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Opinions of Saturday, 29 February 2020

Columnist: Paul Asare Ansah

We have come this far by faith, grace

The two tiny windows served as the only ventilation for the police cells The two tiny windows served as the only ventilation for the police cells

Yesterday I passed behind this building - the Greater Accra Regional Police Headquarters with some mixed feelings as I looked back at the sacrifices we made to return Ghana to democracy.

The two tiny windows served as the only ventilation for the police cells where I was kept with 9 others in 1988 as we fought the PNDC military government to return the country to democratic rule.

I was then the Coordinating Secretary of the National Union of Ghana Students and at the same time selling at the Tema Station second hand clothing market. That period was the peak of brutalities by the PNDC commandos who constantly came to the market to terrorize us. One day, I organised the traders to fight against the commandos for our freedom. I led a delegation of 5 traders to present a resolution to Accra Metropolitan Assembly to that effect. Typical of the culture of silence prevailing at the time, we were arrested by E. T. Mensah, the then Municipal Chief Executive (MCE) and sent to the police striking force unit where we were brutally beaten up (to the point that my right ear could not hear anything for almost one year) under the watch of Inspector Amamoo, Commander of the dreaded Striking Force and dumped in the cells. The filth and the stench in that cell can not be described. We met 25 inmates in the cell. I was made their new captain when they got to know what brought us to the cells. The traders waiting for us at the market had no idea about what had happened to us. I wrote a note and passed it through the tiny cell window to an "angel" passing by to be sent to the market chairman, Mr. Agyeman to show the necessary solidarity.

Mr. Agyeman immediately informed the NUGS leadership about my arrest. Within two hours the entire market men and women clothed in red together with students from Accra Poly, University of Professional Studies and University of Ghana landed at the Greater Accra Regional Police Headquarters in a fierce resistance to demand our release from detention. Five more traders were arrested and added to us in the cells but we were almost immediately processed for court on a charge of disturbing public peace on the orders of Cpt Kojo Tsikata, the PNDC Security Chief, I was later informed.

The Cocoa Affairs circuit court presided over by Justice Markwei then granted us bail. John Ndebugri who was then at the court offered to defend us free of charge.

After several months of trial we were acquitted and discharged in a landmark judgement that demystified the PNDC, broke the culture of silence and opened the doors for subsequent agitations that pushed the Rawlings military government to return Ghana to democracy. A portion of the judgement read:

"....we have been called to break the culture of silence, we have been called to defend our rights and we have been called to resist cheating. We should not expect anybody to come from somewhere to defend our rights.

The accused persons are law abiding citizens of Ghana who were acting in defence of their fundamental human rights....

Paul Asare Ansah and the other 9 accused persons are innocent before the law and I therefore declare them acquitted and discharged."

Justice Markwei. Energized by this judgement, the NUGS subsequently intensified the agitation in collaboration with other movements like Coordinating Committee of Democratic Forces led by Ex-President Kuffour and the Alliance For Change led by President Akufo Addo.

In 1991 when I was doing my second degree at the University of Ghana, we boycotted our membership of the Consultative Assembly together with the Ghana Bar Association in protest against the PNDC being the referee and the player of the democratic process.

Finally in 1992 Ghana became a republic in an election marred by irregularities leading to a boycott of the parliamentary elections by the NPP. In 1993 when I became the NUGS President my objective was to ensure that Ghana had a genuine democracy in which every citizen could pursue his or her aspiration in freedom and justice. We were hopeful that our new democracy would attract leaders who would see leadership as an opportunity to transform their communities and not a chance to transform themselves. Though there is more room for improvement in our practice of democracy as a country, I can look back and say that our sacrifices and toils have not been in vain.

Paul Asare Ansah is the NPP Parliamentary Candidate for Asuogyaman Constituency and Technical Advisor to the Ministry of Transport. He is also the immediate past Director General of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority.