Ghana’s Democracy: Judiciary our last hope
On January 4, 1962, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, at the formal opening of the Ghana Law School, quoted a friend, as saying that listening to lawyers is baffling since you do not understand the terms they employ.
But speaking to them is still more baffling since you do not know the legal interpretation they place on your words. For me, this applies even more to Justices of the Superior Courts.
In view of my tremendous respect for the sanctity of the Judiciary for the sustenance of our democracy, it is my prayer that my words in this write-up are interpreted in their lay meanings, and understood only in the context of a citizen who is desirous of seeing a sustained improvement in our body politic.
The people of Ghana have customs and traditions including respect for authority which, sometimes, implies keeping mute when a chief or chief priest does something wrong. The Akans have a saying depicting this: ‘Okomfour se koo, hwan nko ka?’ to wit, no one dares to say that the priest’s (the shrine one) teeth are discoloured, even if it is true. This is not always compatible with the 1863 Lincolnian understanding of democracy as a government of the people, by the people and for the people, in which the people have a say.
The reconciliation of the freedom of the people to have a say in how they are governed, and the authority of the bench to maintain the sanctity of the Judiciary remains a slippery path. Since judges do not receive instructions from God or the gods, it ordinarily should not be senseless when the typically religious Ghanaian layman questions and subjectively attribute meanings to, for instance, the outcome of the various politically exposed persons’ contempt rulings; some cautioned and pardoned, some jailed, and some jailed and their employers punished.
Perhaps the increasing media reports or misreports on court rulings in view of the proliferation of the mainstream media and exacerbated by social media, which used not to be the case, is partly to blame. That is one. Another has to do with some rulings relating to cases involving political parties or politicians. Like Socrates, represented in ‘Crito’ as awaiting calmly the execution of his sentence, even though he considered it unjust given his commitment not to break the law, so must Ghanaians stay faithful to the rule of law and respect court rulings.
If the judiciary is right and the loud critics are wrong, that is all good because irrespective of how long a lie stays, it never becomes the truth, contrary to Joseph Goebbels’s claim in his propaganda thesis that a stupendous lie repeated with zeal gains credibility. However, when a lie, a misinterpretation or mischief is repeated and eventually believed by many in a democracy, its impact cannot be underestimated.
As noted by former President J.A. Kufuor in one of his addresses to the Ghana Bar Association, ‘If the judiciary is the mouthpiece of the Constitution, then it would be difficult to fathom anything worse than a false oracle’. To him, the judiciary is the central guarantor of the rule of law, hence nothing can be more detrimental to the security of a state than a compromised judiciary. This is what made him describe the Anas exposé of corruption in the judiciary ‘as abominable and perverse’.
Our hope for democracy
At a public lecture to mark this year’s African Union Day, which falls on May 25, each year, at the University of Education, Winneba, the Executive Director of the Media Foundation for Africa, Braimah Sulemana noted: ‘The 2022 Afro Barometer report revealed that the top four institutions that should be at the forefront of the fight against corruption are incidentally the most corrupt. The police, who are supposed to arrest the corrupt, are the most corrupt. The presidency that is supposed to be leading the fight against corruption is the second most corrupt. Parliament which is supposed to be making the laws in combating corruption are the third most corrupt and Judges and Magistrates that are supposed to be exacting punishment on the corrupt are the fourth most corrupt’.
It is arguably no news to hear that the Executive and Legislative Arms of government are either corrupt. The only hope for our democracy is the judiciary. That is why any unfavourable public perception of the judiciary is worrisome. It is, thus, to agree with Manasse Azure Awuni that ‘If the judiciary doubts the judgment of its critics, it should commission research into its reputation and read the findings.
The outturn of a compromised judiciary in our democracy can be severe because it can undermine public trust in the legitimacy of government processes and weaken the overall rule of law. If the judiciary is perceived as being influenced or corrupted by special interests, it could potentially lead to a breakdown in social cohesion and encourage civil unrest. This can also lead to an erosion in the public’s confidence in democratic governance, as citizens may begin to doubt its ability to protect their fundamental rights and freedoms without partiality. This is why the Judiciary must take steps to regain public trust.
The writer is a lecturer, Department of Political Science Education, University of Education, Winneba.