Ignore the basics at our peril
Even though we all now feel qualified to be any professional, maybe we should leave things to those who are trained to do so.
These days we all think we can be medical doctors and diagnose whatever ails us without going to medical school thanks to Dr Google.
We are all lawyers, thanks again to Google, we are all photographers, we are all journalists, thanks to smartphones.
It is all a bit of fun until something goes horribly wrong.
It becomes dangerous when journalists for example abandon their basic training and start behaving like “citizen journalists” and forget about the ABC of their trade.
How did the story emerge that Sheriff Imoro, the young soldier killed in Ashaiman was killed by a mob?
And how did it come about that newspapers and reputable media outlets all reported it as a matter of fact that he was attacked and killed by a mob in Ashaiman?
What happened to the rudimentary obligation of checking things from the police when reporting a crime?
Or do we now have policing through Google also?
How did the military come to believe that their young colleague had been killed by a mob?
If ever there was a case of a catastrophe engulfing a country because of a lack of attention to a small detail, it is what we have witnessed in Ashaiman over the past week and has brought the hard-won reputation of the Ghana Armed Forces into tatters.
There will always be rumour mongers and people who would spin tales about every event, and “citizen journalists” are allowed to recount such tales on their social media handles, but we should be able to count on our reputable media outlets not to repeat such falsehood.
All newspapers, radio and television stations and their online platforms which carried stories about Sherrif Imoro having been attacked and killed by a mob must bear some responsibility for the events in Ashaiman.
But it doesn’t really matter what clumsy journalism and reporting we have, when there is a violent death, the police are the best equipped to lead the investigations and we really should leave it to them.
So far, there is nothing in the findings of the police that would indicate that the young man was “attacked and killed by a mob”, there is nothing to indicate that he was killed because he was a soldier.
The reaction of the military appears to have been driven by the mistaken belief that their colleague was attacked and killed by a mob and because he was a soldier.
I recall a popular childhood poem which goes:
For Want of a Nail the shoe was lost
For want of a shoe the horse was lost
For want of a horse the rider was lost
For want of a rider the message was lost
For want of a message the battle was lost
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail
This poem and its numerous variations is a proverb which spells out the fact that seemingly unimportant acts or omissions can have grave and unforeseen consequences.
In other words, the reckless use of language and show-off on social media can lead to grave and unpredictable consequences.
In this case, it can and has led to a dramatic fall from grace of our Armed Forces.
It is excruciatingly embarrassing to take on board the day the military chose to go and do their show of force in Ashaiman.
For the past 20 years and more, the Military have an Open Day on March 7, the day after Ghana’s Independence Day and young people are encouraged to go and see what life in a military barracks is like.
This year, on March 6, as has been the custom, the military had put up an impressive performance at the Independence Day celebrations.
Their uniforms were spick and span, the athletic display was breath-taking and they showed off new equipment that is guaranteed to charm young people.
The next day, they chose to go to Ashaiman to make people drink water from gutters because they believed a mob had killed their colleague.
It is bad enough that a group of soldiers would have gone into Ashaiman to brutalise people to teach the community a lesson for having “attacked and killed” a soldier, but the most alarming part is that we were led to believe this was an operation that had the blessing of the military High Command.
I think there is a saying that reputations take a long time to build but a few minutes to destroy.
If there is no such saying, there should be one.
In some ways it is probably better to be “a dead goat” and thus not be in any danger of being hurt by a knife.
Or to adapt the saying in Ewe, it is better to be the stone lying on the river bed, so you cannot feel cold.
If you are down and out, you have nowhere else to go; it is when you are up and on a pedestal that you have to be careful about your behaviour.
There was a time in Ghana when the Ghana Armed Forces uniform was not worn with pride.
The military had been reduced to a sad and pale shadow of what they should be.
ZOMBIE, we called them and to their faces, with or without guns.
Very few soldiers were brave enough to wear their uniforms outside the military barracks.
They might terrorise and brutalise but they knew they had no respect among their compatriots.
It has taken a long time and lots of hard work to build a reputation for the military as a respectable institution.
We were beginning to use words such as beautiful, respectable, disciplined and dignified to describe our Armed Forces and on the day they ask the public to come and see them at their best, they show us their ZOMBIE days are still with them.
They cannot claim spontaneous anger, they were informed about the death on March 4, they invaded Ashaiman on March 7.
The young soldier was not killed because he was a soldier. At 1a.m. he was unfortunately just a candidate for robbery, like the rest of us.
This has been a thoroughly disgraceful episode and only the police have come out with some credit.
One hopes the military will go into Ashaiman and apologise for their unacceptable behaviour.
They could start by cleaning the gutters and cleaning up the place.
That would be a start to rebuilding their reputation.