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11.11.2002 Feature Article

Armed Robbery in Ghana: Mr. President, please say something

Armed Robbery in Ghana:  Mr. President, please say something
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Leadership and defining moments and the Armed Robbery crisis in Ghana Defining Moments--pivotal moments that signal a turning point in a national character or ushers in a new national purpose. These unique defining times include moments of national tragedy, national triumph, and periods of national crises. They are times that the citizenry of a nation focuses its attention; hold its breath and waits on its leader to just say something. With the nation’s attention captivated, a great leader seizes this momentous occasion, and with the right words reassures the nation, focuses their attention toward a new national vision and mobilizes them toward critical causes. A leader is as good as his handlers. And so far Mr. Kuffour’s handlers have been doing a poor job at recognizing the important issues and capturing the critical moments that could define his leadership posture and management effectiveness. At their best they have succeeded in molding Mr. Kuffour’s leadership style around his personality. A towering and an imposing stature contrasted by his gentle persona, a “gentle giant” indeed. Rightly so, Mr. Kuffour’s personality had been a boon to Ghana’s transition process at least, in calming the precipitous transition from Rawlings’ 20-year quasi-military rule. Ghanaians do appreciate Mr. Kuffour’s gentle personality, but urgent times demand bold and decisive leadership, and that is where the president is failing the nation, at least on the issue of the violent crime wave facing the nation. The president’s gentle persona might be a deficit as his lack of strong and resolute attention to the matter could be sending the wrong signal to the perpetrators of these crimes in the country. Ghana is facing a national crisis. There have been regular reports of armed rampage in the nation but so far, the president has not recognized it as a developing national crisis, nor the need to address the issue publicly. Armed robbers killed a British national, Mr. John Garett at his residence at Lateh-Akuapem. Armed robbers murdered Italian national, Mr. Roberto Massimo, Managing director of BRM Wood Processing Company at his North Ola residence in Cape Coast. Armed robbers killed a cargo truck driver, Mr. Alhaji Asshaqu Ibrahim when they attacked traders at Babatokuma, near Kintampo. But it was not the right moment for the president to speak on the matter. Armed robbers killed a Ghanaian who had traveled to Ghana for the Homecoming Summit. In between, there have been reports of armed robbers taking over a whole community at gunpoint, but Mr. Kuffour probably explained to his visiting dignitaries that it was just an isolated incident. Armed robbers are mounting roadblocks at will and extorting money from market women at gunpoint, but that too is not a threat to the national economy. Mr. Chester Dzisah and his 12-year old Chester Dzisah, Jnr. were murdered in an attempt to assist a neighbor (Pastor Owusu Ansah and his family) who was in being attacked; several pastors have also been attacked including Reverend Robert Dawson-Amoah, Ayofui Anglican Church who was shot in the thigh, and Reverend Bennet Abaka-Wilson, Saltpond Methodist Church but Mr. Kuffour does not see this menace as a threat to national security.
In October 2002, Nana Amoo (Pozzo) also died at the hands armed robbers, but that incident was a part of trend, which befalls nations that are developing economically. Then in November, Mr. Stephen Mintah, a father of eight was shot twice in the head because the poor driver could only find 8,000 ($1) for the armed robbers who had invaded his home. Still Mr. Kuffour does not see a national emergency in this unfortunate trend. This list is but just a few of the ones that registered in the national headlines. Many others, like Nana Yaw Acheampong (Owuahene), a cousin of this writer who was fatally assaulted at Nadieso, near Nkawkaw was not covered by any news media. Many of these incidents had occurred prior to the president’s “Historic Press Conference”. But on the issue of crime, or “security”, the president had only this to say: “On the question of security, I am happy to report that we have made good progress and the situation is much improved. Co-operation between the Army and the Police is also helping to overcome the spate of armed robberies that threaten the stability in the past year.” The president’s scant reference to the armed crime issue, and his buoyant tone may have been targeted to reassure potential investors and tourists, of their personal security. But it did little to comfort Ghanaians in the country and abroad, who are reeling at the nation’s menacing crime reputation. It also appears that the president’s handlers are keeping him mute on the matter because they would not like to create any “unnecessary panic”, and