Ghana Police, the Untouchable National Security And the Many Reported Cases of Abuse—the Case of Actress Lydia Forson And Many Others

Lydia Forson

I do not live in Ghana and therefore I hardly deal with Ghana Police. But the few times I’ve dealt with them, it has been horrifying and a complete showcase of power, involving abuse, on their part.

I’ve always made a case for Ghana Police that they are probably ignorant of the laws and therefore work with laws which are not really the laws. That does not make sense but that’s the only plausible explanation—as to why those who are purposely placed to uphold the law continue to violate and abuse it in such grand scales.

Before I delve into the recent Lydia Forson’s unfortunate and frightening incident that was somewhat captured on tape with a man claiming to be a National Security Personnel in front of a helpless police officer, let me share one of my most recent encounters with Ghana Police with you.

For the many years that I’ve lived in the UK, I’ve had not more than 10 encounters with British Police. I was arrested in 2016 for driving a car with expired MOT and road tax. My defence at the time: the car was not mine and I didn’t know the covering documents had expired.

Of course, that’s not an excuse under law and since I didn’t even know the name of the actual owner of the car who was holidaying in Ghana and had left it for my friend (through whom I was driving it), I ended up spending some non-valuable time at Croydon Police Station as they tried to figure things out.

Eventually, I was charged and let to go. That’s not the essence of the story. The reason why I am telling this story is that, despite having committed an offence, a clear violation of the Road Traffic Act 1988, the police at every time were polite. They kept referring to me as Sir to the extent that I actually started feeling like a Sir.

I didn’t deal with just one officer. Those who arrested us passed us on to others and every Police Officer I encountered that day was extremely polite. It didn’t mean they didn’t do what they had the right to do. They were nice, even laughed at some point with me and still charged me with an offence against the Queen (state).My other encounters with the Police in the UK has been the normal call to stop while driving. I got a few pullovers when I was an undergraduate student driving a VW Golf in East London. Mostly, it would be a routine check of my driver’s licence and at each time, the officers would be extremely polite. They will do their checks, say what they have to say and ask me to take care and move on.

This does not mean I am unaware of the abuse others have suffered in the hands of British Police. But the general perception and fact remain that, British Police Officers are mostly polite and yet firm with the law. They don’t ask you for any bribe and they wouldn’t start telling you they will shoot you even if you call them a “pig” or out of frustration and fear throw out the words, What the Fuck.

In the UK, swearing at a police officer is not a crime and you wouldn’t be arrested for that. This mean, you actually have a right to swear at a police officer in the UK and in many other jurisdictions of the world. There’s nothing wrong with that.

An officer of the law must behave as a true custodian of the law but beyond the widespread allegations of corruption hanging around the necks of Ghana Police Officers, they are usually abusive. It seems they confuse being firm with abuse and intimidation. And mostly, they are wrong, when they claim to be enforcing the law.

When I visited Ghana in October 2017, one of my female friends was meeting up with me at Spintex and just a few metres to where we were packed waiting for her, the police had randomly stationed officers there—to control traffic flow, officially, and unofficially, to probably extort money from drivers.

As my friend was meeting us at a restaurant, she “zoomed” out of the non-moving traffic to a nearby bank to withdraw some cash, in case she had to pay for something. Just as she came out of the traffic, a Police Officer followed her—and continued to do so even when it was obvious she was going to the bank and not “dodging” the traffic.

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The Officer confronted her and rudely said she was “beating” traffic and therefore had committed an offence. He asked to see her driver’s licence and as soon as it was handed over to him, he pocketed it and went about his business while my friend stood out there.

After about 15 minutes, we decided to walk there to find out what was happening. She told us about what happened and another friend, Fiifi Bright, approached the Officer to politely ask about the driver’s licence. The Officer got instantly mad that Fiifi was making enquiries about a friend’s licence he had taken.

And the Officer shouted that Fiifi should vanish from the scene else he would arrest him. Arrest him for what? I was shocked. Several other Police Officers joined, all threatening that if he keeps asking about the confiscated licence, he would be thrown in jail. Soon, they started saying he was being rude to the first Police when all along, they were the ones acting like insane bitches. I was there, I saw it all.

I didn’t understand why the Police would confiscate a driver’s licence. No Police Officer has ever taken away my licence in the UK. If you say the person has committed an offence, why not charge her but rather take her licence and keep her waiting.

On the issue of Ghana Police and confiscating of licence, the Motor Transport and Traffic Unit (MTTU) has stated multiple times that, “it is unlawful for any police officer to seize the license of a driver unless they are or above the rank of an inspector.”

Even when the person is an inspector, Ghana’s Road Traffic Act (RTA) states two conditions under which the officer may seize a driver’s licence and these are:

  • Where DVLA has revoked your licence and you fail to deliver it to them, the police, upon the production of it, may seize it and deliver it to DVLA; or
  • Where the police have reasonable cause to believe that a document (which could include a licence) produced to them is one in relation to which an offence has been committed under the Act.

