Feature Article of Friday, 25 July 2008

Columnist: Kombat, Kpamka Elijah

While the judiciary & intellectuals have siesta ....


One ought not to wash one’s dirty linen in public but what alternative has man when you have to shout for help? Where have all the government white papers gone? Has the judiciary a siesta? Is Bunkpurugu/Yunyoo becoming a household word for the wrong reasons? In this write-up I intend to limit myself to the Bunkpurugu/Yunyoo District. The district is the same as the Bunkpurugu/Yunyoo constituency. What I have written here you are free to disagree with me and can dismiss my postulations, discard them, add to them or modify them. What is important is that it generates awareness and debate.

Introduction In the 1970s when there was rarely any TV set in most parts of the country we were still pleased with the radio set. One of the most listened-in-to radio programmes was the “what-do you-know?” radio quiz programme where contestants answered questions ranging “from archaeology to zoology”. During one of the programmes contestants were asked “where in Africa do we have the Bimobas?” and their answers ranged from Uganda to Congo. None of the contestants knew where the Bimobas were found.

Even today most Ghanaians do not know who the Bimobas are. The few who might have heard about them probably do not know where they live in the Northern Region. And even very few would care to know that the only Independent MP in parliament today Hon. J.Y. Labik represents the Bunkpurugu/Yunyo Constituency. But many would probably know that the young district is notoriously carving a bad image for itself.

Since the Limann regime (1979-81) the spiral of the infamous "Northern conflicts" has been a public issue. It reached its climax in the Dagomba-Komkomba war in the early part of 1994. This war was extensively covered by both the local and international mass media.

The Bunkpurugu/Yunyoo district “announced” its membership in the conflicts in 1985 at the Bimbagu market when Bimobas and Kombas (a section of Konkombas) clashed. This conflict was dubbed the “Mango war” by the Ghanaian media. Since then there have been several interethnic and intra-ethnic clashes in the area. It is not uncommon to hear that during such clashes all kinds of barbaric deeds take place, including widespread killings and immeasurable burning of houses. The common denominator of the conflicts in the Bunkpurugu/Yunyoo district has been acts of arson, causing damage to or destruction of real or personal property. As determined by experts, arson is usually believed to be deliberately setting of a fire. Professional arson studies have likened arson to terrorism. On the other hand psychiatrists have also concluded that arsonists are a mixture of property offenders and violent offenders who have no obvious reason either than revenge with underlying anger.

Causes The reasons for these conflicts cannot be summarised in one cause, they are varied. They have mostly revolved around chieftaincy, land ownership and acceptance and self-respect. Most of them could easily be resolved at the chief’s house or even round a pot of pito without the intervention of the village chief. Regrettably traditional authority has been shown to be a phenomenon of yesteryear. The power and authority of traditional rulers who enforced local rules and regulations on most issues in the past have been reduced by modernisation. For example the problems in Sayegu (in May 2008) and Bokperik (in 1999) could have been avoided if the traditional authority in Nakpanduri had influence. Nobody heeded the ruling of the chief. In a press release in Accra as reported on Ghanaweb of Sunday 2nd December 2007 titled “Bimoba Chief to hand over warmongers to the Police” Alhaji Abuba Nasenmong, Chief of Bunkpurugu “vowed to hand over people fanning ethnic and chieftaincy conflicts in the area to the security agencies.” This declaration was made a week after 455 houses were reported to have been razed to the ground in Jimbale. There have been two other clashes in the area after the chief’s pronouncement but we are yet to see anybody being handed over to the security agencies. Even if handed over what next?

Role of Government

What has been the role of the government in resolving these recurring clashes? People have blamed the Kuffour government but the problem was there before Kuffour came to power. Like its predecessors K4’s govt is applying the same formula; send in security forces, calm the situation and sweep it under the carpet. Where are the government white papers? Research social scientists are yearning for them. A government white paper goes beyond mere beliefs. It sets specific goals and shows directions as to how to achieve those goals. In spite of these numerous conflicts I dare challenge authorities to show me a government white paper on any of the cases. When the PNDC government considered bushfires as a threat it promulgated an anti-bushfire law (PNDC Law 46) in 1983. Among others it was charged with ensuring that government is informed and advised on all matters relating to prevention, control and fighting of bushfires; monitoring the activities and operations of regional, district, town and village Anti-Bushfire committees.” The Ghana National Fire Service mounted educational programmes to educate the public on the ramifications of the ecological destruction. Harsh penalties were recommended for people who abused fire prevention and control laws. It makes little sense why government cannot repeat this wisdom in these ethnic conflicts. This is another demonstration of the lack of zeal and commitment on the part of government The Regional and district security councils are dysfunctional since they have predictably demonstrated that their sole obligation is to send in security forces to calm situations. Where are the education and law enforcement components? There have been several media reports of opinion leaders organising to smoke the peace pipe especially between the Bimobas and the Konkombas. This laudable approach seems to lack some ingredients principal among which is involving many more players than the same nuclear people. I stand to be corrected but this lack of exhaustive consultation with other players before they rush to smoke the pipe is a top-bottom approach. Involving many more negotiators is broad-based and inclusive. In conflict resolution it takes courage to look at your own role in the dispute. It also takes courage to approach others with a sense of empathy, openness and respect for their perspective. Local Politicians

Politically there have been 3 different MPs since the Limann’s regime (1979-81). These problems have been recurring but none of them put in place any initiative let alone a proactive one purported to bring about a lasting solution. I honestly believe that if an MP’s put in place a proactive forum of chiefs, elites and the youth that met on a regular basis to dialogue and seek solutions to common problems including peaceful coexistence, this could go a long way to establishing lasting peace and development for the area. This missing module is part of our culture of not seeking long term plans. Ad hoc solutions do not bring about lasting solutions.