in the process frighten potential tourists and investors away. This charge has actually been leveled against some Ghanaians who attempt to highlight the surge in violent crimes in the country, as “blowing the situation out of proportion.” But while they worry about protecting that wounded image of the country, the rest of the world is forming its own opinions about our peaceful nation. A British Home Service travel advisory (Updated: 30 July 2002) on Ghana warns “although Ghana remains trouble-free, there has been an increase in violent crimes in and around Accra, often involving cars being followed by stolen taxis or other vehicles. Visitors should exercise vigilance, particularly after dark, and should avoid carrying large sums of money, jewelry, etc. If possible, avoid traveling along in taxis after dark. And be very wary when drawing cash from any of the few cash points in Accra.” Ghana could also suffer the fate of other African capitals that have succumbed to the grip of the violent crime waves. Among the most crime-tattered nations, South Africa now ranks the highest eclipsing Columbia, Jamaica, Brazil, and Russia (in that order). Reports of mounting indiscriminate violence is fast-tarnishing the glittering reputation of one of Africa’s promising and most developed. That gloomy reputation has recently drawn the admonishment from potential investors into the country. A recent BBC article revealed that the leader of high-powered delegation of Japanese executives who were examining investment opportunities in South Africa, Mr. Satoru Anzaki, “has warned that his fellow Japanese are scared of South Africa’s image as a haven for carjackers and other street criminals.” This could be a lesson to the Kuffour’s government if it continues to pamper these miscreants with “democracy.” The administration has made it a priority to create an “enabling environment for business” in its Golden Age of Business slogan, but their effort could be derailed if the protection of life and property is not prioritized. On the Ghanaian scene, the rampage continues, as the country has broken new grounds in crime: ‘New Crime in Accra -- Car Snatching’, read a recent Daily Graphic headline. According to the story (October 24, 2002), Car Snatching (Car-jacking) is registering as the latest crime in Accra. The Greater Accra Regional Police Commander, Supt Kofi Boakye cautioned the public of a syndicate operating within the city of Accra. In that same week, he noted that eight cases of car thefts had been recorded, including one involving a BMW owned by the former Managing Director of the Social Security and National Trust (SSNIT). The Car-Snatching syndicate is not only operating in Accra. The Kumasi Buffalo Police patrol team was reported to have “prevented six armed robbers from seizing a 240-Mecedez Benz saloon car belonging to the Chief of Eguaful, Nana Osei Banor, at gunpoint at Ejisu in Ashanti.” The gang still managed to get away with large sums of money and property. Ghana is being invaded by criminals from other parts of the sub-region, attracted by Ghana’s relatively lenient treatment of criminals. Apparently, the armed robbers in Nigeria are not feeling very secured in their own country lately. Under a new Police operation, ‘Operation Fire-for-Fire’, the police in Lagos State, for example, has orders to shoot armed robbers on sight. In September 2002 alone, Police killed 25 and arrested 93 others. In the process, 75 firearms, 678 rounds of various types of ammunition and 108 stolen motor vehicles were also recovered. The Lagos Police had to take drastic action as crime in that city had escalated. Between August 2000 and May 2001, armed robbers killed 273 civilians, according to Lagos Police statistics. Within the same period, 84 policemen were also killed and 133 others injured. Fearful for their own personal safety, armed robbers from Nigeria are now flocking to Ghana. With Ghana’s brand of “pure” democracy, and its attendant “respect for human life”, and “due process”, the nation has become a more attractive alternative, and a safer haven for armed robbers from Nigeria. Others from war-hardened Liberia and Sierra Leone are also following suit and moving to Ghana’s more peaceful and more “civilized” shores to peddle their trade. Naturally, these ruthless criminals are teaming up with their Ghanaian counterparts, and in some cases offering training and breeding new dangerous thugs into the system. Ghanaians do cherish their peaceful image and hospitable reputation, but lately, they are also not feeling very safe in their streets and their homes are no longer their “own castles” with impenetrable walls. While they still value Ghana’s peaceful and hospitable reputation, they would rather the nation cultivates a new reputation as “intolerant of crime”. And that is the image that they would like the President, Mr. Kuffour to convey to these thugs that they will be fought on all fronts and be wiped out. This proactive new image would do more to bolster the confidence of the people