Originally published, December 12, 2012
Injustice is an evil that every society must abhor if that society should avoid breaking into an eternal demise. The demand for justice in the exercise of political authority, within the judicial processes, in the work of the police, or in such traditional settings as the family does indicate how basic it is to the existence of society. It is the breath of the nation and the strands that hold society together. As a nation, to even accept to embark on a national reconciliation process is an admission of the fact that there have been injustices, wrongs which have to be put right. And while we may sound fortunate, because by God’s Grace we are able to deal with our past wrongs in a civilised and humane manner, we may not always be that fortunate.
That is why it is important for the people of this country, our chiefs, the church, opinion leaders, the media and the courts to work to ensure that we always live by our motto: “Freedom and Justice”. For the church, this is all the more important because the God we worship is the God of justice. He is a Just God and Justice is His attribute. The passages of the Bible are replete with His concern to see justice upheld in our daily interactions. The challenge of upholding justice should be considered an old mission thrust upon the church today by the new movement of history. While the church in Ghana could be commended highly for several things it has done to aid development in the country, such as the promotion of education, health care, provision of water, etc., it needs to be associated more deeply with the struggle for justice in our contemporary times. The clergy must put justice high on the agenda of the church.
This call to action is dictated by events taking place in all spheres of our national life, on the political, economic, socio-cultural and labour fronts. The challenges of women and children, orphans, the plight of the aged, the struggles of the physically challenged, the unemployed, the poor in our society, the unfair treatment of the house help and victims of political actions all speak to the point that justice should be upheld.
WHAT IS JUSTICE?
In one sense, justice connotes adherence to what is right. Its cold meaning portends strict adherence to the law. At one time or another, nearly everyone has uttered the complaint; “this is not fair”. Although people may disagree over what may be fair and what may not be, this common complaint shows that as human beings, we share the sense that there is a difference between what is right and what is wrong, between fair and unfair, justice and injustice. On some occasions, such differences in opinion cease to be personal opinions; they become energizers for common action by people of like mind. And this common action could constitute some form of threat to the peace and stability of society. For example, on occasions where corrupt politicians have kept on telling the suffering masses that “you have never had it so good’, the ordinary person has only considered these politicians as ‘lying through their teeth’. They have sometimes been galvanised into action to try and stop the deceit in ways that have threatened the peace.
GOD AND JUSTICE
The Pentateuch, the prophetic and wisdom literature of the Old Testament, talks much about justice, which requires that its teaching should not be sidelined but treated as a key to understanding the nature and character of God, because He defines justice by His action and comments.
In Genesis 18:19, the bible describes justice as the way of the Lord, “For I know that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgement; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him”. God, in this text, provides insight into the value and extent of His demand for justice. The universal and absolute standard of justice is God Himself; therefore to be “Just” means to keep it the way the Lord envisions it to be.
By this, what constitutes justice goes beyond adherence to the law. As a value and attribute, Justice holds the true nature and character of God together and expresses such facets of this Being as the God of righteousness, forgiveness, integrity, wholeness and the God of the poor and the weak. The men who arrested and sought the prosecution of the adulterous woman before Christ were acting in adherence to the law. Were they just in their way? “They said unto Him, Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say…?” John 8:4-5. It takes two to commit adultery and so where was the man, and what does the attitude of Christ to the woman reveal? Christ Jesus considered the broader ingredients of dispensing justice.
This brings us to the issue of integrity as in ingredient of justice. Integrity is an all encompassing concept having to do with matters of personal character or relationships; it suggests a simplicity and completeness. Integrity in itself is made of prominent elements, including honesty, which demand that the relationship we have with God and other men should be sincere and straight forward, suggesting the absence of dishonesty and duplicity. The word integrity has been corrupted by our behaviour and attitudes, but no matter how we would wish to misinterpret it; the value continues, to demand ridding ourselves of hypocrisy, jealousy, dishonesty and evil speech. It means keeping our promises to uphold what is true in whatever capacity we serve and protecting the innocent, the ignorant and the poor at all cost. It means doing what we swore to do.
Perhaps the common notion of justice, which we know and, therefore look out for, is the absence of partiality or bribery and its egalitarian nature. The silent but discernible ingredients of the justice God asked of the Hebrews, carried qualities of truth, fairness, mercy and pity. So that the prophets of old could not cheat the poor nor manipulate their ignorance to deprive them of what they had or needed. They were to care for the deprived and the displaced in society. They had justice as their prophetic theme. A lot of people subscribe to the doctrine of the bible in our community; what makes a mockery of their confession is the upsurge of corruption and of justice in the community. Responsibility for social interaction with the poor, those who are hurt and victims of economic, social and political injustice in society as a means of ensuring justice for their cause is very much the function of the church and civil society.
