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Opinions of Saturday, 30 April 2005

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

No Counsel, No Prosecution, No Conviction ? You MUST ACQUIT !!!

At the time of this writing (April 24, 2005), Ghana?s Daily Graphic had reported the dragging inability of Mr. Aryee Ayeetey, alias Ataa Ayi, the country?s most notorious and elusive armed robber during the course of the last six years, to secure the basic services of a defense, or trial, attorney. The story piqued my interest, if only because it highlighted the stark contrast between the judicial culture here in the United States and that of Ghana, my proverbial Motherland. In America, you would have had tens of hundreds of trial lawyers crawling over one another to land the uncomfortably high-profile job of representing the ?greatest? armed robber in the country?s recent history. And these attorneys would have scrambled to represent Nii Ataa Ayi, if nothing at all, primarily because it is by defending such uncommonly notorious personalities that niches are carved and with it enviable professional success stories are composed.

But, of course, Ghana being what it is, in terms of our highly moralistic culture, almost no reputable attorney appears to be interested in putting his or her hard-earned credentials on the line, as it were. And here again, the studious watcher of the American legal scene cannot help but be reminded of the countless high-end attorneys who have made untold fortunes by defending professional criminals of the Mafia type and caliber. And as a result of the preceding, some of us have even wondered whether there already isn?t a sub-specialty of legal training at our leading universities and colleges earmarked for prospective attorneys who intend to devote most of their careers defending the so-called Crime Families and Syndicates. And in a country suffering a woeful shortage of professionals, such as Ghana, at virtually all levels of endeavor, one would that the likes of Ataa Ayi readily make for a salutary expansion of the legal practice.

Alas, there appears to be one anomaly which is militating against the eagerness of trial attorneys in taking on the, admittedly, yeoman?s task of defending the Ataa Ayi Corporation. And the fact that the equally criminal likes of Messrs. Kwame Peprah and Victor Selormey (May His Soul Rest In Peace) were able to readily retain the services of defense counsel makes for quite an interesting study. The reason, of course, is not far-fetched. The case of the latter group had to do with something called ?white-collar crime,? whereas the former, or the Ataa Ayi brand, is regarded as the veritably traditional type of crime. It is a lower-class crime, and in Ghana, as also in most parts of the world, lower-class (call it ?Blue-Collar?) crime invariably fails to attract the kind of curious publicity that ?Executive Crime? often attracts. And, needless to say, the latter is intrinsically more fascinating because it concerns the rich and powerful. And it is because of the presence of the twin elements of ?wealth? and ?power? that makes it often almost impossible for the lame-minded, or lame-brained, to fully appreciate its equal seriousness vis-?-vis the Ataa Ayi brand. Consequently, in the wake of the death of former Deputy Finance Minister of the kleptocratic NDC regime Mr. Victor Selormey, rather than envisage the man for what he was ? or had made of his otherwise rare and great fortune ? some NDC sympathizers wrote and published reams of impudent and patently cynical tirades blaming the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) government for facilitating the rapid physiological degeneration and ultimate demise of Mr. Selormey. And yet, unlike the pioneering Dr. J. B. Danquah, who was systematically assassinated by protracted incarceration without the civilized and moral benefit of a judicial trial, Mr. Selormey was actually arraigned before a legitimate court of law and duly convicted for deliberately undermining the country?s economic development.

Another, perhaps more salient, reason may be that Ghanaian attorneys are deathly afraid of representing Ataa Ayi because most of their countrymen and women have yet to clinically appreciate the fundamental fact that in a constitutional democracy, such as Ghana?s, even the most villainous among us ? and, of course, you know who I am talking about ? has a right to a fair trial. It is part of the global human rights convention. The apparent lack of such understanding is highly likely to prejudice the general public against any attorney who is courageous enough to step forward and attempt to counsel Nii Ataa Ayi and his corporation of big-time armed robbers. And, needless to say, any attorney who is professionally na?ve enough to attempt to defend Ataa Ayi and Co. is almost certain to render her- or himself unemployable for years, if not generations, to come.

Still, in view of the incontrovertible fact that we live in a constitutional democracy, however fragile this may be, it behooves the government to promptly educate the members of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), and the public at large, that accepting the basic premise that even an insufferable villain like Ataa Ayi deserves legal representation, however porous or ineffectual, is an inextricable part of a constitutional democracy. Else, we shall soon find ourselves back to the apocalyptic days of the so-called AFRC/(P)NDC days when kangaroo courts, officially sanctioned by Flt.-Lt. Jeremiah John Rawlings and Company, meted the most brutal and often counter-productive forms of justice.

