Countrymen and women, loyalists and opponents, this letter was supposed to be an adulatory one, specially for the police. I wanted to pat the police on the back for arresting the most wanted suspect in Sikaman Atta Ayi and breaking up his gang of bandits. I also wanted to congratulate them for restoring order and sanity to those suburbs in Kumasi, which came under armed robbery attacks about a week ago.
But whiles I was drafting the adulatory letter, a friend of mine came to me with a very serious complaint against the police – particularly some officers at the Cantonments Police Station in Accra. My friend had a little domestic dispute with his auntie. His auntie reported him to the Cantonments Police Station and the officers went over to his place to “invite” him over for questioning. The officers did not meet him and so they called him on the phone and asked him to report at the police station. My young friend decided out of the goodness of his heart to pick up the police officers from his place and go with them to the station. He says he wanted to co-operate with the police as much as possible because from past experience he knows that the police like to be “respected and responded to promptly.”
So it happened that on that hot afternoon my young friend went to the police station in response to a summons – as I expect every law-abiding citizen to do. But, alas, what the police officers at the Cantonments Police Station did to him has reinforced my long-held belief that the police service is in dire need of reform and that it is imperative for officers to be retrained and reoriented for them to understand that the days of “obey before complain” are over.
Otherwise, they will mess up our democratic experiment. My friend tells me that the incident has also confirmed to him that it doesn't often pay to co-operate with the police. This is sad isn't it? I will tell you what happened.
My young friend says that upon his arrival at the Cantonments Police Station, he was ordered to go to the “counter back”. He is not a very well-educated man but at least he knows some of his rights. He knows, for example, that when a suspect is arrested the police are obliged to tell him the offence for which he's being arrested. The police are also obliged to spell out the suspect's rights to him and give him a chance to possibly call his lawyer. So he demanded to know why he's being ordered to go to the “counter back”. A plain-clothed pregnant officer at the counter called my friend “too known” – very typical of a benighted Sikaman citizen – and ordered a male colleague officer to deal with him. So the male officer forcefully dragged my friend to the “counter back”, gave him a few hefty slaps, stepped on his feet with the intention of hurting him and threw him in a cell. Under the full glare of the police officers, my friend was heckled by some of the suspects in the cell who demanded that he pays “cell fees”. I must say that my friend is a very stingy fellow and he doesn't like giving away money when he doesn't know what he will get in return for it. In fact, even for my last campaign, he didn't donate even a pesewa because he said that he would not get anything from donating to my political career. “Moreover,” he said, “I don't want my business to be tainted with politics”. So as stingy as he is, he refused to pay the so-called “cell fees”. The inmates pounced on him dragged him into one of the dirty toilets at the police station, kicked him about for a while and forcefully took money from his pocket. The police officers might claim not to know about this, but I won't be surprised if they got a cut from the “cell fee”. After he's been forced to pay the cell fee, one of the inmates – who was described as the “cell police man” – tried to console my friend. I must say that my friend is indeed very “too know” – he knows it – told the “cell police man” to shut up. The cell policeman responded by giving my friend another hefty slap. My friends said, “it is the heftiest slap I've had since I left my father's house.”
After about 45 minutes in the cell, the plain clothed pregnant officer shouted, “Mr. I-Knnow-my-Rights, come out.” Instantly, my friend knew that he was the one being referred to. So he rushed to the gate and was let out. He was ushered into the office of the station commander. This commander appointed himself prosecutor, witness and judge calling my friend “wicked” for taking his auntie's property. You see, my friend's 'auntie' is actually his uncle's wife. Under some agreement, my friend's uncle asked him to take the property from his wife. The wife got peeved and decided to show my friend “where the power lies.” I don't know what the woman told the police officer – or what she gave or offered to give him – but the officer, according to my friend, took sides with the woman. He told my friend that if he (my friend) is unable to put him (the officer) in touch with the owner of the property he will “rule in favour of the woman”.
So with trembling hands, my friend called his uncle on his cell phone. The uncle spoke to the officer and told him that the property should be given to his nephew, not his wife. It was only then that the station officer, acting as judge, ruled in favour of my friend. And the matter was settled. That's my friend's story. Sorry to bore you with it. But don't you think the story raises a number of issues?
First, it appears that the police still allow themselves to be used by people to show others “where power lies”. In a democratic country, this is unacceptable. The police have not right dabbling in domestic disputes. Even when the situation demands a police intervention, no officer has the power to deliver a judgment – as the station officer at Cantonments tried to do. This is an era of the rule of law and the police must be among those citizens with the special privilege of ensuring that the law prevails at all times.
Secondly, I want to know, do police officers know about the concept of human rights? I don't think they do. Because, more than a decade after the PNDC era, people still seem to suffer illegal arrests and detentions. My friend, for example, spent, about an hour in a police cell with no record at the station to show that he was ever in the cells. When he was 'arrested' his rights were not read to him. Rather he was given a few hefty slaps and thrown into the cell. It appears to me that our police have still not imbibed the concept that a suspect is “innocent until proven guilty”. Even if a criminal is caught red-handed, this concept holds. Let me raise another example. How will the police explain the big cut on Atta Ayi's right eyebrow when he was presented to the media? Why was there blood in his briefs? Did some officer crush his balls? Let it be known to the police that even hardened criminals have rights and police officers should know better.
My friend has decided to take his illegal arrest and detention to the highest authority for it to be investigated. He's reporting it to the police headquarters and to CHRAJ. I commend him for that I don't want the police to defend their own but I expect them to do the right thing and punish all the officers involved. For now all I can say is a big SHAME!
J. A. Fukuor Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.