Ghana’s President invokes Art. 72: Frees 3
by Kwabena Opong
In a statement signed and released on Monday, 22 August, by Communications Minister Dr . Edward Omane Boamah the President of the Republic of Ghana, His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, in consultation with the Council of State and in exercise of his constitutional powers under Article 72 of the constitution, remitted the remainder of the prison sentence imposed on three persons: Salifu Maase (alias Mugabe), Alistair Nelson, and Ako Gunn (the Muntie 3), who were sentenced to four months’ imprisonment and a fine of GHS10,000.00 each for contempt of court. The remission was effective 26th August, 2016. The three persons in a radio show ridiculed and scandalized the Supreme Court and singled out Chief Justice Georgina Theodora Wood for special treatment when captured.
While the Bureau of National Investigation (BNI) downplayed the gravity of the behavior of the three persons, the Supreme did not take kindly to it and incarcerated them. In protest, leaders of the ruling NDC filed a petition with the president to use his prerogative of pardon under Article 72 of the Constitution; and as provided in the said article the president released the three to the chagrin of most Ghanaians and joy of members of the NDC. Indeed, the remission, though legal and constitutional, is politically motivated. And that is worrying as it can set in motion similar such occurrences under different governments in future. Ghanaians are not worried about the president exercising his prerogative but Muntie 3 could be a game changer in the nation’s politics. President John Mahama and his NDC have borrowed political colors for justice.
Many Ghanaians are surprised at the president’s disregard for the possible repercussions of his actions, especially with the hindsight of the June 30, 1982 incidence when three high court judges and a retired military officer were cowardly killed. Especially at a time in the country when jobs are rare and young people are frustrated, calling for the heads of Supreme Court judges as the trio did on radio should have informed the president and the Council of State of the heinous potential. In an election year the decision of the Council of State to advise for reprieve is not the best advice it must have offered to the president. In fact it smacks more of hypocrisy than a well-studied decision as they would make Ghanaians believe. The Council of State largely comprises members of the ruling NDC. It is no doubt that the three persons were remitted from prison on grounds of their political persuasion. Anyone familiar with the Ghanaian landscape is aware of the ruling NDC’s penchant to propagandize anything to their political advantage. When the president’s car gift was published in the news, the party lost no time in referring to a similar presentation made to the people of Ghana by former Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi. The party’s propaganda machinery would be the first to condemn in no uncertain terms if any opposition party in power remits prisoner sentences.
President John Kufuor was condemned for remitting the prison sentences of prisoners in his annual exercise of his powers under Article 72. Most of the beneficiaries were prisoners who had been on bail for several years pending court hearings. Others who had served various terms of incarceration were released but the NDC accused Kufuor of releasing armed robbers into society. Indeed, listening to the Muntie 3 on their first day on radio after remission, they showed they had not learned any lessons at all. Showing they are insulated from any form of censorship, they minced no words in warning the NPP and Nana Addo to brace themselves up for more attacks. The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has observed that what is happening on Ghanaian airwaves does not portend responsible media practice. The organization’s director Sulemana Braimah points out that neither he nor his organization would condone with jailing media personnel in the course of their duties but what the three did does not conform with expected media responsibility. He said, “…we are talking about a group of people who did not only scandalize the judiciary but we are talking scandalizing the highest court of our land. That is the place when all of us get to the crunch in terms of judicial matters, that is where we go, and the court that indeed heard the presidential election petition and made the decision that the results as declared by the Electoral Commission, which had President Mahama elected as president, should be the one we should abide by.” “We are talking about a group we had persistently drawn attention to the fact that what is happening on this radio network is completely not what journalism should be and, therefore, we should all be concerned about. …” Releasing the three culprits sends a message to the world of the president’s lack of moral courage. Political expediency overwhelmed his decision making and that could cost him and his party. He might have acted legally and constitutionally but his action is in bad faith. In other words, President Mahama must have set in motion a confrontation between the executive and the judiciary which if it happens would constitute a constitutional crisis between the two arms of governance. According to legal scholar Ace Ankomah, the Supreme Court can and has the power to review the president’s remission order. With or without any such confrontational exercise by the nation’s highest court the relationship between the two bodies cannot be the same. There is so much the president must have learned from. The immediate cause for the Rwanda’s genocidal war in 1993 was a similar call on radio to cause mayhem in the country. The United States did not see Rwanda as strategic enough to intervene. Neither did the United Nations. Several thousands of Rwandese lost their lives in the process as the world watched the carnage on television. In the end the world body had to apologize to a people hurt by an avoidable act of violence. The grapevine has it that the host of the radio program where the scandal happened, Salifu Maase was brought into the country from the United Kingdom specifically to help the NDC and President Mahama win the 2016 election. At the cost of killing Supreme Court judges and mayhem in the country?