Imagine. Just imagine. Imagine that a politically charged Ghana has five months to a very contentious presidential and parliamentary election. Imagine that the main contenders are both prepared to cheat, and one of the ways of cheating is to manipulate the number of persons (qualified and unqualified) on the voters’ register.
Imagine that one of the parties takes an issue with this voters’ register to the highest court of the land. Before the Supreme Court comes out with the final ruling on the matter, some members of a political party threaten the lives of the judges sitting on the case. Imagine that these panelists, the radio and its host on which the threats are made, are members of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP). Just imagine. And imagine the outcome, too.
The Bureau of National Investigation (BNI) would move swiftly to arrest and detain all of them. They would not grant them bail. Their lawyers would struggle to see them. When their lawyers finally succeed in getting the court to compel the BNI to produce the suspects in court, it would reluctantly comply and slap them with abnormal and weird charges. If they are granted bail, however, the BNI will not immediately comply and release them.
The BNI would find reasons to detain the suspects further. And probe deeper. The BNI would storm the homes and offices of the suspects. They would seize their phones. Break into their computer hard drives. And scrutinize their phone call records to determine which senior member of the NPP has called them in the past decade.
Deputy Communications Minister, Felix Kwakye Ofosu, would appear on Joy FM’s Newsfile. As eloquent as a singing bird that has eaten too much pepper, he would defend the BNI to hell. To heaven. And back to mother earth. He would tell us the lives of the judges are in danger. And no responsible government or security agency would sit down for anybody to plunge the nation into chaos. Remember him when the South African security experts were picked up by the BNI? Trust Felix to deliver!
Koku Anyidoho would be charging angrily on Top Story with Evans Mensah.
“Evans, what has happened vindicates our position that Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo is a violent man,” he would say. Trust Efo Koku to find a way of linking every issue to Nana Akufo-Addo. I believe if his wife should ever blame him for not satisfying her in bed, Koku Anyidoho will blame Nana Akufo-Addo.
Kofi Adams would be throwing witty jibes on Newsnight. Kofi is a smart guy. Even if what he is saying does not make sense, you cannot overlook his intelligence. He has matured in political communication and I am not surprised he is chosen to head President Mahama’s campaign. He would tell the world that the government, through the BNI, is working to secure the nation from the evil hands of the NPP.
The government would back the BNI even to carry out its impunity. And before the courts decide the fate of the suspects, they would have suffered severely in the hands of the BNI.
But let’s stop imagining and face the reality in 21st century Ghana. Two radio panelists, one of whom is a communicator for the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC), have threatened the lives of Supreme Court judges hearing the case of Abu Ramadan and Evans Nimako on the voters’ register and other judges. The threats were issued on Montie FM, a radio station owned by a member of the governing NDC. The persons are Godwin Ako Gunn and Alistair Nelson. They were urged on by the host of the show, Salifu Maase alias Mugabe.
The threats came on the eve of an anniversary to mark the gruesome murder of judges in the early 1980s. One of them was heard saying he knew where all the judges lived and went on to issue frightening threats that cannot be repeated here. In effect, they wanted the judges to rule in their favour or face their wrath.
The BNI did not act. Neither did the police or the Attorney-General say anything. After several days and after many condemnations and calls on the security agencies to act, we woke up one morning to hear that the BNI had invited the individuals for questioning. No one knows whether they were actually invited or not.
The Supreme Court then summoned them, together with the owners of the station, to come and explain why they should not be convicted for contempt. The radio station issues a press statement to apologise for the conduct of the panelists and the host of the show. Some said these were mitigation measures. But they seemed inadequate.
But the BNI would continue the mitigation further. The investigative body issued a statement that said that the two men admitted issuing the threats, but according to its (BNI’s) assessment, the men did not have the capacity to carry out those threats. They issued those threats, the BNI said, as a result of “needless bravado”. The BNI is right. Yes! The intelligence body is damn right on this one.
The two men, unlike the mentally deranged man who threatened to kill President Mahama and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment within 48 hours, these men who threatened the lives of the judges were not capable of carrying out their threats. The reasons are simple:
The two men are paralysed from head to toe. They are also amputees. Their legs and hands have been amputated and they cannot hold a gun or any weapon. They’ve lost their sight and cannot locate the homes of the judges as they claimed. They are too stupid to pass on the message to anybody who could carry out those threats. The audience who listened to their hate speech are so angelic that not even one of them would be tempted to hate and extend any form of harm to the judges should the judgment not go their way. The most potent reason these people cannot carry out their threats is that they belong to the governing party or were promoting that party's interest. Or better still, they don’t belong to the opposition NPP. Only people with links to the opposition parties have the capacity to carry out their threats or any form of dangerous acts against the state or individuals.
The BNI is right. Lawyers have said threats of harm do not need to be linked to the capacity to execute the threats in order to constitute a crime. But their words do not matter. The BNI is bigger than the criminal code. Or any other law of the land. Period!
The Supreme Court is this morning meeting with the paralysed Montie amputees to hear why they should not be cited for contempt. I don’t know what will become of them. And will not preempt the judgment of the court.
My concern is with the BNI. The BNI is increasingly becoming a national security threat. Did I near you say you are shocked? This is how the BNI is becoming a national security threat:
The BNI has told us clearly, through its actions, that it is a security agency that is working for the interest of the government and the governing party. The opposition NPP and other Ghanaians who do not think the BNI is protecting the interest of the nation feel alienated. They will not have any motivation to work with the BNI and help to stop crime or acts of terrorism. They won’t cooperate with their oppressors, voluntarily or naturally.
And if you care to know, the BNI officials are not magicians. They are not sniff dogs, who can detect crime and stop it. Effective policing or intelligence gathering is reliant on sources who are prepared to cooperate with intelligence agencies such as the BNI. As an investigative journalist, I know the success of investigation depends on the credibility and willingness of sources to divulge vital information. For this reason, I need as many friends as possible in both the NDC and NPP. You cannot succeed as an investigator when you operate as an island.
So imagine that an NPP fanatic has information that could lead to the prevention of a terrorist attack on Ghana, but refuses to go to the police or BNI because he or she thinks the security agencies work for the NDC. The whole nation would be at risk. And the BNI should be responsible.
Recently, Joy FM organized a debate on whether or not the BNI should be scrapped. There was a consensus that the BNI was set up for a good purpose and it should not be scrapped despite its excesses. The BNI can be useful, not only for intelligence gathering but also in the fight against corruption.
I am an anti-corruption investigative journalist, but I can say the BNI can investigate and fight corruption than any journalist. The reason is simple. The BNI has coercive powers that can compel state agencies and officials as well as private businesses to disclose information that can help to unravel corrupt acts. Journalists only deal with information or documents someone is prepared to leak. A journalist cannot order or compel anyone to talk. But the BNI can.
The BNI did well with the National Service investigations. We have not heard much about what the Bureau uncovered at the National Health Insurance Scheme. If the BNI wants to stay relevant, court the support of well-meaning Ghanaians and be effective in intelligence gathering and crime fighting, then it should stop being a puppet of the governing party. And whoever is in charge now should sit up.
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a senior broadcast journalist with Joy 99.7FM. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org