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Opinions of Saturday, 24 August 2013

Columnist: Amuna, Paul

Understanding and Exercising our “Rights and Freedoms”

: We need some perspective

Dr Paul Amuna

A lot has been said, written and argued about our rights, freedoms and how we are being ‘allowed’ or ‘suppressed’ from expressing them. At the beginning of the year during the vetting process prior to Mrs Oye Lithur’s confirmation as minister for Children, Families and Social Welfare, there were those who fought tooth and nail at all levels in the hope of ‘barring’ her from the appointment or somehow ‘persuading’ the president to withdraw her nomination. Some even offered veiled and fruitless threats. All because as a human rights activist, she has been known to be a strong defender of the “rights” of others, including “gay rights” which though nebulous an expression to me, is nonetheless understood to mean the “rights to equal treatment” for “same-sex” individuals and relationships.

I took the view that the call for Oye Lithur to be withdrawn from consideration for a role she has subsequently been playing was unfair in as much as she was not being appointed because of, or for her to come to defend “gays” or their “rights” any more than she is being appointed more importantly, to lead an administrative department (the ministry) in promoting and fostering the cause of children, families and ‘social protection’ for the vulnerable in our society. Whether she is doing her job well or not is probably too early to say but one thing’s for sure, to all her critics, it appears any “championing of gay rights” has so far failed to materialise.

Be that as it may, the focus of this piece is to highlight the issue of how we understand our “rights and freedoms” and how we express them. To my mind, although those opposing the appointment of Oye Lithur were within their rights and were quite right to express themselves, it was important that her “right to be appointed” in her role based on her undoubted track record in that sphere of endeavour was not hurt, and that she was given her opportunity to serve her country and “We the People”. Similarly, a lot has been made recently of another minister, Ms Victoria Hammah who has come under severe criticism and vilification in some quarters including the media, for simply daring to be honest and tell the truth about the goings-on in politics and how common it is for “We the People” (or some of us perhaps in more privileged positions) to seek to “influence politicians” to “do things for us” including attempts at bribery and corruption. She was further lambasted for claiming (quite rightly in my view) that her official speech which she had personally edited and made some inputs into (quite refreshing for a government minister), had been changed or doctored and she wanted the whole world to know she was NOT reading what had been put before her (either by design, simple mischief or mistake). Again, she was within her “Rights” and I supported her whole heartedly to the extent that one commentator suggested I might be “working for her”. In the latter case, I am mightily pleased to hear the president come out to state categorically how much “women’s groups” had “failed” these female politicians for refusing to come out in their support when they were being attacked unfairly in my considered opinion.


A lot has also been made of the “rights” and “wrongs” of the supreme court justices’ ‘crack of the whip’ after some politicians, their surrogates and media apparatchiks crossed the “red line” they had drawn regarding our public utterances, discourse and ‘attack’ of the august court in the course of their performance of duties to the State in the case of Akufo Addo et al.; v. The president, Electoral Commission (and the NDC as an appendage). Once again I have applauded and sought to defend the actions of the supreme justices which I believe are within their “rights” as provided by the constitution of Ghana. Trained lawyers (including academics of professorial standing) have argued both ways and cannot agree on the ‘legality’ let alone ‘appropriateness’ of the actions and sentences imposed by the court. Some have even sought to suggest that these actions are wrong, and that they are due to ‘misapplication’ of the rule of contempt. One even suggested that the law on contempt wasn’t clear enough and should be “more clearly defined”. The law indeed is an ass and it’s funny how we view “rights and freedoms” and interpret the law to suit our own interests.

What gives me the right to insult others who have no means of responding, or castigating, falsely accusing, insinuating or seeking to create a false impression among “We the People” about a judicial process and the ‘actors’ in that theatre just for political expedience. We are now all “praying” and “begging” for there to be peace. Clearly the peace of our nation means so much to us. That being the case, did we realise that we were “abusing our own rights and freedoms” including the peace that we continue to take so much for granted simply because we allowed ourselves to be consumed by our politics and entrenched positions to the extent that we could even defend the very actions aimed at disturbing our peace in the name of “our rights and freedoms”? The ones I blame the most are the very intellectuals who know how to interpret the law in their favour and who therefore take an entrenched position and would argue and defend it ‘with bow and arrows’ till thy kingdom come.

In a small but post-modern industrialised and high-tech but religiously strict country like Singapore who until recently enjoyed the highest Gross Domestic product (GDP) with enviable income per head in the world, spitting in public is PROHIBITED and the law on spitting includes a fine, public lashing (yes, please call Oye Lithur) even imprisonment (I guess for repeat offenders). Compared to the vitriolic, crass and daft utterances spewed out of their mouths (accompanied by foul spit) by our Ghanaian culprits who have been sanctioned by the supreme court, SPITTING you would have thought is nothing to write home about. In Singapore, it does matter and any visitor to that country knows full well they cannot ‘break’ the law. An American recalcitrant teenage school boy on holiday there who sprayed graffiti on cars was sentenced to 50 lashes and locked up and it took ‘pleadings’ from then president Clinton and payment of a hefty fine for his release.

Just as “one man’s meat is another man’s Lopez”, in the same way the “freedoms” we take for granted and abuse everyday do not come cheap in other jurisdictions. Even in America where I guess a lot of the ‘nay sayers’ do gooders ‘and so-called legal luminaries posing as constitutional experts are ‘hiding’, “freedoms” have their limits. That ours has become a ‘permissive society’ allowing us to ignore a lot of things which hitherto were offensive, even abominable e.g. sexual immorality does not make it right. In the US evangelical churches (and I guess in Ghana too), fornication is abominable, wrong and unacceptable yet who really cares? In Tunisia, ‘consorting with a girl who is not married to you is punishable as a crime of “immorality” including public lashing and imprisonment. So, where are those shouting about rights? Why don’t you do something? Remember Paul’s saying to the Corinthians: “All things are “lawful” but not all things are expedient”. In other words, know who you are and operate with commonsense and a sense of decency with a desire to please just one person – your maker. In the process, you will be doing humanity a great service.

Folks, let’s be sensible, reasonable and above all civil in all our dealings, and then we shall begin to enjoy our rights shall we? Oh by the way, you can be critical, even take a stance on the issues in court. That is within your right and is certainly not contemptuous as long as you do not insult anybody, or incite others to cause havoc in our otherwise peaceful and stable society.