President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia yesterday made history as the first sitting president and vice to attend the memorial service of the three slain high court judges.
The annual event, organized by the Ghana Bar Association (GBA) in collaboration with the judiciary, has never had a sitting president in attendance.
At least former presidents Jerry John Rawlings, John Agyekum Kufour, late John Evans Atta Mills and John Dramani Mahama –   made no appearance during their respective tenures as first gentlemen of the land.
Thirty-five years ago on June 30, 1982, three high court judges Justices Fred Poku Sarkodee, Cecilia Koranteng-Addow and Kwadwo Agyei Agyepong, as well as a retired Army Officer, Major Sam Acquah – were abducted at night during the curfew hours.
Their partly burnt bodies were found on July 1, 1982 in a state of decomposition at the Bundase Military Range on the Accra Plains. Their bodies had been doused with petrol and set on fire but by divine intervention, raindrops that night quenched the burning bodies before they were discovered.
The defunct Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), headed by Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, which publicly expressed horror at the crime and yielded to strong public pressure, set up a Special Investigation Board (SIB) with a former Chief Justice of Ghana, Justice Samuel Azu Crabbe, as chairman, to investigate the murders.
The inquiry is noted for the courage and professional expertise of its main investigator, J.J. Yidana, an officer of the Ghana Police Service. The SIB submitted its report and was published along with a Government White Paper.
The SIB made a number of findings, leading to the prosecution of Joachim Amartey Kwei, a member of the PNDC; L/Cpls Samuel Amedeka; Samuel Michael Senyah; Johnny Dzandu and Tekpor, who are ex-soldiers. For the past 35 years, the Bar and the Bench have been mourning the death of the martyrs of the rule of law.
In a sermon on the theme, ‘A Ghanaian Indeed,’ Very Reverend Emmanuel Aryee, a Methodist Minister at the Ridge Church in Accra, tasked the leadership of the country to use its authority to build but not to tear up the country.
He said many had expressed disquiet about the politicization of almost everything in the country, leading to the polarization of the people. According to the man of God, political radicalism and extremism are on the ascendency in Ghana’s democracy.
Very Rev Emmanuel Aryee said, “Our well crafted constitution stipulates that the rule of law should be the bedrock of our democracy; however, mob and instant justice continue to undermine the administration of justice in the country.”
He averred, “Ghana is a naturally well resourced country with a lot of things to be proud of as a nation. We also have a myriad of challenges that militate against our national cohesion, progress and peace.”
He noted that from public discourse, one could gather that corruption is pervasive in the nation, including the religious sphere, making it difficult to promote clean business in the country and to trust one another.
“Our casual attitude to work and our lateness to functions and places of work leave much to be desired. Indiscipline on our roads, poor sanitation practices and the poor stewardship of our environment are all weaknesses in the national psyche of the Ghanaian,” Very Rev. Aryee stated.
The Methodist minister, for this reason, indicated that there was the need for a change in “our thinking,” adding that the problems of the nation are not only the responsibility of the leadership of the country.
He observed that institutional challenges are difficult to solve if the leadership is the cause of the problems, among others.
Benson Nutsukpui, National President of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), said although the circumstances of the abduction of the judges and their subsequent murder had been recounted every year, the memories of the abductions and murders serve as constant reminder of the importance of the rule of law and more importantly the dangers and threats posed to the rule of law.
He said an independent judiciary is the lifeblood of the rule of law and that the occasion was apt for judges and lawyers to “remind ourselves of the critical role of the judiciary in the promotion and entrenchment of the principles of rule of law.”
Mr Nutsukpui argued that there is a global consensus that upholding the rule of law is the surest safeguard of individual and national security and protection from arbitrary power.
He explained that in spite of the seeming national consensus to apply the rule of law to govern every aspect of the people’s lives, recent developments in the country indicate that it is under threat.
The GBA National President said the recent spate of vigilantism in the country poses a serious threat to the rule of law, adding that if not checked it would erode the very essence of the country’s democracy.
“We have been particularly alarmed at the brazen attack on a Circuit Court in Kumasi in April this year. The attack was simply outrageous and shocking; it demonstrates total disrespect for the judiciary, more worryingly, it signals a flagrant disrespect for the authority of the state,” he noted. Mr Nutsukpui contended that Ghana has not made enough progress in the fight against lawlessness.
He stated that it was necessary for the country to commit itself to the entrenchment of the rule of law, insisting that “it cannot be sustained when the conditions of service and working conditions of our judges are nothing to write home about.”