By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Friday, November 25, 2011
Soon and very soon, there will be much bleating in the Ofori Panin Palace at Kibi when 72 sheep are herded in there as payment of the hefty fine imposed on Odehye Kwame Boateng, the man who accused the Okyenhene, Amoatia Ofori-Panin II of involvement in illegal gold mining in the Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Area of the Eastern Region. The bleating will not be it all. If Odehye Boateng provides the 36 crates of Schnapps as demanded, there will be much liquour for the audience listening to the bleating.
This is the Okyeman Council’s contribution to what gives the institution of chieftaincy a very bad name in contemporary times. It is often said that a dying donkey kicks the hardest. Our chieftaincy institution is, indeed, a dying donkey that is doing all it can, expending its energy in kicking the hardest but won’t survive the whirligig of modernization for as long as decisions of this sort reduce it to absurdity.
Despite some admirable aspects of chieftaincy, many things associated with it have become so outdated and unproductive as to detract from its relevance. Many of the social strife and unrests in the country have been caused by disputes erupting from succession to stools and underhand dealings concerning stool lands by the traditional authorities. Indeed, chieftaincy disputes are pervasive and endanger life and property in the country.
While such unrests are often sparked off by the institution’s own inherent weaknesses, certain ill-considered (in)actions by some traditional authorities also trigger problems that drain our national coffers when resources (security services, armaments, and other material means) are deployed to contain the situation. The ongoing conflicts in Bawku, Yendi, and many other parts of the country are the direct outcome of such conflicts. In effect, the institution of chieftaincy is problematic today. Let’s face facts.
The decision by the Okyeman Council throws light on this problem and confirms claims that the chieftaincy institution is in its death throes and won’t take long to invalidate itself in our modern system of governance. The Okyeman Council’s fine on Odehye Kwame Boateng is a clear demonstration of the inimical nature of chieftaincy today. It confronts everything that is normal in human relations.
Odehye Boateng has one week to make good the fines or he will be banished from Okyeman. The Council imposed the fines after Odehye Boateng had failed to attend a meeting at the Ofori Panin Fie on Friday, which was scheduled to hear his evidence against the Okyenhene.
As reported by Maxwell Kudekor of Asempa FM, Abusuapanin Kwasi Gyekye (who represented Odehye Boateng at the meeting) told the gathering that the accuser had spurned all entreaties to respond to the call to justify his charges on the grounds that he feared his life might be in danger.
Every sane person should be appalled by this decision, which has no respect for the overarching constitutional democratic system of governance. Here is what makes the Okyeman Council’s verdict outdated. It has no place in our modern-day system of governance:
“Should Boateng fail to meet the deadline and pay the fines, he will be considered a persona non grata in the whole of Okyeman, and nobody would be expected to socialize with him or attend his funeral, and he cannot be buried in Akyem.”
The basis on which the fines have been imposed are ridiculous; and the quantum of fines itself is obnoxious.
Charge Number 1
A member of the Okyenhene’s counsel, Mr. Kwame Acheampong, explained on Asempa FM that Odehye Boateng had been fined for “failing to recite correctly the great oath of the Akyems—“Awukudae ne Kwanyarko”—which he rendered as “Memeneda ne Kwanyarko.”
Charge Number 2
The second charge was “his failure to observe rituals that accompany the invocation of the oath (he should have hurried to the chief’s palace to inform the authorities of whatever challenge he faced and for which he invoked the oath).”
Charge Number 3
The third offence was framed as “invoking the bona fide oath of the Okyenhene,” which also attracted the same fine of 24 sheep and 12 crates of schnapps.
Absurdity of the Okyeman Council’s decision
Each of the charges carried a fine of 24 sheep and 12 crates of schnapps. I don’t support the Okyeman Council’s decision in any way. It is dangerous and an affront to decency. In the first place, the Okyeman Council invested itself with too much meta-judicial power and acted in contravention of the offender’s human rights. He had already been reported to be absent from the day’s proceedings for fear of his life. Of course, considering the gory aspects of chieftaincy, who won’t be in that state, appearing before people who could be ruthless in exacting revenge?
