“Fear and panic” should be one of the most popular phrases in Ghana this year. All over the country, there is hardly any literate Ghanaian who hasn’t heard or spoken it. It has become so popular the police (instigated by government) has been quick to use an antiquated law whose formulation contains the phrase, to persecute (not prosecute) anyone the government – or anyone close to it – doesn’t like.
It started with Nana Darkwa who claimed that former president Rawlings set his own house on fire. The court action they brought against him failed recently, pointing to futility and the stupidity of the whole orchestrated endeavour to show Nana Darkwa where power lies. The case fell flat because the prosecution failed to produce evidence to prove that Nana Darkwa said what they claimed he had said to cause “fear and panic”.
A few months after Nana Darkwa was charged, and even when his case was still being heard, I was arrested and charged with the same offence of “causing fear and panic”. This was after I refused to name the source of a Joy FM news story that members of the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association had been threatened with death for opposing a housing deal with the Korean firm, STX.
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Realising the folly in charging me, the police administration threw the ball into the government’s court and asked the attorney general to decide whether or not I should also be persecuted. Till date, the AG hasn’t made up her mind and my docket is gathering dust somewhere in her office.
Just when we thought we’ve heard enough of the “fear and panic” nonsense, the police – once again acting like puppets of the ruling party – decides to charge a hapless woman with the silly offence. The woman, Amina, claimed to have been on a bus, which was attacked in the dead of the night by armed bandits, who forced the male passengers into a despicable orgy of mass rape. Police condemned Amina long before they had even bothered to conduct any sensible investigations to ascertain the veracity of her claims.
The case is in court and we are not allowed to say much about it by way of commentary. Not even the president is allowed to speak about it. But addressing a pointless rally to climax the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Upper East Region, President Mills devoted a good part of his speech to declare that people who are intent on causing fear and panic “will not succeed”.
“There seems to be some people who want to create fear and panic to engender a feeling of fear and insecurity amongst our people,” President Mills said in a rather shaky voice that made him sound like he was on the verge of tears. “I want to send a message to those people, they will not succeed.”
Then he added: “People want to create panic and fear and do not want the progress of this nation even though they are preaching from the rooftops that they are interested in the development of our people.”
As I listened to president speak in Bolgatanga, I just asked myself: who on earth is he speaking to or about? Was he referring to the likes of Amina and Nana Darkwa? Or the likes of Ato Kwamena Dadzie who give people like Nana Darkwa and Amina the democratically-sanctioned opportunity to have their voices heard? Either way, the president was dead wrong.
Quite admittedly, there is a lot of fear in the country. I don’t know about panic but there is palpable fear in the country. That fear is not being caused by people who speak on radio or write in newspapers and the internet. We live in fear because armed robbers have set themselves loose on us. People are having their cars seized, the homes attacked and their offices ransacked. We can’t even go for walks in our neighbourhood and the president has done very little, if anything at all, to fulfill a promise he made in his inaugural address.
In that address, President Mills promised to make sure that Ghanaians don’t live in fear of armed robbers. From all indications, he has failed. Hardly a day passes by without us reading about armed robbers attacking homes and businesses. Recently, armed robbers laid siege to a whole community and it took relentless reportage by the media to get the police to act. Even when people were accusing police of not doing quite enough to secure lives and property, senior police officers were feeding us with cooked up statistics that crime was reducing.
Then comes the president, trying to make up for his failings by suggesting that people like Amina who claim to have observed heinous crimes being committed are causing fear and panic. It just doesn’t make sense. Our president is barking up the wrong tree.
The people who are causing fear and panic are the teeming bandits who have taken up weapons to force law-abiding citizens to give up their property. The best way to deal with them is not to deliver platitudes and issue empty directives. If the president is as concerned about the pervasive fear in the country, as he should, all we ask of him is action.
First, government should get off the back of the police and allow them to do their jobs without saddling them with silly distractions like Nana Darkwa, Amina and myself. Those who have been charged with causing fear and panic since the beginning of the year haven’t caused a fraction of the fear wrought by the armed gangs who recently descended on the Ayensu River Estates. The robbers are the people police should be going after – not the likes of Amina.
Secondly, we have had enough of the long speeches. You don’t fend off armed robbers by issuing public warnings about how the security agencies have been directed “to deal appropriately and decisively with those who decide that peace is not what they want.” We’ve heard all of that before. I am pretty sure one of the corpses in the Korle Bu morgue can recite these lines if given the opportunity to breathe once again for just 15 seconds.
The security agencies cannot deal decisively with any of the real people who are striking fear in our hearts if they don’t have equipment to do what we expect of them. Government doesn’t have money to build communication infrastructure for the police – or so we are told. Yet, we are able to spend seven million dollars on the country’s contingent to the recent World Cup.
Right now, there is a dangerous criminal on the loose in the north and police cannot conduct sensible investigations to pinpoint his location and bring him to justice. That in itself causes a lot fear and panic. The president should deal with it and stop wasting our ears.
Finally, government should stop hounding people like Amina who are concerned enough to raise the alarm. That also causes a lot of fear and alarm. Why should anyone be prosecuted for reporting that he witnessed a crime? If the woman says she saw a crime being committed, does it make sense in any part of the world to order her to prove what she saw or face prosecution? The ones causing fear and panic in this country are not the people who use their tongues. They are criminals who have taken full advantage of the deficiencies in our security agencies to terrorise us with arms. By failing to act and even going to the extent to deny the severity of the situation, feeding us with false statistics to cover up their failings, our elected leaders are also contributing to the “fear and panic” situation.
If the president wants to deal decisively with the situation, he should start off by admitting that he hasn’t done as well as he promised in January 2009. He should stop pretending to be talking tough and start acting. He should stop listening to his mindless propagandists who fill him with the silly notion that some opposition elements are behind every bad thing that happens in this country – from Nana Konadu’s posters to the floods up north and the need to discharge some water from the Akosombo Dam. That speech in Bolga cannot wish away the insecurity we feel; neither can an ill-equipped and poorly-motivated police force.