A RED LETTER TO OUR SOLDIERS AND US
At that point, I could not take it any longer. I felt weak and decided to leave and return home. I had had enough of the so-called soldiers’ ‘action’ I had been craving. For days, I could not shake off the events of that day from my mind.
Red letter (5)

 

Introduction

The vivid and horrifying pictures and videos of hundreds of able-bodied men stripped naked and being whipped by soldiers and shared on social and traditional media platforms incensed our collective consciousness. The soldiers, whose top hierarchy came out to defend such atrocious acts, have since gone back to barracks and we are back to the bump and grind of everyday life. So have the young men who had to endure such demeaning and dehumanizing treatment have been left to go and live with the physical and psychological scars they have acquired for committing no other offence, except for living in Ashaiman.

In this article, I discuss the lawlessness of the soldiers’ actions and, most importantly, the deafening and disgraceful silence of our Institutions, organizations and associations, not least, the Ghana Bar Association.

 

Our soldiers before and in the 4th Republic

 

Growing up in the early days of the 31st December, 1981 coup d'état (euphemistically called ‘revolution’)  as a pre-teen, I was lucky to be ensconced in the academic environment of St. Monica’s Training College (now called St. Monica’s College of Education) where my mother was a tutor. I saw very little of the 3 - year dusk to dawn curfew imposed on citizens by the military regime. Thus, my major source of ‘news’ about goings-on in Mampong town was snippets I could gather from my brothers and sisters (now modernized as ‘cousins’) who lived in Mampong or Kumasi. They told horrifying stories of people who had been stripped naked and given horsewhip lashes for ‘offences’ such as hoarding, selling essential commodities like milk and sugar above the controlled price, and so on.

Those stories left horrifying scenes in my young mind. Strangely, the more I heard, the more I wished I lived in town to witness some of those ‘actions’ with my own eyes. My wish came true one day when I found myself in town staying with my Great- grand-mom for a few days on holidays. As it happened regularly in those days, we heard a loud noise on the streets infront of our house, which is located almost at the epicenter of Mampong. As was customary, we all rushed outside to see what was happening. 

There, on the street, accompanied by a mob of several youth, were two males - a man (most likely in his 50s) and his son (not older than 20 or 21) - carrying the carcass of a goat on their heads and being escorted through the principal streets of Mampong by armed soldiers. My cousins beckoned me to let us join the ‘procession’ to see what final fate awaited those two men. I was initially gripped with fear but after a few reassuring speeches from my ‘comrades,’ and as the procession was moving at a fast pace, I yielded and joined the flow to go and bear true witness to my first soldiers’ ‘action.’

It was a noisy but orderly procession and I was fine with it till we reached a place where someone was playing A.B Crenstil’s “Adwoa ei, Adwoa ei… soldier lafia…” and the soldiers asked their two ‘captives’ to dance with the carcass on their heads. The men were hesitant for a moment but after receiving several slaps and cane whips on their bodies in quick succession, they began to dance. I almost passed out and wanted to retreat and run back home. I was beyond horrified. But my cousins encouraged me to stay and see the end of the ‘action.’

After their ‘dance of death,’ the procession gathered steam as the soldiers ordered the men to carry on. I thought with the dance at an end, so was the jamboree. But I couldn’t be more wrong. After marching on for a few metres, the soldiers asked the two men to set aside their head load of carcasses. As we waited to see what further fate awaited these poor fellows, the soldiers ordered them to jump into a nearby gutter opposite the late Mr. Gyasi’s house (close to the present day Lorry Station) and drink the dirty water in the gutter. When the soldiers noticed the men were not swallowing the water, the whipping resumed and the men knew better than to pretend to be drinking the gutter water, which derived its pungency from human excreta. 

At that point, I could not take it any longer. I felt weak and decided to leave and return home. I had had enough of the so-called soldiers’ ‘action’ I had been craving. For days, I could not shake off the events of that day from my mind. Not least also because when my Great-Grand mom (of most blessed memory) got to know I had escaped her protective eyes and joined my ‘miscreants’ of cousins to go on such a misadventure, she had a few choice words for me. When my cousins eventually returned home, they told me the procession ended at the Police Station where the soldiers handed over the two men to the Police!