Given the multi-ethnic composition of the district, political office seekers must desist from using “divide and conquer” tactics among the ethnic groups to gain votes. Some of the latest conflicts in Jimbale have been rumoured to have political underpinnings. DCEs and MPs must see their responsibilities to the district as working towards the same goals of peace, harmony and development, instead of individual interests and self-aggrandisement. The electorate should develop extra political sensory abilities to sniff out those politicians who do not serve their interests and reject them accordingly.

Intellectuals and Development One tends to wonder where the intellectual component has gone in this hullabaloo. The district has a reasonable number of people holding university degrees or equivalent and post-secondary qualifications. The greater number of this set lives in Ghana. There is also a good number in the Diaspora. Despite the almost exponential growth in the number of literates in the area our level of functional understanding of the ethnic crises and how they fit into the purpose of education is horrendous. Not even the accessibility to the internet has helped the cause. A mention of the topic for discussion looks like a taboo. Most of us know that at an annual congress of the Bimoba Students Union in Nakpanduri a worker with the UN disclosed that no candidate in Bunkpurugu Sec/Technical passed in all 8 subjects in both 2005 and 2006. At the same time we also know that the district received a budgetary allocation of ¢82 million (old cedis) for 2004 and ¢312.5million for 2005. Most of the money, as the politicians want us to believe was spent on peace keeping. And can we blame them? To quote a frustrated Nabila who wrote on the Dagbon problem “Are we a bunch of educated fools or are we a generation of uncivilized intellectuals?” James Brown once said "you gotta use what you got to get what you want", so why don’t we use our education to solve our own social problems? Some of the intellectuals in the area have specialized in identifying problems and making speeches lazed with colourful English, without any concrete suggestions for solving the problems or willingness to contribute to such solutions. If the district was created as part of the government’s efforts to decentralize governance and we look on unconcerned while these conflicts rage on we cannot blame central government for neglect. Peace and development of the area will always remain elusive if a quarter century down the road we still think that it is the responsibility of central government to develop the area. For development, growth and good results from our schools we must show concern. If we want injustice, corruption and violence to end and property be respected and money be invested instead of embezzled we should demonstrate that we care and hold officials responsible for the duties they are paid to discharge. Development of the district will remain elusive until the residents and intellectuals see it as their responsibility and are willing to put their money where their mouths are. No development occurs by accident.

Mental health

As authorities turn a blind eye and deaf ears to these conflicts the consequent derivative has been devastating. Look at the mental health of the youth and the rise in armed robbery. Mr John Biaka-Feigben, Branch Chairman of Bunkpurugu Union of the Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU) called on the security services to intensify their night patrols along the Kintampo-Tamale and Walewale-Gambaga-Bunkpurugu highways which had recorded serious robbery cases in recent times (See Ghanaweb 2/11/06 Armed robbers on our highways). On 29th October 2007 Ghanaweb carried an article where armed robbers had “killed a soldier and wounded two other soldiers who chanced upon them as they were robbing some traders at Nakpanduri Hill, in the Bunkpurugu/Yunyoo District of the Northern Region.”

Psychiatric studies have established a relationship between arsonists and violent offenders and terrorists. In a country where there is no official psychological debriefing for people who experience traumatic events it is natural that the product will be disturbing. The number of armed robbery in this area is not a coincidence. Market traders can no longer travel in peace. The drastic decline in the number of traders and frequency of travelling to their once popular markets atTechiman and Tamale are indicators. The victims have been mostly women. This is taking away their only source of livelihood. Recently a motorbike rider was shot by armed robbers in Nakpanduri and robbed of a new Ghana Education Service motor bike. Fortunately this motorbike was impounded at Dormaa-Ahenkro (BA) on the Ghana-Ivory Coast border, thanks to the good judgement of a teacher in the town. The robbers and accomplices were going to sell it in the Ivory Coast. Any press house can check this story with the Tamale Police.

The Judiciary

The judicial system on its part has shirked its responsibility. When the Northern Regional Minister Alhaji Mustapha Ali Idris, on Monday, 23rd June (according to GNA, 26th June) “stressed the need for more courts to be established in the region to facilitate adjudication of numerous cases pending before the few courts” the undersigned hopes it was not for petty stealing as has been shown to be the norm but for cases of magnanimous proportions which wind back the clock of development of the region. The judicial arm has demonstrated to be rewarding litigators and notorious perpetrators of everything that is wrong with the law. Over twenty-three years of the ethnic conflicts, arson and terrorism no one has been put before the courts, tried and found guilty. At least setting fire to another person’s home and or property is a criminal act and encroaches on fundamental human rights. In some civil societies we have seen children as young as 12 charged “with eight counts of arson, each a first-degree felony punishable by five to 99 years or life in prison”. The administration of justice is essential to the full realisation of human rights. It is also indispensable to the processes of democracy and sustainable development. But neither the PNP, PNDC, NDC nor the NPP has measured up. And as Naba Asigri Abugrago Azoka Paramount Chief of the Bawku Traditional Area, said “unless the Government came out to clearly state its stand on the conflict and resolved it, it would continue to resurface” (Ghanaweb, 9th May 2008). Eric K. Bottah once wrote, “Let's face it I am just plain frustrated with our politicians. They all sing from the same hymn book.” Conclusion The district is not known because we exercised our civic rights with our minds instead of our stomachs. The district is not known because the media called it “an orphaned district” or “a state within a state”. The district is slowly but surely becoming notorious for bad character. And regrettably all characters that matter in the equation have and/or are adopting the “Let’s leave it to God” attitude. What should we expect when a state does not provide an effective framework of remedies to redress human rights grievances or violations? Lawlessness. I simply wonder how long we can live like this.