Presenting a speech themed ‘Lest We Forget’, at the 35th Anniversary Remembrance Service for the Three Murdered High Court Judges, the National President of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), Benson Nutsukpui, said that the late Justices who stood for the rule of law, performed their duties as judges without fear or favour, adding that they stood for the rule of law but their assassins hated what they stood for and murdered them. He intimated that Judges, Magistrates and Lawyers will continue to draw inspiration from the bold and courageous manner in which they administered justice in those challenging times, stressing that they will continue to celebrate them, lest they forget what the late Justices lived and died for.
Mr. Nutsukpui also indicated that the commemoration of their deaths on Martyrs’ Day was an appropriate occasion to examine the vital role of judges and lawyers in defending the rule of law, stating that an independent judiciary is the lifeblood of the rule of law. He further stated that there is a global consensus that upholding the rule of law is the surest safeguard of individual and national security, and protection from arbitrary power, adding that by aiming to establish and entrench individual freedoms within the overall context of national security, the rule of law has become the gold standard in democratic governance. He stated that in spite of the seeming national consensus to apply the rule of law to govern every aspect of our lives, recent developments in the country indicate that it is under threat. ‘The recent spate of vigilantism in our country poses a serious threat to the rule of law. Vigilantism is the very negation of the rule of law. If it is not checked, it will erode the very essence of our democracy’, he enunciated. He added that the Bar has been alarmed at the brazen attack on a Circuit Court in Kumasi in April this year, stating that the attack was simply outrageous and shocking reiterating that it demonstrated total disrespect for the judiciary and signalled a flagrant disregard for the authority of the State.
The GBA President further stated that the country appears not to have made enough progress in the fight against lawlessness, hence called on the people of Ghana to devote themselves to defending the rule of law. He also said that as members of the legal community, it is necessary that they recommit themselves to the entrenchment of the rule of law in the country. He added that it cannot be sustained when the conditions of service and working conditions of judges are nothing to write home about, reiterating that judicial independence is best secured by good conditions of judges which in turn assure a resilient democracy underpinned by the tenets of the rule of law.
The annual event, organised by the Ghana Bar Association (GBA) in collaboration with the Judiciary, was graced by Ghana’s President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and His Vice, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia. The Chief Justice, Sophia Akuffo and the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Gloria Akuffo were also present at the event.
Recounting the historical background to the dreadful events that happened 35 years ago, the GBA President, Benson Nutsukpui said that on Thursday, the 1st of July, 1982, the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) reported a news item that sounded routine and unnecessary, initially. He said that all Judges, it was announced, were thenceforth to be provided with armed security for their protection, adding that since the Judges already had security protection of some sort, the announcement made little impression on the general population and lawyers, saying that not even the most skeptical, suspected that behind the news item, was a repugnant episode, the horrible details of which were to unfold later.
He also stated that soon, it was announced officially that three High Court Judges and a retired Army Officer had been abducted at night during the curfew hours of June 30, 1982, adding that prayers were offered for their safety. He further stated that the nation’s worst fears became a reality when it was announced that Mr. Justice Fred Poku Sarkodee, Mrs. Justice Cecilia Koranteng-Addow and Mr. Justice Kwadwo Agyei Agyepong, all Judges of the High Court, and Major Acquah, a retired army officer, had been most brutally and savagely murdered on the night of their abduction, adding that this cruel, savage and heartless act occurred at the Bundase Military Range in the Accra Plains. He also said that the bodies of these precious Ghanaians had been soaked with petrol and set on fire, adding that divine intervention, through a heavy downpour that night quenched the burning bodies, stating that when discovered, the charred bodies had deteriorated into a state of decomposition.
Mr. Nutsukpui recounted that the nation was stunned, stating that there was swift, widespread and open condemnation by Ghanaians of all walks of life, adding that pressure mounted on the then military government for a thorough investigation and punishment of the perpetrators. He said that the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), publicly declaring itself to be horrified by the crime and yielding to the strong public pressure, appointed a Special Investigation Board with a former Chief Justice of Ghana, the late Justice Samuel Azu Crabbe, as Chairman, to investigate the murders. He said that the courage and professional expertise of its main investigator, the late Chief Superintendent Jacob Jebuni Yidana, an officer of the Ghana Police Service will go down in the history of Ghana as the qualities that helped produce one of the best criminal investigations ever undertaken in this country, adding that the Special Investigation Board submitted a report, which was published along with a Government White Paper. He further stated that the Special Investigation Board made a number of findings leading to the prosecution of Joachim Amartey Kwei, a member of the PNDC, Lance Corporals Samuel Amedeka and Michael Senyah, and two ex-soldiers: Johnny Dzandu and Tonny Tekpor.
The GBA President also narrated that during the trial, Lance Corporals Amedeka, Dzandu and Tekpor escaped in a jailbreak, adding that Lance Corporal Amedeka fled the country but Dzandu and Tekpor were captured and they re-joined the trial. He furthered that all the accused persons were found guilty and sentenced to death, adding that Lance Corporal Amedeka was sentenced in absentia. He also said that though Lance Corporal Tekpor was also convicted he was not available to face the death penalty because it was alleged that some days before his trial concluded, another Public Tribunal had found him guilty of acts committed in connection with the jailbreak and he had suffered death in the execution of the sentence of that tribunal.
‘For the past 34 years, the Bar and Bench have mourned the death of these martyrs of the rule of law. In response to the call for reconciliation by the National Reconciliation Commission and the biblical injunction that we should forgive those who trespass against us, we have forgiven the wrongdoers for their cowardly and evil deeds. But we still remember these martyrs of the rule of law and will continue to celebrate them lest we forget what they lived and died for. The Bar and the Bench acknowledge and proclaim those good qualities and deeds for which they were murdered’, Mr. Nutsukpui said.