When “liberal democrats” undermine the Supreme Court…

Sun, 7 Jul 2013 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Supreme Court’s efforts to clamp down on public comments detrimental to the performance of its legitimate function in hearing the NPP’s petition regarding Election 2012 has brought into sharp focus some fundamental peculiarities that separate the NPP from the NDC at several levels.

A scrutiny of public reaction to the Supreme Court’s moves suggests that the NPP is poles apart when it comes to discipline and political maturity. Its functionaries are more invested in undermining the integrity of the Supreme Court than warranted by the offence for which the Court has imposed custodial sentence and “punished” the errant commentators infringing the contempt of court clause in our legal code. They have come to notice as the only group of people stridently critical of the Supreme Court instead of seeing its moves as appropriate. Why is it so? And why are they leading the pack to create disaffection for the Court?

We recognize the fact that unlike the NPP functionaries, those in the NDC and the other political parties have not in any way confronted the Supreme Court nor have they condemned it for acting as it has done to instill discipline in public discourse concerning its status and performance. The NDC functionaries have not reacted to the Court’s moves even when two of their colleagues (Stephen Atubiga and Kwaku Boahen) were summonsed before the Court and dealt with. Is it because they are heartless? No!!

The NDC leaders did not make any utterance to express pleasure or displeasure at goings-on. They displayed political maturity and took everything in its stride, which is heart-warming. That display of political maturity puts them streets ahead of their political opponents in the NPP and their lackeys disguised as civil society leaders, journalists, academics, lawyers, or political commentators wrongly shooting their mouths all over the place. The venom that they are spitting characterizes them as politically misguided, morally bankrupt, and legally challenged—a danger to liberal democracy!

The jailing of Kuranchie has really exposed their underbelly and revealed to us their inner workings. I am not surprised that their initial condemnation of the Supreme Court for banning Sammy Awuku would escalate into open threats and arid defiance of the norms of civility. No moment passes by without any of them saying something odious about the Court. That seems to be their modus operandus to undermine the integrity of the Court in readiness for its verdict concerning their petition so that they can implement the next phase of their hidden agenda. But Justice Atuguba’s insistence that no one can intimidate the judges must alert them to the landmine that they are preparing to step on.

Why is it that the NPP members and apologists are those most vehemently criticizing the Supreme Court for taking action to ensure that its integrity is not impugned by those loosely commenting on its activities and denigrating Justice Atuguba and any member of the 9-member panel deemed to be posturing or making pronouncements detrimental to the NPP’s cause during proceedings in court?

Their misconduct raises questions of conscience: Is it because they are keen on upholding and protecting freedom of speech? Or because they are “liberal democrats” who believe in free speech for accomplishing political objectives? I don’t think so.

One streak in their character is unmitigated. If they were the “Apostles of Free Speech,” they would first prove so through their actions and utterances in-house. They won’t act like matadors and take fatal aim at anybody in their own midst who exercises his freedom of speech to criticize internal happenings, as was done by Kwame Pianim and Dr. Yves Charles Wereko Brobby only to be “eaten alive”. They won’t turn themselves into sharp shooters sniping at the internal critics. With their poison-laced arrows, they are worse than archers seeking to destroy their own for political (in)expediency. That is their rub!

The charity that they are looking for in the doings of the Supreme Court hasn’t begun at home for them. So, why are they out to behave as if the Supreme Court is insensitive and wayward? Why all this fuss about freedom of speech being threatened by the Supreme Court (and Justice Atuguba particularly) when they themselves haven’t in any way tolerated dissension in their own ranks and are resolved to stifle criticism from within? Why waste efforts to remove the speck in the eyes of the judges and not the beam in their own frog-eyes? Mere political frippery?

If you doubt why I am questioning the caginess of these NPP people, just take a cursory look at the volume of comments and threats from them over the past few days. Some examples:

1. General Secretary of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie, has said the Supreme Court judges' reaction in respect of public comments on the proceedings in the ongoing presidential election petition is an attempt to cow people from expressing themselves. He charged Justice Atuguba to be careful with his actions. ( Saturday, July 6, 2013, Ghanaweb: https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=278817)

2. Atta Akyea, counsel for Kuranchie has hit back at the “erring justices of the Supreme Court”, insisting that their decision was perverse and an affront to justice. (Saturday, July 6, 2013, Ghanaweb: https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=278801)

3. Anthony Abayifaa Karbo, the former Youth Organizer of the NPP, has stated emphatically that the imprisoning of Atubiga and Kuranchie by the Supreme Court over contemptuous comments will not stop criticisms of the court. (Saturday, July 6, 2013, Ghanaweb: https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=278796)

4. The Chairman of the Volta Regional branch of the NPP, Ken Wood Nuworsu, led a delegation of the Ho branch of the party to visit Kuranchie at the Ho prison and gave him tilapia and “banku” (as if inmates of the prison were not being fed by the authorities!). He said Kuranchie looked sober, but in good spirit especially after seeing the crowd of party supporters who had gathered outside the prison singing in support of him. Nuworsu praised Kuranchie for his boldness and loyalty to the party and said that the party has arranged for a team to visit him daily throughout the sentence period.