It seems that apart from the above mentioned, there are no other provisions under the RTA itself for the seizure, confiscation, detention or retention of any driver’s licence in Ghana.

Beyond this, there’s another provision in the Road Traffic Regulations (RTR), subordinate legislation, which states that a uniformed police officer who is not below the rank of an inspector may, “where necessary,” “retain your licence for any period that the licence is required, and then issue an official receipt for the retention.”

This officer that took the licence was not an inspector or above it—in fact, how many police inspectors in Ghana will come out to stand in the scorching sun? He was obviously not following any law and yet his colleagues claimed they were acting within the law.

We wouldn’t pay a dime as a bribe to them, I insisted.

We even called a friend who is a Judge in Ghana to speak to them and explain what the law says regarding the retaining a driver’s licence. After the judge spoke to them, they said the officer who took the licence had gone home with it. He had suddenly disappeared from the scene with the driver’s licence and has issued a charge sheet to one of her colleagues to give to my friend.

What a waste of time. My friend went to court the next day and guess what, the case was “thrown out” and she was given her licence before even it was called. Once again, what a waste of time, abuse and showcase of power…

This is not an isolated case and Lydia Forson’s recent case, where a man claiming to be a National Security Operative threatened to shoot and beat her in front of a police, after abusing her and several others on a movie set, is not also alien in relation to the conduct officers who claim to be from the National Security or the Police in Ghana.

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As a legal person, my problem with all these is not even the abuse, rather, the fact that nothing is ever done about it even if caught on tape or if reported. And when it comes to public opinion in Ghana, it’s never about the issue—rather the person involved so that’s unreliable and every discerning Ghanaian wouldn’t place his luck on.

From everything Lydia Forson and her colleagues have said, they believe to have not done anything wrong and therefore the assault of the so-called National Security Operative, in the presence of a Policeman who did nothing about it, was unnecessary—another unwarranted showcase of power fused with abuse.

Let’s grant that indeed Lydia Forson and her colleagues were filming at a restricted area and were somewhat committing an offence. Shouldn’t the Officer just arrest them all if they insisted on filming or for the filming done, instead of bitching about and throwing his hands into the air on the back of his abusive conduct?

Our Police Officers and “invisible” National Security folks abuse civilians with unfettered impunity because they are not accountable to anyone, and not even the law. And knowing your right, in the face of an arrogant-ignorant oppressor does not change the fact that, he would act on the back of his ignorance, claiming that’s the law.

Even when it’s later established that your rights were infringed on, what can you do about it in Ghana? Are you going to go to the Human Rights court?

The way officers treat Ghanaians, in general, ought to be a serious national concern, but then this is Ghana, a country where “Stool Challenge” is important and given attention than officer-civilian abuse.

On the back of Lydia Forson’s incident, several Ghanaians including-Ewurasi Addison have shared her recent horrible encounter with police officers in Ghana. Ewurasi wrote:

“January 23, 2018 – 08:30

I did a turn in a driveway a minute away from my home in Roman Ridge. A short bulky “security man” in a white vest and khaki trousers punched on my car’s bonnet in the middle of the 3-point-turn!

So I rolled my window and asked why that he exhibited that bad behavior! He started shouting “You can’t do that!!” I said, “But I just did!” What’s your problem?

Several times he shouted, “You can’t do that!!” So I calmly watch his behaviour. My assistant Zack is freaking out in the car by now and I ask him to be still.

Then I ask the irate “security man” why?

He retorts, “This is a Security Zone!”  “Oh yeah?” I say. Where is that sign that says so? This is my neighborhood and there is no prohibition on doing a 3-point-turn anywhere here!”

When he realized I understood my position. He started screaming, “You’re in danger! If you like come down, you’ll see where the power lies!
“Next time come and turn here and I’ll show you where the power lies!”

I ask “…which power?”

He says, “…if you see an officer don’t argue! Just do as you’re told!”

So I said, “…within reason I do! When he’s in uniform, I can reason with him!”

That angered him some more, for some reason, he continues shouting…

“Next time, I’ll show you where the power lies!”

I was so shocked this was happening to me, just a day after I had read your experience, I forgot to film!”

Another Ghanaian woman, Selikem, had this to say:

Lydia Forson and her colleagues who witnessed the abuse have recorded a video, capturing their aftermath thoughts, featuring the unsurprising public reaction. It’s worth a watch, but until the Ghanaian begins to understand that what’s wrong is wrong, irrespective of the actor or the victim, those in power would continue to abuse each of us, freely.

In the absence of systematic accountability, public rage must step in but in Ghana, both seem to be missing. Worst, if the public has a certain perception of you. They will join hands with your abusers to abuse you—the perfect case of Lydia Forson.

Check out the video below (the interview we never had) from Lydia Forson and colleagues