For years, the BNI has been all brawn and no brain. It is one of the most unintelligent intelligence agencies in the world. For an intelligence agency, its officers tend to behave like brutes with little or no common sense. This might be the year when some sense is knocked into the heads of the directors and agents of the BNI.
It has started with an Accra High Court ruling that the BNI has no power to seize anyone’s passport without an explicit court order. The ruling marks a major victory for former Foreign Minister, Akwasi Osei-Adjei, who brought the case against the BNI.
Agents of the BNI impudently seized Mr. Osei-Adjei’s passport to disable him from travelling abroad. They explained (through government officials) that they needed him around to answer a few questions about the importation of rice from India last year under what appears to be a fraudulent arrangement.
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A few days after his passport was seized Mr. Osei-Adjei decided to sue the BNI. He argued that the seizure amounted to an infringement on his fundamental human rights. The High Court judge agreed with him. He reprimanded the BNI and ordered them to return Mr. Osei-Adjei’s passport to him. Outside the courtroom, he hailed the ruling as a victory for due process and the rule of law. It has also boosted his confidence in the judiciary, he says.
That’s very good. Hopefully, he wouldn’t lose that confidence soon. Mr. Osei-Adjei has just won the battle but can he win the war? That war is the corruption case state prosecutors are building against him in connection with the rice imports from India. That’s a completely different story and if he loses that case he would have no use for his passport for quite a while.
For now, though, he can savour his victory. All law abiding citizens should join him in celebrating his triumph over the BNI. He has shown the BNI and its agents that they are not a power onto themselves. They operate under a legal regime and they should obey the law. Seizing passports without a court order is illegal. Interrogating people in the absence of their lawyers is an affront to fundamental human rights. This whole business of “inviting” people to come to their offices for “chats” doesn’t make sense. And do they even have the power to stop people from travelling outside the country? I think they do. But that’s not for me to say. The courts will decide.
Mr. Osei-Adjei’s victory should open the floodgates for the BNI to be drenched in a torrent of law suits, which will help determine the boundaries beyond which they cannot take their unintelligent impudence. Former information minister, Asamoah Boateng has brought a case against the BNI, arguing that its agents have no power to stop him from travelling. Twice he’s been stopped from getting on a plane and he expects a favourable ruling to enable him take his vacations.
There is another case brought against the BNI by the Greater Accra Regional chairman of the NPP, who accuses the BNI of interrogating him in the absence of his lawyer.
And there might yet be even more suits against the BNI.
All these point to the fact that these are testing times for the BNI. They are likely to score miserably on most fronts. But in the BNI’s failures, there will be a victory not just for the rule of law, but for common sense as well. If the guys at the BNI are not as dim as they want us to believe, they will seize the opportunity to shed their brawn and start exercising their brains, working as intelligently as a 21st century intelligence agency should.