Why the Attempt to Suppress Concerns of Citizens Who Chose not to be Spectators

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Ghana, my beloved country, is a democratic state undoubtedly. We have institutions of any democratic state, formulated a democratic constitution that seeks to guarantee rights and liberties under its authority, relying on all organs of state to ensure such rights are guaranteed and enforced. That does not mean nothing can go wrong. Indeed, in advanced democracies, we see and read of excesses. Where presidents think they have the power to extend their reach and are only stopped by other institutions of state because they enjoy full independence. Under such democracies, political leanings have little to do with decisions but rather, philosophical orientations of individuals who occupy principal positions, are those that can predict one’s actions and decisions. It is on the basis of this (these) that we need to keep an eye on things that are not going to enhance our democracy and to correct them. Otherwise, we will be assuming that because we have decided to go the line of democracy, we should all go to bed and believe that those we hand power to take decisions on our behalf will always do what is right. That would portend danger for us. We shall just wake up one day and realize we have nothing left to protect.

Over the past few weeks, there have been several discussions in the public domain that I think require critical examination. And I have taken it upon myself to share my views, and I encourage all to do same. We are building a country that we all have a stake in. How the country becomes, is exactly how we would have made it. There were critical issues ranging from the seeming efforts to shut critics of government to the very things government has done and is doing to improve on the living conditions of the people. The recent one, the determined efforts by the Ghana Police Service through an order of the Courts, to stop the demonstration by citizens who have mobilized under the hashtag #FixTheCountry. There were initial efforts mainly adopted by the politicians of the country to downplay the impact of the force with which the mobilization was being done. Generally, it has become established that any such counter efforts that do not seem to respect the sensibilities of those organizing the demonstration and to present them as some unintelligent people, would rather offend the masses.

It is completely unfortunate for a government to attempt to rubbish or downplay on the demands and concerns of its people. At best, what one could ever expect from any responsible government, it to attempt to show concern over the demands of its people. It is in this light that the attempted response by the Vice President of the Republic, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, must be welcomed albeit coming after unnecessary attacks from his party members especially those on social media on those who associated with the mobilization.

Read More: Opinion: Int. Press Freedom Day: Ghana Army beats up Journalists at KPLETSO

Key issues in Ghana today, include the claims that the current government is trying everything it could to put fear in its critics. Some journalists have had cause to speak up on this phenomenon. Indeed, records on the internet to any reader of this piece would confirm how some journalists have recounted threats on their lives including the need for some to run and hide for the safety of their own lives because they dared spoke about the wrongs of the current administration. Not too long ago, a journalist, and the editor of WhatsApp News, Mr. David Tamakloe, was picked up by the police for an intended false publication. A publication that was intended, had already committed a crime in Ghana resulting in the picking up of the gentleman for merely agreeing to meet with a party to a story he was working on to listen to her side as the tenets of journalism demands so he could report a balanced view.

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Not too long ago, another editor of an online news portal was picked up over publications that did not sit well with government. The recent one is the speculations that an avowed critic of the previous administration of former President John Dramani Mahama has been asked off his usual morning show for merely taking onto his show to criticize the current Vice President Dr. Bawumia. This very journalist by name Captain Smart, has a lot of goodwill for the current administration. This goodwill resulted in his carrying a 50kg bag of cement to support the building of the President’s personal promise to God, the Cathedral.

Readers need to recall how media houses aligned to the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) which were considered critical of the current administration were closed down in May 2019 including Radio Gold which used to operate on the 90.5MHz. Supporters of the administration would be quick to point to the fact that other radio stations were closed down which could be traced to belong to the New Patriotic Party (NPP) the ruling party, including one owned by the current Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Joseph Osei Owusu. My simple response is that, in a democracy, any government, sensing an act on its opponent may be imminent, could simply pause to examine the options and choose that which builds multi-party democracy and not that which kills it. If that consideration was not done and it was rather the case that it must be closed down so long as they fell short of the law, then that is an attempt to kill multi-party democracy. What would the government have lost apart from the desire to shut critics and the voice of its opponents if it placed on the table that all wrongs be corrected within a certain time by the radio stations? As we speak, the very tribunal that was to oversee the resolution of this matter has not been constituted for months if not more than a year, casting doubts on the commitments by this government to have these stations especially Radio Gold back on air. So when people have begun speaking about a certain culture of silence, we need to pay attention.

To merely stand up and refute that there is culture of silence by alluding to critics on social media as well as the loud noise of media houses aligned to government, you have done no one any good. A culture of media pluralism, is not about the quantity of media houses friendly to government, but the tolerance of the voices of criticism on media houses aligned to the opposition with particular reference to the traditional media which is the largest of reach in our case as a developing country.

It is really interesting, presenting further, those who took the view that the callers for the country to be fixed are not specific on their demands and that the scope of their demands are too broad. If the scope of their demands are broad, it means two things. It means we either have really seen the demands but are closing our eyes to them, or they are simply saying that everything that this government stood on in 2016 to win elections, remains with us. What is therefore worrying is that, if those who are supposed to see and know our problems, are refusing or are completely unaware of the problems, then that is the beginning of our problems as a country.

