An open letter to Prof. Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang – Dep. NYA CEO writes
Dear Prof. Opoku-Agemang,
You are welcome to the political space where the conducts and statements of political actors are subjected to a critical scrutiny. Examining the utterances of political figures ensures that leaders are held responsible for what they say and do. It also serves the purpose of preventing persons seeking or holding political office from making statements and decisions that are not deeply thought through. It is against this backdrop that I submit to you this letter, as a response to your assertion that, by signing the petition that led to the pardon of the Montie 3 contemnors, your action was an “appeal for ‘mercy’ but not an ‘endorsement’ as reported in a July 30, 2020 myjoyonline news report.
Before I delve into the substance of my critique, let me congratulate you on your nomination as the running mate to former President Mahama. Indeed, there is no doubt that your new political role will inspire females, particularly young women to aspire for greater heights in their various endeavours. While some observers believe that your nomination is intended to neutralise Dr. Bawunia’s political prowess, others are of the view that your joining the political enterprise will enrich the electioneering campaigns as the heat builds up. Congratulations, once again, Prof. That said, let me revert to the issue informing this letter.
Your justification for signing the Montie 3 petition confirms the adage that posterity judges our actions. It must be indicated that non-mischievous actions ordinarily do not require any strenuous efforts in an attempt to provide clarity when they attract widespread condemnation. Respectfully, your signing the petition in August, 2016 when you were the Minister for Education has come for discussions because it was an affront to justice, abuse of womanhood, and disregard for the judiciary among others. The expression of disgust following the signing of the petition by women including yourself was due to the fact that your pedigree should have restrained you from divisive and discriminatory tendences. This piece focuses on how your action constitutes an abuse to womanhood.
It is important that an analysis of your justification for the petition is contextualised. I hope you will agree with me that words are not used in isolation. Context therefore sets the parameters to assess the propriety of your plea for the contemptuous act involving Salifu Maase, aka Mugabe; Alistair Tairo Nelson and Godwin Ako Gunn (the Montie 3). To contextualise your actions would lead to one conclusion: that, what you mean by seeking ‘mercy’ for the contemnors is ludicrous.
In delivering the judgement of the Montie 3, the Supreme Court held that the convicts “…willfully, attacked the Chief Justice…defied, insulted and lowered the authority of the Court…cruelly and callously reminded the justices of the murder of three High Court Judges on 30th June, 1982 (a day that will forever remain in the annals of this country as a day of infamy)”. In expressing the motivation for their contemptuous act, the Court held that: “This was, doubtlessly, intended to browbeat and prevent the court from performing its duty to administer justice as it deemed fit”. How can someone of your standing plead for mercy for persons who blatantly and arrogantly attacked the judiciary in the manner they did?
Prof., are you aware that one of the contemnors threatened the then Chief Justice, Her Ladyship Georgina Theodora Wood with rape? Yes, rape, a heinous sexual violence! In your recent interview which you attempted to justify the petition, you posed the question: “Did people take their time to listen to what the people [contemnors] were alleged to have done? Did they hear any rape in what they said?”. The last question sadness me to the core. More importantly, your questions suggest that you failed to apprise yourself of the content of what they said prior to signing the petition. Sadly, four years after the event, you still do not know the depth of the contemptuous act yet you find it expedient to justify your ill-informed stance on the petition. It shows the extent of your insensitivity to rape victims. Or could it be that you lack understanding of sexual violence of which rape is a leading offense?
For purposes of clarity, suffice that I quote the definition of sexual violence as captured in a 2016 Domestic Violence in Ghana report jointly commissioned by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection in Ghana and the United Kingdom Department for International Development which was signed by Nana Oye Lithur, then Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, who ironically, also signed the infamous petition. In the saidreport, sexual violence is:
“defined as acts of unwanted sexual comments or physical contact; rape by physical force, or otherwise forced sex (for instance, by blackmail or threats); denial of using protection during sex; a sexual partner hiding their HIV status; sexual acts and intercourse that were performed on the basis of feeling there was no option; or penetration with an object against someone’s will.” p.61.
Please, kindly take note of the portions in bold which answer your question as to whether we heard rape in the unguarded statements for which the Court held the three for contempt. I submit to you that unwanted sexual comments also include threat of rape! Do you doubt this? As an academic, it is instructive that your actions are guided by best practices and informed by literature. A brief literature search on what constitutes sexual violence would have enriched your understanding that rape or a threat of it constitutes sexual violence. I believe you have in-depth understanding of sexual violence except that you chose to support a political cause at the expense of gender protection. Let me reiterate for your information that the diatribe spewed by the Montie 3 included a threat of rape directed at Her Ladyship Georgina Theodora Wood!
You must be aware that rape is a dreaded sexual violence that dehumanises the victims while exposing them to depression, fear, isolation, recurring nightmares, embarrassment, among others. In fact, no sane mind would contemplate threatening a woman with rape. It is embarrassing and despicable. As an educationist touted as advancing the interests of the girl-child, you do not find it spiteful to put in a plea for mercy for persons who maliciously abused women with such unsavoury words including the threat of rape? This is scandalous!
