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Opinions Mon, 18 Feb 2002

Political Armed Robbery-Where Do We Stand?

...asks Kakraba Pratt- London.

Although not exactly analogous, I have for the purposes of this article chosen to compare successful coups d'etat in Ghana, with the rampant armed robbery that has gripped mother Ghana in recent times. Today, almost every Ghanaian is worried about armed robbery; with many too scared to stay in town after 10 p.m. The question is do we condone, condemn or glorify armed robbery?

The debate on armed robbery and the punishment that must be meted out to them when caught, rages on with some intensity; with some suggesting summary executions to serve as a deterrent, others advocating a trial but hang them any way, and a few insisting that care must be taken in other not to execute innocent persons who could be framed for political and other social reasons. My contribution is that give them a fair trial and if found guilty, after due appeal processes have been exhausted, transfer them to Teshie for the ultimate sacrifice.

We as a society have found a way of encouraging armed robbery and urging them on whilst complaining and crying foul. When armed robbers attend our churches, we give them front seats and shower praises on them for their monetary contributions and flamboyant lifestyle. Our pastors and chiefs are all too ready to pray for and to bestow traditional praises on them. Sometimes even when they are caught, we refuse to accept that these are criminals and pretend that they were framed by their detractors and go to some lengths to blame society for their woes. Are we justified in putting such criminals on a high societal pedestal? And do we not do the same for political armed robbers?

There are only two acceptable ways of withdrawing money from the bank. When you want money from Ghana Commercial bank, you can either withdraw it form your own monies deposited there in a current or savings accounts by writing out a cheque or presenting your savings book and taking enough money from your balance at the bank. That is one way. The other way when you don't have the money in the bank is to use the acceptable and approved way of applying for a loan or overdraft. This is where the bank manager allows you to fill a form and submit documents to show that you are capable of repaying the loan or have collateral to back your loan. You are assessed by the banks criteria and when satisfied that you qualify for the loan, then it is given to you with interest and a period of payment.

If you do not use any of these means and take up a gun to shoot your way into the bank to collect any money either because you think the queue is too long, the process of granting the loans is not fair or that the bank manager is not managing the money properly, you are an armed robber and. society must of necessity punish you. for robbing the bank. It may take twenty years or more for the police to catch up with you or for investigators to prove that you are an armed robber but once found, society must deal with you under the full rigours of the law. It should not matter whether by the time of your arrest you have used part of the money to build a school, hospital or church and have now turned born again Christian. You are still an armed robber and must be dealt with as such.

POLITICAL ARMED ROBBERY

In politics, just as with my analogy with the money in the bank and armed robbery, we have only two acceptable ways of becoming president of Ghana as prescribed by the constitution. You can as the choice of your political party or an independent presidential candidate, present your manifesto to the people, campaign against other contestants and win an election to become president, or you can as the Vice president, assume the presidency on the death of the president using only the provisions of the Ghanaian constitution and with the approval of the people of Ghana.

If you do not become president this way and take up a gun simply because in your opinion you cannot convince the electorate to vote for you, or that you lack the means to contest an election, that no political party will accept you as a leader, that the processes of winning power genuinely through the ballot box is too cumbersome, that you are the only one mentally in order to steer Ghana on to the right path or that every politician is corrupt; once you shoot your way to power in any shape or form, you become a political armed robber. You may use state money to build new schools and hospitals, improve the existing road networks, sell out state enterprises to private companies and exert a new gloss on public attitudes. Still, you remain a political armed robber and subject to the full rigours of the law.

The determination of society to arrest and punish armed robbery even several years after the act, is to ensure that citizens become aware that crime does not pay and that others are deterred by those punishments. It is also to ensure that glorification of crime in our society stops and to make those who take part in crime as the only way they know how to improve their lot in society, realise that crime does not pay.

The Coup of 1966

In Ghana we have had three major coups d' etat since independence; the first being the coup of 24th February, 1966 that toppled the great Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the luminary of Africa and the Black Diaspora. That was a coup which his opponents from the Danquah/Busia tradition have tried very hard to justify; claiming among others that Nkrumah had become a dictator, the economy was bad and he needed to be overthrown. Some have gone as far as hailing Kotoka and Afrifa as heroes who deserve national medals. Kotoka has been rewarded by the naming of Ghana's only international airport after him. There are also rumours that our current government is thinking of how to immortalise General Afrifa.