In the lead up to the 2016 elections, the issues of rising cost of living, corruption, increased taxes, increased cost of fuel, Dumsor (local name for light offs), bad roads, lack of potable drinking water, lack of hospitals, lack of infrastructure in our schools among others, were issues of concern to the people. Protests were held, lectures were held and addressed by the current Vice President Dr. Bawumia on claims that the then administration had revenues more than any administration in addition to borrowed funds and ought to have done better than we were seeing at the time. These issues led to the formation of groups to demonstrate and they freely did which culminated in the election of the NPP in the 2016 elections.

I would touch on a few and draw links. Today, 5th year into the administration of the Akufo-Addo government, Ghanaians are unable to tell any meaningful improvement in their lives. The cost of living is rising, fuel prices are skyrocketing, roads are getting bad, access to water has declined from the statistics of 2016, dumsor is back, cost of communication has risen, there are no new hospitals, yet, records show that this administration alone has at a minimum, borrowed Ghc171 billion by end of fiscal year 2020 with Domestic Revenue estimated at about GHc190 billion. Indeed, this government had access to revenue and loans than any government in Ghana’s history. Unfortunately, the administration cannot boast of a District Level hospital status, no single school when the previous administration at least began building 123 brand new senior high schools with about 50 completed by 2016. Access to water, in the midst of all these increased borrowing, has reduced drastically. We have slowed down the expansion of electricity with threats of missing our target of universal access to power by 2025. While expansion of electricity has slowed, the nation is plunged into unannounced light offs. Even though a scheduled time table was released, months before the set date for the planned outages, many parts of the country continue to experience unreliable power supply. As a matter of fact, the northern sector power suppliers are putting in place a schedule of intended light outs.

In 2016, the price of a gallon of petrol sold for Ghc15. At the time, the New Patriotic Party decried the insensitivity of the administration of John Dramani Mahama. Tweets exist of the current President Nana Akufo-Addo and his Vice Dr. Bawumia to this effect. The NPP demanded immediate reductions as those increases were not justified. Today, the same gallon of petrol sells at Ghc27.5. It makes one wonder how it was possible to criticize Ghc15 and it is not possible to criticize Ghc27.5. Of course, if the incomes of the people are improved, some of these things could easily be afforded. But, who can genuinely say that his or her personal income had improved over the last 4 years to offset all these increasing cost of goods and services apart from officials of the government? I am sure even some of them could hold contrary views as their living conditions might be worst off.

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Today, in the face of these huge borrowings and improved revenues from our oil, infrastructure at our Senior High Schools have not improved causing government to split senior high school academic calendar into two, resulting in an erratic academic calendar that has made it impossible for educational planners and parents to plan ahead. This year, when school reopened, we were told the double track was done away with as a result of improved infrastructure. This claim was made by the president only for the Ghana Education Service to come out immediately to reiterate that double track would be implemented in some schools. When school reopened about a month ago, form 3 students have had to be asked to stay home for an additional one month. Today, the first year students have been asked to return home after just 6 weeks of being in school, to make way for their counterparts in the final year to resume and prepare for their examinations. We are facing these challenges because the Community Day Schools started by the Mahama administration have eventually been abandoned without this government planning of building any, forcing them to manage these students in existing schools to their detriment. Unfortunately, head teachers are unable to speak for fear of victimisation.

Today, our medical infrastructure is woefully inadequate. At least, in the previous administration of Mahama, we saw some huge hospital infrastructure which actually provided the wherewithal for this country to contain the ravaging coronavirus. We saw hospitals like the University of Ghana Medical Centre, the Bank of Ghana Hospital, the Maritime Hospital in Tema, the Ridge Hospital, the Ga East Hospital, the Wa Hospital, the expansion of the Tamale Teaching Hospital, the Bolgatanga Regional Hospital, the ultramodern polyclinics, among others. We saw remarkable improvement in District Hospitals. The likes of Dodowa, Fomena, Abetifi are examples of planned infrastructure. Unfortunately, those yet to be completed have been left to rot at the expense of the taxpayer. Indeed, it took our Finance Minister, Mr. Ken Ofori Atta to recover from threats on his life by Covid-19 to realize the need to improve medical infrastructure in the country in his own words (https://mobile.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/My-5-week-US-hospitalization-opened-my-eyes-to-the-need-for-health-infrastructure-investment-Ofori-Atta-1250467).

Corruption remains pervasive. What we see today is an attempt that suppresses those who speak about it than allowing it to be discussed. We rather feel comfortable fighting people who stand up to fight corruption. The drama that characterized the retirement of Mr. Daniel Yaw Domelevo, the former Auditor General, a man whose works have been hailed by anticorruption bodies and individuals, was gleefully shown the exit. Let’s even assume he was due to retire. Mr. Martin Amidu, the next I would be addressing, was retired when this government brought him in to function as a Special Prosecutor. Yet the same government didn’t find it expedient to maintain Mr. Domelevo on contract because his works were exposing corruption in the current administration. Some have predicted that his woes and which did not cause hesitation for the President to axe him emanated from his “audacious” conduct to surcharge then Senior Minister, now Senior Presidential Advisor, over his involvement in a USD1 million contract involving Kroll & Associates which the Auditor General indicated could not see any evidence of work done.

