Before 9.00 am on Friday, 10 March 2023, the High Court ‘2’ in Bolgatanga, the Upper East Region’s capital, was already crowded inside.
Seated in the courtroom were lawyers, state security officers and parties involved in a long list of cases the court was scheduled to hear for the day.
While the crowd was waiting for the presiding judge, Justice Alexander Graham, to appear from his chambers and take his seat, a red-capped traditional chief and a bearded young man walked together into the courtroom. They approached officials of the court and, after having a brief conversation with the officials, advanced into the judge’s chambers.
Some minutes later, the two men came out of the chambers, wearing a smile that was not seen on their faces before they entered the judge’s office. The traditional chief stood briefly in front of the door to the chambers, putting back on his own head his brimless red hat, which he must have removed out of respect for the judge while they were with him inside. He had to wear it quickly in strict adherence to a northern tradition that forbids traditional chiefs from exposing their heads in public places.
But before they could close the door, the same judge, whom they had just met privately, stormed out from behind them and ordered the police in the courtroom to arrest and handcuff them immediately.
While the police were executing his orders and dealing with a bit of resistance from the two bemused men in front of an equally startled court audience, the judge took his seat with fury.
A long silence followed. The two men in handcuffs were no strangers to most of the people seated in the courtroom at the time. The traditional chief, Naab Nyarkora Mantii, hails from Baare, a community in Talensi, a gold-rich district a few kilometres away from the court.
His companion, Richard Sunday Yinbil, is a secretary to the Paramount Chief of Talensi, Tongraan Kugbilsong Nanlebegtang. As the audience in the courtroom wondered what they might have done to warrant their arrests, the judge broke the silence.
What the agents told the judge in private
Justice Graham asked the men to tell the court what they had told him privately inside his chambers.
The weather was not cold at the time because a rare rain in March in Bolgatanga did not fall that morning. And there was no air conditioner in the courtroom. But the men shivered on their feet from a strange cold with their heads bowed. They declined to speak.
“If you cannot tell the court, I will tell them,” the judge said, turning his face to the waiting audience.
The judge disclosed that the two men had approached him in his chambers and introduced themselves as messengers sent to him by the Paramount Chief of Talensi.
The men, he said, told him that the paramount chief had requested to have a private meeting with him at his palace the following day at 9:00 am.
According to him, the two agents explained that the proposed meeting was meant to discuss in detail some mining-related cases which had been brought before him (the judge) from Talensi for hearing.
The judge said he found such an ex-parte invitation not only contemptuous― as it could influence his decisions on those cases― but also potentially injurious to his career as a judge and damaging to the image of the judiciary at large.
At this point, a curious crowd, so unusual in size, had taken over the court’s premises. A message about the rare drama, circulated through phone calls and via social media platforms, had reached them and drawn them to the scene.
Minutes later, the two men were charged with contempt and put on trial. The more the clock ticked, the bigger the curious crowd grew outside.
“Guilty or not guilty?” the court asked them.
Without any hesitation, they admitted guilt. The court convicted them on their own plea. But not long after the judge opened a fat book and began to write what appeared to be the sentence he would hand the convicted men, the lawyers in the courtroom, numbering about twelve, stood up one at a time and prayed for mitigation on behalf of the men.
The Tongraan joins mitigation prayers
Their joint plea intensified when the judge, amid the multiple prayers from the counsel table, also asked the two men to produce the paramount chief for prosecution.
One of the lawyers, Mohammed Damanko Abdulai, rose to his feet, recomposed his official gown and told the court the paramount chief had reached him by phone and asked him to tell the judge he had regretted his action.
The lawyer added that the paramount chief had also asked him to plead with the judge on his behalf not to hand the two men a custodial sentence.
The judge asked the lawyers what their verdict would be under such circumstances if they were judges. His question was not rhetorical. But none of the lawyers gave an answer. They rather stuck to their prayers for mitigation.
The judge was overwhelmed by the pleas. Again, he opened the fat book and wrote for a few minutes. Beads of sweat formed on the foreheads of the convicted men as the judge pushed his pen through the pages of that book in silence.
Thoughts of the nearest jailhouse― the Navrongo Central Prisons― probably receiving two new inmates soon ran through the minds of a number of the individuals in court.
But the convicted men heaved a sigh of relief after the judge dropped his pen, cleared his throat and pronounced judgment.
He did not jail them. He only ordered them to sign a bond of good behaviour for a period of six months before the highest police authority within the court’s jurisdiction― the Upper East Regional Police Command.
Nonetheless, the men left the scene with their heads still bowed as many of the outside spectators rejoiced and heaped tons of praises on Justice Graham for exposing what they described, in their own opinions, as a stealthy mission schemed to shorten and redirect the long arms of the law.
Tons of public praise
Several observers have said Justice Graham has always shown that he can be counted among the country’s “few incorruptible judges” since he started his career as a member of the bench.
Besides, he has always issued warnings in his courtroom that he will not welcome any private meetings with any individual or group linked to any case being heard before him.
Famous Ghanaian reggae musician, poet and broadcaster, Abubakar Ahmed, better known by his stage name Blakk Rasta, described the likes of Justice Graham as “the kind of people we need”.
“No intimidation is going to stop this man,” he stressed during his show, The Black Pot, aired on his YouTube channel, Blakk Media Empire. “No intimidation is going to get this man out of his profession. We will support him.”
On Monday March 27, 2023, the Savanna Research and Advocacy Network (SRAN), a civil society organisation in Ghana, issued a press statement after Justice Graham was forced out of the region. SRAN said many had suffered injustice in the absence of the judge.
“We appreciate the principled judicial position taken by His Lordship Justice Alexander Graham on not meeting interested people in the mining cases before him. It gives us the hope and confidence that there can be justice in this our judicial system.
“If Ghana had two of the likes of His Lordship Alexander Graham in every region, the justice system would regain its reputation as a beacon of hope for the rule of law. In the absence of judges like His Lordship Justice Alexander Graham, many have suffered a great deal of oppression, humiliation and even lost their lives,” SRAN stated.
The National Patriots against Injustice and Corruption Ghana (NAPAIC-Ghana) also underscored the need for the state to protect the judge from harm.
On Monday, 26 June 2023, a 4-member delegation from the Judicial Council, led by a Supreme Court judge, Justice Gabriel Pwamang, told the Tongraan at his palace its position on the incident.
“The unfortunate incident involving the emissaries of the Tongraan was one of those procedures which may not be easily appreciated by most people. But the judge was exercising a jurisdiction the way he deemed appropriate under the circumstances that were presented to him.
“We wish to emphasise that this gesture by the Judicial Council is not intended to affect the decision of the judge that led to the reaction of the Paramount Chief,” affirmed the council in a statement read by Justice Pwamang.
Source: Edward Adeti/Media Without Borders/mwbonline.org