Saying sorry with a smirk

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
Montie trio

On Monday at The Hague, the International Criminal Court, ICC, heard from a remorseful man. Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, described as an Islamist zealot in the court was accused of leading rebel forces who destroyed historic shrines at Timbuktu and was charged with war crimes over the destruction of nine mausoleums and a mosque. He said he was "really sorry" for his actions and asked for forgiveness.

Pleading guilty at the opening of his trial for war crimes in The Hague, he said," I am really sorry, I am really remorseful”, and expressed his “deep regret” to the people of Timbuktu.

“All the charges brought against me are accurate and correct. I am really sorry and I regret all the damage that my actions have caused.”

The charge carried up to 30 years imprisonment but with the guilty plea, it is expected that the court will send him to jail for 11 years.

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On the same Monday, the President of our Republic, John Dramani Mahama invoked his powers under Article 72(1)(d) and remitted the remaining four-month sentence imposed on a radio host with the Accra-based Montie FM, Salifu Maase, and two panellists, Alistair Nelson and Godwin Ako-Gunn, better known as the Montie three. 

According to a statement signed by the Minister of Communications, the President’s decision was on compassionate grounds following a petition submitted to him by the “contemnors even as they continue to express deep remorse and regret for the unacceptable statements they made against the Judiciary”.

The government’s statement then reminds all of us to respect institutions of state, to guard against the use of intemperate language and urges us all to draw lessons from the events leading to the conviction of the three persons. We were all asked to “bear in mind, the consequences of injudicious utterances”. 

Since I had been expecting the President to pardon the Montie three anyway, I had prepared myself to take in whatever was thrown at us by the presidency. But I must say I felt the bile rise in my gut when I read the President asking that we “bear in mind the consequences of injudicious utterances”! Mr President, threats of death and threats of rape are NOT injudicious utterances. 

In every other part of the world, a public threat to kill judges and a public threat to rape a Chief Justice would result in immediate arrest and prosecution. In our case, the police were not interested, the Attorney General was not interested and the BNI sought to frustrate any possible prosecution by telling us the three did not have the capacity to execute their threats. The lesson the rest of us had to draw was that the three young men had protection from officialdom and that gave them the bravado to act the way they did.      

Salifu Maase the radio host had, after all, told the world he was in Ghana for one reason only: to make sure President Mahama was re-elected. It would be fair to assume that President Mahama checks in on him regularly to monitor his progress.

No remorse 

If the President listened to Montie FM last Monday evening, he would have discovered there was certainly no sign on that station of “continuing deep remorse and regret” on the part of the colleagues of the three people that had just been pardoned. The tone of the station was triumph and glee and as they kept repeating over and over again: “who say man no dey”. Yes, indeed, they were telling the rest of us who were not part of the project to re-elect John Dramani Mahama as President and who were not part of the petition to release the Montie three that they had won and they were happy to rub it in our faces.

It is fully within the powers of the President to invoke his prerogative of mercy and pardon prisoners. I am not even sure he needed the fig leaf of going to the Council of State. He does not need to give us any explanation. He does not need to be part of the charade that was staged with the petition signing. 

There is nothing that has been said or done by the NDC since the beginning of this saga that gives the slightest indication of remorse. I, like many other Ghanaians, have now had the opportunity to listen to other things that had been said on that station against other people by Salifu Maase and it is now clear to me why the three were able to cross all acceptable boundaries. 

There are no boundaries on Montie FM, the things they said against the judges were normal and regular fare on the station, other people have had worse treatment. It is no wonder, therefore, that the NDC footsoldiers were so shocked that the Supreme Court dared to jail the three young men. They had not said anything different from what they had always said and whatever they had done was in the service of and aimed at the re-election of President Mahama. The parade of ministers of state and government officials at the Nsawam Prisons and the obscene display of goodies taken to the prisons only go to reinforce the fact that the Montie three were messengers of the party in government. 

As the President’s lawyer said in his well-measured statement, what the NDC needed to worry about was that the three were going to be away during the critical campaign period. The President has ordered their release and they will be available to resume where they left off in the campaign to help re-elect him. 

Doubtless they will be back on the radio after a short break. I hear there are air tickets ready for them to fly to the United States for a short period of relaxation and shopping to help them get over the little difficulty. After that break, they should be back to resume battle or as Salifu would put it, they would be back to open fire!

As for remorse, there was none and there is no indication there ever would be any. These are men doing work for the President and as one of them said before the court appearance, he would consider it an honour to be sent to jail in the course of what he was doing. I fully expect that the first time they appear at the radio station, they would be wearing those caps of old with PG (Prison Graduate) stamped on them. 

I started this article with the story of the man who led the destruction of Timbuktu in 2012. This man who is pleading remorse before the ICC was shown on video, justifying the destruction of the mausoleums and mosques. He did not imagine he would be captured and brought before a court of law. Faced with the prospect of 30 years in jail, he is able to plead guilty and claim deep remorse and take 11 years. 

Those of us who were shocked at the bravado of Salifu Maase and his friends now know they had good reason to feel able to threaten judges: they had full protection and the President has now demonstrated to all he will protect his own. Let no one talk about remorse.