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14.02.2004 Feature Article

Whoever Blinks Last – Wins! (The NRC & Big Game)

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Okay, I'm going to play a game of “stare-down” with you. The object of the game is for you to stare into my eyes, and for me to stare into yours, for as long as our souls, our courage, and our very being can possibly muster, (barring an inadvertent fly in the eye), without blinking. Should you so much as bat an eyelid, I'm the winner of this game. Oh, by the way, this is a game of courage and the pursuit of an inner-conviction of a can-do attitude no matter the odds. “Accra, Feb. 12 GNA - The appearance of Former President Jerry John Rawlings before the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) in response to two subpoenas from the Commission came to an anticlimactic end after 30 minutes hearing on Thursday.”

Reproduced above is the first paragraph of a news item I read on GhanaWeb early in the morning of February 12, 2004. I wondered vaguely what had been anticlimactic about the appearance of the erstwhile president, Jerry John Rawlings of the NDC. In order to share in my sentiment, I have to take you with me a few hours prior to my reading the headline, so -- hang tight!

I have kept my impressions here the same, as I perceived it at the time of listening to the recordings. I haven't done an extensive research, or follow-ups, on the recordings in order to specify or precisely describe to you who were all present at the commission, the exact words used by the participants, the political atmosphere that may have influenced questions, answers, the actual proceedings, etc, etc. I don't even keep a keen watch on the political affairs back in Ghana. In some cases, the only thing you may have to go on is a best effort description of moments, my perception, the person whose voice I think I heard addressing the Commission, a lawyer, or another party. What You See Here Is What You Get – “WYSHIWYG!!!”

You see, the previous evening, I had spent quite a considerable amount of time listening to the recordings of the testimony of Capt. Ret. Kojo Tsikata, (courtesy of Joyonline), who had been before the same NRC. I listened intently for the other verbal cues in the retired Capt.'s voice, and delivery, such as: nervousness, hesitation, and undue lengthy pauses. I also tried to judge his responsiveness to direct questions, evasiveness or blatant omissions where it was obvious what the question was alluding to.

In fact, I'm not too certain if I had a concrete grasp on what I was looking for. Let's just say it's that, “going by feel thing,” where you instinctively know if you are being lied to – chalk it off to years of experience with nervous used car salesmen, the girl who tells you she can't go out on a date with you because she's watching her “Cutex” dry…you know, stuff like that!! In my book, the retired Capt. was quite attentive and the sharpest of the lot bunched up in the NRC's testimonial room, or whatever the quarters is called. Based solely on what I heard, the retired Capt was clearly a runaway winner!!!

The Captain spoke with obvious clarity of thought and speech. He seemed to have his ducks all lined up in a row and was most acutely detailed, both in chronology and statements made. That alone is not totally dispositive of his guilt or complicity in the crimes for which he was brought to testify before the commission. It is by no coincidence that this man was made the Security Advisor, and may arguably be the best the nation's ever had at that post. His record on the job in tumultuous times is stellar!! Whatever his job required, (and I am not a security expert to even address that), it's undeniable that he prosecuted it with military precision and achieved unprecedented results. I'm not aware if he ever failed at his job; therefore, one must approach the Captain with the same attention to detail and facts in order to even dent the “shell of this oyster that may be harboring a pearl” … to quote one of the participants present on the occasion.

So, I listened to the failed attempts of a female voice (presumably a lawyer's) at cross-examination. I tried to make head or tail of the cross-examination. Needless to say, I was disappointed!! Someone had not done their homework for the questions seemed to be so ordinary in nature, and of a quality that one encounters where there's an obvious lack of effort. I did not detect any nervousness in the lawyer's voice, but she was hesitant and seemed unsure of what it was she was really asking, or the intended effects of the “probing” questions. Successive questions seemed less and lesser planned. You'd think a lawyer in tune with the proceedings of the NRC, thus far, would have had access to material, (which may have caused the issuance of a subpoena) to ask the really probing questions that the “subpoena-afforded” opportunity clearly required.

