Justice Atuguba here, contempt of court there
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Friday, June 14, 2013
As is to be expected, the NPP’s machinery of calumny and intimidation is running at full throttle, churning out lies, pure hatred, and concentrated chaff against Justice William Atuguba, the president of the 9-member panel of Supreme Court judges hearing the NPP’s petition regarding Election 2012.
We are aware of the brains behind this campaign and have read opinion pieces and comments in several forums to that effect. The latest one is from a Professor Stephen Kwaku Asare (popularly known on Ghanaweb’s SIL as “Kwaku Azar). (See: http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=276871) His opinion piece, entitled “The Justice of Intimidation,” clearly epitomizes the mindset of the anti-Atuguba elements in the ranks of the NPP. The basis of this Atuguba-loathing is the misperception that he is “biased” in his conduct of affairs at the ongoing petition hearing.
Such opinion pieces and comments against Justice Atuguba and others on the panel clearly confirm the demonstrable insidious nature of these NPP characters. I laugh them to scorn and reassure them that their vain words of intimidation are like mere water that will drip off Justice Atuguba’s body as soon as splashed. It won’t stick!! Nor will it help reverse their sad electoral fate. What is written is written.
In fact, I blame the Supreme Court judges themselves for what is happening. They failed to establish firm control over the matter right at the very beginning and left the floodgates open for all manner of sludge to run through into the public sphere to infest public opinion about their integrity and work.
They could have set the tone for public interest in their work had they been long-sighted enough to see the drift of the matter before them. They could have foreseen the degree to which public discourse concerning this petition would go and could have known how to control it so that their integrity and manner of handling the case won’t be impugned.
Unfortunately, they didn’t. They appeared not to know that the high public interest in the matter would reach a point when those desperately fighting to win political power in the chambers of the court and not in the polling booths would not hesitate to isolate them for calumny at the least prompting. Justice Atuguba and his co-panelists failed to stamp their authority on the case right at the beginning and are now suffering the scourge of personal attacks. Knowing full well how desperate and determined the petitioners and their followers are to use the Supreme Court to advantage, it was only commonsensical that the judges would enforce measures to curtail wanton public discussion of the matter once it had been lodged before them for adjudication. Such discussions have virtually become the means for poisoning public opinion. In press law, the ubiquitous monster called “sub judice” scares all journalists because once a matter is before court, it becomes an instance of contempt of court for anybody to comment on it in the open, especially in writing. Anybody who flouts this press law knows what awaits him/her.
Thus, there exists an inherent constraint that the Supreme Court judges could have invoked to stop public discussion of the petition; but they failed to do so. The consequence is what now prevails with anybody—just anybody at all, but mostly those in the camp of the NPP—saying anything at all about the case and calumniating the judges, especially those seen as “biased” just because of their interventions during proceedings (which the NPP followers consider to be against their interests).
We have been given too much to know about the damage being done to the integrity of those judges, especially Justice William Atuguba, Presiding Judge of the nine-member panel.
Some flashback. When the petitioners’ legal team protested against the constitution of the panel, speculation was rife that their main target was Justice Atuguba whom they perceived as sympathetic to President Mahama and the NDC, apparently because his nephew (Dr. Raymond Atuguba) had been appointed by President Mahama as his Executive Secretary. So, the issue of blood ties quickly became the catalyst for the anti-Atuguba agitation right from scratch. Commonsense prevailed for the legal team to eat back their own vomit, although the cloud of suspicion that they created didn’t disperse or evaporate. The dynamics of the proceedings have revealed that the suspicion against Justice Atuguba has festered, calcified, and metamorphosed into hatred and a strong determination to paint him black. Of course, as the President of the panel of judges, Justice Atuguba has been prominent in controlling the ebb-and-flow of the proceedings.
His stern warnings are evident, especially at times when the line of questioning by counsel fell out of control. He did so to Tsatsu Tsikata and Tony Lithur at several times when Dr. Bawumia was being cross-examined. Even then, his detractors felt he was “pampering” Tsatsu and Lithur.
Then comes in Philip Addison. Justice Atuguba’s stern order to him to “shut up” and to know that the Bench would not budge to the whims and caprices of the Bar seemed to have triggered this loathing and pointing of gossipping fingers at him. Of course, he has explained that the Bench would not take instructions from Addison and acted strongly to confirm that stance. Is that a crime for which he should be on the NPP followers’ lips for the wrong cause? I don’t think so. That is why I strongly condemn these NPP people busily bad-mouthing him as “biased” and setting him up for needless public contempt.
