The most important criteria of a true democratic society, inter alia, are an autonomous and free Judiciary as well as a free and independent media. The recent grossly reckless and extremely irresponsible conduct by Salifu Maase, popularly known as Mugabe, host of an Accra based FM radio station – Montie- and the two panellists Alistair Nelson and Godwin Aku-Gunn seems to have needlessly and unnecessarily placed these two fundamental bastions of democracy at loggerheads.
The facts are that on the radio programme ‘Pampaso’ hosted by Mugabe, extremely serious threats were made to kill some judges with specific reference to Justice Sulemana Gbadegbe and the Chief Justice Georgina Wood.
The threats are considered to be criminal in the criminal code. The threats constituted contempt of the court and also an intent to direct the courts and interfere with the administration of justice. Article 125 (i) of the 1992 constitution states clearly that ‘justice emanated from the people and shall be administered in the name of the people by the judiciary and shall be independent and subject only to the constitution’.
It is self-evident that no society committed to upholding the Rule of Law and Human Rights will ignore such criminally serious provocative pronouncements by Mugabe and the panellists on his radio programme.
It is unambiguously manifest that, in the delusion of the radio presenter and his cohorts, perhaps they thought that by virtue of the fact that the radio station is owned by NDC apparatchiks, they were virtually untouchable and immune from criminal prosecution.
The question is, did these individuals actually understand the constitutional provisions germane to the autonomy and freedom of the judiciary and the power invested in the judiciary to administer justice without fear or favour?
A further explication of the constitutional provisions relative to the crucial role of the judiciary in society can be found in clause 1 Article 127 which affirms that the judiciary shall not be subject to the control or direction of any person or authority in the exercise of judicial power in terms of judicial function subsection (2) provides that neither the President nor Parliament nor any person whatsoever can interfere with judges or judicial officers.
In the administration of justice the President and Parliament have a constitutional duty to assist and support judicial officers in the administration of justice in order to protect their independence, dignity and effectiveness.
It was actually imperative and absolutely right for Mugabe and his conspirators not only to be summoned by the court and prosecuted but also given a custodial sentence by Justice Sophia Akuffo who was the presiding Judge. The sentence of four months imprisonment and the imposition of a fine of 10,000 cedis is reasonably proportionate to the criminal act committed.
It could also be rightly interpreted that the words they expressed on the airwaves could potentially possibly incite criminally minded individuals to actually perpetrating the heinous act of killing the justices as Mugabe and his conspirators had threatened.
The reaction of the supporters of the ruling NDC government and the denunciation by the NDC Party hierarchy regarding the harshness of the sentence imposed on the perpetrators of the criminal intended act and the owners of the radio station ought to be deplored and outrightly condemned.
For the supporters to appeal to His Excellency President John Mahama to exercise his presidential prerogative of pardon under article 72 of the constitution to release the culprits is a crystal clear evidence of crass ignorance and a total misunderstanding of the critical invaluable role played by the judiciary in the administration of justice.
It is also irrational and illogical. The obvious implication of such a preposterous appeal to the President is that individuals who are affiliated to the ruling government must be exonerated and exempt from the consequences of their criminal actions. Let me passionately urge and appeal to His Excellency President Mahama to resist the call of his party adherents to release the offenders. People in Ghana ought to know that in the present democratic dispensation no one is above the law.
The history of impartial and independent jurisprudence in Ghana is fraught with highly unacceptable political interference to the Executive branch of government.Dr Kwame Nkrumah enacted the Preventive Detention Act ( PDA) which breached the fundamental human rights of numerous members of the opposition party with reprehensible impunity. Opponents of the CPP regime were jailed without the due process of the law or fair trial.
The then Chief Justice of Ghana, Sir Arku Korsah was dismissed from office in 1963 when he freed Tawia Adamafio and others in the infamous treason trial. In Sir Korsah’s judgement he found that there was insufficient evidence to convict Adamafio and his alleged conspirators for treason
Dr. K.A.Busia who was widely known to submit to the precepts of the Rule of Law attempted to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate public officials who were reinstated in the case of the Apollo 568’ .His utterance that no court could defy the will of the Executive significantly diminished and tarnished his avowed democratic credentials.
