Police & Military Brutalities: Why the Govt Must Act Now!

Police Brutality01

Thu, 4 Oct 2007 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

A news item, titled "Driver allegedly beaten to death by military," which appeared on Ghanaweb.com on Monday, September 24, 2007, has brought to the fore some of the problems prevalent in contemporary Ghanaian culture and why I think the government must act now to save the defenseless, hapless and innocent citizens from the atrocities unleashed on them recurrently by a few undisciplined and uncouth members of the military, paramilitary and the police. It is disheartening to observe that those who have sworn to the President of the Republic of Ghana to faithfully uphold the laws of the land have, over the years, become agents of terror to their fellow citizens. That the actions of both law enforcement officers and civilians need to align on the continuum of reason cannot be overemphasized.

The discernible "superior" mentality of soldiers and policemen in their dealings with their civilian counterparts stems from societal problems that date back to the 1966 overthrow of Ghana’s first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. In a matter of days after carrying out their successful putsch, all the accomplishments and triumphs of Dr. Nkrumah were systematically disparaged by this group of blood-thirsty, vengeful and ill-mannered military and police officers, led by Lt. Col. Emmanuel Kotoka and Major Akwasi Afrifa, in an attempt to legitimize the overthrow of the elected government. These purveyors of injustice and subversion went on a crusade, arresting known opponents and brutalizing anyone who appeared to be a threat, real or imagined. So began Ghanaians’ contempt for and distrust of the military and vice versa.

This ingrained suspicion between civilians and those in uniform escalated when Col. Ignatius Acheampong overthrew another legitimate government, only for an internal or palace coup to subsequently displace Acheampong himself. The final straw was when Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings exploded on the political scene in 1979, which led to severe atrocities in the name of the June 4th Revolution. I was only 10 years old in 1979, but have never forgotten how a band of soldiers came to Jasikan, Volta Region, rounded up a number of traders and then openly lashed them on benches in the full glare of those bold enough to watch the event, a scenario that for many years traumatized my young mind.

The aforementioned 1979 episode, in my mind, was the epitome of human ignominy and degradation, fomented by one group against another, and while Jerry Rawlings was certainly not aware of every evil committed during the three-month period he was in power, he must take the blame for the misdeeds of his associates, since he was the head of the junta. It was saddening to see our illiterate and semi-literate mothers and sisters stripped naked and humiliated for simply following the laws of demand and supply to keep their businesses afloat; these evil acts have forever dented the image of the military and police in the eyes of the public, leading to the suspicions that still exist today.

Below are just a few examples of brutality meted out over the years to ordinary Ghanaians by our military and police personnel.

October 28, 1998. Mr. Francis Sekpey was sound asleep in his own home when the police from the Buffalo Unit in Kumasi broke down his door. The police were allegedly looking for one Sulley. Mr. Sekpey was beaten to pulp for his refusal to open his front door ? the officers at the door did not initially identify themselves ? an act that the police construed as gross "disrespect" on the part of Sekpey! According Sekpey's attorney ? the latter made a formal petition to the Inspector-General of Police on behalf of his client ? Sekpey was "subjected to 'brutal and inhuman beatings with all kinds of gadgets'" (Modern Ghana News, 1998). Sekpey, as if the initial torture he suffered was not bad enough, was subjected to further beatings a short time later, which almost cost him his life. Sekpey also lost 7.4 million cedis in the mayhem. This amount was never recovered!

February 20, 2002. An officer of the Sofoline Police Station in Kumasi was "hired" by a foreign national to beat up the latter's Ghanaian wife for allegedly taking with her some personal items that belonged to the complainant. What started as a domestic dispute between a man and his wife, turned into allegations of a police officer disregarding all standard regulations and taking the law into his own hands, in exchange for a few thousand cedis! When the aggression finally ended, 7 million cedis, purportedly part of the total amount the victim had absconded with, was never recovered. According to the Ghanaian Chronicle, the officer “stripped [the victim] naked and brutally whipped her with a wire until she received bruises on her body.” There could not be a better example of the abuse of authority by uniformed personnel!

March 1, 2006. Presidential aspirant, John Atta Mills, alarmed by the excessive force employed by the police in Accra during demonstrations against the “passage of the Representation of the People Amendment Act (ROPAA)” (GNA, 2006), reminded the Inspector-General of Police that “it was public agitations, strikes, demonstrations and boycotts that won Ghana her independence; that saved Ghana from Acheampong's reckless UNIGOV misadventure and that continue to be the vehicles for oppressed people all over the world” (GNA, 2006).