The truth, however, is that it will take more than a mere condemnation for them to end their treachery, chicanery, and trickery. Now that they have set their machine of calumny in motion, they will not readily stop insulting, threatening, and impugning the integrity of Justice Atuguba (or any other member of the panel that they perceive as sympathizing with the respondents).
They have a sinister objective and are using this mechanism to create the condition for implementing their grand agenda of refusing to accept the verdict of the court when it goes against them. And that verdict will definitely go against them because they have not adduced any convincing evidence to support their allegations. They know it themselves but will dig in and pretend that they still have a water-tight petition with which to win the case. Such characters!! There are several reasons why they will intensify their campaign of Atuguba-loathing. First, it is the foundation of their grand agenda of manipulating public opinion regarding their petition. They have a sinister plan to approach the petition hearing with only one mindset—a win-win scenario (to win it at all cost just as they did for Election 2012 only to be torn apart).
This mindset has no room for any confutation. That is why they have shifted attention from the real substance of the proceedings in terms of EVIDENCE to support their allegations to personalizing issues. Relying on their hearts (sentiments/emotions) and not their heads (reason—as will be supported by facts and evidence) is the main weapon of choice to prosecute that agenda. What we see coming from them is in conformity with the tenets of that sinister agenda. Second, they need to sustain that campaign and can do so only through emotions. That is why they have been quick to raise issues concerning ethnicity, particularly in the case of Justice Atuguba, to say that because he is a Northerner, he will toe President Mahama’s line. That is also why they have begun spreading rumours that a group of chiefs from Northern Ghana have visited him to impress on him the need to use his position on the panel to retain president Mahama in office at the end of the petition hearing.
Worse still, they have deployed all their propaganda arsenal to intensify their campaign of lies, vituperation, and vilification just to sustain the climate of hatred for Justice Atuguba. Within the context of such vain propaganda stunts, it is obvious that the tension will not lessen; but in the end, all their anti-Atuguba campaign will amount to naught.
I want to say at this juncture that the negative attitude being displayed toward Justice Atuguba isn’t unexpected or anything out-of-the-way. It is an integral part of their “book politics,” traceable to their very roots in the pre-independence and immediate post-independence era. Their forebears did all they could to damage Dr. Nkrumah’s political interests in those days but suffered the negative backlash when he turned the heat on them. Were their Danquah and Busia to resurrect today to tell them their experiences, they would learn how not to inflate themselves too much and risk bursting. What is happening now won’t twist anybody’s arms to suit their political agenda. The Supreme Court judges hearing their petition are Ghanaians with a vested interest in their own lives, career, and posterity. They are clearly aware of the enormity of the responsibility imposed on them to dispose of this petition and will be advised to act and perform their functions as constitutionally mandated. I am confident that they know the difference between narrow, selfish, and parochial political interests, on the one hand, and the wider national collective interests verging on peace, tranquility and stability to sustain Ghana, on the other hand. They will do themselves and the country a world of good if they listen to reason.
The basis for any judgement to be made by them is expected to be formed by nothing but FACTS (evidence to be adduced) and not personal or partisan political considerations. Of course, they are political and social animals too; they voted at Election 2012 and know deep down their hearts and minds whom their preferred candidates were. But we are long past that stage.
In the end, the totality of ballots proved who won the Presidential elections. The evidence was clearly established at the polls and the votes counted and announced in the open for voters at each polling station to know who won and who lost. Basing arguments on errors in entries on pink sheets, bulldozing one’s way through the judicial labyrinth, and gearing up to gore any member of the panel misperceived as supporting President Mahama and the NDC won’t change the will of the electorate. That is why all these agitations against Justice Atuguba are pointless. Those deceiving themselves that they can intimidate him with such misplaced venom will be dealt with if they overstep bounds.
That is why I urge the panel of judges to sit up and invoke all the powers at their disposal to clamp down on the wanton open discussion of the case that is already before them. The principle of “sub judice” isn’t dead and must be enforced. It is high time some of those loud-mouthed elements spreading falsehood and casting insinuations about the court case, the Supreme Court itself, and the panel of judges were brought to book under the aegis of “contempt of court.” Once somebody is dealt with and punished as such, it will deter all others from pursuing that cause of calumny.
Until the judges do so, they will continue to be the butt of what the anti-Atuguba elements in the NPP have set in motion. The time to crack the whip may be long gone, but the judges shouldn’t continue to look on bemused when their integrity is dragged in the mud. Can these judges help enforce their own laws, especially that concerning contempt of court? We wait to see.
I shall return.
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