During your official outdooring, you indicated that your selection as the running mate to Mr. Mahama “is a new focal point for girls and women” and that it also constitutes respect for women, one of the largest constituencies you represent in the country. You believe that that “singular decision” by President Mahama will inspire girls and women into greater heights. I wonder when you realised that the actions of public officers and politicians have the ability to inspire others. Sadly, when you were signing the pardon, you did not know that your action could embolden rapists to perpetuate such an awful act, after all, a plea for mercy would be entered on their behalf by high-profiled personalities including yourself?
It is worrying to hear you rationalise your action on the pretext that “…if someone commits an offense and they are being taken away and they run to you to apologise on their behalf, as a mother will you throw them away?”. May I submit to you that a responsible mother would not put in a plea for mercy when their sons engage in reprehensible conducts and vulgar vituperations and they are leniently punished. Rather, they will allow a reasonable punishment to correct such an errant behaviour. Unfortunately, you do not think that the conviction of the Montie 3 to a 4-month prison term was a reasonable punishment intended to achieve a corrective aim?
To go by your logic should obligate us to plead mercy for prisoners, particularly those whose convictions were on account of minor offences. You cannot say that you are unaware that several prisoners have been inadvertently jailed with some serving perceptibly harsh sentences which should equally deserve a pardon. As a caring mother, will you champion the release of such convicts to demonstrate that you are consistent in your actions?
Again, to uphold your argument imposes an urgent obligation on you to relentlessly support the Justice for All Programme (JFAP) initiated by former President Kufuor which among other things, provides relief for people who have been on remand for several years without seeing a judge. Is this not cruel enough to warrant your mercy plea? Or is it the case that you do not seem to appreciate the fact that such persons deserve mercy pleas just as the Montie 3 contemnors?
In fact, your belief that a plea for mercy is deserving for offenders of the law should cause you to support Crime Check Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that has demonstrated commitment towards supporting prisoners whose poor backgrounds have impeded their access to legal support and as a result, they “have become victims of questionable justice delivery”. Prof., the foundation under reference has amplified the concerns of such persons loud enough to attract your intervention. Please, it will interest Ghanaians to know the extent to which you have championed a mercy plea for such persons, especially, the poor and vulnerable women some of whom have spent years in jail. Now that you are the running mate of the largest opposition party in the country, you can easily mobilise the needed signatures to attract a favourable response for the release of such persons. Until you do that, your mercy plea would continually be deemed as highly selective and unfortunate.
It is really sad that you found the need to plead mercy for the release of the Monties 3 when they had served only a month of their 4-month jail term (27th July – 26th August, 2016). Does it mean that the Montie 3 merited your plea for mercy because they are of the same political affiliation with you? What was the urgency that warranted their release given that they were convicted not for a year? Would there have been any irreparable damage to the contemnors had they completed the jail terms? The questions are unexhaustive.
Did I hear you say that “Mahama could have covered them but he didn’t do so; he allowed the law to work…?” Really? That implies that your boss had the capacity to ‘cover’ criminals as and when he deemed fit except that in the Montie 3 case, he decided to exercise his powers of mercy provided for in Article 72 of the 1992 Constitution. You are encouraging Ghanaians to vote for a President who can ‘cover’ up criminals? In fact, your attempted justification has been abysmal but Ghanaians will take your words that Mr. Mahama can ‘cover’ up criminals if he wants to and let them go unpunished. God save Ghanaians!
Prof., let me reiterate a statement by Professor Ama Ata Aidoo following the signing of the petition particularly by women. It reads: “It’s unfortunate that the petition was initiated at all, and even more unfortunate that it’s being signed by the likes of the Ministers of Education, and of Gender, Children and Social Protection”. The venerable Prof. Aidoo is one of those of us who criticised the petition. Indeed, it is unfortunate for you, then Minister of Education whose actions are learnable, to have pleaded mercy for the contemnors. As an educationist, you very well understand operant conditioning, which is a vital construct of educational psychology and within that context, you should have allowed the Montie 3 to have served their jail term and benefit from the reformative effect of punishment.
Prof., when you were the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast (UCC), how often did you plead mercy for students who were dismissed for academic malpractices? Certainly, you allowed such culpable students to forever remain banned by the University, right? How do you compare injuring the academic future of students who breached school regulations to that of politically linked individuals who exacted venom on the country’s Supreme Court including a threat of rape for the CJ?
Dear Prof., what you have also failed to realise is that rape victims get hurt when a person is threatened with rape. This explains why we must all condemn violence against women (whether real or perceived) including rape or a threat of it. I submit to you that by signing the petition, you cannot in any way distance yourself from the rape threat, whether covert or overt. On the scale of logic, how would you rationalise your action particularly when the incarceration of the Montie 3 did not threaten their health or safety? But for political affinity, you certainly would not have pleaded ‘mercy’ for them. This is highly hypocritical.
I leave you to reflect on your actions then and your recent justifications. May good conscience prevail upon you and may we be guided by reasoned actions that we can proudly justify. While you stand by your actions, may you be reminded that you have failed to show fairness to the many prisoners. You have demonstrated that indeed some people are more human than others. For a good number of Ghanaians, your justification is certainly an affront to womanhood. Be reflective and come back again with an apologetic statement to ease the pains and fears of rape victims and those who have suffered rape threats including the retired Chief Justice, Her Ladyship Georgina Theodora Wood.
Deputy CEO National Youth Authority