The clergy must therefore work to ensure that governments and all other stakeholders act in concert to defend the cause of the deprived, instead of shying away from them. The Charismatic and Pentecostal churches, having a lot of deprived people in their fold should set up proper administrative structures, promote the discussion of topical issues such as domestic violence, career counselling, church and state relationship, civil rights and responsibilities, small scale business entrepreneurship, etc, to educate and enhance the quality of life of their members. They have the capacity to do this. I expect the Intellectuals with administrative skills in these growing churches not only to, as it were, go for prayers but also to guide and counsel their pastors, some of whom are ignorant of issues of such nature. As a pastor, this one question has been firing my conscience… is there life for my members after church, apart from the promise of eternal life in the hereafter?
We must have data in the local church that will inform the leadership on the social and academic status of its members, especially the youth, single parents and orphans. This vital information will enable the leadership of the local church to have a real fellowship with the poor, the ignorant and the deprived in their fold. The various church Councils should be more pro-active in organising seminars and conferences for heads and administrators of churches on such issues.
It is evidently clear that people living on the margins of poverty in our society are on the increase and I dare say that our response to the question of poverty, the greater number of children outside the classroom, and unemployment is a key test the moral adequacy of the intelligentsia, policy makers and the clergy. What has been the role of the intelligentsia in our society since independence? How have they impacted the policies our governments have initiated? For example, the policy of “operation feed yourself “initiated by the Acheampong regime was like a stillborn baby. Did our intellectuals make any input to sustain the programme which to all intent and purposes was one of the best agricultural policies ever initiated in Ghana? What has the expertise of the planning bureaucrats at the various ministries done to improve the lot to rural communities, the street child, the unemployed and the ex-convict? What has these expertise of the planning bureaucrats done to improve our educational system?
When we talk against the drifting of the youth to the urban areas, what arrangements has the planning bureaucrats put in place to keep them in the rural areas? These are children of poor farmers, most of who dropped out of school not because they were timid but because they could not pay their school fees. They have no vocational skills and they see no social structures in their towns and villages. Like the outcast Jewish lepers who invaded the Syrian camp, their slogan… “If we stay here we shall die, if we go there we may find food or die”. They chose the latter. It is the role of national policy makers and the planning bureaucrats to initiate and design programmes to improve the lot of the unskilled youth. When I talk of the poor in society, I am referring to the class of people whose income is so low but who have a high expenditure because of the demands of dependants. I am referring to those in labour without skills and, therefore, come short of industrial demand.
We need to resource the district assemblies to come up with programmes and projects that will help to settle the youth and also alleviate poverty in the long-term. Let us go beyond paper work and rather initiate programmes that will produce results. There is lack of justice in our social system, which eventually affects the distribution of wealth and capital and yet no one seems to care. This lackadaisical attitude is unacceptable, and the prophet Amos, with biting sarcasm, points out the absurdity of our failure to deal with injustice in Amos 6:12 “do horses gallop on rocks? Do men plough the sea with oxen? Yet you have turned justice into poison and right into wrong…” To the prophet, the corruption of justice is as ridiculous as the notion of horses running up a vertical cliff and men ploughing the sea. Should any of these two happen, men would notice it but no one sees or cares that justice is not done or found in our society.
The planning bureaucrats should set up counselling centres in all districts to function as information bureaux for the youth where they can access information on career counselling, job opportunities and how to attain vocational skills. It’s unfortunate that there are no effective counselling units even in our schools, from basic to tertiary level, as it pertains in America and Europe where every student, on graduation to another level, is counselled several times to aid his or her decision to the next level. We are living in a country where there is always “a ready-made story” or excuse to defend or cover up our inactions and our negligence. Let’s even suppose there is a policy for the youth, as some may argue, do you know how long this policy has been theorised on ceremonial platforms since the First Republic to date? There is a big talk-shop in this country that never closes its door.
