Democracy development, however it is in any country, is a gradual process, which requires over all machinery and careful planning to its determined goal. Ghana for the past 12 years has gradually been making very nice inroads in line with her defined brand of democracy that befits the cultural pluralism of Ghanaians. What is disheartening in the course of Ghana's democratic development is what to say, when to say it and how to say it!
In addressing a forum at a consultative meeting of Senior Police Officers, Chief Executives and Editors of media institutions in Accra on Thursday, 20th May 2004, the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Owusu Nsiah warned that “the Police Administration would not tolerate violence from any political party in the run-up to election 2004.” He further had this to say to the audience:
"We are not conducting selective policing; no matter which party you belong to, we will deal with you… the law would favour neither political activists nor chiefs, who used electioneering campaign platforms to brew trouble.” He was however did not take kindly of criticisms against his institution “ Police Administration was holding consultative meeting with stakeholders and groups and questioned the basis for criticism after it held discussions with some chiefs on their roles to make the polls peaceful, recently.” (ghanaweb Friday, 21 May 2004).
One cannot clearly infer from the statement, if the IGP, Mr. Owusu Nsiah understands what is freedom, limitations to freedom as stipulated by law, the role of the police and the power it wields in guiding and ensuring peaceful governance rule in Ghana; the limitations of the Police Administration itself and he the IGP as a Ghanaian.
No one should be blamed to have harboured mixed feelings among some Ghanaians as to the intent put forward by the IGP in his statement. The truth is, political parties are by law required to conduct their campaign activities in cognisance with the laws, which govern such parties. The police monitors and sees to it that the laws are obeyed by such parties. Sometimes, it includes educational forums like the one Mr. Owusu Nsiah addressed to help such parties to understand their roles better. It is not the duty of the police to go about warning people and political parties to obey the laws. It is not the duty of the police to educate every party member in Ghana about the details of party laws. It is the responsibility of the political parties themselves to help educate their members about the laws on their activities. The duty of the police is to arrest people and parties whose activities go contrary to the laws they know or are supposed to know.
Secondly, the police administration is suppose to be a civil and peaceful institution assisting citizens about their rights, the laws, protection of civilians and all sorts of help to enhance good civil environs. What the police cannot do is to go about warning people and parties long before elections that it will not tolerate violence. Peaceful means are taught to be implemented, they are not enforced on anyone in any democratic country in the world. When the supposed snipers of some US States – Ali Mohammed and Malvo – were on rampage killing an American each day, the Police Chief Moose went on air sobbing quietly and pleading with the criminals for dialogue. He did not go on air warning them. He used tactful means to seek results and with such cordial relations with the public, it was a truck driver who gave the final information they needed to ensure the arrest of the criminals and peace prevailed.
Whatever violence that an individual commits, the police using their discretion of the law arrests such culprits but it is not the police which will determine the fate or the extent of the breach of the law by such culprits and subsequently, the punishment. That is why the police administration would have to put before the law court, the people they have arrested for judges to decide. So for the police IGP in Ghana to say that the “…law would favour neither political activists nor chiefs, who used electioneering campaign platforms to brew trouble” is a subjective statement.
No matter what, some people will create trouble, the police will definitely arrest them and the court will decide their violent crimes. If the laws in Ghana have been favouring anyone in the past then they were not civil laws that they were supposed to be. On the other hand, one can also say that, the institutions like the Police has in the past helped some sectors and individuals including the government to imprison people wrongly or 'unfavourably.' If that is quiet sensible to argue, then the police as an institution in Ghana has not creditably performed its functions all along.
Again, the IGP may have to be informed that the Police administration is a neutral body (a civilian body). As a civilian institution, he (the IGP) including all police staff – policemen and women – are supposed to obey the laws, which govern the electoral process in Ghana. That is why when the policeman or woman uses any disproportional discretion to terrorise civilians or citizens in the course of their duties, they are also brought before the law courts and judged according to the same laws.
It is not as if the policemen and women are different Ghanaians who do not commit civil crimes. In our Ghanaian society, it has taken too long for people to learn properly their fundamental human rights. Due to this 'ignorance' some citizens have often been rudely and forcefully harassed by some men and women in the black uniform in the course of performing their police duties. As we educate ourselves as Ghanaians about violence prior to elections 2004, the message of civil obedience should therefore not come from the Police as a force or warning to another group of civilians. What should prevail is the rule of law and civil education about the laws of Ghana and not only for elections. Civil disobedience are not committed only prior to elections in Ghana.
It also appears that the IGP does not like criticisms. He seems to make no reasons from the comments by the public on some 'discrete' meetings he has had with some institutions in Ghana. Presently, the proliferation of FM media and newsprint in Ghana offer two way benefits. It helps the populace to discuss freely and sometimes 'ignorantly' about political and national issues. Often times, very little care is given to what has to be said on air and how. On the other hand, it is a fine opportunity for institutions like the police to capitalise on and help educate civilians about civil laws, human rights, etc. One hopes that the police administration will move swiftly to build rapport with the public through such media avenues to enhance good awareness, effective enough to support and sustain our country's young democracy. A good leader must have the soft spot for criticism and not to rubbish off comments when their activities have been going on under the carpet. The public has the right to complain.
Certainly, no one and institutions have been excellent for now. It is a period all Ghanaians would have to be tactful and deal openly with all and sundry for the good of Ghana. Certain comments are often deplorable, more so when it comes from leaders the citizens seem or required to align their trust. However, there is a fine opportunity today to keep searching, sustaining and developing what has been built after the years of 'darkness'. One hopes a great deal of suspicion will be swept away by open actions and said what ought to be said nicely.
There is very little one can hope for than the joy of peace not coarsely enforced but democratically developed.
I welcome criticism and comments Kwame Atta Kaytu www.incadega.org