Feature Article of Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Columnist: Muqthar, Mutaru Mumuni

Policing for Peaceful Elections in Ghana

The Police put themselves in harm’s way everyday to protect us. They risk their lives, family and friends ostensibly in the interest of the security of all of us. But there are no enough good things said about them, and there are reasons for that.
Ghana is about eight months to general elections. There will be towering expectations within the country and from the outside world given the country’s electoral trajectory. It takes, and will take all – the police, civilian society, state institutions and politicians – to ensure effective security and a peaceful electoral process. But that responsibility rests heavily on government and politicians for whom elections are apparently a ‘life and death’ affair.
In seeking peaceful elections, as we all must, it is incumbent on every person to take charge and be wary of the language of our politicians and all elements with interests in politics. Politicians use all kinds of tactics, ranging from mindboggling promises to insulting, threatening or appallingly denigrating their opponents, to get elected. Language is perhaps the most powerful political weapon for politicians. But politicians characteristically are less concerned with the precision in their language than they are with its propaganda value. What we have seen in the last month is a reflection of the recklessness and irresponsibleness on the part of politicians to redirect the spirit of a people in their favour. Whatever tactics is employed, the choice of language of our politicians substantially impacts on the electoral process. It sets the tone for a peaceful or otherwise of an election.
What Ken Agyapong said could have been interpreted in possibly different ways by different people, but it sure was an act of recklessness, unmistakable of an insensitive legislator. Whatever his intent was it lacked the veneer of statesmanship and cannot be excused because it is even more damaging for a public officer to say unintelligent things than to do them. Yes, the security handling of the process was not at its best. And in spite of this seeming laxity on the part of security, the vile sermon was uncalled for.
Many sincere analysts would acknowledge that the crass professionalism of the security establishment in this was appalling. In the recent past, poor remuneration was one of the popular excuses for poor performance. But this no longer holds as the Single Spine Salary Scheme seemed to have diluted that argument. The reality is that many are no longer waiting for the reasons for failure of the police service; we need to get it right this time. As we inch towards a better system, expectations are very high. With a tensed political climate as it currently is, requires far more professional policing acumen, and it is clear that our current stock of police officers isn’t the best we could have.
They need the trust of the people to deliver. But unlike our Army or Zoomlion Ghana Ltd, we aren’t proud yet of our police service. And what is it about our police service that makes it so undeserving of our pride?
Several factors. The provision of professional non-traditional security today is evolving quickly, not gradually. And the differences are as wide as the processes involved in dealing with a suspect of a goat theft and that involved in homicide forensic investigations, and for the Ghana Police Service it requires different tools of thinking, and of acting; physical and intellectual.
It is very common today for a police folk to arrest you for an act without (him) knowing what legislation criminalises that act. It is inappropriate to continue to recruit baton and gun wielding men who are unlettered in the prosecution of their duties and expect them to act professionally. Coupled with a deficient professional approach, they will be overwhelmed and unable to impress us at all times. The need for broader effectiveness and professionalism of our policing thus necessitates a superior educational disposition and subtle intelligence. I’d rather the police service makes it a policy to recruit only degree holders for such purposes as elections or educate all recruits to degree levels to enable them serve professionally. This is in the interest of a modern nation seeking a modern phase in its advancement.
Apart from this, we need to be able to trust the judgement of the police. The decisions or actions that eventuated in the biometric chaos may have been motivated by a sincere desire to secure Ghana and the Ghanaian people. But did it seem so in the public eye? I believe that too often our security officers made decisions (or the lack of it) that tend to be premised on fear and political bigotry rather than on professional foresight. What we would always have in the wake of such decisions is a decreased confidence in the security system and the government of the day as in this case. The ability of the police in particular to handle political issues devoid of bias and prejudice will mark a defining accomplishment in ensuring peaceful elections in the future.
Clearly the Ghana Police Service needs retooling; a volte-face for purposes as socially and emotionally edgy as elections. Apart from the logistics and intelligence required, policing our elections securely and peacefully will require absolute impartiality and fairness. Impartiality, not in our ordinary concept of what impartiality connotes, but impartiality deemed impartial by all parties in dealing with all aspects of the electoral process and people involved. The police and all political parties must be seen to be acting in a manner that embodies a spirit of nationalism geared towards safeguarding the peace of the nation.

Ghana is still growing. And I pray that we grow faster and know better. I am hoping that one day the words of Ken Agyapong would seem ludicrous (for what they are) enough not to attract the attention of any serious minded Ghanaian. This can happen soon and quickly if the security services and everyone else just acts a little beyond common sense since all knowledge and professionalism are an extension of common sense.

By: Mutaru Mumuni Muqthar