws are enforced the citizenry will respect them and pay their taxes, officials will not take bribes and those who fail to pay their taxes as well as take bribes would be sanctioned. Ghana would not have mediocres, criminals and imbeciles running the affairs of the state because they will be in jail and sanity will prevail. We will not be crying for peace or entertain fears for post petition verdict.

The Supreme Court Justices spoke yesterday, but are the politicians listening? Perhaps, they are as it was reported that NPP privately reprimanded Sir John for his wayward actions (see “Sir John was reprimanded privately – NPP” Ghanaweb August 15, 2013). That is not enough and it must be done publicly and with sanctions such as being asked to resign or dismissed when persuasion fails and the same should apply to NDC. President Mahama should lead by example and compel his ministers and appointees to resign or sack them when they do the unacceptable. As the Justices said, politicians are not above the law and I hope they learn lessons from what happened at the Supreme Court yesterday. Will they?

Kofi Ata, Cambridge