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Opinions Mon, 30 Sep 2002

The menace of armed robbery in Ghana is .....

...undermining our democracy

I lost a good friend the other night to armed robbery in Ghana. Nana, (may God blessed his memory) who lived for many years in the United States and relocated his family to Ghana this summer, was killed when armed gang raided his home at a suburb in Accra. His wife and kid are reportedly listed in fair condition at the hospital from injuries sustained from the attack. A couple of months ago, my 23-year old junior brother was nearly murdered when armed robbers invaded my senior sister's residence in Accra and slashed him all over with machete. Tetteh, who lived with us here in the United States, lost his junior brother last month through armed robbers' bullet.

Those and others are the horror stories coming out of Ghana about the menace of armed robbery in the country. Amidst the harsh realities of poverty, hunger, starvation, and joblessness, Ghanaians are also been subjected to out-of-control armed robbery in the country, and unfortunately our government seems to have no strategy in place at this moment to fight back.

The Kuffour administration is working hard to find a lasting solution to our ailing economy, but if it loses the war against these social terrorists in the country, then our democracy is in trouble. Before true democracy descended on Ghana, there was this authoritarian government that suppressed freedom of speech, stifled our aspirations and mismanaged the economy. However, one plague that the regime eradicated in Ghana was armed robbery. Our people's tribunals dispensed justice very quickly, and the culprits were shot in a firing squad. No crook judges, policemen and lawyers were allowed to use the technicalities of the law to aid those social outcast carry out their heinous act against the Ghanaian people. In the process the country was safe and peaceful and Ghanaians really appreciated that. In spite of all their grievances against the Rawlings' government, the majority of Ghanaian people gave his administration an A+ when it comes down to its handling of the internal security issue of the country.

During those years, the armed robbers stayed out of Ghana for their own sake. However, they have returned with vengeance after the change of government and alas, our current leaders have no clue as to how to fight them. The officials of the Bureau of National Investigation (BNI) seem to be always busy chasing after political opponents, in order to settle old scores than to worry much about armed robbery situation in the country. In contrast, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States are deeply involved in investigating everything that threatens the national security of the United States from espionage to drug trafficking to busting car-stealing syndicate and to catching international terrorists.

The agency even assist local law enforcement agencies of the various states to investigate murders, bank robberies, car jacking, armed robbery and industrial fraud. The list goes on and on because the FBI's primary focus is to ensure that the internal security of the United States of America is not compromised. They also work independently of any sitting administration, consequently, are not used as pawns to intimidate political opponents.

Recent reports from Ghana are replete with startling revelation of some corrupt law enforcement officials' involvement in many of the armed robbery operations in the country. This past week's arrest of that policeman in the Eastern Region caught selling AK-47s to the armed robbers was not an isolated incident. Bizarre stories of police ill preparedness or unwillingness to chase and apprehend robbers engaged in the act are examples of widespread complicity in high places within the enforcement community in Ghana. Their open solicitation and acceptance of bribes is now the norm, which eventually leads to the desire to make more money from other dangerous sources regardless of the consequence.

The solution to this social epidemic starts with the authorities. This implies that the people in government must revise the way they consider the threat that the upsurge of armed robbery in the country pose to our democracy. Just as any military disturbance is a hazard to our democratic institution, so does unrestrained armed robbery that kills and maims ordinary Ghanaians everyday. One of the basic principles of a democracy is the freedom of movement without hindrance. So if the armed robbers are making it impossible for Ghanaians to move freely on the streets of Takoradi, Tamale, Cape Coast, Kumasi and Accra at certain times of the night, and our democratically elected leaders don't seem to have any plan in place to combat these thugs, then what's the benefit?

One important issue that our government should bear in mind as it goes about fighting these armed robbers is that Ghana's economy has been in a bad shape for almost 40-years but Ghanaians have learned to live with that as long as they had peace and security. That's why the recent surge of armed robbery activity in the country could potentially undermine our democracy. That's also the main reason why our leaders must act NOW to destroy these terrorists' cells in the country before it's too late. If the history of our checkered political past is anything to go by, then our government must feel the pulse of the Ghanaian people and declare a WAR on these public nuisance immediately.

To this end, the firing squad must be reinstated and the quick dispensation of armed robbery cases in our courts be restored. The authorities must make it harder for armed robbers to make bail and judges that grant those bails arbitrarily should be penalized. Moreover, we must not allow ourselves to be lectured by the Europeans about the virtue of abolishing the firing squad, because they've by far a superior economic base to have to deal with the menace of armed robbery in their societies.

Secondly, the government should setup a special commando force comprising the military, police and the BNI to combat the armed robbers. But in order for them to succeed, the force must be armed to the teeth and supported by law to carry out this mission. They must also be made to report directly to the president to cut out the bureaucracy that's impeding our progress in the country. Additionally, they must be given all the necessary modern communication equipment to facilitate their operation and movement. Finally, the members must be remunerated handsomely to encourage them to do this task well.

Thirdly, the government should push legislation through parliament to make it a treasonable offense for any government official to aid any armed robbery operation in the country. The purpose is to discourage those corrupt judges, quack lawyers and unscrupulous law enforcement personnel who take advantage of the weaknesses in our laws to assist the armed robbers. It's so unthinkable that the very people who took an oath of office to uphold the law and protect the people are mixed up with these dangerous armed elements who inflict pain and suffering on defenseless Ghanaians. The corruption level in our justice system is very appalling and it appears as if the government is clueless about what remedial actions are needed.

Finally, the authorities should encourage every neighborhood across the nation to form a neighborhood-policing unit (in a vigilante style) to police their communities and also act as the first line of defense before law enforcement intervention. Armed gangs are known to avoid areas where the habitants are vigilant and ready to defend their lives and property against intruders. Furthermore, the government should use the mass media to campaign extensively against armed robbery in the country and maybe invite for information leading to arrest and prosecution.

This new danger facing Ghana is real and not imaginary. Many Ghanaians are wondering why foreign investors have not trooped into the country almost two years after the change of government in the country, and the answer is because of several reasons. News of rampant road accidents with fatalities on our roads, our bad road infrastructure, our brain drain, petty political infighting, and of course armed robbery does not bode well for our development. As I alluded in paragraph 7 above, armed robbery is not only one of our biggest threat but also a social canker, which is a bad news in the ears of prospective foreign investor.

Even Ghanaian citizens living inside and outside the country are concerned about the spate of armed robbery activity in Ghana. Item - a Ghanaian resident of London was shot and killed by armed robbers on the street of Kumasi after attending the "Home Coming Summit" in Ghana last year. Item - armed robbers attacked the Spintex Road's Commercial Bank at 10:00 a.m. after the security personnel left his post to travel to Tema to collect his paycheck. Item - armed robbers raided a company warehouse at Tema and killed 2 security guards. Item - a police officer at the Eastern Region was arrested last week for selling AK-47s to armed robbers who use the weapon to shoot at fellow policemen. Item - armed robbers attacked traders returning from Kosoa to Accra and clean them of everything that they had.

These are disturbing news that instills fear into the hearts of all people and especially investors with plans to visit the country. My friend Nana, who lived for years in the United States and went back home, to open up his own little business and hire Ghanaians was brutally murdered the other night by armed robbers at his residence at North Legon. So Nana left the stage yesterday, which Ghanaian is the next person to follow?

This is the critical question that the government must ponder on now and act IMMEDIATELY before it's too late.


Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of Ghanaweb.

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Dr. Rafak R. Nartey

Columnist: Dr. Rafak R. Nartey
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