OCCUPY GHANA AND THE PARTY: (DIS)HONESTY, WARPED LOGICS AND UBER-ACTIVISTS

dishonesty

The Issue

This morning, a friend sent me a soundbite. On it I heard a leading member of Occupy Ghana, Mr. Ace Ankomah, say a lot of stuff. Apparently, he’s only a lead vocalist in the choir that’s been singing the same verse since yesterday when this otherwise not-too-important issue came up.

The issue under discussion is whether one Mr. George Andah, a leading Occupier (we’re not sure if he still is), did something inappropriate by putting himself up on the ticket of the opposition NPP to contest the Ewutu Senya West constituency seat.

According to Ace, a criticism of George’s conduct as inappropriate and a subsequent comparison of Occupy Ghana to the now-dozing Committee for Joint Action (CJA) could only be a product of “warped logic”.

I think it’s the other way round – an inability to see the impropriety in George’s conduct and using him as evidence to support the claim that Occupy Ghana is just another CJA in the making, rather, is a product of “warped logic”.

Understanding dishonesty

This is not a criminal matter. Strictly speaking, it is not even a legal matter. However, the point I wish to make will better be made using a bit of criminal jurisprudence.

Offences are usually categorised according to the nature of their elements. For example, there is a category of offences called Sexual Offences, the basis of which is sexual acts. This category of offence include rape, indecent assault, unnatural carnal knowledge, etc. There’s a different category of offences which relates to the safety and protection of the living human body. This category includes assault, kidnapping, abduction, etc. This category is called Offences against the Person.

There’s yet another category called Offences Involving Dishonesty. The key element here, of course, is honesty (or want of it). Dishonesty is hinged on the understanding that it is not good to abuse another person’s trust in you.

The beginning point of understanding dishonesty is the hallowed acknowledgement that no person is under an obligation to rest his trust in another, and that no person is entitled to another’s trust as of right. However, a person, say Mr. A, may conduct his affairs in relation to another, say Miss B, in a manner that will lead Miss B to repose her trust in him. In such a case, Mr. A will not be considered as a person who has behaved appropriately, if he abuses the trust of Miss B. Further, Mr. A may, as a result of this breach of trust, earn some benefits; or Miss B may, as a result of Mr A’s breach of her trust, make some losses. In such a situation, we say that Mr. A has been dishonest. He has led Miss B to vest him with her trust only for him to deliberately violate that trust.

Accordingly, stealing, fraud, false pretence, etc. are offences involving dishonesty. A critical look at these items will show that they’re also indices of corruption if they involve a public officer, either as the active party or as the passive party.

So, you see, when we accuse the public officer of corruption, what we’re actually saying is that she’s involved herself, either actively or passively, in a dishonest practice the result of which is a private gain to her or a public loss to us. In other words, we’re actually saying that the public officer has abused our trust in her.

At this point, it may be clear that a huge portion of our problems with the politician is rooted deeply in this important element – dishonesty. Consequently, whether you think that Mr. Woyome is guilty or that his prosecutors, the A-G, deliberately let him (and his other conspirators) off the hook, you’re saying the same thing – they’re both dishonest. They all pretended to be what they’re not and have caused us, the public, huge losses.

Occupy Ghana’s Strength

If Occupy Ghana ever had any strength, it is their claim that they’re a group of neutral persons whose only objective is to seek the good of all of us; it is their posture of purism, non-partisanship and developmental philosophism; it is their claim that they’re this very new group of “middle-class” men and women with no ill-will  against government or affection for the opposition. And, to prove this image to the public, they had to physically remove known party members from within their ranks during their July 1 march.

As if that wasn’t enough, any innocuous attempt by anyone to suggest, even remotely, that the membership of the group is more multi-partisan than non-partisan was always met with fierce denial amidst tirades and name-calling. By this sustained defensive conduct, the group (or a part of it) has succeeded in wooing the unsuspecting corridor of the public into their fold. You usually see them in red stuff on Fridays and all.

The Deception

At least now it is becoming increasingly clear that Occupy Ghana consists of something other than what they have made the unsuspecting public to believe. Persons of all shades, from fingered or exposed fraudsters, through to diehard party foot-soldiers, are all found at the frontline of Occupy Ghana.

