Elizabeth Ohene Writes: Should We All Protect Our Own?

Over the weekend, I came across two lamentations from a policeman and a teacher.
Now these are the two groups of people that should not be unhappy if you want a peaceful life.

The one about teachers was said to be written by a teacher who felt that teachers were being treated harshly and unjustly by the Ghana Education Service (GES).

The cri de Coeur from the teacher was triggered by the announcement from the Service that 10 teachers had been sacked for various infringements against the law.

Six of them had been sacked for sexual misconduct with students and four for stealing.

Now this write-up was not seriously contesting the guilt of those who had been sacked.

The complaint was that you do not expose or disgrace your own.

The rhetorical question was posed as to when the last time was that anybody saw or heard about any professional body sacking or sanctioning a member and publishing the fact.

The claim went into specifics and mentioned the clergy, politicians, police and military as professions that would never make public disciplinary sanctions against members.

I was interested in this claim because my experience with the GES and the way they deal with erring teachers was quite different.

Indeed, it is a story I tell regularly that the practice at the GES was that if a teacher did something wrong, a committee would be set up to investigate the matter; this would be done diligently and a detailed report would be written.

Transfer as punishment

The interesting thing was that no matter what the teacher had been accused of or found guilty of, the last line of the report always read: Recommendation, To be transferred.

It could be rape, it could be chronic drunkenness, it could be assault, it could be theft and even though I never saw one, I suspect it could even be murder, and the recommendation at the end of the report would be To be transferred.

I get the feeling that this complaint is not even about the severity of the punishment meted to the 10 teachers, the pain comes from the names of the teachers being made public and by their own professional body.

Our complainant is not impressed by the explanation that this extreme measure was taken to serve as a deterrent to other teachers that might be tempted to go along similar lines.

He argues that the integrity of the profession is undermined by naming and shaming the teachers.

So, I turn my mind to the clergy because our teacher cites the clergy as one of the professions that would normally protect their own. I am afraid our teacher has not been following the news.

I bet the Catholic Church wished they had exposed their erring priests themselves instead of being dragged, kicking and screaming into admitting that something very wrong has been going on with some of their priests abusing young people in their care.

Who knows, if the practice was for erring priests to be exposed by the Church, the problem might not have reached the proportions it did.

The Church has found itself in a mess precisely because for years, it had adopted the GES attitude of recommending transfers as punishment or solution to serious problems.

If Bishops had publicly named and shamed an abusive priest as soon as the problem came up, just think of the amount of heartache that would have been saved.

Will it work for politicians?

As for politicians, I am not at all sure that attempts at covering up for each other has ever worked. They, (or should I say, we?) need to bring each other down as part of the regular scheme of things.

Indeed, the regular accusations have led to cries of witch-hunting and have now led to the setting up of a very expensive prosecution agency, a.k.a. the Special Prosecutor, just for the politicians.

Whereas the teacher includes the police in the groups that cover up for their members, a policeman emerges lamenting about what a raw deal the police get from an unappreciative public.

They protect us from robbers, terrorists, stay up at night so we can sleep in peace, stand in the hot sun to control traffic, they are called when there are dead bodies, they lose their lives trying to protect the public and yet they are regularly insulted by all and when they make a mistake, nobody thinks of forgiving them.

The police are so much in the public eye, they don’t have the opportunity to cover up for each other, the argument goes and they seem to be held up to higher standards than the average citizen.

I wonder where this loyalty to groups emanates from.

I belong to far too many groups to imagine I can be loyal to them all: female, black, Ghanaian, short, Ewe, Presbyterian, Bubiashie and Abutia Teti congregations, Mawuli School, Legon, Volta Hall, Writer, politician, NPP, Ayawaso West Wuogon, Ho West and I haven’t come to the families I was born into and have acquired, the list of my groups and sub-groups would fill a page.

How can I possibly be loyal to them all?

It seems to me the fact that you are an engineer and can testify to your own honesty is no reason to imagine that all engineers are honest. And if an engineer is shown to be dishonest in his work, it should not mean that you are dishonest.

Take the difficulty we politicians get ourselves into because we imagine that everybody in the political party we belong to is necessarily like us.

One forgets or ignores at one’s peril, Professor Kofi Abrefa Busia’s famous breakdown of what a political party is.

He said a political party was like Techiman market, it attracts all sorts, there would be housewives, chancers, entrepreneurs, thieves, people in a hurry, people lazing around, people there to cause mayhem and people there to buy one item, people who want to make friends, regulars and noise makers.

Once upon a time, people joined political parties because of the ideologies they propounded. These days I am not even sure some people even know what the parties stand for.

For a two-week period in 2005, I asked about 70 teachers around the country how they came to be teachers. The answers were as surprising as they were interesting.

It might well be that the group we think we belong to is not quite as cohesive as we imagine and we seek to protect members at our own peril.