I followed with keen interest and excitement from afar a campaign to get on the streets and register our displeasure on how our only university campus is being mistreated, with the hope that the efforts will yield positive results that will inure to the benefit of the University for Development Studies – Wa Campus and the Upper West Region at large.
It was however disappointing to read on the morning of Tuesday that the demonstration scheduled for same day will not be possible. Reason being that the Hon Regional Minister, Alhaji Alhassan Sulemana, has stopped this all important move by the youth of the region to correct the anomaly: movement of programmes of study to other campuses being perpetrated by the University administration.
Wondering how the minister could possibly halt the demo, I received a statement signed by one of the lead organizers of this special event, Puo-ire Prosper, claiming that the minister, on the eve of the event, ordered the police to withdraw the “permission” granted the group earlier to which the police heeded. Still in the day I heard contrary report from Isaac Bafiina, an aid to the minister, denying the claims levelled against his boss.
I heard some people in defense of the minister say he did it in order to tackle the issue through jaw-jaw with the necessary stakeholders. But who says carrying on with the demonstration would undermine the minister’s decision to do it his way? Both ways can only strengthen the call per my belief. Who says demonstration is a last resort?
Judging from the two accounts and comments by organizers and others who wanted to partake in the procession, I conclude that the minister did interfered with the process.
But I ask, was the interference enough reason to call off the intended demonstration painstakingly organized? Does the minister or police has any power to stop a group of people from staging a peaceful demonstration? Do organizers need police permission to embark on such a procession? Above all, what is the motivation of the minister to stop the demonstration?
What did our laws say about demonstrations? My brief search revealed that the constitution of the Republic in article 21(1)(d) says “All persons shall have the right to freedom of assembly including freedom to take part in processions and demonstrations”. This right however is not absolute – but qualified, as contained in 21(4)(a)-(e) which permits restrictions to be placed on a demonstration or public gathering if there are reasons to believe the action will affect national security, public order or provision of essential services.
The Public Order Act 1994 (Act 491) as I came across requires that the police be notified five days prior to staging any procession or demonstration. Note: notifying the police here doesn’t translate to seeking permission from them. The police can only stop a demonstration by securing an order from a court of competent jurisdiction. I learnt this act came into being after the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in 1993 sued the Inspector-General of Police at the Supreme Court after the police had withdrawn an earlier permit that was granted the NPP to demonstrate. They sought the SC to declare certain sections of then Public Order Decree 1972 (NRCD 68) null and void as they were inconsistent with the constitution as far as right to organize processions was concerned, and that was granted. Somehow Act 491 is an amendment of the NRCD 68.
I would have said the above part of Act 491 contradicts the constitution were I a lawyer. I say this because I think it somehow takes away the rights of the citizen, as the police has a privilege to postpone or relocate the venue of a demonstration upon notification.
Why am I citing these laws? I think our organizers in this case should have known that there needed no permission, hence could have gone ahead without the consent of the minister. Again, granted that permission is required under the law, it is very clear that it can only be denied on reasonable grounds as stated earlier. In our case, there is no reason to believe that the demonstration would have affected national defence, public health or essential services. So again the police have no basis to withdraw the permission.
In conclusion, I think the minister has no legal or moral basis to call off the demonstration. The police in my view acted unprofessionally. Our institutions ought to work devoid of machinations else the development we seek as a nation will never be achieved. In as much as I detest the minister’s decision to interfere with the organization, I also blame the organizers for their ill-preparation and not being firm on their position.
I also recommend that the organizers should not lose hope. You didn’t fail, it was just a hitch on your way. You should sit, rethink and relaunch the campaign. Do not relent on your efforts, and be guided by the law. You guys did a great job. At least the message has gotten to some people who matter. Kudos!
Please forgive me for any misinterpretation or misrepresentation I might have done regarding the laws stated in the writeup. I am not a lawyer. And do pardon me for any grammatical or typographical errors.
Lon live UDS – Wa Campus
Long live Upper West Region
Long live Ghana
Hafiz Timbile Adams,