Clemency For Unruliness: The Montie Contemnors
"It’s unfortunate that the petition was initiated at all, and even more unfortunate that it’s being signed by the likes of the Ministers of Education, and of Gender, Children and Social Protection”, Professor Ama Ata Aidoo.
The Ministers of State (MoS) turning themselves into clemency advocates for the President to activate Article 72 of the 1992 Constitution and to consequently pardon the three persons convicted of contempt of the Supreme Court (SC), have put Ghana into the book of nations with audacious disregard for the Judiciary and the rule of law. That the high-powered government appointees appending their signatures to the petition is not only laughable but an indelible mark that has stained the executive arm of government with the most dreaded act of hypocrisy and sheer disregard for laws and institutions.
Before delving into the spirit of this piece, a synopsis of the matter in reference is imperative. Ghana’s Supreme Court, on Wednesday, July 27, sentenced three persons in what has become the Muntie 3 saga. The three persons, namely, Salifu Maase aka Mugabe (the host), Alistair Nelson and Godwin Ako Gunn (both panellists) threatened the lives of justices of the SC and flagrantly held themselves in contempt of the Court.
The Court, acting on a petition citing the trio for contempt, found all three, as well as the directors of the radio station Muntie FM contempt of court and slapped the contemnors with four months’ imprisonment. Post the judgement, a section of Ghanaians, notably members of the ruling party have staged unalloyed support for the contemnors and are calling on President John Dramani Mahama to exercise his prerogative of mercy to correct what they describe as judicial tyranny. Sad!
In the full text of the ruling as made available, the justices of the SC have described the actions of the contemnors as diatribe - a forceful and bitter verbal attack on a person or group of persons. Perhaps, what is most worrying is not only the act of the diatribe per sey, but the attitude of the issuing persons, the timing and the platform on which the statements were made. I dilate on each as briefly as I can.
First, the timing of the threats was unfortunate, to say the least. The unfortunate statements of the panellist were made on the eve of Martyr's Day, a day described as the darkest in Ghana’s history when three high judges; Justices Kwadwo Adjei Agyepong, Poku Sarkodie and Mrs. Cecelia Koranteng-Addow (the latter was breastfeeding her baby when she was abducted) and a military officer were cold-bloodedly murdered by operatives of the Provisional National Defence Council, headed by the leader and founder of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), Flight Lieutenant J.J.Rawlings.
The public outcry that followed the abduction and murder of the justices led the PNDC to set up the Special Investigation Board headed by former Chief Justice Mr. Justice Azu Crabbe to unravel the mystery which surrounded the abduction. Interestingly, the SIP concluded that the abduction and murder was a plot hatched in connivance with members of the PNDC with Capt. Kojo Tsikata, the then PNDC Member in charge of National Security as the master-mind. Curiously, the justices were sitting on a review case brought by citizens who felt aggrieved by the Rawlings-led Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, hence their killings as a way of evading justice.
Second, the attitude of the panellist, with the host urging them on in an audacious spitting of venom represents grave disregard for state institutions. So spiteful are the words that repeating same is unhealthy. When persons on radio, knowing that the platform on which they sit travels with speed, can issue such repugnant verbiages of threats to justices of the SC, with no fear of arrest, and possible prosecution, then Ghana my beloved country is returning to the dark days of history where decrees sanctioned lawlessness.
The contemnors seemed to have been so sure that no state institution was to hold them accountable and predictably so, the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) hurriedly stated that the two panellist have no capacity to execute their threats as what they did was an act of ‘needless bravado’. Since the BNI admitted to the threats, it ought to have acted forcefully. The speed and rare nature of the statement from the BNI adds to the assertion that the two panellists had their backs well-covered. No wonder as the SC puts it, ‘they completely forgot that they were on planet Earth in a country called Ghana with laws…’. That the entire government machinery is now pleading for a presidential pardon reinforces the assertion that the Montie 3 had their backs fully covered.
Third, the platform, ie Montie Fm, is on record, by one of its directors as having been set up to counter the works of PeaceFM which the NDC perceive as doing the bidding of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP). This makes clear of the station’s agenda. Perceiving the SC justices as also doing the bidding of the NPP further incentivised the trio to issue threats of such magnitude against the justices of the SC.
The BNI’s statement clearing the two panellists evidences institutional impropriety given that the reputable security unit ought to have taken into account how it has in the past handled persons who in one way or the other were deemed to have acted ultra-vires.