A few days later, when my cousins told me they had heard some prominent businessmen had been billed to be stripped and lashed by soldiers at a certain location upon a certain hour and I was cordially invited to see the ‘action.’ I flatly declined the invitation. I told them I had seen enough to satisfy my curiosity so thanks, but no thanks. 

In the ensuing years of my life, I needed no one to help me form an impression about the men in green. Then, sometime in the early 2000s, as a member of African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) Ghana Chapter, I was part of a group of female lawyers that was to conduct a training programme on protection of girls and women’s rights during conflicts for soldiers drawn from the Ghana Army and preparing for peace-keeping mission abroad. When I got to know I had been put on the project for soldiers, all my dark imaginings about them started gnawing at the back of my brain. But as a full-fledged lawyer, I was not ready to capitulate. So, I put on a brave face and assured myself that since we were under constitutional rule, no soldier could ask me to drink water from a gutter.

True to my self-assurance, when we arrived at the soldiers’ camp, I had the most pleasant surprise of my life. We were received by a set of very professional, well-groomed, well-mannered set of officers. After the customary welcome and introductions (and I believe they served us lunch or snacks), we went to meet the contingent to do our assignment. They were a contingent of gentlemen. I even met one of my mates in Legon who, as I got to know, was a Captain, and one of our trainees. We had a most successful training programme and for me, the best part of the day was that, it wiped out the horrible scenes of the previous 20 years and implanted a fresh, new and commendable picture of the modern day soldier in my mind. Many thanks to constitutional rule.

 

7th March, 2023 and its aftermath

As someone who is very selective and intentional about the use of social media, I strictly sieve through and decide what content I consume. I do not suffer inappropriate contents gladly. So, on 7th March, 2023, when I saw a picture of several men stripped down to their underwear, looking dirty from mud and seated on the bare ground like captives from war – under the watch of gun-wielding soldiers - I wondered why anyone will find it pleasant to share such a picture from a coup d’état-hit neighbouring country. At least, if we could not help avert their military coup, we should not relish in their citizens’ misery, I muted to myself.

Later in the day when I came across a short video of similar-looking guys lying face down in a puddle with soldiers holding guns, standing and issuing command, I decided scan the news that accompanied the video. That was when I realized this was no scene from any coup-ravaged neighbor. It was a scene captured in democratic Ghana where we are preparing an edifice to show our gratitude to the Almighty God for sparing us the evil of military showmanship that has befallen some of our neighbours.

The news had it that, a 21-year-old soldier, Private Imoro Sherrif, had been found dead at Ashaiman, near Tema, on 4th March, 2023. As such, on 7th March, 2023, the Army took it upon itself to deploy soldiers to Ashaiman - the theatre of operation - and catch the murderers themselves. It was the results of that swoop that was displayed as 72 (184 by BBC’s account) able- bodied men stripped naked, facing downwards in mud and being whipped in public without let or hindrance. Immediately after reading the facts, my images of pre - 4th Republic soldiers started flooding back to my brain. But I was not going to entertain such dark thoughts. Being in a constitutional era, I know this wanton lawlessness and degrading and inhumane treatment will meet its well-deserved censure. 

As was to be expected, the general citizenry found the soldiers’ actions despicable and said so on air and on social media. But no official statements of condemnation came from Government, churches and religious institutions, Houses of Chiefs, NGOs and Civil Society Organizations. In the midst of the silence, and perhaps, emboldened by the silence, the Army issued a statement justifying their action. The statement so incensed citizens that, their criticisms forced the Army to remove the statement from social media platforms. The Minister of defence and his deputy, without reading the mood of citizens, or being recklessly careless, whether the citizens’ mood was good or bad, came out boldly to support the military’s lawless conduct in Ashaiman. The Ministers received their fair share of the citizens’ flack and they have retreated to whence they came.

