Do the Police in Ghana Have Human Rights?

Sat, 6 Nov 2010 Source: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

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By Manasseh Azure Awuni

I will not be surprised if a group of armed bandits calling itself Concerned Armed Robbers Association of Ghana (CARAG) emerges one of these days. I will also not be surprised to see scores of human rights activists jumping to the defense of the armed bandits if the police deny them a permit to demonstrate against human rights abuses (real or perceived) perpetuated against them by the police.

It is a popular saying in Journalism that if a dog bites a man, it is not news, but if a man bites a dog, then it qualifies to become a front page or headline news. The media generally consider an event more newsworthy if there is something unusual about it. However, this saying aptly describes the attitude of human rights activists in this country. Anytime armed robbers die after engaging the police in bloody shootouts, human rights activists jump from one platform to the other, spinning weird tales about the rights of robbers.

On the other hand, when police officers are brutalized or killed, no one seems to care about the incident after newspaper reviews on radio and TV. Within one month recently, three police officers were killed for performing their legitimate duties. The first incident occurred in Alar Bar in Kumasi, when a police constable was murdered by a group of young men for allegedly shooting a suspected armed robber. Just when the police administration was recovering from that shock, a notorious jail breaker in the Northern Region, Johnson Kombian alias “Burger”, was reported to have lain ambush and shot three police officers in Nakpanduri. Two of the police officers died while the third is receiving treatment.

When the police officers died, it was not newsworthy for human rights activists to comment, but when the police descended on Nakpanduri to crack down a network reported to be shielding the criminal, hell broke loose and as usual, chapter after chapter of the sacred 1992 Constitution was quoted by human rights activists to illustrate why the police had no right to do what they did. I am not in any way supporting the excesses of the police officers. The people of Nakpanduri have on three occasions assisted the police to apprehend Kombian and he was jailed on three occasions in Ghana. But some prison officers (not the police) have allowed him to escape under mysterious circumstances. So the people of Nakpanduri have their lives to protect. They therefore did not deserve what was visited on them, except the faceless individuals shielding him from arrest.

But it looks as if we are teaming up with criminals to deal with the police.

From Friday, June 4, to Saturday, June 5, 2010, police officers at their various duty posts in the Kumasi metropolis came under brutal attacks from men of the Fourth Garrison of the Ghana Armed Forces. The brutalities, which left three police officers unconscious, were treated as a trivial matter. And the soldiers who visited mayhem on their fellow security officers are going about their duty without any punishment. Our elders say he does not punish evil commands it to be done.

So two months later, soldiers in Ho subjected another police man to severe beating. They did not deny assaulting the peace officer, who was doing his constitutionally-mandated duty, but they justified it. They said the police officer was drunk, and I’m yet to hear about any action against those soldiers, too. It is not only soldiers and armed robbers who abuse the police. Expatriates have also learnt from our maltreatment of our police.

The Saturday, October 30, edition of The Mirror carried a story of an American who spat on a police corporal and called him a “black monkey.” This happened in Takoradi. The Yankee had jumped the red light and when the police corporal wanted to arrest him, he subjected him to that disdainfully racial abuse in police officer’s own mother land.

Do our police officers have human rights?

While Prof. Ken Attafuah was defending Amina Mohammed from one radio station to the other, a mob attacked and beat up police officers in Siniensi, a town near Sandema in the Builsa District. The officer’s crime? They were going to settle a misunderstanding between the community and Fulani herdsmen. The police were said to have lost “four service rifles, a pistol and a mobile accessory in the incident.” The silence of the human rights activists in this matter was again too loud. They would not have kept quiet had a riffle exploded in the scuffle and killed one attacker.

Who then speaks for the police?

Prof. Ken Attafuah must be commended for singlehandedly defending the rights of Amina Mohammed, the witness of the “armed robbery and mass rape” on the Tamale-bound bus. Nana Oye Lithur has also condemned the refusal of the police to grant the woman bail. But I ask Prof. Attafuah and Nana Oye Lithur the same question. Do our police officers have human rights? I don’t hear them when our officers are abused, either by government officials, soldiers, expatriates, and the general public.

I don’t dispute the fact that there are some bad nuts in the police service. But who put them there? How on earth shall we not have such recalcitrant officers when, even before a recruitment is announced, those who will eventually pass out are already known? How do we expect to have law abiding army and police officers when a politician, in reaction to criticisms that he had not done much for the youth of his party, openly boasted the huge number of youth he alone had pushed into the security services? As for the police kowtowing to dictates of governments, we cannot blame them. It happens in the state media and in all public institutions in Ghana. until the rotten tooth is removed, we can only chew with caution.

One does not expect such human rights campaigners to encourage the police to shoot suspected criminals on sight, but the deplorable conditions in which the police in this country work must not escape the attention of any right-thinking human rights advocate. Anyone who knows Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo District, where the jail breaker is reported to be recruiting young men to terrorize traders and other travellers in that part of the country will conclude that the condition of the police there is tantamount to punishment and not a service to the nation. Bunkpurugu is one of the conflict ridden districts in the Northern Region, where some 3500 alleged refugees reportedly fled to Togo in April this year. It takes about four hours or more to travel from Tamale to the district, depending on the type of vehicle you’re travelling in. Due to the deplorable road network in the area, reinforcement during crisis is almost impossible.

This therefore requires adequate resourcing of the police there to deal with emergencies. That is, however, not the case. The district police headquarters has no single computer and officers have to rely on their own laptops to type reports and other important documents. There is no telephone facility even at the district police headquarters and police officers use their personal cell phones for all official communication without reimbursement. Apart from the only vehicle available in that volatile district, the police have to depend on private motorbikes for their patrols. No wonder then that the police officers who were shot by Kombian were on a motor bike. The police in Nakpanduri use an improvised structure as a police station and so insecure is the place that Kombian once attacked and stole an AK 47 rifle from the station some three years ago. The Nakpanduri Police Station has since been closed down due to insecurity.

All these among others expose the officers of the law to indescribable risk. But the woes of the police are not limited to those in that part of the country alone. Visit any police barracks in Accra and the reality of untold suffering our officers go through will dawn on you like a sunny day. We must also know that the fact that they are police officers does not mean that they are fortified against death. They are bread winners of families and the lives of many people hinge on their survival. How many of our police officers face the armed robbers with bullet proof and other protective vests? Are the police super human? And now that the armed robbers seem to have declared the war, the question is how do the police respond?

With the current spate of insecurity, due mainly to armed robbery, everybody is a potential target. Hardly a day passes without a news item on a gruesome murder in one region or the other. This calls for the revisit of the law on capital punishment. It is a kind of action that will invoke the wrath of human rights activists and their pay masters, but armed robbery must not be allowed to take over the nation.

If armed robbers and other criminals now think that it is better to die in shootouts than surrender, then so be it. We do not expect the police to face armed robbers with truncheons, do we? Ghana is a very small country and we and the police cannot fail in their quest to protect the citizens, diplomats and investors. Ghana must not, in the name of democracy, be so liberal with murderous criminals and allow the security situation of the country to get out of hand.

After all, the frog likes water but not when it is boiling.

Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni [www.maxighana.com] Email: azureachebe2@yahoo.comThe writer is a freelance journalist based in Accra. To read more of his writings visit www.maxighana.com

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure