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Opinions of Friday, 20 March 2009

Columnist: Mensah, Opanin Kwabena

Where is GNAT?

Ghanaweb (March 15, 2009) carried a news item credited to the Ghanaian Times that a teacher, Kwabena Gyan, of Oda Nkwanta Local Authority Primary ‘B’ School had been charged with provisional murder for allegedly administering two strokes of the cane on a 14 year-old pupil who died later in the day. The teacher was said to have punished the pupil, Victoria Ampofo, and others for coming late to school. Chief Inspector Osei Kwadwo, the prosecutor, told the court that Gyan gave each of the pupils two lashes on their buttocks and thereafter instructed them to pick leaves littered around the school compound. Later, the girl became unconscious and fell down while getting out of her desk in the classroom. She was rushed to the Oda Government Hospital where she was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. Some of the teachers and relatives wept and had to be helped out of the courtroom, while others wiped their faces with handkerchiefs when Gyan was remanded in police custody for felony. The trial judge, Albert Owusu Annor, adjourned the case to allow the police to complete investigations into the circumstances that led to the death of the pupil. It is unfortunate that a young Ghanaian life was lost on that day. I could imagine the grief of the deceased family when they heard that their daughter had lost her life while in school. No parent would like to go through this. To add insults to their injury they were informed that their daughters expiration might be related to a physical action by a teacher in the form of a corporal punishment for being late to school. I would not be surprised if on hearing this some family members called for the blood of this teacher. Fortunately, the law had been allowed to take its course. I sympathize with the deceased family and wish them God’s guidance to deal with this untimely loss.

It is not my intention here to discuss the merits of the case since I am not a lawyer and moreover it is before the courts. My concern is the conspicuous absence of a lawyer to defend Kwabena Gyan at the preliminary hearing for provisional murder leading to his incarceration. Kwabena Gyan as a teacher, belongs to a trade union, Ghana National Association of Teachers, (GNAT) Even if he is not a member, this is a case that affects almost all Ghanaian teachers and thus needed the attention of GNAT. Kwabena Gyan, in performing his duties as a teacher on duty had the misfortune of being connected with an incident that had been linked to the death of a pupil in his school. In the process the state, represented by the Police, sought and got the court to remand him in protective custody. GNAT could not get a lawyer to represent him at the court?

There is nothing in the report indicating that GNAT-hired lawyer was at the court to and sought bail for Kwabena Gyan. This is a complete let down by GNAT and shows lack of concern, poor judgment and outright discrimination on grounds that he is a poor village teacher who has no social/political connection to influence the leaders of GNAT to come to his aide. He had not got the resources to hire a lawyer to defend him as can be seen on his first appearance before a judge. This was where his relationship to his professional organization was much more than needed but because he has no money and teaches in a village nobody cared about him. It is believed that if Kwabena Gyan had a competent legal representation at the preliminary hearing he would not be in jail. He could be bailed at least on grounds that he is not a flight risk. Nobody is calling for demonstrations, boycott of classes or press statements. All that is required of GNAT is the acquisition of the services of experienced lawyer(s) to defend Kwabena Gyan for him to know that he belongs to a respectable organization.

GNAT is one of the most respected trade unions in Ghana. It had fought vigorously over the years for the plight of its members. However, if after all its achievements it cannot come out in aid of a poor village teacher, Kwabena Gyan, who has been criminally accused in the course of his duties, then all that GNAT has achieved and stands for is meaningless. GNAT should stand behind Kwabena Gyan with all resources at its disposal.

Where is GNAT? Teacher Kwabena Gyan needs you!