Thankfully, the Police have issued a statement saying that they have arrested six persons in connection with the young soldier’s unfortunate death. The six suspects are already being taken through the legal processes as required by law.

 

Well done, Ghana Police 

The swift and professional manner in which the Police Service has handled the investigations towards finding the killers of the young soldier is most commendable. It has shown that, brute force yields no results in civilized states. The soldiers’ apologists were eager to justify their wanton lawlessness on the grounds that they did not trust the Police could do the job of finding the killers. As it has now emerged, the Police have expertly and professionally exposed the soldiers’ lack of civilian policing tactics and methodology. We did not hear that the Police so much as touched a single person at Ashaiman. Yet, they have made huge strides in their investigations.

I applaud the Police for using their superior knowledge in policing to show the military and their hierarchy that, if they use their trucks and uniforms and guns to round up and abuse citizens when the real suspects are walking free, the Police will expose them with their superior civilian policing tactics.

 

The military must account for their actions

The soldiers and their civilian collaborations must bow their heads in shame. If citizens have learned to respect them under constitutional rule, the least they can do is to return the pleasure. Soldiers must learn to keep to their constitutional mandate of protecting the country against external aggression. They must also respect the Police Service’s constitutional role of maintaining peace and order within the country. For no matter how much feathers the cock grows on its wings, it can never fly like a bird.

 

The silence of the lambs

In recent times, many are those who lament that there is a creeping culture of silence in Ghana. I do not share in that view. I am yet to come across any law or scheme created to expressly gag citizens and prevent them from expressing their views on national issues. What is happening rather appears to be a self-imposed silence on some institutions and the persons through whom such institutions work.

The pervading silence of our once-upon-a-time vociferous and leading institutions was most manifest after the soldiers’ unlawful activities in Ashaiman. Religious groups have been quiet. NGOs and CSOs have been quiet (bar OccupyGhana that issued a statement yesterday). Perhaps, the institution whose quietude has embarrassed its members and angered the general public is my own Ghana Bar Association (GBA). As at the date of this writing, nothing has been heard or read from the national association of lawyers, condemning the palpable human rights abuses visited on innocent civilians by a brutish, top hierarchy-sanctioned motley of soldiers. If my beloved Association did not hear of the previous night’s rainfall, did it not see evidence of same the next morning?

It may well be argued that, in Ghana these days, most of us have lost our voices lest we be tagged as doing ‘politics.’ If we are tagged as such, we may lose our seat on Boards of State institutions and companies. We will lose our back-door entry into the life-saving “Article 71” Club. We will not get tarred roads in our neighbourhood or our hometown, and the list goes on and on. Consequently, the argument could be made that, the GBA is just being like any other association or institution populated by suit-and tie wearing, middle-class types who prefer comfort in self-imposed silence to agitation and loss of political perks and chips of political largesse.

I disagree with this line of argument. The GBA is the ‘primus inter pares’ of all professional associations. It is the only professional association that has been given pride of place in the 1992 Constitution. Though the GBA boycotted the Constituent Assembly that drafted the 1992 Constitution, we were overcompensated for our absence. As an association, the GBA has more constitutionally- endorsed representation on state institutions than any other association or professional body in Ghana. It the drafters of the Constitution gave the GBA such prominent roles in the Constitution because of the huge role lawyers played in the lead up to independence and in post-independence Ghana. 

The drafters of the Constitution, most likely, expected the GBA’s selfless sense of patriotism, dedication to duty and protection of the rights of citizens to continue in the 4th Republic. But the actions and inactions of the GBA over the course of time have shown that, the drafters might have been woefully wrong in their assessment of the GBA’s contribution to national discourse and development in the 4th Republic. Be that as it may, as an Akan proverb goes, “no matter how much one may hate the duiker, its swiftness cannot be denied.”