In my view, when the stakes are this high, you throw the best of the pack at the target – if this is the best, then we clearly have a lot in store for us as she is obviously saving the burning questions, requests for clarification (on aspects of the testimony that may have been vague or ambiguous), and perhaps, matched or superior attention to detail for later. Don't hold your breath!

Now, was this whole Tsikata saga anticlimactic? Conceivably, the length of time spent on the “seat” by the retired Capt collapsed any constrained anticlimactic discernment? Or was it the heated exchanges between the Chairman of the NRC and the retired Capt – nearing the end of the Capt's testimony -- that may have infused some sense of “mission” accomplished into the whole proceedings? From my comfy perch here, I think even though the Capt was disallowed from speaking to tortures he may have suffered at the hands of certain National Security Forces (he wasn't a Petitioner), he made a clear positive impact on his own case.

However, the necessity for a subpoena was the most damaging aspect (to the retired Capt.) of this whole proceeding -- whatever value that carries. The retired Capt, without being subpoenaed, should have appeared before the Commission voluntarily! The Capt. was in charge of his testimony from the onset and had not even a church mouse to fear against probing questions. Perhaps, I speak prematurely hear too…and his testimony may be found to have gaping holes when perused. Generally, I should think a person would be allowed to give a testimonial to an event(s) or circumstances as freely as is possible in order to absolve or implicate him or herself in a matter.

The Capt obviously spoke freely except when his lack of “Petitioner” status was used to block him from exposing his own “challenges;” but clearly, this was also an opportunity to ensure that matters be “firmed-up” as much as possible to eliminate ambiguity and loopholes in the testimony. This is usually achieved by the “opposition” (for lack of a better word) probing with prior information that's at both parties' disposal, and the actual content of the “on the fly testimony.” I didn't see such an effort on the Commission's part. Ignore the preceding comment if it was Petitioner(s) who asked the questions…but all the same, one expected much more….

Hence, my indifference to the headline news item: “JJ at NRC ends anticlimactically” posted on the main page of GhanaWeb. What did people really expect? Much was made about the Former President appearing before the Commission. Perhaps, his presence was more overwhelming than the Commission anticipated, or they indeed needed his time for exactly the duration of time he remained on the “seat.” Could this be the case? But according to the news article I read on GhanaWeb, when discharged from the proceedings, even: “He [Rawlings] opened his arms in disbelief. Sat down for sometime. Got up. Stood for sometime. Made the necessary courtesies, before leaving.” Everyone must be accorded respect. I do not believe that neither the Former President nor the retired Capt were disrespected in any fashion at the proceedings…but where respect is superimposed with unbridled awe, then, one tends to be overly cautious. I listened to the comments of one of the people present at the proceedings who was clearly in awe of the retired Capt's presence. After spending appreciable time ensuring the Capt understood precisely how exalted the Commission was to be graced by the Capt's presence, he proceeded to request of the Capt whatever information he'd like to give freely to the commission that'd aid it to achieve its goals. The Capt replied tersely that he'd like an apology from his accusers, or a direct confrontation with his accusers. The room was pregnant with silence immediately following the Capt's remark. The response seemed rather anticlimactic but who am I to speak on what is climactic?

Where does all this leave me? It leaves me with exactly the same feeling I used to have when I had to launder clothes with a bar of “don't touch me” soap. It slips out of grasp just when you think you have it palmed and ready to do laundry with.

In the interest of all the parties involved i.e., Petitioners, Accused, Accusers, The NRC, and Ghana, it is imperative that unparalleled efforts, transparency, passionate advocacy, (essentially, all the buzz words that one encounters when judicial fairness is probed) surround the proceedings. Everyone sleeps better at night knowing that no stone was left unturned, and that the accused were either justifiably convicted or absolved. In fact, the liars should be pursued with equal zeal!! It's a win-win situation. Would this be a case of the “deer caught in the headlights? Or would it be seemingly big-game anglers fishing for 250-pound-swordfish with worm-baited-hooks in the deep sea? I do not know for sure, but it does seem to me that these anglers may never have left the backyard pond where there is goldfish aplenty. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Kwamena Mends
Kwamena Mends, © 2004

The author has 3 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KwamenaMends

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

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