The period of various military dictatorships was notorious for dispensing with the proper administration of justice through an independent and free judiciary. It is an open secret that the human and legal rights of a large number of Ghanaians were flagrantly violated through indiscriminate killings, unlawful imprisonment and a whole range of judicial improprieties
The National Council of Civic Education must embark on a nationwide mass education campaign to inform, educate and raise the awareness and understanding of the citizens of their basic constitutional rights and responsibilities. This exercise will go a long way to enable citizens to make informed decisions about public protests and other legitimate exercise of their basic freedoms.
All political parties in Ghana must strenuously desist in actions that will undermine the national security and interfere with the promotion and maintenance of democratic practice. Whilst it is true that Ghana’s democratic tradition is not perfect it is rated very highly by the international community. All Ghanaians have a national duty to ensure that our hard won democracy is not jeopardised by mindless hooligans.
Chapter 12 of the 1992 Republican constitution captioned ‘Freedom and Independence of the Media’ 162(i) enunciates the freedom of the Press with Responsibility and affirms that the Freedom and Independence of the Press is hereby guaranteed but Article 164 elaborates this further –‘ The provisions of articles 162 and 163 of the constitution are subject to laws that are reasonably required in the interest of national security, public order, morality and the purpose of protecting the reputation, rights and freedoms of other persons.
The media is deemed as the fourth estate of the realm and must ensure that the information it provides to the public would enable the citizenry to scrutinise the affairs of the government, businesses and other state interests.
This onerous duty effectively imposes a critical watchdog role for the Media. Irresponsible and grossly reckless journalism undermines constitutional guarantees of the freedom of the Press which is critical to the democratic tradition.
The fortunes of the Media has been subjected to pendulum swings from total control and manipulation by unconstitutional military dictatorships to a reasonable degree of freedom under constitutional civilian democratic governments.
The military dictatorships of General Ignatious Acheampong and Flt. Lt Jerry Rawlings muzzled and stifled press freedom and used the state controlled media as propaganda machines for their ideologies. The press in Ghana suffered ignonimously and as a virtual mouthpiece for these dictatorial regimes the Free Press practised what the eminent late Professor Adu Boahene aptly described as a ‘Culture of Silence’.
The Criminal Libel and Seditious Law which was repealed in 2001 by the Kufuor government were intended to unshackle the press from numerous defamatory suits against practitioners of the media houses. Unfortunately there is a prevailing public perception that journalists are ‘arrogant, irresponsible, biased and unethical’. Unquestionably the media has a pivotal role to play in the promotion of democratic values in Ghana.
The Ghana Journalists Code of Ethics serves as a guide for the practice of journalists to ensure that members of the Association adhere to to the highest ethical standards, professional competence and good behaviour in carrying out their duties. The conduct of some broadcasters, numerous private radio and TV stations leave a lot to be desired and falls far below the parameters of conduct set by the GJA.
A Free and Responsible Press, an autonomous and Free judiciary are indispensable and a sine qua non for good democratic governance in our beloved country. Any and every attempt to muzzle Press freedom must be vigorously resisted nonetheless it is absolutely vital that members of the media strenuously endeavour to comply to the high standards set by the GJA and also have the moral sense to self censor.
Serious consideration must be given to constitutional empowerment of bodies such as the Media Commission and the GJA to be able to impose severe punitive sanctions against members who gravely contravene professional standards and bring the profession into disrepute.
The Judiciary and the Press are critical institutions for upholding, maintaining and promoting the democratic tradition in Ghana. Their constitutional roles must be wholly safeguarded and preserved but total cognisance must be placed on the institutions to ensure that the highest ideals can be realised.
By Alexander Kwasi Kufuor