Then came Mr. Amidu who was appointed Special Prosecutor. He had had to resign his office amidst wild allegations of the President failing to allow him the freedom to function as an independent office holder. He was gleefully attacked by persons aligned to the government for speaking about the fact that efforts were made to suppress him from auditing the Agyapa Royalties deal, a deal that has eventually been aborted on the basis of suspected flaws. As we speak, a new Special Prosecutor has been nominated to Parliament for consideration and subsequent approval. His predecessor had already written unpalatable words about him and cast doubt on his ability to defy executive influence if the same instances that confronted him happens to confront him, citing his involvement in the very deal that caused his resignation. The gentleman, Mr, Kissi Agyebeng, has been credited with enormous intelligence. However, this country is not short of intelligent people. Indeed, no one would ever doubt the ability of the President to find one who is intelligent to occupy that office as Mr. Amidu was. What the doubts bother on, are as to whether the said intelligent selection would be allowed the free will and independence to work. That is where the fear is, and I do not think I have answers to this.

From the forgoing, it is evident that the people of Ghana, among many other challenges emanating from their other fields of endeavors, have the legitimate right to draw attention to what they think is wrong. That right is guaranteed them and must not be taken away through any subtle means. Of course, it is also easy for others to make claims that the courts have granted restraining orders under appropriate provisions and so no one should blame government. It is too simplistic to assume that by merely having institutions of state, we cannot connect happenings and make inferences. Even if those inferences are wrong, we still have the right to make them to be educated and assured further.

We are living in a country where it appears there are two separate laws applicable to two secs of citizens; one for the ruling party and the other for the opposition party and those perceived to be part of the opposition. We see how the Police of Ghana rise without any hesitation, to curb any attempts to demonstrate or hold a gathering against the ruling government. Unfortunately, the same institution does not seem to see demonstrations and gatherings against the NDC. One would admit that Covid-19 continues to threaten us, giving sufficient reasons for us to be careful to gatherings that could potentially increase the spread. But, in analyzing this, we must be factual. In times past, Covid-19 cases were higher in this country, yet, demonstrations were allowed in this country because they were against the person of John Mahama and the NDC. In September 2020, in the thick of Covid, indigenes of Akyem were allowed to hold an open demonstration against John Mahama over comments they did not find palatable (https://youtu.be/0Xh8nTMVQK4; https://www.peacefmonline.com/pages/local/news/202009/426573.php).

Strange enough, in December of 2020, when the cases of Covid-19 went down, according to reported figures, the NDC was restrained by the police from holding a planned demonstration in Accra, leaving people wondering if this institution was really acting fairly towards the NDC (https://www.bbc.com/pidgin/world-55428348). As if that was to establish new standards, just this year, a group of NDC men who claimed to be aggrieved and had issues with former President Mahama, were allowed to congregate on the streets to protest (https://yen.com.gh/184275-john-mahama-ndc-supporters-demonstrate-against-2020-flagbearer.html).

Today, organizers of #FixTheCountry are being restrained by the Police from undertaking their legitimate rights under the Constitution, 1992 to assemble and demonstrate to drive home their demands. It makes people question whose side the Ghana Police Service is, as it appears openly bias in support of the government. Something very extraordinary should have allowed the police to grant the organizers the go-ahead so we all see as a nation how this demonstration would go. First, it is because this issue is a public interest issue that is building momentum. When people are suppressed, it builds anger which I do not think the police can handle. Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. Said, and I paraphrase, that there has been scientific prove that a certain quantity of water can quench fire no matter how wild the fire is. He however opined that, no science has proven that the fire that is burning from the bellies of the people can be quenched by any amount of water. What the protestors are asking to be fixed, if it is done, would bring direct benefits to the Police themselves, but like it would be said, they are only following orders.

I read through the letter written by the organizers of the protest, and there was something extraordinary about the letter. The letter detailed how the organizers intended to ensure the adherence to Covid-19 protocols and to be orderly. The letter was very assuring and gives no reason for any lovers of peace to worry about. Unfortunately, they were denied against what I would have done if I were in a position of authority. I would have granted this protest with clear orders to act should the promises outlined on the letter be violated. However, our Police chose the legal gymnastics as their best option securing a restraining order to force people to fall in line. It makes the Police very predictable now depending on the circumstances before them especially when it is about issues bothering on the current government and those who seek to speak up against its wrongs. We cannot continue to force people to swallow their “anger”. There should even be some joy on the faces of government officials and their agents noting that these issues are being raised just 5 months into a 4-year mandate, giving them 3 and half years to correct everything and do what the people want so that they can be sure of gaining favour from them. But, that is not to be.

We can only raise the issues for our collective deliberations, but those with the power, may have to exercise that power with utmost responsibility to the people who gave them that power.

By Stephen Kwabena Attuh (ASK)

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