April 5, 2007. The Upper West Regional Branch of the Ghana Bar Association, incensed by the senseless death of a Wa Polytechnic student, Bashirudeen Said, called on the government to investigate the circumstances surrounding the use of excessive force by the police in the death of Said. According to a GNA report, Mr. Said was riding a motorbike with his girlfriend when, upon reaching a police checkpoint, he allegedly failed to obey police instructions to stop. Out of demented exasperation, one of the officers pushed Mr. Said into a gutter, killing him instantly. Regrettably, this incident occurred only a few weeks after another rider was shot at close range by deranged police officers in Wa for not wearing a helmet! At least, the latter rider’s death was not in vain, as it led to public demonstrations and rioting in the town. When will Ghanaian uniformed officers learn that the country is not a police state?

August 22, 2007. A final year student of the University of Ghana, Legon, was assaulted by some officers of the Achimota Police Station in Accra for criticizing President Kufuor (Myjoyonline, 2007). The so-called "offence" was the result of criticism the student leveled against the president via a debate in a bus that was transporting the victim and others to another part of the city at the time. Whether the victim remonstrated with the peace officer ? or is it piss officer? ? was of no significance, whatsoever, for the Ghanaian Constitution grants all citizens freedom of expression!

What I found most exasperating about this particular story is that John Agyekum Kufuor would never have authorized the ill-treatment of any citizen based on the mere criticism of the president's actions! Whether the president was informed about this incident or not is a matter of speculation; I wish to state only that Mr. Kufuor would be appalled that such a criminal act would be associated with the seat of government, as the president, by all accounts, is not vindictive! I have stated elsewhere that I am apolitical, and I am no stooge for either the NDC or the NPP, so anyone who thinks that I blindly prop up this president, or his predecessor, for that matter, should go back and read my previous articles on Ghanaweb.com!

September 1, 2007. A report about police brutality from reliable sources in Kintampo, Brong Ahafo Region, has revealed that a 31-year-old schoolteacher, Mr. Francis Poku, has died in police custody. While the circumstances surrounding his death are somewhat murky, Mr. Poku could have been anyone’s teacher, father, brother, son, nephew or uncle. And although I do not advocate an incendiary clash between the police and relatives of the deceased, I expect the family to pressure the government for a full-scale investigation into the matter.

September 4, 2007. According to the Daily Graphic, "Two policemen and two soldiers have been implicated in the brutal beating that led to the death of a mini-bus driver at Suhum last month." The driver, George Atuah, was arrested for allegedly refusing to stop at a police-military checkpoint. A Ministry of Interior panel, after a thorough investigation of the circumstances that led to Atuah’s death, found the four officers culpable. While it is a step in the right direction by the Interior Minister, Kwamena Bartels, to remind police and military officers that they ought to operate "within the confines of the law even when somebody was suspected of being a criminal" (Modern Ghana News, 2007, p. 1), his remark was too casual and placatory to make the necessary impact. Mr. Atuah's pregnant wife has lost her husband needlessly, and the unborn child this poor woman is carrying will never know its father! I just pray that Atuah’s case file will not “disappear” a few weeks later, leaving the perpetrators to roam the streets freely once again. For once, the Kufuor administration should demonstrate that there is equal justice for all under the nation's constitution.

August 23, 2000. Deviating from the chronological order of my examples, I have reserved the next story for last, because I was affected personally by the death of my former classmate, friend, and brother, Edmund Ofori Ayeh, whose life was senselessly taken by some hoodlums in military uniform at the Next Door Beach Resort in Teshie, Accra. Edmund and I, together with others, studied for our G.C.E. Advanced Level at the highly esteemed Bishop Herman College, graduating in June 1987.

After our mandatory national service, Edmund went to the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, whereas I went to the University of Ghana, Legon. Edmund was one of the classiest, kindest, and most meticulous people I ever knew. Always wearing a warm smile, this former Cadbury biochemist was only a few weeks away from marrying his fiancée ? I never got the chance to meet this lady personally because I was, at the time, already domiciled in the U.S.A. ? when his life was sadistically taken from him. Was this accident preventable? Yes and yes! That this gentleman, in the prime of his life, had to die such an agonizing death is a painful reminder of what can go wrong when soldiers are allowed to roam the streets armed to the teeth. While his funeral was attended by dignitaries, including former President Jerry Rawlings, Edmund Ofori Ayeh will never be brought back from the dead, a loss his family must forever endure.

It is only in African nations that soldiers parade the streets fully armed, as though they were going to war! In effect, soldiers, police officers and other personnel in uniform could be ordered to never go into our towns and cities with weapons, unless they were on pre-arranged, clearly delineated missions. I hope my suggestion for stopping the wanton abuse of our defenseless young men and women, mothers and fathers, and the weak in society will be given serious thought by those in positions of authority, for there is, indeed, an aphorism that "we are only as strong as the weak among us."

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, in addition to two undergraduate degrees, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@gmu.edu.

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

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.