Now the Point

Indeed, there’s nothing wrong with a person exercising her political rights to join a political party and contest on its ticked. There’s, equally, nothing inappropriate about forming or joining a civil society group whose aim is to put government on its toes for the betterment of all. In fact, it is not even inappropriate if the group’s sole aim is to bring down a certain government. Such conducts are needed for a stronger democracy. But that is not the point here.

The point here, as it appears to me, involves a question of honesty or lack of it. That is, wooing the trust of people by assuming a purist, non-partisan posture when, in fact, your palms, feet and face are heavily coloured with the colours of a particular party. That, I think, is pretence. That, I believe, is deception. That, I know, does not speak well of someone who has gained popularity, partly, through unbridled criticism of dishonesty in public offices; and, particularly, of someone who claims to be the new thing in town. That’s the logic.

And if you still think this logic is distorted, try answering this question: would we be having this discussion if George was contesting the seat as an independent candidate?

WHO’S VIOLATING THE MUSLIM STUDENT’S RIGHT TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM?

religious-freedom

In his 2015 State of the Nation address delivered to parliament on Thursday, February 26, 2015, H.E. President John Mahama joined in the debate over the practices in some Catholic schools, where non-Catholic students and pupils are made to be part of some Catholic religious practices against their will. The President said:

“It is wrong under our Constitution for Muslim students to be compelled to attend church services or for Christian students to be compelled to attend Muslim congregational prayers … Heads of institutions must note this for strict compliance. Appropriate sanctions will be taken against any head of institution who acts contrary to the Constitutional provisions of our country.”

On the face of it, the President’s statement appears fairly balanced, as it seeks to restrain not just headmasters of Christian schools but also headmasters of Islamic schools. However, that appearance is a bit deceptive, I must say, as no honest person was in a doubt over the target of the warning.

Quite apart from this, the President’s statement also invokes a very fundamental question. A question that if answered diligently and without a passion or desire for transient political benefits, will go a long way to galvanise our nation against religious violence that seems to have extensively challenged the capacity of even the developed world to maintain peace and security. Anything less than that has the propensity of throwing our nation into a higgledy-piggledy, sooner than later.

Who is violating the Muslim student’s right to religious freedom? In this article, I enter into a labyrinth. It is my hope that I do not emerge without holding in my hand a respectable description of the identity of the person or group of persons who are violating the rights of these young Ghanaians and, of course, the 1992 Constitution.

The Right to Religious Freedom under the 1992 Constitution

The right to freedom of religion, as outlined in the 1992 Constitution, may be said to be carried by a cross-section of 2 arms and two legs. The first arm is the right to hold a religious belief – Article 21(1)(b). This component of the right is unlimited. A person may hold any form of belief in her mind; and that is no one’s business. The Second arm is the right to manifest that belief by way of practice – Article 21(1)(c). It is this component of the right that the State may, for obvious reasons, limit.

Down to the legs. The first leg of the right to the freedom of religion is the prohibition of the imposition of a religious belief or practices on a person. A person who imposes a religious belief or practice on another may be violating this all-important human right. Finally, the second leg of the right is the protection of a person’s right to freely hold and practice religious belief(s) of preference. The difference between the first leg and the second is that the former protects the person from being coerced (as in the case of the students in question) while the latter allows her to freely choose (or refuse to choose) a religion or its practice.

Consequently, there’s nothing inherently unlawful when a person establishes a school that is dedicated to the furtherance of Voodoo, Tigari or any other religion. Catholics, therefore, have the rights to establish and run school in compliance with or in furtherance of their faith.

The Public Fund Argument

Since the President’s address, several strands of arguments have been canvassed in the discussion. Of all the arguments touching on the lawfulness (or otherwise) of the practices in some mission schools, I find that which I prefer to call the ‘public fund’ argument most impressive.

That argument proceeds as follows: (1) That government funds the missions schools in question; (2) that these funds are public funds; (3) that public funds are not from Catholics only and are not Catholic in nature; and (4) therefore that these schools, though founded and sustained on Catholic doctrines and practices, have, by accepting public funds, lost the moral or legal authority to still continue to apply Catholic doctrines and practices to non-Catholics who teach or study in them. A slightly different or, perhaps, a more forceful way of stating this argument is by saying that it is unlawful to use public funds to support religious programs.

