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Opinions of Thursday, 30 May 2013

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Omare Wadie Should Never have been Arrested

: Shut it Down Pres Mahama!!

I know and understand that Ghana's democracy is embryonic at best. I am also keenly aware that Ghana's mainstream culture does not tolerate nor can withstand the concept of freedom of speech. My aforementioned indictment of Ghana's culture is a tortured effort to say that freedom of speech is a concept that will take time to gain a foothold in Ghana. We've had some form of it from time to time but our free speech journey, in earnest, just started. Ours is a culture where kids are kept our of conversations and the youth cannot express themselves before their elders. Our trudge to building and sustaining a political culture that tolerates offensive speech, will be a hard, long and a tiring one. Regardless, I am here today, to say, that, Omare Wadie should never have been arrested. No sir!!

The NDC government must be very careful in exercising state power. A government cannot occupy itself with every frivolity outlawed or not outlawed by our executive friendly constitution. Not a long ago, a picture surfaced on the internet showing Akufo Addo, fondling the breast of an alleged newscaster. With juvenile glee, the detractors of Nana Addo, including the NDC faithful, enjoyed his slow public roast, while the NDC apparatchik log rolled NDC's political agenda along, spritely. Nothing was done by the NDC government officials to curb the abuse and undeserving ridicule that Nana Addo endured during the heavily contested election. Till this day, there has been no authentication of Nana Addo's guilt. I am not sure if Nana Addo denied his guilt or not. Yes, Nana is or was not the president but he deserves the same protections, as a citizen and flagbearer of the opposition party in Ghana. Indeed, Kufour, was subject to many defaming exposures and offensive speech. Actually and ironically, almost every Ghanaian head of state has endured some level of offensive speech. This includes the tyrants and democrats alike.

Today, we witness the use of the BNI to arrest an individual who is not proven guilty. He was detained for 48hrs and exposed to incessant mosquito bites. In the first place, why should we waste state resources on such frivolity? Is president Mahama and the BNI paying attention to the democracies we are trying to emulate? Have they noticed the offensive portrayal President Obama deals with on a daily basis? Does the BNI remember when people were shouting "kill him" (President Obama) at a Sarah Palin rally? Did they notice the ridicule that George Bush dealt with? Did they notice the abuse that President Clinton endured? Yes, a case can be made that Ghana is not America. Fine! However, in any true democracy, people are free to express themselves in ways that may be offensive to others but does not constitute an illegality necessarily. But even if Wadie committed an offense, this is one of those things that the president should have instructed the authorities to leave it alone. We are moving forward and must continue to tolerate freedom of speech. It is one of the very true hallmarks of any legitimate democracy.

Gone are the days when news houses were shit bombed and in laws were given crew cuts on the whims of the president. We must develop thick skin for free speech. The government may have legal basis for the arrest but it must exercise discretion. After all, discretion is the better part of valor. There will always be a few who may straddle the line when it comes to free speech. This, however, should not be a caveat to flex state muscle on rather inconsequential stuff. If the president is having sex so what? The BNI must surely have better things to do than engage in such frivolity. Go to Kumasi and help stem the tide of the senseless murders we are experiencing over there. In a country where resources are so scarce and needs are sky high, I really find it irresponsible on the part of the BNI to arrest Wadie.

It will be my wish that the president call off the BNI. Discontinue the investigation and free Omare Wadie. Arresting people like Omare gives them undue attention. It also pushes other copy cats outside the reach of the government to do same. In addition, it shows that the government has lost focus on the most pressing issues facing the country. Lastly, it shows an aggressive government willing to hunt down its enemies, if and when cued by the least provocation. The NDC must not operate by its reputation for bullying. Frankly, this is one test that NDC has failed miserably. Given the past of its founders, the NDC could have used this incident to showcase its new found taste for high level democracy. Of course, it may not be unusual that a few zealot BNI officials did this to earn the good graces of their bosses. Perhaps its a cool off from the Supreme Court heat. Whatever it is, we must move on and strife to defend the rights of people we may dislike or outright disagree with. Enough!

Let me end by asking all involved to exercise restraint. Yes, we must stand for Wadie's right to free speech, even if he did it. However, this should not be another reason to engage in violence and mayhem. Hopefully, the president will do the right thing and call off the BNI officials. Some sort of amicable solution that allows all to save face will be in order. Can we all get along? Viva Ghana!!

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman (Affectionately dubbed the double edge sword and recently tagged as Santrofi Anomaa) The writer can be reached at Akyere@aol.com

I don't give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it'is hell---Harry Truman

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