Staging a charade for unbelievers

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
The Montie trio
The Montie trio

I’ve never believed in objective journalism … because all writing is about selecting what you want to use. And as soon as you choose what to select, you’re not being objective. Nora Ephron

I am not at all sure how to deal with the events that have occurred since the Supreme Court passed the four-month jail sentence on the two panellists and host of  Montie FM. 

I have been reluctant to add to the decibel level of the discussions and arguments that fill the atmosphere, especially since it seems to me to be a case of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t. 

I have already expressed my dismay in this column about what the three young people on Montie FM said about the Supreme Court judges. The ensuing events and discussions are making me feel like quite a stranger in these parts. 

I am not a lawyer and I tend to tread gingerly on matters of law. I am puzzled though by some of the issues that have cropped up in this debate. I have, like what seems to be many people in Ghana, listened to and read transcripts of what the three young people had to say on their programme. 

Mugabe’s heart desire

The host of the programme, on being first invited to appear before the court, was adamant that he had no fear of prison and would gladly go if the court should decide to send him, even though he indicated he felt the court would only do that because the judges were biased against the political party he belongs to. 

He announced on his programme he would consider being sent to jail a badge of honour; for, in his own words, greater people, in his estimation had been sent to jail. He provided a list of the people he felt had been sent to jail unfairly and who were more important than him. 

(I haven’t heard a satisfactory explanation yet about how he acquired the nickname  Mugabe since I thought that was often given to people deemed to have overstayed their welcome in a position, but that is the name he is known and called by friend and foe alike.) 

When Mugabe appeared in court, I expected him to plead not guilty since he was so convinced he had done nothing wrong and when he offered a guilty plea, I took it to mean he simply wanted to shorten the process of being sent to Nsawam. 

Those who were in court reported that when the sentence was pronounced, he lifted his eyes to the heavens, (as I expected, to thank the Lord for granting his wish?) and shook his head! I did not understand that bit. Here was someone courting martyrdom and he gets it and he shakes his head? 

Anyone with a vague knowledge of the political history of this country would know that being sent to jail is a requirement for making a name. Kwame Nkrumah came out of jail to become Leader of Government Business into history. 

Our Mugabe gets his heart’s desire and is sent to jail and we are all being urged to see this as a danger to our democracy and a threat to the existence of free speech. And since when have death and rape threats constituted free speech in this country or any other place on this earth? 

For that is what the two panellists did and in my book, no one can or should be allowed to take refuge under a free speech umbrella after issuing death threats. I cannot think of any other way of scandalising a court than what happened on Montie FM. I have in my life and in the course of writing and broadcasting, expressed strong opinions and with much passion. It is the only way I know of doing things. 

I consider it a matter of great pride that the Constitution of our country has a clause that states: “Editors and publishers of newspapers and other institutions of the mass media shall not be subject to control of interference by government nor shall they be penalised or harassed for their editorial opinions and views or the content of their publications.” 

The kind of language used by the three young men is not what was considered worthy of protection by the Constitution. Theirs is hate speech and would land you before the International Criminal Court. 

I have followed the arguments being made by Professor Kwaku Asare about the undesirable nature of prosecuting anybody for being in contempt of court. I am impressed by the good professor’s arguments. 

But since our Attorney-General showed no inclination of doing her job and instituting a prosecution and the BNI had already pronounced them unworthy of prosecution, what should cure this mischief?

Remorse and petition

I have heard and read a lot about the three young men having shown remorse and therefore deserving to be shown mercy. Judging from the reaction of the supporters of the NDC outside the courts, it is fair to say they had been led to believe that these three darlings of the party would be going home with the supporters in triumph. 

The story making the rounds is that airline tickets had been arranged so they would be flown out for a well-deserved holiday and then come back in time to resume their great work on Montie FM. 

From what I read in the newspapers, Mugabe and his two friends are far from remorseful or very concerned about being in jail. According to the reports, they told visiting supporters the NDC should not have bothered to have paid the GH¢30,000  fine that was imposed on them. They would much rather the GH¢10,000  each had been given to their families, even if that meant serving an extra month in jail. 

Such bravado can only come from people who know that the President of the Republic would indeed be “pressurised” to grant them the prerogative of mercy and they would be released from jail. 

I have been following this particular orchestration of a petition with unbelievable dismay. 

Are we to believe that the President’s ministers cannot talk to him around the Cabinet table if they feel strongly about something? Are we expected to believe that the Foreign Affairs Minister, the Honourable Hanna Tetteh can only get her point of view across to the President by signing a petition? 

Could it be that the Minister of Education, Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyeman has lost all her clout and am I to believe that the good professor is on the side of Mugabe?