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02.03.2005 Crime & Punishment

OPINION: After Capture of 'King' Ataa Ayi

By Ghanaian Chronicle

A True End of the Road?

Thank heavens that, after several months of sitting on thorns, Ghanaians, especially the wealthy ones living in the very urban parts of the country, can now sleep with both eyes closed.

This is because of the arrest last Monday of Aryee Ayittey, (alias Ataa Ayi, Odai Yemoh, Baaba Lucky, and Issa) the nation's currently most notorious bandit, whose 'market value' had risen so high that not only was a price tag placed on his head by the government, but had also prompted the largest manhunt in the nation's recent history, with expensive billboards, bearing his portraits, mounted in five of the ten regions in the country for easy identification by the general public.

Some called him a professional armed robber, others simply referred to him as a carrier criminal, but Ayi said his arrest, after six-years of chase, was more catalyzed by divine intervention and the wish of Almighty God than anything else. Ironically, he made these 'confessions' with a six-in-one, fetish-made talisman/amulet dangling on his neck.

And on a lighter note one could also say, that like the proverbial stubborn goat who claimed he would definitely become a king before his death because the butcher would have to carry him shoulder high to the slaughter house, Ataa Ayi 'enjoyed' what even some presidential and parliamentary aspirants could not afford in the run-up to the last general elections, as many of them could not erect their own signboards, let alone billboards.

But whatever way and form it took, the capture of the goon will certainly close one chapter of gangsterism in the country. What should not be forgotten is the fact that it is just one chapter, not the entire book, which has been closed.

OFFICIAL COMMENTS

As would be expected, the arrest did not only give the police gurus a sigh of relief and extra energy to beat their chest, but attracted a lot of official comments less than 24 hour after it was effected.

Dr. Kenneth Agyeman Attefua, a criminologist and renowned prosecutor, said in a radio interview that notorious and hardcore criminals are not super humans or extremely brainy in any way, and described them as a lazy bunch of people who simply want to make it through the shortest possible means.

The Greater Accra regional police commander, ACP Kofi Boakye, told the media that with Ayi's arrest, a complete generation of armed robbers had been brought to an end, and described the gangster as a courageous robber who could snatch a car at gunpoint in broad daylight and even in a traffic jam.

Commenting on the development, Dr. Emmanuel Kwesi Ening of the African Security Dialogue (ASD) cautioned that a new strategy would have to be adopted in order to get others on the run since they are likely to change their modus operandi.

At the same time, Mr. Opoku Agyeman, a law lecturer at the University of Ghana, cautioned that care needed to be taken in the haste to get justice done, lest innocent people are roped in and prosecuted. He said it is not the duty of the police and general public to convict people and conceded that the system and process of criminal justice needed to be 're-designed' even though he had no problem with the law itself. "It is better to free a hundred criminals than to jail one innocent person", he stressed.

All said and done, the multi-million dollar question is whether armed robbery has thus been uprooted with this great arrest, and whether previous arrests elsewhere have ever done so.

LAWRENCE ANINI

For, like the case of Nigeria some two decades ago, the arrest of a gang leader should not be equated to the dismantling of the groups he formed or led when in the free world, neither the removal of the pushing and pulling factors that turned the youth into criminals.

At that time (1985), Lawrence Anini, alias 'Ovigbo The Law', was Ayi's opposite number in that country, but he was by far more savagely ferocious, and operated with more sophistication than the Ghanaian.

The Bendel State 'guy', who outclassed the likes of Dr. Oyenusi, one of the forerunners of armed robbery in Nigeria, at a point earned the accolade 'the Modern day Robin Hood' because even when he was declared the most wanted human being in that part of the world and hunted all over the federation, he still robbed and sprayed his booty at market places to those he regarded as the have-nots in society.

