Page nine of last Monday’s Daily Graphic carried a full page colour advert announcing that Ghana had placed 7th out of 53 countries in the Mo Ibrahim Index on governance in Africa. The Mo Ibrahim Index is a complex indicator of several trends that are all supposed to add up to our human happiness and progress, and countries are awarded points for how well they are doing in each category. According to the aforementioned Daily Graphic advert, Ghana placed 17th in personal security with a score of 53 out of 100 and 15th in national security with a score of 90 percent. The one that intrigues me is our 5th position in the rule of law category with a score of 85 percent.
Perhaps the rule of law is so bad in other African countries that just having a group of boys in flip-flops directing traffic in the centre of a nation’s capital must count as progress; but basically, it is obvious that Mr. Mo Ibrahim has not visited the Spintex Road, Nima, or indeed any part of Ghana or he would change his opinion about the rule of law in Ghana. As with these things, perhaps the index is compiled by a method beyond ordinary human understanding, or perhaps the rule of law is defined by a rarefied scenario that you and I cannot recognise in our everyday existence. But by any reckoning, I believe that the rule of law must mean that we are all equal before the law to which we must have equal access.
The Mo Ibrahim Index seeks to inform the world that by any measure Ghana, our beloved country, scores 85 percent in the notion that ALL its citizens have EQUAL access to the law and that if Mr. Mo Ibrahim is right we should expect that at the very least 8.5 Ghanaians out of every 10 must be satisfies with the rule of law in this country. My experience of the rule in Ghana is markedly different from that being portrayed in the Index.
For any survey or study to be meaningful it has to scratch beneath the surface to reveal the true character of the phenomenon being surveyed. Ghana, on the face of it passes as a peaceful country; it has the best record as far as democratic transitions in Africa go, having twice unseated a ruling party through the ballot box since 1992. The media hums and whine with political diatribe all day long and apart from the occasional intimidation for causing fear and panic people are free to speak their minds. On the face of it, Ghana’s democratic credentials are safe. However, the rule of law is a different story.
If we must have access to the law the literal and metaphorical point of entry must be the police station. What is your experience of lodging a police complaint? Mine, which I have documented in this and other columns, has been less that exemplary. My experience of the police has taught me to stay clear of the force, and nothing can shake me from that belief. There was the time I went to the Legon police station to report an accident in which I felt wronged by the taxi driver who drove into my car. The sergeant in charge made it clear by word and gesture that they had better things to do. It was even worse when my house was house was burgled. These are at the small-fry end of inconvenience; people have scarier tales of their dealing with the police.
To be fair, the police also have their own stories: the police-citizen ratio of about 1-1000 puts a strain on the force which is severely under-resourced. Most police stations do not have adequate writing material, including log books and complaint sheets. As for official mobile and recording facilities they sound too futuristic in our specific context. In fact, policing around the clock has not arrived in Ghana yet; on most Sundays you can drive up and down the country without meeting a single police patrol because the force must also take a rest being made up of human beings! But inadequate police resources and lack of numbers are part of the story, and not an excuse.
Police apart, the other major theatre of equality before the law is the law court itself, and on access to justice via the courts Mr. Ibrahim and his researchers do not have to look too far. In the same issue of the Graphic in which the Mo Ibrahim advert appeared, there was a story on page 49 headlined CJ cautions against unguarded criticisms of the Judiciary, in which Mrs. Georgina Wood, the Chief Justice said at a forum that the silence of judges “when they were accused of corruption should not be mistaken for guilt”. Fair enough. But in the same article Mr. Kofi Abotsi, a law lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology told the same audience that the “perpetual problem of the judiciary being corrupt was partly to be blamed on lawyers”. He is quoted as having said that “This is a big issue that rests on the moral doorstep of lawyers and litigants and until stops the perception of the judiciary being corrupt will continue to persist”.
It is not stated whether Mrs. Wood was in the audience to hear Mr. Abotsi, but whatever the lecturer said is not new or news to Ghanaians. The idea that justice can be bought, and is therefore denied to the poor is not just a perception. It is widely believed by the vast majority of Ghanaians that without money or connections you cannot get justice in most situations. It is even worse for poor people struggling for justice against the big beast of government or behemoths of big business because they believe that they have scant chance of success.
The point is that the Mo Ibrahim Index may award Ghana very high marks for the rule of law but in reality in many parts of this country and in our private and public lives, this country sometimes comes close to feeling like a lawless country. I have used so many qualifiers in the last sentence because I would hate to declare that this is a lawless country but objectively speaking, it sometimes feels like that. When a group of young men feel aggrieved that one of their friends has been arrested by the police they vandalise the police station and nothing much happens; when a suspected armed robber falls into the hands of the mob he is lynched in broad daylight; end of story. On the Spintex Road if you drive a dark big 4 x 4 vehicle you just turn you lights on and drive through the middle of the road as if there are no laws. There are laws but they are not meant to be obeyed by the rich and the powerful in Ghana.
There is something else in the Mo Ibrahim Index as advertised that should wipe the smile off the faces of our officials who are probably basking in the reflected glory of the rule of law 5th position. Ghana came 17th in PERSONAL SECURITY with a score of 53. The question is how does a country place 5th in the rule of law but 17th in personal security? The two must go together because personal security must depend on the rule of law. If everybody, including land-guards, macho-men, irate youth, renegade police, greedy government officials, private security operators, aggrieved market traders, tro-tro drivers, Big Men and all manner of people take the law into their own hands how can personal safety be assured?
Something is not jelling here, and it is fact versus fiction. It is possible that the Index relies more on information provided by the institutions of state that are MEANT to protect and promote the rule of law, but these institutions exist in such a bureaucratic manner that they are not accessible to the ordinary person in the street. Perhaps instead of spending money advertising the Index, Mo Ibrahim should motivate those institutions to advertise their services and create a genuinely welcoming stance and culture towards people who have no means and connections.