Citizen vs Police – Why Are You Looking At Me Like That?

The first part of this article was originally published by on Monday, June 29, 2009. The title is very relevant today, particularly after following all the flawed arguments the police offered for wanting to put a Ghanaian musician, Mzbel in the cooler for an alleged road rage. The piece is also a good read for those willing to take a peek into the pretentious extortionist roadblocks mounted by the Ghanaian police on our highways. I think this is also good as a postcard from my long leave away from readers. I am back and to those who did not read the first article it would be worth reading this narrative from a recent encounter with a peace officer at a popular check point in Ghana. My wife and I had a speaking engagement with a group of students and entrepreneurs in one of the regions. I was billed to speak at 9 am but for some funny reason, I mixed the time up. Already late for the appointment and not wanting to keep my audiences waiting and sitting on thorns, I really did not want to meet any police barrier on the road. But just before we entered the town in which I was billed to speak, we met a police barrier. An officer flagged the car and we pulled off the road. He approached and demanded my driver’s license. I obliged, he inspected the license and gave it back to me. He went on. Can I see your insurance? I pulled my certificate for the officer to inspect. He exclaimed. What of your roadworthiness certificate? I showed it to him. Where is your fire extinguisher? At that point, I began sensing danger, thinking that some fire had started bellowing from my trunk so I alighted and showed the visibly determined officer, my fire extinguisher. The police man then asked me, where is your spare tyre? I lifted the receptacle on the hidden compartment, the officer confused at that stage, almost collapsed at seeing the tyre-because he was so disappointed that he could still not adduce any shred of evidence to nail me that morning. Meanwhile, my wife and I had already wasted 30 minutes. After recovering from his momentary trance, the officer again asked for my tool box. I gladly pulled it out for him. I thought the man in black was fed up. Lo, the guy still opened his mouth. At that stage if you were not as angelic as my wife, you would have assaulted the officer. He unashamedly asked for my warning triangle. I showed him the triangle with promptitude and alacrity because my guests were expecting me. The officer then went on. “Oh boss, every car is supposed to have two sets of warning triangles”. At that moment, my patient began to wane. I then retorted. What section of which law prescribed the number of triangles for a particular vehicle. I posed that question because I had never altered any major accessory on my car. Meanwhile, I woke up from my slumber and remembered what my grandmother once told me. That, if a Ghanaian police officer wants to collect ‘susu’ (extort money) from a road user, no matter what, he would find some basis on which to legalize his extortion. In fact, a police officer once said that since they were the only public entity entitled to prosecute members of the public, there was no way a civilian would win any case against a constable. Anyway, after I grilled the miserable officer for a few minutes, he realised that he was going to make a mess of himself if he did not allow me to continue with my journey. I missed my appointment that morning and still live with the regret of not speaking to the group. We are like ostriches out here in Ghana. What is red can be black depending on which political party you belong. In fact, if you are the party in government or a hireling of the ruling party, life is always good in the country. On the flipside, the opposition party never sees anything wrong with the nation until they are voted into power – and the cycle is repeated. Is it not true that the police only mount regular road blocks just to extort money from poor citizens? Is it also not true that justice is a sellable commodity in Ghana? Is it not true that corruption is real and not a perception in Ghana? Is it not true that because of the self-preservation nature of the pervasively corrupt and messy Ghanaian judiciary, Law Practise has become the only profession that everybody is able to acquire? Very soon, every educated person in Ghana would become a lawyer – oh, even the police are also studying law so that they can master how to continue to dribble unsuspecting citizens with their corrupt acts. Is it not true that bribery and corruption have become institutional norms in Ghana? Anyway to any reader who denies any of my points above, I recommend the book titled, “Africa, the Shackled Continent, Economic Development, Governments, Culture,” by Robert Guest. I am talking to the author of the book so with his permission, that I can publish a review for Ghanaian readers. I am around because am back for good!