Several things came to mind as I listened to the interview of Professor Ernest Kofi Abotsi on an Accra radio station last Tuesday morning. My thoughts centred around how our leaders from the 1940s have dealt with reports of committees they have set up.
Prof. Abotsi was the executive secretary of the Emile Short Presidential Commission on the violence that rocked the recently held Ayawaso West Wuogon bye-election in Accra. His views were thus worth listening to even if one did not agree with some of them.
I have already said earlier that the Short Report is set to go down in our history as one of the most important even if its recommendations are ignored or only partly accepted by the powers that be. The Short Report, I continue to maintain, may come to rank with the Watson, Granville Sharp, Abraham, and the Special Investigations Board (SIB) reports in their importance to the Ghanaian state and its historical development.
I was struck by Prof. Abotsi’s reference to the fourth Republic to earlier republics which failed as a mark of our search for political stability and development. The question of stability is overblown; South Korea is on its 12th republic or so, and became independent around the same time as Ghana.
The presidential or executive reception to reports came to mind as I listened to the professor. I even recalled the Short Commission had a secretary who did not publicly participate in proceedings by initiating questioning of witnesses before the commission. Because I do recall the role of Mr Amui, the experienced senior state attorney who was secretary to the SIB in the military regime of then Chairman Rawlings in the 1980s in undemocratic Ghana.
Yes the laws establishing commissions may have changed over time and with the inception of constitutional rule. It nevertheless troubled me. We have aided executive abuse of transparency in governance by these changes which one would imagine would be a clear sign of departure for our government now headed by champions of democracy and the rule of law.
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Many weird things, therefore, to my mind happened at the commission which were a clear departure from previous practice. We all recall with nostalgia the reaction of the late President John Atta Mills to the reception of the report of the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) on the Woyome affair.
Of course I am aware that a fully fledged presidential commission is different in many respects from an ordinary police report which EOCO reports basically are. But nothing stopped President Mills from claiming that he would study the report and take action thereafter. But right at the ceremony in his Castle office, he handed the report to the Interior Minister, Dr Kunbuor, who, after perusing same, immediately ordered the arrest and trial of Alfred Woyome which trial is ongoing now nearly 10 years after it started.
Interestingly, the criminal trial and appeal initiated and defended by Dr Kunbuor had Woyome being acquitted and the darling critic of the then National Democratic Congress (NDC), Martin Amidu, now Special Prosecutor, continued with a civil action. The champions of democracy and rule of law and anti-corruption crusaders have not seen it fit to leave us alone with their threats on Woyome.
We certainly need a leadership that takes account of the processes of the past that aided wrongdoing and buried the right. Why could not the same approach of President Mills be used by the present government in dealing with the Short Commission? And he was a professor of law to boot! We all were appalled by what happened at Ayawaso and certain clear actions of executive decisiveness and leadership were missing, but it was impossible to use this activist transparent method because the choice of presidential commission instead of a ministerial or departmental inquiry robbed the government of the prosecutorial discretion in the Ayawaso matter.
The cynic would claim that it is precisely because of this constitutional protection from prosecutions that the government set up a presidential commission.
There is solid history to such speculative thinking in this country pregnant with serious implications. The SIB was created by the pressure of civil society led by the Bar Association which claimed that the Police Investigation Team was a cover-up to the truth behind the kidnapping and murder of the judges and the army officer in June 1982.
In this instance, President Akufo-Addo decided that a presidential commission with constitutional protections in spite of the pendency of a police investigation which had no such fetters to the prosecution of criminal suspects was the best approach. This is debatable.
All the above may seem to be idle speculation till we recall the wider significance of the Short Report whether we know the details or not. The commission was set up as a result of the carnage in one polling station in a bye-election.
Evidence given there ratcheted up in public discourse the essential threat of party vigilantism in our elections since 1992 and the urgent need to curtail or disband their activities. This led inescapably to the Presidential direction to the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the opposition NDC to disband their vigilantes. We must note that the President is the leader of the NPP but left the direction to ban to his party.
This presidential call led to a round of correspondence culminating in the meeting of parties or stakeholders up to this day. Note that the president’s party took more than three weeks to respond to their leader’s call.
What would have been seen earlier as an innocuous event in a bye-election if it had occurred out of live coverage and outside the capital has now forced all of us to confront a real danger to our democracy, our way of life and the existence of Ghana itself.
Add these events to police-civilian clashes, recruitment into national security and violence associated with landguardism, and we have here a dangerous threatening brew which may well get out of hand.
The greatest of them all that feeds these troubles is our unending hypocrisy. We are not sincere. We are not special. Ghana is not the only country whose people consider themselves special and deserving of the divine blessings of peace and prosperity, but we deserve to live with each other in peace.