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Opinions of Friday, 28 August 2015

Columnist: Jasmine Arku

Two curious cases, Charles Antwi and Seth Ofosu

It is highly gratifying that the Attorney-General has filed a notice of appeal at the Accra High Court to challenge the conviction and sentencing of Charles Antwi, the self-confessed would-be assassin of President John Mahama. Hopefully, we will see a similar humane approach also in the case of Seth Kwesi Ofosu, the man reportedly arrested for causing the June 3 fire disaster in Accra.

The state is seeking a relief from the High Court to set aside the July 28 ruling against Antwi by the Accra Circuit Court, presided over by Mr Justice Francis Obiri, according to the August 21 issue of the Daily Graphic.

Furthermore, the acting Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mrs Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, who filed the notice of appeal in court on August 20, prayed the Accra High Court to also order a re-trial of Antwi.

The DPP stated that Antwi’s sentence and conviction were wrong in law. “The judge should have observed and had reason to believe from the composure, demeanour and utterances of the accused person, who was unrepresented (by counsel), that he was of unsound mind and incapable of making a defence.

“And thus the court should have caused him to be medically examined.”

The High Court, with Mr Justice Abdulai Iddrisu presiding, asked the AG to submit her address by September 3 for the appeal to be heard.

Antwi was found guilty of possessing firearms without lawful authority and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by the Accra Circuit Court on his first appearance before the court.

According to reports, Antwi, from Dadiesoaba, Brong-Ahafo, said he had gone to the Ringway Estate Assemblies of God Church, in Accra, where the President worships, with the intention to kill him and become President. On July 26, Antwi’s fidgeting caught the attention of a member of the congregation who alerted the security. When he was searched, a locally made pistol and two rounds of ammunition were found on him and he was arrested.

The paper noted that a human rights lawyer, Francis Xavier Sosu, had also filed a certiorari on behalf of Antwi, praying the (Human Rights) High Court to quash the charges and all the proceedings of the criminal charges against Antwi as well as his conviction and sentence.

Mr Sosu’s writ argued, among other things, that: “the failure of the circuit court to afford the applicant the opportunity to have psychiatric evaluation before taking the plea constitutes a fundamental breach of the rules of fairness in dealing with a person with mental disorder.” The court is to give its ruling on Monday.

Of course the Antwi and Ofosu cases have nothing in common. However, I have taken the liberty of linking their circumstances because of the extraordinary nature of the cases which have generated much public attention and concern.

A compelling article by the Chief Psychiatrist of the Ministry of Health, Dr Akwasi Osei, in the Graphic of August 4, explained: “There are precedents in history .... Daniel McNaughton attempted to assassinate Sir Robert Peel, a British Prime Minister in 1843.

“McNaughton was arrested and found to be mentally ill on psychiatric assessment. He was pronounced ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ and was committed to the asylum for treatment ... Charles Antwi is our version of Daniel McNaughton.”

Dr Osei concluded: “... The public should now understand that one could be mentally ill and yet behave ‘normally’ most times. We need to begin to give the necessary attention to mental health issues. Charles is a wake-up call.”

In the June 3 disaster case, the Ghanaian Times of August 10 reported that the Justice Duose Committee named Seth Kwesi Ofosu as the person suspected to have caused the fire at the Goil filling station at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, in Accra, when he allegedly “dropped a lit cigarette on the floating fuel which caused the fire”. Casualties of the fire included more than 150 deaths, with many others suffering injuries.

The investigative committee, chaired by a retired Appeals Court Judge, Justice Isaac Delali Duose, “established that the disaster (occurred) as a result of the displacement of fuel at the Goil station.” Its report was presented to Interior Minister Mr Mark Woyongo on August 7, the Times reported.

My question is, if the committee found that the disaster happened because of fuel displacement, why then is the cause of the fuel displacement not an issue, as seems to be implied?

It is also my understanding that some knowledgeable sources have challenged strongly the conclusion that a cigarette butt could cause such an inferno as happened on June 3. I’m told that a host of Adom FM was given that information by a listener who phoned into his programme. The host reported later that he had conducted an experiment that confirmed the truth of the listener’s assertion.

Maybe the Justice Duose Committee should also conduct its own experiment, if it has not done so already, and make public its findings.

Speaking as a layperson, I would have thought that wherever the fuel was being kept was supposed to be watertight. How then did the fuel leak out? Was nobody responsible for securing the fuel storage tank cover/s?

To my admittedly uninformed mind, if there had been no fuel in the flood water, what would have been the effect of dropping a lighted cigarette into the water? Isn’t it water that is normally used to put out fire?

Another puzzle is that according to reports even people sheltering from the rain and flood waters at a distance were set ablaze when the fuel in the water caught fire, so if it was Ofosu’s alleged action that caused the fire, why wasn’t he, too, instantly engulfed by the flames?

It would also be interesting to find out how Ofosu was identified weeks after all the turbulence at the Goil station and its vicinity while the tragedy was unfolding.

Again, it would also be educative to know the reason the fuel escaped from its storage and leaked into the flood water, making it highly flammable, and why that was evidently not seen as an issue.

My questions may be naive, but probably I’m not the only one seeking some answers!