and potential investors, than the prevailing, reactive attitude that denies that the problem does exist, and that it is as bad as reports indicate. Mr. Addo Kuffour, the Minister of Defence, had declared ‘war on armed robberies’ in April of this year, and in May, also promised the nation that armed robbery, including the serial killing of women will soon be a “thing of the past.” He was apparently confident of the resources that his government was expecting to furnish the police with. But it does not have the same captivating, reassuring, and mobilizing effect. The people would rather hear from a stern-faced President Kuffour, looking straight into the camera, and sounding the warning to the criminals. The effectiveness of this speech (if the president’s handlers oblige) to the nation must also outline tough new measures being implemented and the strong enforcement of existing laws and new stringent ones to deter these criminal activities. Already many in the country are hinting their disgust at the lenient treatment of violent criminals in the country, which they believe, is attracting hardened criminals to the country. Brigadier (RTD) Francis Asiedu Agyemfra, a security consultant, for example was reported by the Ghanaian Chronicle to suggest, “The Ghanaian Parliament should grant statutory authority to judges to hold without bail armed robbers both before trial and pending trial.” Mr. Agyemfra was apparently alarmed that too many jurisdictions in the country were granting bail even “to armed robbers who were sent to prison and served only a few months or years and are sent back to the streets.” In some case, he stated in the article that some judges granted bail to armed robbers, some who are re-arrested for the commission of other robberies while on pre-trial bail. Joining the chorus, the Chief Justice, Mr. Emmanuel K. Wiredu, stated recently that those who kill in the commission of armed robberies in the country should pay with their own lives. "I am a Christian and I strongly believe that if you take the life of someone, your life should be taken in turn", he stressed. He recognized that many groups are calling for its (the death penalty) abolition, they have but they have yet to provide the rational for their proposal for abolishing it. "It is only the President who has the prerogative to reverse or enforce the death sentence imposed on an accused," he said. But the president has yet to signal any direction on the death penalty issue. Reportedly (Daily Graphic, October 24, 2002), the president has not signed even one death warrant to carry through an execution of the 328 inmates on death row in the country (300 at Nsawam, 28 in Kumasi). “This follows the inability of the Head of State to sign a single death warrant for the execution of condemned prisoners in the two prisons. The prisoners were convicted for mostly murder and armed robbery offenses.” To be fair to Mr. Kuffour, that prison population spans both the Rawlings’ 20-year regime, and the current NPP administration. Incidentally, that population is swelling and congesting the nation’s prisons and stretching Ghana’s resources. The Deputy Director Prisons in charge of Ashanti, Mr. Jacob Agambire is reported to have consulted the President “to consider revisiting the issue of amnesty to alleviate the problems the prisons go through in handling condemned prisoners.” He also stated that “for the first time in the history of the Kumasi prison, the condemned prisoners’ population has hit the highest level of 28 with some of them being on death row for a very long time.” He also pointing out that the inability of the president to sign the death warrants might be due to campaigns to abolish the death penalty. But a MP from the President’s own party, Mr. Nii Ayi Bonte (NPP) for the Odododiodioo constituency who had actually called for public execution of armed robbers, has also vowed to vote against any bill that attempts to abolish the death penalty, “just for the sake of the victims of armed robbery. I will vote even if it is my party’s policy. I think matters of national security transcend politics. It is a national issue.” Recalling the PNDC era under Rawlings, he pointed out that “armed robbers are scared of death. We are witnesses to what happened under the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) era. I am an NPP man but I can not forget how hardened armed robbers like Chokor spanner and Spain, who terrorized people at will were executed in the PNDC days bringing about peace and security in Accra.” Recognizing that some criminals may be taking undue advantage of the country’s democratic principles, Mr. Ayi Bonte also said that criminals must not be allowed to hide behind democracy to harass innocent people, and concluding, “Democracy is for those who behave like real human beings and would not kill and rob.”


Bright Boateng
Bright Boateng, © 2002

The author has 2 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: BrightBoateng

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