Why collect sheep (or rams) and schnapps from the offender? What development will these fines bring to Okyeman? Does the Okyenhene or the Okyeman Council have any means to rear these animals as an avenue for raising revenue with which to develop the area? Or are they aiming at only their bellies (to slaughter these animals for feasting as they gulp down the bottles of Schnapps, which is what such items are usually meant for, anyway)?
Or is the Okyeman Council merely following tradition in such instances to impose those fines? What is the justification for the hefty fines, anyway? And the substantive offence for which Odehye Boateng was summoned to the chief’s court wasn’t even determined to be factored into the fines!!
I wonder what these fines are meant to achieve: to make it difficult for the offender to pay and, therefore, render himself vulnerable to banishment? And in this modern age, who says that a traditional authority can banish a citizen from his homeland?
We already know that there is enmity between the Okyenhene and his accuser, which borders on ascension to the Ofori Panin Stool. This enmity has now boiled over and given the Okyenhene (Okyeman Council) the upper-hand in dealing with the offender. This is a good opportunity to finish him off, some might say. But it won’t happen just yet.
I can foresee a clash between the Okyeman Council and civility (in the sense of the established mechanisms for redressing grievances through the official court system).
As our traditional authorities come face-to-face with the realities of modern systems of governance and feel their power and authority sapped from them, they will resort to such ridiculous acts only to be stopped in their stride by the norms of modernity.
If the offender refuses to pay the fine and resorts to the law courts or constitutional provisions guaranteeing him his inalienable fundamental human rights, what can the Okyeman Council do? Physically grab him and eradicate him from the society or resort to clandestine means to plan his murder in consequence?
I don’t want to come across as disrespectful to the institution of chieftaincy or to support the allegations against the Okyenhene by this offender; but I disagree strongly with the punishment imposed on him.
I don’t want to be seen as supporting deviant behaviour either; but again, I want to say that the offender can be handled in a more humane and civilized manner than what he has been taken through.
The 1960 Criminal Code provides for the due process to be followed in dealing with cases of the sort for which this offender is being punished. If it’s slander or libel (character assassination), why not sue him for the courts to determine the case and impose punishment commensurate with our legal regimen?
By disregarding the provisions of the legal code and adopting the traditional norms of chieftaincy or unwritten conventional methods of conflict resolution, the Okyeman Council may be asserting its authority in such a case, but it is overstepping bounds, which makes its line of action reprehensible.
We have well-established and time-tested legal procedures for handling cases in the country and no one should side-step them to do what this Okyeman Council has done.
If the offender refuses to pay the fine, we’ll see what the Okyeman Council can do. But anything it does or fails to do in attempting to have its pound of flesh will reinforce the fact that the tradition of chieftaincy (and all its arsenal of norms and conventions) is indeed facing serious challenges from modern systems of governance. Will this archaic traditional approach survive?
The structures that chiefs use to exercise their political, economic, spiritual, and religious authority on the people are fast being superseded by modern forms of administration. Our chiefs and queenmothers know that the District, Municipal, and Metropolitan Assemblies have virtually whittled away their powers and that the official judicial system itself has also rendered their powers of adjudication virtually redundant. Only cowards will submit to their trial by ordeal.
In contemporary times, any chief seeking to exercise such powers will be on a collision course with the Establishment and its power structures. That the chiefs can still exercise some powers over their subjects at the local level is only a matter of tolerance and leniency. But the chiefs won’t be allowed to abuse such a disposition. They must be careful so as not to give cause for stringent action to clip their wings. We appreciate the cultural benefits of chieftaincy but won’t give the chiefs and queenmothers a blank cheque with which to undermine our humanity.
No sheep (ram) or crates of Schnapps will help the people of the Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Area solve their existential problems. I pooh-pooh this high-handedness of the Okyeman Council.