I want to suggest that, as a nation, we move our vision from the realm of rhetoric to the realm of policy and better still graduate to the realm of implementation. Scanning through our history, a lot of injustices have been done to people. They are grieving because the issues remain unresolved. They range from victims of political excesses, the poor and the innocent, who have been thrown into jail, the house-help who has been falsely accused and thrown out of job because she rebuffed certain amorous overtures made to her in the home, workers dismissed under false pretensions, or people denied justice because they are poor and ignorant. In our communities, there are also those who have been deprived of lands and other properties through extortion and outright fraud. They have been with us for a long time. The question is, should we wait till these hurting people in society use violence to force our hands to seek redress?
The need for justice in the exercise of political authority, in judicial activity, industrial activity, the contrast in living conditions and several others stated in this article, is very much in the public domain. This poses a challenge for us all, the media and the church to put justice on their agenda. In our society today, the poor and ignorant who are without resources go without redress. You may challenge this, but the notion sells on the streets all over the country. It is not an empty perception. A lot of people, who could not engage the service of an attorney, may be in jail just like the many people who cannot afford their medical bills either stay home and die, or take the option of going to a deliverance centre for faith healing. It may shock you to find out that a lot of ignorant people who were sent to prison on remand for few weeks may still be in jail, because they have no money, no lawyer and the judge who sent them there has forgotten them. Where are the numerous human rights activists in our society? I suggest that some worrying issues in society need to be adopted as “speciality” by writers, social and political commentators; MPs and chiefs till such issues are addressed.
FRUSTRATION OF JUDGES
One of the best gifts apart from Christ that God gave to mankind was the Judge. A good Judge is a blessing and a delight but a corrupt judge is a curse and the worst thing that can happen to society. In matters of judgement, God is ultimate. And for God to cede part of His authority to mortal man places a burden and challenge on such a person. In judgement, decisions and actions must reflect “the way of the Lord to do justice and judgement” Genesis 18:19. In my attempt to agitate for a look into our laws and to improve it to help maintain national cohesion taking into consideration our history, who we are and how far we have come, I want to marry my two definitions of the law as (a), strict adherence to the law, and (b) upholding integrity in the interpretation of the law.
I can see the frustration and pain of a judge who sentences a suspect on the basis of a redundant law, which has outlived its purpose and usefulness, or a good law that appears very threatening in its definition. But since that is the only and reasonable one in the law books, the Judge has to apply it. After all, as a nation we have chosen a system of governance, which has as an integral part, the doctrine of the separation of powers. Parliament makes the laws and Judges simply interpret the law. A judge in his or her innermost conscience may also see that the law he or she is applying is not “just” but the Judge has no power to change the status of that law.
There may also be laws standing in the statute books which do not offer enough protection for the national economy on the international market; but exposes our already fragile economy to foreign exploitation. These in no doubt should fire the conscience of media practitioners, the church and civil society to studiously search out some of these laws, promote public and scholarly debate on them, to agitate for the removal or improvement of any obsolete, absurd, and repugnant laws which do not help the general performance of our economy, and which may send a writer like me, a social and political commentator and a critique, to jail.
Does society really care to find out the conditions of service of our police officers who watch our towns and cities day and night? In case an armed robber kills a police officer or a prison officer, what happens to his or her spouse and children? Ejected from barracks, to where? Let us all actively campaign for just structures at the labour front, that is, if we expect our workers, men and women in the forces to have confidence in discharging their duties.
Whenever you see a police officer “running” away from a crime scene, it could be one of these three reasons. He or she is not well trained in crime combating and therefore lacks confidence in facing the action, he or she is thinking of the family in case of death in action, or he or she is afraid of how the law will deal with him, in case the officer errs and does the unexpected. All these reasons should cause us to look at the laws vis-a-vis structures and conditions that exist at the labour front.
Let us decide on one of these two doctrines at stake in our society today. Upholding intangible moral values or chasing tangible monetary values. I advocate for a moral value that shall speak for improved conditions of service for the worker at the Ministry of Help (a ministry that is crying for help) or is it Ministry Health? We need opinion leaders who will champion the cause of the poor cocoa farmer at Tolonmpan, Apesokubi or Suhum whose efforts only go to promote the welfare of some bureaucrats at the ministries and the marketing boards who after work recline on luxurious couches while the farmer cannot take full sponsorship of their children’s education. Let us correct this anomaly.
Our failure to resolve legitimate grievances in the world and also remove the fundamental unjust economic and social structures, may grant a lee way for religious fundamentalist to come under the facade of religion and messianic motivations as well as revolutionaries to champion their brand of liberation theology.
To be able to do these, the church and the media reflecting the conscience of society must show the way. Let men of goodwill arise and cry out for justice to be done on the land of our birth.