In the early years of the coup of 1966, Ghanaians were fooled into thinking that these "great" soldiers staged the coup because they loved Ghana so much that their actions were borne from their loyalty to the state and their desire to see Ghana free and under constitutional democratic rule. Several years after the coup and indeed while General Afrifa was still alive, operatives of America's intelligence agency (the C.I.A.) started writing books and releasing documents to the contrary. America, Britain, Belgium and France had felt threatened by the vision of this great son of Africa and had conspired to create economic hardships for his country in order to justify his removal from power.

It was in this scheme of things that Kotoka, Afrifa, Harley and A.K. Deku were bribed to effect the coup of 24th February, 1966. Even when they had their booty and were ready to put the country back on a democratic path, the election was so orchestrated as to hand over power to their preferred "bank manager" Frederick Kofi Abrefa Busia. And why should we as a nation and why should posterity honour such nation wreckers who sold the interest of their fledging new nation for a mess of pottage?

THE COUP OF 1972

In 1972 another political armed robber, General Kutu Acheampong emerged from the doldrums to state in a dawn broadcast that he was coming to save Ghana; When the only true reason why he had come was to enable him fill his pockets and give cars to women with big backsides. His intentions were made clear in his initial broadcast when he made it one of his reason for the coup as the loss of the little amenities enjoyed by soldiers. In actual fact, he was even thinking about the officer corps and not the men who constituted the bulk of the armed forces.

Of course the first few years seemed glorious, what with the Dahwenya irrigation project, the Operation Feed yourself programme, and such propagandist sloganeering as Eat what you grow, "yentua" One Nation one people one destiny! But were these enough to justify his action of shooting his way into the castle vis a vis the emergence of "kalabule" "bottom power" and other socio-economic ills? Why couldn't he like the other Ghanaians join a political party and campaigned for power in order to bring his lofty ideas into being? What real benefit did General Acheampong's coup bring to Ghana and Ghanaians and why should society glorify him after his death?

JUNE FOUR A.F.R.C.

This was a unique period of our political history. The only coup d' etat that I supported and still hold dear and therefore believe was right for the country. In fact, those responsible for that historical event refused to call it a coup but rather an uprising. It was the only time that the Ghana Army led by junior officers and the men had acted against an entrenched military Oligarchy that was in some way aiming to retire to enjoy their ill-gotten wealth. I hasten to add that the AFRC was the only group after 1966 that organised and supervised the fairest and most transparent election in Ghana. It had no interest in who won the elections and did nothing to interfere with the programme of return to constitutional rule.

As I understand it, the AFRC even returned the country to constitutional rule a week earlier than planned. If you like, you can call the AFRC the policeman who fought the armed robbers and when they had succeeded in trying and punishing them, returned the money to the bank and ensured that a competent bank manager had been appointed to manage the affairs of the bank. It introduced for the first time in the diction of Ghanaian politics the familiar words of probity and public accountability which no political group in Ghana can seriously overlook.

I do remember that in the heat to mete out revolutionary justice, ordinary members of the public were sometimes whipped on their bare backs for selling tinnapa and sardines above the supposed control prices and some women were lashed publicly on their naked backs for wearing short skirts and trousers. These were extremes but does it take away from the AFRC its policing nature and the fact that it is the only military incursion into Ghanaian politics that did not overthrow a democratically elected government of the people and for that matter did not subvert any constitution of our dear motherland ? Could these be armed robbers? NO. they were the police. Do they need glorification and honour from Ghanaians? yes I think so.

31ST DECEMBER "REVOLUTION"

Another issue that is causing much controversy in Ghana at the moment is that of REVEREND Dr. Flight Lt Jeremiah John Rawlings. What is his status and how do we treat him now that he is out of power? Is he a policeman, an armed robber or a bank manager? these are questions that will plague on the minds of many Ghanaians for a long time. Mr. Rawlings as chairman of the AFRC was the commander of the policemen who fought the armed robbers, tried them, punished them and restored the money back to the bank. He even helped to ensure that a new bank manager had been appointed to manage the wealth properly. He won the hearts of many Ghanaians and was the toast of the nation. He received numerous accolades and awards after hand over to the PNP administration led by the late Dr. Hilla Limann. He, like a proud and honest policeman received praises and a very handsome retirement with a guarantee that this police officer could one day find himself on a respectable council of state or some body of national importance. But was the policeman satisfied with his reward?