That the government of the so-called National Democratic Congress (NDC) woefully failed the Ghanaian people, for the twenty years that the (P)NDC savagely held onto power, is one reason why it took the Kufuor administration six long years to apprehend Nii Ataa Ayi and his rag-tag band of pathological criminals. And one would not be surprised if it should turn out that Ataa Ayi, indeed, voted for Mr. Rawlings and his posse of equally lawless and inexorably corrupt and faithful thuggocrats.

In the absence of any eager or willing attorneys to represent Ataa Ayi and his cronies, may it be humbly suggested that the government step in to facilitate the immediate establishment of a Legal Aid Society in order to ensure that democratic law and order prevail in the country. And here, it bears emphasizing that the trial of Ataa Ayi for quality-of-life crimes ? and perhaps, even a murder or two ? is also a momentous test of the viability, or otherwise, of Ghanaian democracy. The Daily Graphic also reported that the suspected armed robbers were questioned by the trial judge, Justice P. Baffoe-Bonnie as to whether the relatives of these suspects had attempted to engage the services of counsel for them. In reality, what ought to have happened is for the court to have accorded legal representation to the suspects shortly after they had been arrested and prior to their arraignment. It might, perhaps, not have been of the best caliber, but at least it would have satisfied the basic minimum of judicial protocol in a constitutional democracy. As it stands, it is almost as if the entire country has pre-determined the guilt, or culpability, of Ataa Ayi and his comrades-in-crime; and this is going to make the outcome of the trial seem rather bizarre and quite difficult for the proverbial Civilized World to accept. And needless to say, with the brazen likes of former president Jeremiah (Jerry) John Rawlings leading parades of demonstrators and maniacally chanting the name of Ataa Ayi, and even egregiously identifying the latter with substantive Ghanaian premier John Agyekum-Kufuor, it is highly doubtful that were he to be accorded a jury trial ? as opposed to a bench trial ? Ataa Ayi would even be guaranteed the minimum semblance of justice. Not that the preceding would matter, anyhow. For in Ghana, traditionally, public opinion seems to be far more significant than the substance of forensic evidence. At least Mr. Rawlings taught Ghanaians this much during the two decades that he held us by the throat.

Needless to say, his access to counsel would have significantly boosted the image and appearance which Ataa Ayi would have initially, and subsequently, presented to the court. This is what is called the humanization of the criminal suspect; and it would have positively mitigated an otherwise highly emotional and volatile public opinion. And this could have benefited both the court and the Ghanaian society at large, thereby enhancing the credibility of our legal system.

Furthermore, his bloody appearance, depicted by widely publicized photographs, at the moment of his recent arrest, palpably indicates that the suspect must have been tortured or manhandled. And this, of course, is quite troubling, particularly because almost none of the reports disseminated by the media speaks of Mr. Aryee Ayeetey having resisted his arrest. If so, then the entire report regarding Ataa Ayi?s ?confession to interrogators that he was behind the August 8, 2004 attack on [some] guests of former president Jeremiah John Rawlings? (see Ghanaweb.com 3/22/05), may be aptly held suspect. And to what extent has this apparently extorted confession anything to do with the former president?s vehement and maniacal chants of ?Ataa Ayi Nie?? during the recent demonstrations in Accra against, allegedly, the government?s sharp increase in the prices of petroleum products?

One is also a bit heartened to learn of Ataa Ayi and his gang having robbed three Nigerian friends of Mr. Rawlings?, for it appears that these men ? Messrs. Noluka Onum, Enyie Odigbo and Ibrahim Claud ? were in the country, at the height of the 2004 electioneering campaign, to bankroll the National Democratic Congress (NDC). For the trio, who were reported to have been riding in a Land Cruiser, Ghana?s SUV of choice, and carrying hundreds of thousands of millions of currency notes in Cedis and Naira, had just returned from a cameral ? or private ? conference with then-NDC flag-bearer Professional Evans Atta-Mills, in Wa, Upper West, according to Mr. Kofi Boakye, the Accra Regional Police Commander (see Ghanaweb.com 3/22/05). The trio was also alleged to have been carrying at least one pistol. And here, again, it may be apt to ask: Just what were these three Nigerians doing on the streets of Accra toting a pistol? And: Did they have a license to carry such weapon in Ghana? Needless to say, it would be quite interesting, in the days ahead, how these crucial questions get resolved during the course of the Ataa Ayi trial.

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of ATUMPAN: DRUM-TALK (iUniverse.com, 2004), a volume of neo-traditional Ghanaian poetry.

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