FEATURED: The Most Befitting Memorial In Honor Of The Late J. J. Rawlings...

15.03.2002 Feature Article

Not A Victory For Democracy

Listen to article

The so-called ‘landmark' decision in the matter of The Republic v. Tsatsu Tsikata in which a majority of the Ghana Supreme Court justices decided that the Fast Track High Court (FTHC) was unconstitutional, and therefore cannot adjudicate cases has apparently thrown the whole country into delirium. Though the five justices who ruled in favour of the defendant have not yet provided written explanations of their arguments, it has not stopped Ghanaians from trying to decipher the brains of the Gang of Five, as the five justices are now referred to in popular parlance. How one explains the significance of the decision tends to depend on which side of the political aisle one belongs. Thus, National Democratic Congress (NDC) sympathizers see the decision as a big blow to the governing New Patriotic Patriotic (NPP), which once again reveals a certain incompetence akin to the NPP way of doing things. Alhaji Muhammed Mumuni the NDC member of parliament for Kumbungu, pronounced the FTHC a "Kangaroo Court"! The relentless pursuit to put one's foot in the mouth has become an unenviable trademark of the NDC. Alhaji Mumuni had apparently confused the FTHC with the Rawlings era Public Tribunals and Vetting Committees which went on a bizarre witch-hunt against innocent Ghanaians as well as successful entrepreneurs. Alhaji, those were the real Kangaroo Courts, not the FTHC!! NPP sympathizers on the other hand, view the verdict as judicial buffoonery ran amok; and they cite the verdict as one more example of remnants of Rawlings era appointees doing everything to frustrate and undermine the policies of the new government. It does not help that one of the members of the Gang of Five, Justice F.Y. Kpegah, served as a witness for Victor Selormey when he was tried before the same FTHC that the good justice now considers illegal! Some NPP observers see the verdict as a lesson that should not be lost on the party leadership: The NPP government does not have friends in high places!! Having been in power for 20 years, Jerry Rawlings and (P)NDC tentacles are rather entrenched in the governmental machinery in Ghana. A prevailing outburst being heard all over the Ghana media outlets is that the verdict is a ‘victory' for democracy. This view is being trumpeted about by ‘experts' and media talking heads. But is the Supreme Court decision really a victory for democracy? To find out, I consulted my family oracle Akroma (The Great Eagle). Now don't tell me this is no time to bring in Abosom in matters of national importance. Don't step on my religious sensibilities, and I won't step on yours, either. After all, didn't millions of people just recently make circles around a Black Stone somewhere in the world? And didn't Joseph Smith in 1829, establish the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), based on claims that he found ‘golden stone tablets hidden in a stone box' in upstate New York? I could go on and on; so hush!
Alas, my oracle did not fail me. First, I had to explain the peculiar circumstances of the case to Akroma: As a secondary school student whenever I went on holidays to Tepa in the Asante Region where my father's career finally took him, I spent much of my Tuesdays at the Magistrate's Court to listen to court cases. I was befuddled by the man in the long robe sitting in the hot humid room trying to keep pace with the proceedings while struggling to write the facts of the case by hand! Sometimes it took a whole day just to finish one case. Swollen-faced defendants had to be returned to jail to face additional police brutality before their day in court. Justice was certainly delayed, and ipso facto, denied! I loathed taking dictation in primary school and forswore the legal profession, when I saw the magistrate literally breaking his wrist in pursuit of his profession. I bet he suffered from arthritis in old age!
In order to relieve Ghanaian judges of this tedious work, and to bring the Ghana Judiciary and Court system from this ante-diluvian practice into modern practice, the government of Ghana decided to introduce automation into our court system. This means that judges would no longer have to write down the proceedings of the case as evidence is given. Ghana was moving, albeit belatedly, into the electronic age. If we had the resources, our entire court system would have been automated by now.
When I mentioned this transformation from handwriting to electronic, Akroma asked me to stop right there. I suspected his motive. Akroma reminded me of a similar case dealing with transformation when I was in primary school, and its concomitant problems. It turns out that our teacher was dead set against pupils using ballpoint pens instead of ink and nib (his favourite was what we called Akokora Nib); because the teacher insisted ballpoint pens were intended for teachers only. He also argued that ballpoint pens ‘spoiled' pupils handwriting style!! Having provided me with this tip, Akromah ordered me to research the reasons behind the decision of the ‘heretofore, aforementioned, aforesaid' Gang of Five. It did not take me long. The Gang of Five was motivated not by democratic ideals, but by pure self-preservation and job security. Justice Kpegah et. al., decided to sacrifice the modernization and stability of the court system at the altar of their own personal security. The history of the Industrial Revolution in England provided a precedent for my conclusion. Industrialists in Nottingham, England awoke one day in 1811 to signs that read "King Ludd"; "Ludlam", and the like. The words were in support of one Ned Ludd; who, on behalf of weavers, protested the arrival of mechanized looms by smashing them with hammers. Weavers were none too pleased about losing their jobs to machines! From then on, people who feared the arrival of the new technology that the Industrial Revolution had introduced became known as Luddites. Folks, we have Luddites in our midst! The Gang of Five are neo-Luddites who are afraid of the automation of the court system in Ghana. They are scared to death that they would become redundant and lose their jobs if the Fast Track High Court is allowed to exist. Whatever written explanation they provide on March 20, to underscore their judgement will not cut it. What the Chief Justice needs to do now, and urgently, too; is to send a circular throughout the judiciary, that the automation of the court system does not threaten the job security in the judicial branch of government. With that assurance, the Gang of Five will certainly reverse their decision upon further review! So, stop this chattering regarding the mind-boggling decision being a victory for democracy! Disabuse your minds of the pernicious lie that this decision portends some incompetence on the part of the attorney-general!! Do not uncork the champagne in the NDC gallery, lest the NDC be accused (and rightly so) of drinking and making merry while the entire judicial system is thrown in jeopardy by the selfish acts of five justices. If Ghanaians are starved to see a democratic underpinning in all of this legal charade, they must look to the policies of the NPP government. The NPP has abolished the crippling Libel Laws which Rawlings and the NDC used to stifle dissent and free speech. The NPP government has abolished the 64 Battalion which Rawlings set up as his praetorian guard to destabilize the nation. And, the NPP government has accepted this warped decision and is seeking redress not through Machomen, but by using legal methods. That is a relief from the era when Machomen would have paid nocturnal visits to the judges and subjected them to certain law of the jungle justice. Therefore, do not cast the Gang of Five in the role of democrats who are asserting judicial independence in furtherance of the noble principle of Separation of Powers. Simply call them by what they are: a confused lot who made light of the implications of their decision, and thereby gave democracy a bad name. The Supreme Court decision of February 28, 2002 was rather an obfuscation of democracy, a degenerative symptom of democratic disorder that tends to emboldens nihilists.

Kofi Ellison
Kofi Ellison, © 2002

The author has 63 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: KofiEllison

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Modern Ghana Links