File photo: Gavel

The presiding judge of High Court 2 in Bolgatanga, Justice Alexander Graham, received showers of praise from organisations and residents in the Upper East Region on Friday.

This was for exposing an underhand attempt by the Paramount Chief of Talensi, Tongraan Kugbilsong Nanlebegtang, to influence his decisions on some mining-related cases filed from the Talensi District.

Around 9:00 am on Friday, the Chief of Baare, Naab Nyakora Mantii, and the Secretary to the Paramount Chief of Talensi, Richard Sunday Yinbil, appeared at the court and told the officials of the court that they had been sent by the Tongraan to deliver a message to the judge.

The judge was inside his chambers at the time and the courtroom was packed with a crowd of lawyers from several regional capitals, policemen, prison officers and people who were around for the hearing of their respective cases.

The two agents of the Tongraan were allowed entry into the judge’s chambers but after a while, the judge stormed out of his chambers with the two men and asked the police officers in the courtroom to arrest and handcuff the two men immediately.

The entire courtroom was thrown into utter disbelief with the audience visibly wondering what must have taken place inside the judge’s chambers before the rare drama unfolded outside the chambers.

Minutes later, the judge took his seat and asked the handcuffed men to tell the court what they had told him privately in his chambers. But the two men, shivering extremely, could not say anything while the court crowd waited impatiently to hear the details. The courtroom was quiet for a while.

“If you cannot tell the court, I will tell them,” the judge broke the silence.

While the court crowd listened with rapt attention, Justice Graham said the two men came into his chambers and, after introducing themselves, told him that the Tongraan had sent them to deliver a message to him.

He said the two men, in delivering their message, spoke highly of the Tongraan as not just a paramount chief but also a member of the Council of State, a former board chairman of the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) and a one-time accountant.

“He said they, then, proceeded by saying the Tongraan had sent them to tell him (Justice Graham) that he should come to his palace in Tongo, capital of the Talensi District, at 9:00 am on Saturday, March 11, 2023, for a private and detailed discussion on some mining-related cases Justice Graham was presiding over.

As Justice Graham narrated what had taken place in his chambers, the two agents from the Tongraan stared at the court’s floor in silence throughout while some court audiences made gestures of shock. Immediately after the judge finished with the narration, the two men were taken into the dock for trial on contempt charges. The judge was furious, describing the action of the Tongraan and his agents as not only contemptuous but also destructive.

“Guilty or not guilty?” the court asked the two agents-turned-accused-persons.

They pleaded guilty and were convicted on their own plea. While the judge scribed a note inside a fat book on his table, a regretful look on the faces of the two accused persons seemed to be cast at the not-too-far Navrongo Central Prisons― a place which must have been the least of their thoughts when they woke up on Friday and began their ill-fated journey to the judge’s chambers.  

When the judge finished writing, he looked up and asked the two agents to produce the Tongraan himself before him. Then, a lawyer whose name was only mentioned as Mohammed from Gbewaa Chambers in Tamale rose to his feet and said he had received a telephone message from the Tongraan.

He told the judge that the Tongraan said he had regretted his action and had asked him (the lawyer) to intervene by pleading on his behalf to not hand the two accused persons a custodial sentence.

The other lawyers on the counsel table joined him in praying for mitigation. Among them were the Upper East Regional Director of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Abdulai Jalaldeen, Legal Aid Commission Ghana’s Issahaku Lawal, and counsel to the Tongraan, Mohammed Tahiru Nambe.

Responding to the profuse pleas, the judge asked the lawyers how they would judge the case themselves if they found themselves under such circumstances. The question was not rhetorical. But none replied.

All of them kept pleading for mitigation. Again, the judge wrote in his book. And again, there was silence. Seconds later, the judge pronounced the verdict: the two accused persons were ordered to sign a bond lasting six months before the Upper East Regional Police Command and to be of good behaviour.

While the court attended to a lengthy lineup of cases originally scheduled for the day, the two accused persons were held in court custody. It took so long before they were taken to the Upper East Regional Police Command because the judge had to finish with the business of the day first before retiring to his chambers to append his signature to the court’s good behaviour warrant.

Residents throng court premises over drama

As tidings of the drama spread on Friday across the region via social media platforms, several individuals and representatives of parties who were involved in cases filed from Talensi at the court raced to the court’s premises from far and near to ascertain the information they had received.

A crowd of spectators who took over the perimeters and compound of the court were there to see the accused persons for themselves. Almost everyone spotted around was busy on their phones making calls, receiving calls and sending messages on the development. The more the crowd swelled, the more the news spread.

Similarly, the further the news travelled, the bigger the crowd grew. Some people arrived still in doubt about what they had heard. But on seeing the cars which the accused persons often use parked outside the court’s walled compound, their curiosity got a boost.