In the case of the GBA, we can attest to its swiftness but only in issuing statements in defence of the Judiciary and its public office holders when the latter are taken to the cleaners by the public. In terms of matters of general public concern, the GBA has been largely silent. By the GBA’s inactions, we are more and more alienating ourselves from public discourse, thereby diminishing our relevance in the constitutional scheme of things in this 4th Republic. If there is one inaction on the part of the GBA that has embarrassed its members beyond measure, it is the GBA’s silence in the face of such wanton brutality and mayhem perpetrated on innocent victims by soldiers in broad daylight with such righteous impunity.

I am an incorrigible optimist and I believe it is better late than never. Thus, I entreat the President of GBA, our dear association to, as a matter of urgency, issue a statement to condemn the unlawful acts of the soldiers. But that paperwork alone should not suffice. In addition, the GBA must ensure that the soldiers who took part in the unlawful activities are punished under martial law. Thirdly, the GBA must see to it that, the medical bills and related expenses of all the victims – whether 72 or 184 - of the soldiers’ brutalities are borne by the Ministry of Defence. Lastly, the GBA must ensure that all the victims are compensated adequately by the Government for such wanton abuse of their human rights. I believe there are many voices of reason in the Army hierarchy who will work together with the GBA to ensure that these payments are made. If that fails, the GBA can sue or cause the Government to be sued for the necessary compensation to be paid to the victims.

Lastly, the GBA must ensure that the Army render an unqualified apology to the victims of their brutalities to help them on a path to recovery from such unwarranted torture and most dehumanizing and degrading treatment.

This is the least we can expect from our august GBA.

 

Conclusion

The unlawful actions of soldiers visiting mayhem on young men at Ashaiman under the guise of finding criminal suspects has awaken our collective justified anger. But anger alone heals no wounds. That is why it is necessary that we condemn the shameful actions of the soldiers in certain terms. Most importantly, our institutions and associations, especially the Ghana Bar association which hitherto had been the foremost fighter for human rights, freedom and justice, must rise up and be counted in this crucial period of our lives as 4th Republicans. The Ejura shooting incident came and passed. Ashaiman naked parade and whipping has come and it is almost passing. We do not have to wait for soldiers to march on Cantonments and this time, take over Parliament for good. We have crossed that bridge before. A word to the wise is enough.














FOOTNOTES

 1For more details on the soldiers’ brutalities on innocent citizens in Ashaiman, see: https://www.ghanaiantimes.com.gh/murder-of-soldier-military-swoops-on-ashaiman-beats-arrests-over-72-residents-for-questioning/ (Accessed on 16th March, 2023); https://www.bbc.com/pidgin/articles/c72dpe3njp1o

(Accessed on 16th March, 2023);

2 The Ghana Bar Association has 2 representatives on the Judicial Council (Article 153); 2 representatives on the Rules of Court Committee (Article 157); 1 representative on the National Media Commission (Article 166); 1 representative on the Police Council (Article 201); 1 representative on each Regional Police Committee, making a total of 16 (Article 204); 1 representative on the Prison Service Council (Article 206); 1 representative on each Regional Prisons Committee, making a total of 16 (Article 209); 1 representative on the Lands Commission (Article 259); 1 representative on the Regional Lands Commission, making a total of 16 (Article 261)

 

3 The Ghana Medical Association has 1 representative on the Prison Service Council (Article 206) and 1 representative on each Regional Prisons Committee, making a total of 16 (Article 209); Judicial Service Staff Association has 1 representative on the Judicial Council (Article 153); Ghana Association of Writers and the Ghana Library Association have 1 representative on the National Media Commission (Article 166); Ghana Advertising Association and the Institute of Public Relations of Ghana have 1 representative on the National Media Commission (Article 166); Ghana National Association of Teachers has 1 representative on the National Media Commission (Article 166); Ghana Journalists Association has 2 representatives on the National Media Commission (Article 166); Retired Senior Police Officers Association has 1 representative on the Police Council (Article 201); National Association of Farmers and Fishermen has 1 representative on the Lands Commission (Article 259); 1 representative on the Regional Lands Commission, making a total of 16 (Article 261)

 

 4 For instance, one cannot forget the 2020 Election Petition hearing and its aftermath so soon

 

















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