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Opinions of Thursday, 21 February 2013

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Lessons from the Tragic Death of Alhaji Issah Mobila

I read with horror, the low sentences meted out to the individuals that callously killed Alhaji Issah Mobila. Finally, the semblance of justice! Alhaji Issah Mobila was callously murdered on the 17th of December, 2004. What lessons can we glean from this ordeal? Below, I share my thoughts on the ordeal.

Quite frankly, I am shocked that it has taken this long to bring these criminals to justice. Who was the Attorney General in charge when this murder occurred and what did he do to expedite the investigation and trial of Alhaji Mobila’s murderers? Was it Nana Addo? A high profile murder case involving a political figure, especially one outside the ruling party, must be handled with all the sensitivity it deserves. The first lesson from Alhaji Mobila death is that our justice system is way too slow. It should not take over eight or more years to prosecute a case of this nature. Justice delayed is often justice denied. There is no justifiable reason for us to continue this slow march to justice. Revamp the judicial system now!

Apparently, there was a report that Alhaji Mobila was fomenting unrest by using and stockpiling arms in the local area. As good policing requires, he was picked up for questioning. Based on the reaction of his followers, the police feared for their lives and passed him on to the notorious army brats. The question for me is why should the police, out of fear, pass him on to the army? Is the police not equipped to handle investigations and enforce the law? In any democracy, the police is in charge of law enforcement. The army’s job is to defend the country from external forces not to enforce laws within the country. Who then, authorized the police officer in charge, to hand Alhaji Issah Mobila to the army? What was the logic behind his rendition to the army? Did the police officer that handed him over to the army break the law?

I believe the person that authorized the transfer must be held responsible for the murder of Alhaji Mobila. The soldier who took custody of Alhaji Mobila should also be held responsible for his death. With what authority did he accept a civilian into his custody? My friends, until we draw a clear line between the police and army, more Mobila-like deaths await. We are in a democracy and must behave as such. Law enforcement and defense must be separated at all cost.

I can safely infer from the transfer of Alhaji Mobila from the police to the army, that, the police force is ill equipped and badly trained in Ghana. The police force must not ordinarily play second fiddle to the army when it comes to law enforcement. If a situation requires the use of the army, a public announcement must be made and clear guidelines issued. This way, the soldiers are kept in check. Ghana must make the transition from a military rule mindset to a democracy.

For as long as I can remember, our police force continues to retard and maintain colonial status quo. The force is known for its bribe collecting prowess more than its professionalism. Often under resourced, it continues to perform abysmally. A lot of the mob justice that we witness in Ghana, results from bad and corrupt policing. The people have no confidence in the police. The time to modernize the force is now. We must not only give them the tools, but train them to use the tools to serve the people. We cannot develop without a well oiled law enforcement unit. The rule of law is just as critical to our economic development, as it is to justice in the land.

Who was the army officer that took custody of Alhaji Mobila and what orders did he give to the rank and file? Why is the receiving officer walking free? Did the rank and file act on their own? If they did, what does that say about our army? Is this not one more reason why we should not ask trained killers to enforce our laws? It appears as if in Ghana, the higher up you are in office, the less you are required to operate under the law. Other than that, why are we witnessing the prosecution of only rank and file soldiers in this terrible ordeal? More needs to be done to raise societal role awareness among the top brass in the army and police. The army top brass needs to be aware that they are not law enforcers. They must resist the temptation to join the fray, even if invited by the police. And if they ignore the rules and jump into law enforcement head first, they must be punished severely to serve as deterrent. Our democracy will not gain steam, if we continue to allow the army to engage in law enforcement.

The judicial system in Ghana needs to come under serious review. I am blown away by the fact that someone can be sent to jail for 5yrs for stealing a finger of plantain, yet a murder turned manslaughter attracts only 10 years? Our sentencing guidelines seem to be gravely misaligned with the offences. This case, in my humble opinion, should have been a murder case. The officer who gave the torture orders, if an officer did, should be charged with murder. If the rank and file acted on their own, they must be charged with first degree murder. The police officer who handed Alhaji Mobila to the army should also be charged with accessory to a murder. Any higher ups that influenced handing Alhaji Mobila over to the police should be held responsible. All these individuals should be doing stiff jail terms. We must not toy with those who take the laws into their icy hands. More so, when their acts, leads to the death of honest civilians who happen to be key opposition political leaders. If we don't speak up now, it will be our turn next time.

I believe the NPP erred grievously by treating this case with indifference. Even CPP leaders have been too accommodating on this issue. What was the motivation to not expedite investigations and prosecution of this murder? Here you have the NPP party that touts the rule of law but when given an opportunity to live it’s espoused mantra, it defaults big time. If the NPP had no dog in this fight, and there is no evidence it did, why was it derelict in its duty? Is this not one more high profile case that could have given the NPP some credibility? The NPP did not show leadership in this case. I hope that the current president will take note and act decisively if such should occur under his watch. Hopefully, this will serve as lesson learned for the current president.

In the meantime, the president can help by drawing clearly and unequivocally, a stiff wedge between law enforcement and defense. He can also resource and provide training to the police force. Lastly, he can begin to revamp the judiciary and promote the rule of law by being a model citizen. Hopefully, the IGP and Army commander will take it upon themselves to inform their personnel about their rightful roles in a democracy. The citizens of Ghana must continue to remain vigilant and fight for the rights of innocent citizens. Democracy is a process and not an end in itself. The fight for freedom and rule of law has to be persistent and continuous.

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman (Affectionately dubbed the double edge sword) I don’t give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it is hell---Harry Truman