Shortly afterwards, their doubts faded as they managed to enter the packed courtroom to see the handcuffed accused persons for themselves.

Despite the weather being extremely hot, causing the crowd to thin out gradually, many who stood outside the court’s compound were determined to see how the accused persons would be led out of the courtroom even if it meant they would have to spend the whole day around the court’s complex.

Their long wait was finally rewarded when the accused persons were led out of the court’s building by police officers around 3:30 pm and taken to the Upper East Regional Police Headquarters.

Currently, Earl International Group Ghana Gold Ltd― a Chinese company formerly known as Shaanxi Mining Company Ltd― and some individuals who are known to be the supporters of the Tongraan have cases before Justice Graham and some judges in the region.

Weeks ago, Justice Graham issued an interlocutory injunction against Earl International Group Ghana Gold Ltd in favour of a small-scale miner, Zongdan Boyak Kolog popularly known as Polo, who sued the Chinese company recently for trespassing on his mining concession in Talensi. Hearing of the substantive case against the Chinese company is expected to start in the coming days.

Joy erupted in several parts of the region, with residents heaping praises on the judge for exposing the Tongraan and his agents.

But none had more joy than Talensi― home and ‘headquarters’ to an unmovable army of critics of the Tongraan. For criticising his style of leadership, the Tongraan had sued some of the critics in 2019 for defamation and won the case in 2021.

But the critics― top members of the Concerned Citizens of Talensi― filed an appeal immediately, saying they had a strong cause to believe that the judge who presided over the case at the time was unduly influenced to enter judgement against them.

The outcome of the appeal is yet to be determined at an appellate court outside the region.

The Friday’s development comes two days after the Chief Justice, Kwasi Anin-Yeboah, had cautioned against financial inducement of judicial officers.

It also comes four years after a former Minister of State at the Presidency, Rockson Bukari, resigned from government for trying to bribe Edward Adeti (an investigative journalist) to kill a story about some secret meetings that took place between a High Court judge, Justice Jacob Bawine Boon, and Shaanxi Mining Company Ltd (Earl International Group Ghana Gold Ltd) at Justice Boon’s residence in Bolgatanga. Cassius, an Australian mining company, had filed a case of trespass and theft against Shaanxi before Justice Boon at the time.

Bukari was captured in an investigative recording in 2018 as he revealed to Adeti that he and the Tongraan were allies to Shaanxi and said he had been asked by the Tongraan to tell Adeti to not publish the story.

Even though Bukari, after his resignation, maintained that the Tongraan asked him to tell Adeti to not publish the story, the Tongraan did not file any defamation suit against him as he did to the members of the Concerned Citizens of Talensi who, based only on what Bukari said in the recording, asked him to resign as board chairman of TOR just as Bukari resigned from government over his attempt to induce Adeti to kill the story.

Press conference held on court drama

At about 6:30 pm on Friday, as celebrations continued in many places, an anti-corruption pressure group, National Patriots against Injustice and Corruption Ghana (NAPAIC-Ghana) addressed reporters at a news conference held in the region’s capital, Bolgatanga.

The presser was centred on commending Justice Graham for his open-court reaction to the secretive invitation extended to him by the Tongraan.

“We at NAPIAC-Ghana see the development recorded today within the Judicial Service of Ghana as one of the best actions led by a judge in the Upper East Region and we humbly would ask of him to do more,” said the group in a statement issued by its vice-president, Akobulgo Zotipeliba Ayeo.

“We also would love to suggest to the Chief Justice of Ghana to identify good judges like His Lordship Alexander Graham and award them enormously to serve as motivation for others to emulate and to make the vulnerable also receive deserved justice when the need arises.”

Read by the group’s secretary, Zumah Tii-roug, the statement also said: “We are aware of the modus operandi of the Tongraan in trying to twist the arms of the law by using his positions and his agents like the accused persons who were exposed today.”

“This action of the Tongraan has become one too many. It is also a big dent on the Talensi paramount skin and we suggest that he refrains from such fishy dealings to avoid further embarrassment. We see this as a big embarrassment to the entire region.”

A member of the group, Hafiz Mohammed, said it had also become a practice for some media practitioners and non-media individuals to do damage control for the Tongraan for financial gains. He said he would monitor such people for evidence and engage lawyers to haul them before court for contempt without hesitation this time if they “said, aired or published anything contrary to facts on the latest development in their usual attempts to do damage control for the Tongraan”.

Observers say Justice Alexander Graham, who is currently the acting Upper East Regional Supervising High Court Judge, has been incorruptible since his days as a judge in the Central Region.

“Justice at last!” exclaimed a Bolgatanga resident who took off his shirt on a street and punched the air upwards with his fists in celebration. “We need more judges like Justice Alexander Graham to deal with this cabal who will never do things right but will always want to use money and positions behind the scenes to rob the poor of justice.”