I Seek Justice For Mahama; But Remember The Banana Story
Several years ago when I was a working child on Lake Volta, something happened to truth, which I have allowed to guide me, in nearly all matters of life. Kwesi Edidise and I had been loaned to work for a fisherman at a village called BBC (in Ghana), near Buipe.
One particular day, as in so many other days, we were denied food, although we had worked physically hard throughout the day and half of the night and had closed around 2am the following dawn. I was so hungry, I barely survived on my feet.
The man’s wife had just returned from the market the previous day, with all manner of foodstuffs, and they had kept them all in the storage hut, for themselves.
Upon returning from work that dawn, I sneaked into the room where the foodstuffs were stored, and quickly consumed about four fingers of banana, cleaned my mouth, and sneaked out, in perfect innocence.
The African Faith Tabernacle Church, which I was born into, had a way of consulting the Bible (oracle) to detect truth. They had a special Bible, tied tightly with thread in the middle, with a key, the old type of key, inserted right through the middle, with the holding end of the key showing up. That small tied and keyed Bible was used to discover all truths, lies and sins in the church.
Sooner, the search for who stole the banana began, and I was the third to be called into that small Holy room. The pastor loosely held the end of the key with a middle finger from each hand, with the tied Bible hanging, and he would speak directly to it. If you are innocent the Bible will stay put, but if you are guilty the Bible is supposed to spin, and fall, and this will be repeated three times to confirm your guilt or innocence.
So I entered the room after a number of children had had their turn. The pastor asked the Bible if I was innocent or guilty, but none of the three probing pronounced me guilty. I knew I took the bananas, I ate them, but the investigator, the Bible, found me innocent, so I walked free!
Kwesi Edidise was called in, and he was pronounced guilty! All the three Ebisadze (enquiries) on the Bible pronounced the boy guilty of stealing the four fingers of banana. He was beaten, denied any food for another day, he was made to work long hours, shamed, and was a suspect for anything that got missing subsequently, an innocent person being treated like a criminal, while I walked free.
My guilt knew no bounds. I was then eight years old. I wanted to “tell”, but the consequences of “telling” would be too multiplying; it would have meant the oracle was a liar, and that would never have sat well with our masters. I could have been beaten to death, for blaspheming the oracle, if I had confessed.
To atone for my unmerited freedom, I kept helping Edidise out in nearly all the punishment that he was offered, and although I was being punished for helping him out of his punishment, I was still so happy to receive those punishments. I knew I had to work to erase my guilt; it was planted too deep into my conscience.
A year later, it was announced again that some mangoes brought from the market had gone missing. One after the other, we were taken to the oracle, the Bible, and to my utter shock, I was pronounced guilty! What!? I had not taken any mangoes, so how did the Bible spot any scent of mango on me?
I received all manner of punishment and deprivation, but as I did for my friend, Edidise, he too did for me; he helped me to go through most of the associated punishment. Later in life he told me he was the one who took the mangoes. Naturally, I also told him my version of how the bananas got missing from that room.
This is how easy it is for mankind to have a miscarriage of justice. There are so many coincidences; there are so much system failures, so much of the unknown, so we need to be extremely careful how we administer justice.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article on Major Mahama’s death. In that article, I described a certain woman in some strong terms. I had seen this woman in the pictures, in what appeared to be the lighting of a match to burn the remains of the late Major. The woman was wearing a yellow dress, and all of us were cork sure that she was touching the body.
A few days later I saw another picture of the same woman in the same dress, in the same posture, from another angle, and I swear, this time round I saw something different, I saw something that looked like the woman was holding a phone close to the body, to take pictures! I have my personal prediction on her in this ongoing murder trial, but I look forward to, one day, having an opportunity to personally apologize to her.
I do understand all the pains that we have all gone through. I have said that I have never, and I don’t think I will ever, be able to watch the videos covering how Major died. This thing is so painful, it’s so cruel, so unthinkable, and each time I remember that I was myself nearly lynched at Kaneshie, as recent as March this year, I become so afraid, that, I imagine how my end could have become.
I saw Major’s wife, Barbara, braved herself toward her husband’s perished remains, to lay a wreath. I read the tribute by Mahama’s mother. I got myself utterly soaked in pain, in tears, as I buried my head in pillows, unable to face it anymore.
So, I repeat, we need justice. We will have to find a way to utterly punish those who have snatched a life out of our brother. I am not a believer in the death penalty, so I will not advocate for that, for whatever the outcome of the trial of the wrong doers maybe. But the punishment for anyone found guilty of the offense, may have to be the severest ever, and must be the most published execution of such a conviction, to become the greatest deterrent ever, in our history.
I will like to take the liberty to quote the veteran Journalist, CAMERON DUODU, who wrote last Tuesday, that “I know that when you live in a country in which journalists have, in the past, been sent to jail under totalitarian laws such as the statute on “criminal libel”, you become a little wary when publishing the truth”.
And the truth here, I repeat, is, let’s remember that some within the Denkyira-Obuasi crowd may be innocent. The call I made last week, which earned me some attacks, was that we should not, directly or indirectly, attempt to force anyone of the arrested suspects to plead guilty. If we have done our investigations well, then it will not matter if even all the actual killers pleads not guilty, it does not matter if the state finds lawyers for them, the law will find them out.
The Police and the Ministry of Justice must deliberately facilitate the prosecution process to ensure that it is only those who participated in the killing of the Major who are punished. Journalism must take a deep interest in this trial process, to highlight the ongoing human right violations that the arrested suspects are facing – that is the definition of our calling – to defend the vulnerable, and to be brave even to the point of being a lonely voice.
There are criminals in Winneba, as there are in every town. That does not make everyone in Winneba a criminal. I have seen some videos of some Police Officers who are interrogating some of the Denkyira-Obuasi suspects, asking them to look into the camera to speak, and doing a number of other intimidating things that makes me fear for the possible innocents.
Today it is Denkyira-Obuasi so we are all singing the tune – let the blood flow, everyone, let them die, regardless of some legitimate innocence. Tomorrow it may be East Legon, then we will begin to call for circumspection.
In times like these many of us will not stop to reflect, we will not stop to listen, we will not stop to examine our own profession as Journalists, our mindset will be what the national psyche has become; to accept one outcome only, the outcome that everyone else expect, that all of those arrested shall be pronounced guilty at once and thereafter sentenced to death and all of us will go gay. But please, in your expectation, take a moment, to remember my banana story…
By James Kofi Annan