In April, 2016, the BNI picked up the Managing Director of Marbles and Granites Limited Dr. Edmund Ayo Ani and two others on Friday and released them on Sunday afternoon on allegations that they were involved in the circulation of photos of vehicles which were allegedly procured for the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) and were allegedly being re-branded in the NDC colours. If circulation of photographs could attract such vigour of action, then it begs reasoning that persons who threatened justices of the SC were hurriedly declared as exhibiting needless bravado with no capacity to execute the threats by no less a body than the BNI of dreaded ferocity!
Dr Kwesi Aning, a security expert serving as the Head of the Department of Research at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) was apt when he asserted that the BNI handled the two panellists with kid gloves and that profiling persons and labelling them as incapable of executing a threat action would have required elaborate investigations.
Ministers of State and Skewed Advocacy
MoS must act in ways that protect the interest of the State and at all times. As members of the Executive, the MoS are enjoined to equally respect the independence of the judiciary. It is an act of hypocrisy for persons holding high ministerial offices in the Republic to belittle the independence of the judiciary which is one of the three bodies that form the government of which they (MoS) form an integral part. How feasible does it sound when such persons sign a petition demanding of the President to literally shoot down the SC’s decision through an executive fiat in the guise of Article 72? As the renowned Professor Ama Ata Aidoo has succinctly put it, “It’s unfortunate that the petition was initiated at all, and even more unfortunate that it’s being signed by the likes of the Ministers of Education, and of Gender, Children and Social Protection”. This is an aberration of justice and an affront to the rule of law.
The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGCSP) is guided by the phrase ‘social protection’ as its operational construct within which the sector minister is to act. Social Protection encapsulates the principle of ensuring that all persons are protected from abuse, threats and verbal assaults. Advocacy is also a principal object of MGCP in which case it is to promote the better treatment of women and children, and by extension vulnerable people. To the extent that the Montie 3 openly subjected the justices especially the Chief Justice (a woman) in both person and position to high levels of verbal and implied sexual assault, Nana Oye Lithur, the sector Minister should have been the first to wear her garb of activism and condemn the trio in no uncertain terms, after all, that is what she had all the years been noted for. The paradox of her silence is not as shocking as her signing the petition. Also, that, the education minister, Professor Jane Naana Opoku Agyemang to have signed the petition adds to the worry of many as these two high-profiled women ought to have praised the SC for imposing the sentences which undoubtedly seek to sanitise the media landscape and promote decorous discourses in the public space.
The President’s Lawyer
I read with approval a statement purported to have come from the President’s lawyer, Tony Lithur in which he averred that “the answer in my very humble view, is not the resort to executive intervention by the grant of pardon”. The President’s lawyer put the icing on the cake when he concluded that “…as a party there is already a stigma in our history of the murder of judges under our watch. We should avoid the deepening of any perception that we are against the judiciary in such fundamental way that translates into threat of physical harm”. Well-meaning Ghanaians have since found some relief in Mr. Lithur’s statement.
One must point out that it is legitimate for people to petition the President on matters of interest to them especially when Honourable George Loh, counsel for the 3rd and 4th contemnors believe that the petition does not constitute a gun on President Mahama’s head. However, the fact that the petition is strongly being championed and supported by the President’s own appointees in high offices is unfortunate and speaks of bad faith. That is why I support the call by well-meaning Ghanaians and organisations such as the Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG) that the ministers must stop (this kind of skewed) activism (emphasis mine) and represent the interest of the nation. I have pointed out elsewhere that although the President may be legally right to activate Article 72 as the petitioners so demand of him, doing so will be a show of moral turpitude unless all persons serving jail terms are freed in accompaniment with the Montie trio.
The murder of the judges remains a stigma on NDC as a party and what it could have done in the Montie saga was to have shown its disapproval of the comments of the contemnors and to proceed with a strong support for the four months’ sentences. That singular action could have helped the party relative to the murder stigma hanging on its neck. Sadly, the party has lost an opportunity to let Ghanaians know that threatening to kill is not an endorsement of the party. Professor Ama Ata Aidoo was apt when she pointed out that well-meaning Ghanaians who desire a wholesome place in Ghana should not sign this petition. The unfortunate paradox is how MoS are disregarding judicial independence through their stately petition. By their organised actions, and the praises for diatribe, it is fair to say that there is a government sponsorship for unruliness. That is a stain on our democratic credentials. It is sad that 34 years after the tragic murder of the three judges, leading government figures and ministers of state would query the imposition of prison terms to contemnors who have threatened the lives of the Supreme Court justices on the eve of the Martyrs' Day. I submit here that the so-called petition is an act of clemency for unruliness!
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The writer is a leadership, governance and social justice activist.
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