GESTAPO METHODS MUST BE BANNED FROM GHANA by CAMERON DUODU
Full disclosure: If Gabriel Atitsogbui had not been alive one day in the early nineteen-sixties, I would be dead and buried.
In those days when young men of our age group — educated, politically conscious and anxious to serve our country in post-independence Ghana — were marginalised, cowed by the Preventive Detention Act which barred us from expressing our true feelings about our country’s politics, we used to drown our sorrows with beer at selected spots where we thought we could discuss politics without fear.
One of these spots was the TUC canteen at Abossey Okai, Accra. One day, our sense of impotence so depressed my spirits that I over-imbibed. While driving home, I momentarily lost concentration and was speeding towards certain death at a T-junction in the vicinity.
Then I heard a voice shouting my name, “Kwadwo!… Kwadwo!… Kwadwo!”
I was jerked back into full consciousness and braked hard and was able to stop before driving straight on, at the junction.
The car behind me drew alongside and Gabriel Atitsogbui leaned out and reprimanded me: “Kwadwo,” he said, “you can drive more carefully than that! Do you want me to come and sit with you?”
Gabriel knew how to hit me and make it bite hard. I was very proud of my driving ability in those days, having been once accepted into the company of some of the finest taxi drivers at Atukpai Taxi Station, Adabraka, Accra. What would these guys say — Kwasi ‘Way‘, Kwabena Hemeng, Kwaku Dakwa, Kwaku Biri, ‘Life‘, Lanteye, London and others — if they heard that that ‘Small Boy“ who used to work with “Service”, had driven his sports car into a major road without stopping, and had been killed?” Or that he needed, after a few drinks, to be baby-sat before he could drive home?
“He has lost his competence”, they would have said scornfully. To them, competence was the ultimate achievement in good driving.
Kwasi ‘Way’ alone could down four bottles of Bergedorf at Superservice, Adabraka, and still work all night. And his paddy man was a beer chicken?
I shook off the stupor immediately out of sheer shame, thanked Gabriel and was able to drive safely home without mishap. So the moment the surname Atitsogbui hit me on the Internet, the man came alive in my mind like a video on Youtube.
This is how the surname surfaced in the Daily Guide of 17 May 2010:
“One Godson Atitsogbui is the husband of a woman who died at the hands of the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) last week. “Be strong; your wife is dead,” was what a Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) doctor told Godson Atitsogbui, the husband of the pregnant woman who died in the hands of operatives of BNI last Thursday, prompting a catalogue of questions.”
According to the paper, “One of the questions posed by neighbours of the couple at Mamobi, a suburb of Accra, was how Castle operatives got involved in a purely Police case, leading eventually to the death of the 5-month pregnant woman, 29-year-old Celestina Tsekuma, at the hands of the Greater Accra Regional Headquarters of the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) last Thursday“.
The paper continued:
“The BNI was said to have issued a terse statement announcing the death of Celestina with no details. The statement itself is generating heat in security circles, as the BNI boss is said to have denied issuing a statement, after the operatives allegedly masterminded the death of the pregnant woman. The deceased was whisked away to the BNI offices at about 10.00am on that fateful day and by 3:30pm, she had joined the statistics of the dead as her husband stood by helplessly.
“He [Godson Atitsogbui] was asked to leave the scene by doctors who were treating her in the ward at the 37 Military Hospital, only to be greeted with the scary words of the BNI Clinic medic who gave her the initial treatment before the referral, saying, “Be strong, your wife is dead.” Godson Atitsogbui, still nursing the emotional wounds he sustained as he watched his wife die needlessly while she was a guest of the BNI, told DAILY GUIDE that he is yet to be told something by the security agency; let alone get a word of consolation.”
Now, I don’t want to go into the details of what took place. I am sure the BNI has its own version and the Government will, in any case, conduct its own investigations into the incident to see what happened.
But one thing is clear to me from what I‘ve been reading in recent months: it appears that the BNI can sometimes be incited or somehow induced by individual citizens to get the organisation involved in their private affairs, especially where finance is concerned.
The reason why this happens is not difficult to fathom. The BNI — irrespective of the regime in power — strikes fear into the hearts of ordinary citizens. And so it should: it is essentially, a political entity, and if it comes for you, you — and worse still, those who know you — may surmise that the state is interested in whatever it is you are supposed to have done. Which is a mighty scary thing to any ordinary citizen, since the state is the most powerful instrument in any society.
Thefts, fraud, false accounting, assault, grievous bodily harm and murder, are all extremely serious offences against society. But they are all left to be investigated and prosecuted by the normal police service. The police do this initially through its Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and subsequently, if charges are to be preferred, through the police prosecutions department and in certain serious or complicated cases, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions.
The BNI — which grew up from the ‘Special Branch’ of the Police Service — must be left to do political things: to liaise with the Military Intelligence to investigate potential subversion against the state, by trying to ascertain the intentions of the anti-democrats before they strike at the democratic state and institute a military dictatorship. The BNI should not itself become an anti-democratic institution.
Private citizens doing normal political campaigning to gain power through the ballot box must be left strictly alone to exercise their freedom of speech and assembly, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the country.
But human beings being human beings, some do like to “show where power lies” and they can improperly importune powerful people, with whom they happen to have social, or political contact, to weigh in on their private disputes — however unjustly they may have been treated — in order to procure results that they fear the long drawn-out processes of the normal police service might not bring, as quickly as they desire.
However, in a democratic state, all persons are equal before the law. Why should the state weigh in on one citizen against the other? Political colours shouldn’t come into it, for crime is crime.
If Godson Atitsogbui were called Mills or even Kufuor, would the BNI have gone and picked up his pregnant wife in the circumstances described by the Daily Guide? I doubt it and that is a disgraceful state of mind to be forced to have in a democratic country.
The political police must be left to do political work and the normal police must be left to do criminal work. I suspect that, over the years, so much of the resources that should have gone to the police have been diverted to the BNI — as a result of the natural interest of its political masters to survive in power — that when the country is quiescent politically, the BNI may feel the need to make itself useful in order to justify its existence.
I am sure the BNI itself would be a much happier organisation if it was rescued from the tendency to earn itself the reputation of a smash-and-grab ‘Gestapo’ organisation. The Government must have it rebrand its image by clearly delineating the lines of responsibility between it and the Police Service.
When I read the alleged original statement from the BNI which merely said “a woman” had died in its hands, without giving her name or telling the public in detail, how she died, my first thought was, “This could have come straight from the security state of the apartheid administration in South Africa.” Steve Biko immediately came to mind.
And my stomach turned.
President Mills, please save Ghanaians from ever thinking themselves to be in apartheid South Africa.
Please smash the would-be ‘Gestapo’ organisation in our midst.
ENDPIECE: I still don’t know whether Mr Godson Atitsogbui is related to my Gabriel Atitsogbui or not, But what’s in a name? The principle’s the thing.