5. Kissi Adjabeng, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law of the University of Ghana, has questioned the posture of the Supreme Court in respect of the contempt charges it brought against some two persons. He described the Supreme Court’s ruling on Kuranchie, Atubiga, and the others as dangerous and said that it appeared as if the Supreme Court was looking out for an apologetic person before handing down its judgement.

6. Managing editor of the New Crusading Guide Newspaper (Abdul Kweku Baako Jnr.) expressed disappointment at the sentencing of Kuranchie and Atubiga. He said the Court’s action could harm free speech and that people would be scared of commenting on judicial issues, and this culture would not be in the interest of the judiciary. He called on the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to rise to the occasion.

Others have couched their criticism of the Supreme Court in diplomacy. Ace Kojo Annan Ankomah, a private legal practitioner, has advised Parliament to consider a Contempt of Court Act that defines contempt in a way that is accepted by the generality of the population. According to him, this will help maintain the balance between the right of free speech and commentary on court proceedings. He advised all Ghanaians thus: “Till Parliament steps to the plate, let your criticism of the court be measured and tempered”.

Only one voice of reason stood out from the NPP pack. That was Sam Okudzeto, a private legal practitioner, who approved the Supreme Court’s action. He said he was happy that the Court had found them guilty of criminal contempt and that it was necessary to indicate to the public that the dignity of a court must always be respected.

Okudzeto, who is also a former President of the Ghana Bar Association, told Joy FM’s Super Morning Show that clearly some media personnel had, in their commentary on the presidential election petition being heard by the Supreme Court, “gone beyond what we might say is fair comment.”

What would make Okudjeto stand out of the NPP crowd this way? Yet, the party boasts of countless lawyers in its fold!! What could Okudjeto see that they couldn’t? Why?

The Ghana Bar Association has not hidden its displeasure at the inability of the Supreme Court to crack the whip and urged it to bite and not only bark at those contemning it. When Sammy Awuku was dealt with, the GBA supported the Court’s action, describing his banning from the Court’s sittings as “mild” but purposeful. Nene Amegatcher, GBA President, told Joy News that “Lawyers are not supposed to run commentaries while the case is going on, with the intention of abusing or influencing the mind of supporters of a particular party and preparing them not to accept the results or not. It is against the ethics of the profession and the Ghana Bar Association is worried.” A good one there.

Rather strangely, Stephen Atubiga—a culprit himself—saw wisdom in the Court’s action against him. Upon his release from prison, he said the action of the judges had prevented the country from being plunged into post-election violence. He said his love and admiration for the bench had increased after his incarceration, adding, “I really applaud them for putting that iron fist on me. If I have the opportunity, I will go back to the Supreme Court and thank the judges.”

According to Atubiga, he was glad that the sentence would serve as a caution to journalists, politicians and the public at large who used what he described as “rotten language to undermine the authority of the bench… I have been used as a sacrificial lamb, to sanitize the place. Sometimes, you pay the price to sanitize the system”.

What have the NPP bigwigs done so far to prove that they are indeed ready to cooperate with the authorities to enforce discipline—and be worth recognizing as the “liberal democrats” that they label themselves? They saw the incarceration of Kuranchie as a political gem, which they frantically have seized to intensify their anti-Atuguba rabble rousing. Some shameless opportunists!!

They are all over the place, making noxious comments and daring the Supreme Court to take them on so they can move their recklessness a notch higher to unleash mayhem on the society. That is why they haven’t ceased condemning the Supreme Court, the latest one coming from their General Secretary.

Regardless of how they approach issues, their odious utterances against the Supreme Court are misplaced and smack of political immaturity. We, however, don’t expect them to relent soon because that is the last trump-card left for them before the Supreme Court seals their sad fate. Then, they will fall head-over-heels in love with anarchy and be dealt with in accordance with the extent and depth to which they will carry their notoriety. Some “liberal democrats” that we have in Ghana!

I shall return…

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.