At this point, it doesn’t matter how the argument is stated. What matters is that one cannot sustain the public fund argument without first admitting these 3 underlying claims: (1) That Ghana is a secular (not a religious) State; (2) That the State must respect and strictly observe the gap between it (the State) and religion; and (3) that the State, by using public funds to support schools that, more or less, impose a particular religious practices on students, has abdicated the highly-desired throne of secularity.

Two Faces of the Argument

From the above, the public fund argument may be said to have 2 faces: The Accepting face and the Giving face. The Accepting face says that Catholic schools, by accepting public funds, are estopped from insisting on using these schools to further Catholic beliefs and practices. On the other hand, the Giving face, says that the government violates the Constitution by giving out public funds to support Catholics schools, when it knows very well that they (the Catholic schools) have insisted, still insist and will continue to insist on using those funds, so long as it is made available to them, to further the Catholic faith.

In principle and without more, any of these 2 faces of the argument may bring some form or kind of resolution to this rather peace-threatening impasse that we’ve found ourselves in, even as we turn 58 today. Thus, we may use the Accepting approach or the Giving approach to resolve the impasse.

The Accepting Approach

This approach holds that the Catholic schools in question are estopped from conducting themselves in a manner that furthers their faith. This is because they have accepted public funds, which funds cannot be used to promote or support a particular religious purpose. If you subscribe to this approach, you’re likely to attempt resolving the problem by simply saying that Catholic school could only insist on Catholic doctrines if they stop accepting public funds from government.

However, this argument, when pursued to its logical conclusion, will lead to a violation of the second leg of the right to freedom of religion; that is, the right to hold and engage in practices that further one’s religion of choice.

That right cannot be waived merely by accepting public fund. If it were so, Muslims who who receive public funds in support of their pilgrimage to the holy land of Mecca would be held to have waived their right to manifest their belief, for which reason they even seek public funding in the first place. Accordingly, we think that resorting to the Accepting approach to resolving the matter will lead to really silly consequences.

The Giving Approach

The Giving approach says that the State, being secular (rather than religious), violates the Constitution when it gives public funds to schools and other institutions that use the fund to further parochial religious practices, and usually so in violation of the rights of persons who do not subscribe to those religious practices. In other words, the State is violating the Constitution by giving public funds to Catholic school, who use this funds to evangelise and propagate, the Catholic faith. Resorting to this approach yields one result and one result only – injuncting the State from giving public funds to institutions that use them to promote religion.

Therefore, if you subscribe to the Giving approach you’re likely to attempt resolving the impasse by suggesting that government should desist from giving out public funds to faith-based or religious organisations.

Comparing the Result of the 2 Approaches

The 2 approaches, clearly, yield completely different results. The Accepting approach results in the violation of the second leg of the right to free religion; that is, it prevents others from practicing their religious belief. The Giving approach, on the other hand, as we have seen does not result in the violation of any of the arms or legs of the constitutional right to religion. As a matter of fact, it rather protects, comprehensively, a person’s right to freedom from being compelled (in public-funded schools) to engage in the practice of a religion that she does not subscribe to. This is because if this approach is adopted there will not be any publicly-funded religious, Catholic or otherwise, school to start with. Plus, it make absolute sense to stop the giver than to stop the receiver.

Indeed, no one has the right to be given, and the State has no duty, power, whatsoever under the Constitution to give out public funds for parochial religious purposes.

Answering the Question

At this point, it is necessary to answer the question. As between the President and the headmasters of publicly-funded Catholic schools, who is violating the religious rights of young Muslims in Ghana? The answer will depend on who, between the two, has the power over public funds or who actually gives out public funds to be used in furtherance of religious purposes. Another way of appreciating the issues is by first saying, yes, the headmasters may be violating the religious rights of Muslim students; and, then, going on to inquire whether that violation was possible without the President giving out public funds to faith-based schools.

From this perspective, we think, respectfully, that it is the President (rather than the headmasters) who is the principal violator of the rights of the innocent pupils and students who are being subjected to the practices of the Catholic or other faiths that they do not subscribe to.

Conclusion

Until the holder of the public purse – the President – stops giving out public funds to faith-based schools, these violations are unlikely to end.