After a while he felt that his handsome pension and lack of public continuous salute was so unbearable. He found a few of his former police colleagues and new friends and invaded the bank with guns. He at that moment, transformed himself from a respected policeman to a disgraced armed robber. He tried to justify his raid on the bank by stating that the new bank manager was not managing the money he returned properly. He stole with impunity and made nonsense of all the reasons he gave for the executing former political armed robbers that he had overthrown. Some of his former policemen tried to no avail to talk him out of it whilst others and others tried once again to arrest him but were not successful. After so much pressure, embarrassment and demand from the people of Ghana, the policeman turned armed robber decided to return the money to the bank by arranging to have fresh elections and to return the country back to a democratically elected government under a new constitution.

The policeman turned armed robber decided that this time around, he would return the money to the bank only on the condition that he became the manager. He therefore arranged to have a new constitution written in such a way as to grant him immunity from prosecution for his political armed robbery and a head start over and above all other contenders for the post of "new bank manager", by ensuring that the electoral commissioner was hand-picked to fulfil his dream and to manipulate the conduct of elections such that, he could become the president of the fourth republic.

As president of the fourth republic (or bank manager of the restored bank), he set about the task of replacing bank officials with friends and cronies, who to the dismay of Ghanaians ransacked the vault and stole with impunity the little money left (ala Col. Osei Wusu, P.V Obeng, Serlomey, Quality grain scandal, presidential jetand so many other national woes;) He became the worse bank manager Ghana has ever seen with the economy in tatters and the country poorer than he met it in 1981. Admittedly, he refurbished some old roads and built some new ones but our hospitals moved from death traps as he found it to more than grave yards. Our hospitals became so bad that even ministers who were dying were flown abroad to die, prompting one political commentator to remark that "it appears that our hospitals are not even worth dying in them." Our schools and colleges became an avenue for turning out illiterate scholars and the whole nation became a laughing stock. His ministers destroyed our education so much that all ministers and party functionaries flew their children abroad for their education. We were reduced to a nation that could not even present genuine figures and accounts to the world bank and IMF for loans application and grants. After he lost power, political commentators agree that his was the most corrupt and bankrupt government Ghana had ever seen since independence.

GLORIFICATION OF ARMED ROBBERY

Whether we like it or not, for as long as an armed robber is free and let loose in society, he becomes a role model for some of our youth who are our hope for the future. They see the wealth, lifestyle, social standing and the fact that people throng to such criminals for advice and counsel as something to emulate and aspire to. What good citizenry image do we want our children and our up and coming future leaders to have? Do we want to have good and upright citizens who will at all times respect the law? Should we as a nation and a proud country glorify political armed robbery as is done in our churches and society? I should think not.

Political leaders become role models in our society. They are seen as opinion leaders and people will always quote them and repeat what they do. Unless they are very transparent and we hold them to account to ensure that all what they do is clear and above board, copy cats will continue to emerge and will not auger well for us as a nation. That is why the exhumation and reburial of past executed generals and officers who took part in political armed robbery by the current government is unjustified and uncalled for. I could well agree with the adage to "let sleeping skeletons lie" But the reburial of Afrifa, Kutu and Co does not bring about reconciliation, it fuels hatred and only serves to glorify political criminals.

At the turn of every era in Ghana, there has been some form of enquiry to review past activities and to punish wrong doers. The only government so far to have indemnified itself and is preventing Ghanaians from doing so is the P/NDC era. It cannot be over emphasised that the transitional provisions of the 1992 constitution and the NPP government's position pertaining to the Truth And Reconciliation Law is in the light of the analogy drawn between criminal and political armed robbery, an affront to political decency, good governance, probity and accountability in public office.

Should we stand by why political armed robbery is glorified and elevated to a privileged crime in our society? If so would we ever have the courage to discourage our children from emulating crime? In the wake of increasing armed robbery in the country and the lamentations of its victims, is it right that the on going praise of political armed robbers should go on?

WHERE DO WE STAND AS A NATION ON POLITICAL ARMED ROBBERY?

I pause for answers.


KOFI KAKRABA PRATT
224 NORTHBOROUGH ROAD,
NORBURY,
LONDON SW16 4BA, U.K.

Columnist: Pratt, Kofi Kakraba