The citizens of a modern democratic state surrender a great deal of power to the government they elect to rule over them.
The most important power they surrender is the one that enables their government to order its instruments of coercion – the police, the armed forces and the judiciary – to take citizens into custody, charge them with offences and arraign them before judges who, if satisfied, can find the citizen guilty of an offence or offences and punish him with fines, loss of liberty, or even loss of life.
In surrendering such important powers to the state, the citizens' hope is that the state will use the powers responsibly to protect life and liberty in the society as a whole, and thus make it unnecessary for individual citizens to try and secure justice for themselves, when they are offended by other citizens. When this contract between the state and its citizens works well, law and order can be said to exist healthily in a society.
But when the state breaks its part of the contract by seeking to use the instruments of coercion to oppress its citizens and suppress their liberties, the citizen is obliged to take all the measures available to him to protect himself. And where more than a single citizen feel it necessary to band together to protect themselves from the state, then “rebellion” has truly broken out in the land.
It is to prevent such “rebellion” from breaking out that the state's instruments of coercion are obliged to operate under strictly regulated conditions. The police constitute the first arm of coercion of the state.
A policeman is nothing more than an ordinary citizen to whom the state has provided a uniform and powers of arrest and detention. So he should always act in a way that will enable other citizens who are not privileged to possess a uniform and the power that goes with it, not to resent his actions but to repose continual confidence in him.
The moment a policeman is perceived by members of the public to be unconcerned about breaches of the law by one citizen or one set of citizens, whilst vigorously pursuing other citizens who also commit such offences, the policeman has figuratively undressed himself and thrown away his uniform.
He ceases to enjoy the confidence of that section of the populace that perceives him to be unconcerned about their grievances, but only interested in the concerns of other citizens. As far as they are concerned, his lack of impartiality has reverted to ordinary citizenship and other citizens may feel free to resist any attempts he makes to act as if he still had power over them.
I am afraid that the current situation in Ghana is teetering towards the withdrawal of respect from the police, especially in matters that affect citizens acting with others to achieve the ends of their political party. Now, there is a special reason why the police have been put under pressure recently: the biometric registration of would-be voters.
If a person is not registered, he or she cannot vote, and if a person cannot vote, then he or she may not take part in electing the government to which will be surrendered all the powers that I listed at the beginning of this article. It is therefore understandable that citizens should regard their ability to be registered to vote as one of the most important rights they possess.
Did the police really expect that they could stand by unconcerned and watch as Madam Ursula Owusu of the NPP assaulted by her political opponents at a registration centre in Accra? Did they see a man with his shirt soaked in blood, apparently after having been attacked at a registration centre, photographed in a newspaper? Were they proud of that sight?
You see, the most important duty of the police is to deter crime. That the Ghana Police Service did not anticipate that assaults could be committed at registration posts and that policemen should therefore be posted to the centres for the express purpose of deterring criminal acts, is extremely regrettable.
Indeed, I cannot believe they did this, and I therefore want to ask them: did the Accra Police receive an incident report regarding the assault on Madam Ursula Owusu? Did they also receive a report – probably from plain-clothes officers – about the pronouncements and activities of the NDC candidate for Ododiodoo constituency that appeared to indicate that he had set up a secessionist state at Ododiodoo?
If they received a report on the highly combustible statements and actions he is alleged to have carried out there, what action did they take to prevent him making it difficult for his political opponents to operate legally and peacefully in the constituency?
The Electoral Commission too has some questions to answer. Was the Commission aware that some candidates had taken it upon themselves to become “invigilators” at the registration centres, who were usurping the functions of the EC's staff in deciding who might, or might not, be registered at the registration centres?
If the EC did receive a report or reports about “macho-men” going round interfering with the registration exercise, did it bring the matter to the notice of the police and also, did it warn the public?
Does the EC feel any responsibility towards citizens whom it has exposed to potential harm merely by inviting them to get themselves registered? Has the EC any machinery in place to obtain reports of, and a rapid response to, incidents of violence and/or disorder at registration centres?
Power-hungry men tend to go into politics, so it was to be expected that a bad atmosphere would be created during the registration, with some candidates acting as if they had been elected already, and assuming powers that they do not possess.
When it became the belief that the police were merely looking on, either powerless or unwilling to step in and do their duty, imitative violence could be expected to break out across the country.
I have no doubt that the amazingly atavistic sentiments allegedly expressed on his own radio station by a Member of Parliament, Mr Ken Agyapong arose from his interpretation of what he had been hearing. His reaction was over the top, of course, but it would be unrealistic to imagine that his outburst came completely out of the blue.
Macho actions trigger counter-macho actions. Indeed, our folklore enjoins us that “had nothing disturbed the dry leaves of a palm tree, no unseemly noise would have emanated from them!”
Much could be said about the way and manner the authorities tried to promote Agyapong's simple act of incitement to a breach of the peace into “treason”. But it is enough that both the police and the prosecution service have seen, with their own eyes, the consequences of trying to manipulate the legal system in order to achieve political ends.
If the populace realises that the police and the AG's Department are not politically neutral but want to use their power on behalf of a political party, things can get very nasty. We live in a country where the two main parties are almost equal in strength.
Therefore if one of the parties is provoked into carrying out civil disobedience against the other, we are finished. Ghanaians used civil disobedience effectively in the past against military governments. So it would be suicidal for a civilian government to tempt its opponents to resort to the same stratagem.
Now, one last question to the Electoral Commission: how was it possible for someone to be biometrically registered fifteen times before he was caught? Obviously, the fact that he was caught means that there is a system that can catch those who carry out multiple registration.
But the worrying question is: if the system failed to detect the previous registrations 15 times before the offence was detected, is there any guarantee that the system has NOT failed 150 times? Or 1,500 times? Or 150,000 times? Or even 1, 500,000 times?
The whole idea of using the biometric method – mainly, fingerprinting -- to register people is to enable the registration of an individual to be communicated to a central computer database, which recognises the fingerprint and rejects it if an attempt is made to use more than once.
So how did it allow multiple-registration of the same fingerprint? I would have thought it was like a bank's PIN [number], which is recognised – or 'disrecognised' – when it is used in connection with a credit or debit card.
What use is a PIN number that does not do its work but allows an unauthorised person to get into a bank account fifteen times before it rejects his PIN [number]? Even if one took only 100 Cedis each time one gained entry into the account, one would have obtained 1,500 Cedis free of charge!