Unlike Ayi of Ghana, who liked to tail customers as they walked out of the banking hall, Anini would rather attack the entire bank or company cash safe, killing all who stood in his way. While customers ran helter-skelter for dear lives, staff and cashiers hid under desks and counters.

He had stories to tell in Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Benin City, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Owerri, Anambra and parts of Kwara State, where he operated.

And when he was eventually captured and interviewed live on television, 'Ovigbo The Law' shouted at his gang members, who were then weeping and pleading for mercy, and asked them to face death like men.

In fact never did a week pass without he and his gang surfacing and striking sporadically. His name eventually became a household one on almost every lip, such that some western media giants described him as virtually ruling one half of Nigeria, and leaving the other half for General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, the then Head of State.

Incidentally, the arrests of such 'tough guys' are usually simple and with little resistance. Anini was caught resting in his girlfriend's room, while Ayi was grabbed washing some clothes right in the presence of his wife.

And in the Nigerian situation, both Dr. Oyenusi and Lawrence Anini have been executed at the Bar Beach and Kirikiri Prisons respectively, but armed robbery had not been finally uprooted there.

BABY NII & JONATHAN LARTEY

Over here, when Baby Nii escaped from the Nsawam Prisons, after he feigned sickness and was being led to the hospital, the whole nation thought he was the only threat in town. Naturally, his re-arrest in neighbouring Togo weeks later was hailed as the best thing to have happened in the police service.

Before then, was Jonathan Lartey, the Bukom-born lad who continually operated his three robbery gangs from his Kaneshie Zongo Junction base, using a family house at Kpong in the eastern region as his hideout. Even though his name appeared on many crime sheets, the police never knew him, and never caught him, until an identification parade to the general public had him nailed three years ago.

And like many of his contemporaries, Jonathan, indisputably more hardened and daring than Ataa Ayi, is still in police custody as a suspect, and could be set free soon, as was done to Emmanuel Tetteh Sackey, alias Mpata who was released after eight years in remand.

ACP Boakye, the regional police boss may be right when he frowned that for the past two years all the armed robbers arrested had not been prosecuted. This is a pity to hear, considering the alacrity with which minor offenders like drivers and traders were convicted for wrong parking and selling on pavements.

RELIGIOUS/TRADITIONAL LEADERS

A critical analysis in Ayi's gang revealed that even though the group was large enough they felt most comfortable operating in a gang of four at a time. Equally revealing is the fact that some members with Christian backgrounds usually hid behind Muslim names and vice versa. For instance, Ayi took up the names Baaba Lucky and Issa, while his colleague, Abdul Razak was known as Jonathan Ohene Mantey or Nana Osei Kwadjo. Mpata was also said to be an elder in a church at Ashaiman.

What is more disturbing is the impunity that Nagai Tetteh, member of the gang, had in taking upon himself the title 'Ga Mantse', the most revered traditional name in the entire national capital, set aside for the paramount chief of the land.

Whilst it is not clear whether the friends, spouses, landlords and parents of Ayi, for instance, could be put before court for failing to alert the police, after they were made aware through the publicity that he was a wanted man, it is the belief of this writer that, people who take up names of other religions into which they were not converted should be watched closely. The Ga Traditional Council can also take action against Nagai Tetteh for drawing the name of that high office into disrepute to serve as a deterrent to others.

This is definitely not the end of violent robberies in Ghana, more so when it is known that a new dimension of hired assassins has been introduced into the system just as took place at Dome Pillar Two last month. Apart from that ACP Boakye's concerns about the slow judicial process are signs of an institution that is being frustrated. Dr. Ening's suggestion of new strategies in hunting criminals could be helpful, but equally important, if not more, is the issue of unemployment among the youth in the urban areas.

Frustration, wide social gap between the rich and poor, and harsh economic environment are other driving forces pushing the youth to copy habits hitherto alien to this country. Punitive measures alone may not be enough. Maybe recruiting some of them (known criminals) into the Military and Police to help in tracking down others could be one way out.

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