By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
December 11, 2009
The current IGP, Paul Tawiah Quaye, must be counting himself unlucky in several respects, despite the good tidings that his elevation to that pedestal in the hierarchy of the Ghana Police Service might entail. I suspect that he has more sleepless nights now than he had had prior to his promotion. In a sense, the IGP is sitting on thorns and can’t be said to be a happy man. His elevation to the status of an IGP has given him a big head, which cannot dodge blows.
I guess that two major problems make him unfulfilled in his position. First, the high degree of indiscipline among the personnel in the Ghana Police Service, which continues to dent the image of the Service, is daunting. From all indications, it is obvious that Mr. Quaye and his henchmen are still grappling with that problem and finding it to be intractable. How to clean up the Police Service following daily incidents of misconduct on the part of personnel has been the major headache of his predecessors. Despite his declarations of intent to flush out the bad nuts, he must have realized by now that he is trying to force a river to flow upstream. A serious analysis of the situation should tell him why his predecessors failed to do what he has embarked on for some time now.
Second, the lack of logistics, funds, and other support services needed for effective policing to validate the role of the police as reliable partners in the consolidation of our democracy seems to be crippling his administration. It is a perennial problem that makes a mockery of the government’s constant harping on its determination to fight crime and provide adequate security for the citizens. The people still live in fear of the threat from criminals to limb and property and the police are overstretched to tackle the problem.
The IGP couldn’t bottle up his frustration any more. His high state of anxiety was revealed sometime last week by the Ashanti Regional Police Commander when he said at a professional development course for police prosecutors in Kumasi that the IGP had “lamented” the lack of funds for the Police Service to operate efficiently (in terms of recruitment and training, logistic support, and other demands of policing). Out of the fullness of Mr. Quaye’s heart, his ventriloquist spoke, and we heard him loud and clear!
This revelation is not only disturbing but it is also demonstrative of the sorry state of affairs in the very institutions that have the biggest challenge to secure our democracy but are under-funded or inadequately resourced for their onerous responsibilities. The Police Service is just one of them. This plight of the Police Service is accentuated by two eye-openers:
• “The policemen on the ground complained they don’t have life jackets so anytime there is an incident like that, they take to their heels”—Upper West Regional Minister, Mark Woyongo, on the violence in Bawku. • • The Upper East Regional Police Commander, ACP Bright Oduro, has indicated that his outfit cannot meet demands by some police personnel on “hunger strike” in Bawku. The police personnel were demanding cash in lieu of food ration. Their recourse to “hunger strike” was to press home their insistence on being paid their daily GH¢4 allowance (or more) by the authorities. The picture that the above issues create about the state of the Ghana Police Service is discouraging. How do we expect our society to benefit from the services of that institution, given its current status?
The IGP’s lamentation has once again put the police on the spot and given me the perspective for this article in which I will make the attempt to draw attention to the inadequacies of the Service and to suggest measures to make the institution more public-friendly and operationally efficient. Scathing though some of my observations may be, they are excusable. I think they are intended to ruffle feathers for a definite purpose: to sting the authorities into taking action to rebuild the Police Service and strengthen its calling as an important pillar of our democratic experiment. We must not give up on the Service.
The Image Problem
No institution that depends on the public for intelligence and material support can perform well if it has a bad public image. It is no exaggeration to say that the level of indiscipline in the Police Service is common knowledge. Wherever a Ghanaian police officer goes, gossipping fingers follow him or her. For one reason or the other, he/she attracts attention. One strong reason is that he/she is a symbol of bribery and corruption. Trust the public to know how to ridicule personnel of the Police Service.
Go to Cape Coast, for instance, and you will be told that all you have to do to prevent the police from taking action against you is to buy them “quarter” (referring to Akpeteshie). People in other places have their own ways of reaching out to the police to prevail over them. They know how to touch the underbelly of the police. All-in-all, this impression about the (lack of) integrity in the Police Service stinks. In a democracy, the police play a frontline role in crime control and enforcement of the laws. Political wisdom dictates that the military be relegated to the background and used only as the last resort in internal assignments involving the public. But we have a big problem on hand because of the negative foibles and frailties of the police personnel:
• They are known to be collaborators with criminals or being criminals themselves. Numerous trials and incarceration of some of them confirm this bad image.
• They have turned themselves into debt-collectors and errand boys of criminal gangs to which they supply dangerous weapons (including their own AK 47 assault rifle) to boost their nefarious activities.
• They are known for deserting their duty posts to indulge in criminal activities, including rape (sometimes of suspects in their custody).
• They are known for imposing bail conditions on suspects and extorting money from their relatives.
• They are guilty of unlawful imprisonment, brutalizing of innocent civilians or each other, and unruly conduct, especially drinking on duty and becoming a public nuisance
• Police personnel of the Motor Traffic and Transportation Unit (MTTU) are known for tyrannizing motorists and extorting money from drivers.
The list of their nefarious activities is really long. The problem is compounded by the fact that some senior police officers themselves condone and connive with the junior ranks to commit crimes. In some cases, they indulge in illicit sexual relationships with their subordinates, breaking down that chain of command and creating division and tension in the system. The esprit de corps is threatened and nothing good seems to be working for the institution. Such a negative image has made the police lose public trust and confidence.
There is a more disturbing history behind this kind of bad public image. Ever since the high-ranking Police Commissioners joined hands with the military to overthrow Dr. Nkrumah’s government, the searchlight on the Police Service has not dimmed. By joining hands with the military to overthrow the civilian government, the police officers dragged the institution into national politics and gave it the first real bad name. Forget about the role of the “Poultice Police” under the British colonial government’s rule, famous for their zombie nature as doers of the colonial master’s deeds. They were merely enforcing rigidly the law and order given them.
In that collusion, J.W.K. Harlley, Anthony Kwabena Deku, E.O. Nunoo, and Bawa Andani Yakubu defied all odds and made the police part of those who would use their monopoly over the instrument of violence for treachery against their own country. Every government since then (including those in our 4th Republic) has kept a close watch on the Police Service, making sure that its fate is tied to the Ministry of the Interior and overseen by the Vice President (as the Chairman of the Police Council) and allocated funds. The Police Service has suffered from the repercussions of its bad image.
In general, there is a breakdown of discipline in the Police Service, which no amount of disciplinary action (such as dismissals or demotions) have been able to eradicate. The problem is systemic and needs a holistic effort to solve. I will follow up in the next segment of my article with a further analysis of the problems and offer some suggestions on how to tackle the plight of the Police Service and its personnel.