Dear Air Marshal Oje,
I did not have the benefit of listening to your Press Conference held on Friday, 25 November 2016, but I have read the reportage as captured on Ghanaweb the same day and to tell you the truth I was not amazed. You will recall that I had the great honour of serving my country as Minister of Defence and in that capacity I worked with you and many distinguished servicemen and women. I got to know you personally during that period and as you are aware I have tremendous respect for your high sense of professionalism and patriotism. I think that some of your pronouncements and indeed posture at the press conference were an attack on some of the values that the military hold dearly. I have since taken the liberty to discuss it at length with my friend the former Deputy Attorney General, Hon. Kwame Osei Prempeh and we have decided to send to you this Open Letter. We do this not out of malice but because we believe that certain principles must be protected.
Our first concern is that your pronouncements at the said Press Conference pose a threat to the Liberal Democratic path (a hybrid of the US/Westminster systems) which we have embarked on since the beginning of the fourth republic in 1993 and this must be of concern to all well-meaning Ghanaians. The concept of civilian control of the military has been dealt a big blow. Coming from the CDS and considering the timing, we think that this is rather unfortunate and should be a matter of great concern to all of us – politicians, including the ruling government, civil society groups, the Council of State and the public at large.
Secondly, we are of the opinion that considering your position as the CDS, especially your mentoring responsibility, your posture was too aggressive and your choice of words and patronizing manner as you delivered your warnings to your compatriots (including His Excellency the President) left much to be desired of a top military officer in a liberal democracy. Not surprisingly, many people have commented that your attitude was akin to military dictatorship or the authoritarian democracies that are gradually emerging in our part of the world. Certainly your posturing did not suggest to many observers that as the head of our Armed Forces you would want to submit yourself to civilian control. Did the Chairman of the Armed Forces Council or the Minister of Defense authorize you to come up with all those policy statements which have serious implications for the security of our country?
You stated that you have assessed the security situation in the run up to the election and you see enemies of state everywhere who are hell bent to disturb the peace and stability of our dear country and that such law breakers or “warmongers” would be crushed on election day. But, if we may ask why not before? Why do you want to wait till the day of the election? Again what would happen after the so called warmongers have been crushed on the day of the election?
Thirdly, two fundamental issues arise out of this conference and must be answered.
- Did you as the CDS, hold the press conference on your own initiative without the approval of the Commander in Chief or his representative, the Minister of Defence?
- Did the President and the Commander in Chief or the Minister of Defence approve the press conference and thus the plan to crush unarmed law breakers on Election Day with military force?
An affirmative answer to either question has serious implications not only on civilian control of the military in a liberal democracy but also the use of military force in any internal security operations.
Fourthly, we find it strange that you as CDS took the centre stage at a joint press conference with the Inspector General of Police in a security operation in which the military must only play a supporting role. Any wonder that some members of the populace have argued that the purpose of the press conference was to create fear and panic with a view to intimidating voters who want to exercise their franchise?
Our humble advice to you is to tone down the rhetoric and also reduce your public pronouncements. Such public pronouncements should be led by the Minister of Defence with the CDS in support to explain operational issues, if necessary. That way, the Minister takes responsibility for any lapses and shields the CDS from public attacks which have the potential to erode confidence in the military.
If indeed, you had the permission of the President to embark on this media blitz where you threatened to use the full force of the military on unarmed civilian protagonists in an election in which the Commander in Chief himself is a candidate then this must be worrying.
Equally disturbing is the moral question of using the military force against one’s own citizens in an election disturbance which the civil police should ordinarily be able to handle.
Furthermore, it raises the issue of unwittingly inviting the military into the political space. We must at all times insulate the military institution from politics and public attack and ridicule.
It is important to emphasise that civilian control of the military in a democratic dispensation is all about the civilian authority being the ultimate decision maker in as far as the use of military force is concerned .The military then carries out the execution of the assigned tasks professionally and without much interference from the civil authority.
Our humble plea is that at this point in time we must focus on finding solutions to all issues which have the potential to trigger violence even before the elections on 7th December 2016. We do not have to wait until Election Day before we “crush” the warmongers so to speak. That will be too late in the day and in any case, what happens after we have crushed the warmongers? The unintended consequences are too dire (including military takeover) for us to contemplate.
At this stage, permit us distinguished CDS, to ask you to join us to admonish the major actors during this election season as follows. The main actors in this election are the political parties, the Electoral Commission, Civil Society groups including the media, Ghanaians, our security agencies and most importantly our President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces who is also a candidate and has the responsibility of controlling the security agencies.
We appeal to all the actors to exhibit professionalism tinged with a high sense of integrity and selflessness in discharging whatever duties are expected of them. In particular we urge you to advise the President not to get the military involved in any contentious election duties (such as keeping ballot boxes in its custody) in order to avoid dragging the military into any quagmire.
The current arrangement whereby the military plays a supporting role to the police in election security should suffice for now if we are to avoid embroiling the military in any election dispute. The military is so vital an institution whose image we must all protect.
All political party leaders should urge their members and supporters to refrain from any acts of provocation that can lead to violence. Whereas it is the responsibility of the governing party to ensure there is peaceful election, the opposition parties should also note that they cannot achieve their aim of effecting a change in government if the election cannot take place due to violence. They both have a shared responsibility of peaceful co-existence and therefore must exercise restraint even under extreme provocation.
The Electoral Commission (EC) has a very herculean task. The success or otherwise of this election rests squarely on its shoulders. There will always be provocation from the political actors. The EC’s ultimate goal is to deliver a free, fair and transparent election. The professional abilities, integrity, selflessness and above all the emotional intelligence of its staff will come into play if the EC is to succeed. The Commission has a rich history of delivering credible elections and we recall the wonderful work of Justice Abban (Electoral commissioner in the 1970s) who fearlessly refused to change the people’s verdict to the wishes of the then military government during the UNIGOV referendum in 1978. How we wish we could return to those good old days when the value of integrity and selflessness of state officials was the norm rather than the exception.
Our final advice to the security agencies is for them to discharge their responsibilities to the best of their ability bearing in mind the timeless values of Service and Integrity.
We assure you, our distinguished CDS that we have published this Open Letter without any malice and we hope that you will carefully consider the suggestions and pieces of advice contained in this letter.
With assurances of our highest esteem, we remain,
Hon. A. Kan-Dapaah, Hon. K. Osei-Prempeh
Former MP and Minister of Defence Former Deputy Minister of Justice & Deputy Attorney General