“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” - Robert Kennedy.
My decision to be mute and watch a grievous oppression continue, maybe because of “timidity” or fear of being victimised and “mafiad” by some unknown faces who do not believe in the right things being done, has been shoved into deep gutters following my appreciation of the above deep statement.
The Akan old folks have always said that “Biribi annk?ka papa a, anka papa annye kyer?d?.” Literally, if something had not touched the papa (dried palm frond) it would not have made a sound. To wit, there is a cause to every effect. You may complain about why the dry frond is making noise but it will also complain that you are troubling it.
A time came in Ghana when young people serving their nation were asked to pay some amount of money from their monthly allowance for a compulsory insurance policy. The policy was however greeted with stiff objection and a legal tussle that the National Service Secretariat had to rescind on its `decision to make the policy compulsory.
Safety first they say and so, I shall not attempt to talk about issues regarding the insurance policy for the fear of being dragged for contempt of court. That notwithstanding, I want to remove the cover of the wound that needs to be uncovered for treatment purposes and I do so without any ulterior motive. I therefore hope that this article does not trigger any unnecessary, partisan political debate.
But thank God for the controversial insurance policy that inspired my efforts to know more about the National Service Personnel Association, often referred to as NASPA, its compulsory membership and of course its legitimacy to act as the mouthpiece of all national service persons.
If God gives me more courage to completely get over the timidity inflicted on me by society, I shall say without any shred of inhibition that successive National Service Secretariat(NSS) management have consciously or unconsciously connived with the so-called NASPA to infringe upon the inalienable right of national service persons who are guaranteed freedom of association under the highest laws of Ghana out of their ignorance. Did I just say this? Oh indeed there is no need to shy from the truth if we want the right things to be done.
Chapter five of the constitution of Ghana talks about Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms, and Article 21 specifically talks about General Fundamental Freedoms. Article 21(1)(e) was so clear and instructive that “All persons shall have the right to freedom of association, which shall include freedom to form or join trade unions or other associations, national and international, for the protection of their interest.”
Thanks to the framers of the constitution who were so wise to use the two words General and Fundamental. Clearly, freedom of association must apply to all and is very fundamental or basic. The issue is, can the poor boy or girl doing national service be guaranteed his or her freedom of association?
It is undoubtedly unquestionable that man as a social being desires association of a sort, but must associations be imposed on persons? It is very crucial at this stage to cite the famous Mensima v. AG case. The Plaintiffs were a liquor distilling company and they claimed that the Defendants harassed them by claiming that they did not join a liquor distilling association. Plaintiffs sued, claiming that the act violated their freedom of association as stipulated under article 21. The Supreme Court upheld the claims of the Plaintiffs that there was violation of freedom of association. If the case at hand is not tantamount to that of the Mensima v. AG, then I do not know what to say again. What is the essence of constitutional provisions if they cannot be enjoyed?
Not all associations require the consent of individuals. I know that the membership of the Student Representation Council specifically that of the University of Ghana does not need the consent and the express authorization of students. The University of Ghana Act ,2010 (Act 806) establishes the SRC and to the extent that such provision in the said Act legally passed by Parliament (Section 30 to be precise) is not declared null and void, every student in University of Ghana is mandatorily a member of the SRC. Is NASPA also sanctioned by any law of Ghana to be binding on all service persons? The only condition under which one’s freedom of association can be denied is provided in Article 21(4) of the Constitution of Ghana and unfortunately NASPA still cannot find a hiding place here because there is no law that sanctions it. Not even the NSS Act catered for it.
Okay, what about the Ghana Bar Association, Ghana National Association of Teachers, National Association of Graduate Teachers, et al and their membership? Are they sanctioned by any law? Yes, the Labour Act 2003, (651) supports their existence. It is important to note here that even these unionised bodies which are sanctioned by law do not coerce compulsory membership on persons. Arguably, the law profession is the most enviable profession in Ghana but its association, the GBA is not made compulsory for all lawyers even though all lawyers join. Why would just a mere passive association like NASPA impose compulsory membership.
At this juncture, it is imperative to be a bit succinct and say that the National Service Secretariat could regard prospective national service persons as members of NASPA and accordingly charge dues on them if NASPA was in the National Service Secretariat Act under two conditions. The first instance is when NASPA is sanctioned by law. Secondly is when the prospective service persons themselves say that we acknowledge the fact that we have an interest to project and protect and that is possible when we come together as an association. Even with that, NASPA can become compulsory and speak for only those who sign up as members. Any other person who does not want to join cannot be forced to join against his or her will in the second scenario.
Now, prospective national service persons over the years pay forty Ghana Cedis (Gh?40) at the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) before they can access their pin for registration. Out of this amount, five Ghana Cedis (Gh?5) is given to the District NASPA, three Ghana Cedis (Gh?3) is given to NASPA at the Regional Level and two Ghana Cedis (Gh?2) is given to NASPA at the National level. Even though such payments are made to NASPA at the latter part of service, that is not my business. The remaining thirty Ghana Cedis (Gh?30) they say is used to print certificates for national service persons after a successful completion and also for processing of document.
As to whether it makes sense for the poor graduate to pay money in order to serve his or her country, that is for our ancestors to tell. But again, the whole issue is on what basis the NSS has been charging those dues or money and the consequent allocation to NASPA. We cannot be unconcerned and watch this continue. Maybe we think ten Ghana Cedis (Gh?10) is no money. If nine hundred and eighteen thousand, seven hundred and ten Ghana cedis or Gh?918710 (i.e.Gh?10 × 91,871 persons) is no money, what amount would be money to us then!. Unless of course NSS will look into the face of Ghanaians and say no such amount has been taken since last year. That will be a grievous lie which can kill a fowl when it falls on it.
Perhaps I appeared to be confused in my mind to have said the mere payment of dues to NASPA makes every national service person a member of NASPA. Isn’t it the case that by charging the prospective national service persons NASPA dues, they automatically become members of NASPA? I do not think prospective national service persons have so much money to be dashing ten cedis (?10) out as if they are father Christmas.
If I may ask, has any of the prospective national service persons told the secretariat they want to become members of such an association? We need to ask questions. What is the basis of NSS taking such dues from the innocent boy or girl who does not even know he or she is charged ten Ghana Cedis (Gh?10) as NASPA dues? Is it the case that the prospective national service person is waylaid through his ignorance because he might object to such payment when told?
A good friend hinted me over the weekend that he thinks Shata Wale’s “Freedom” song was sung to empathise with the service persons whose freedom has been denied and as well intervene because he could not support such an abuse of human right. In fact, I am still deciphering whether Shata Wale in his song “Freedom, Freedom” was acting as a human right advocate or another “Messiah” who has been sent to proclaim freedom to the oppressed and abused national service persons.
These clear breaches of freedom of association could be overlooked if they happen under the regime of other leaders but not under that of an astute human right lawyer who has fought for human rights all his life. His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo did not mince words at all when he said “we have a sacred task to ensure that the fight for the protection and respect of human rights remains a constant one” when he launched the 70th-anniversary celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda once opined that “We cannot turn the clock back nor can we undo the harm caused, but we have the power to determine the future and to ensure that what happened never happens again.” Yes, we cannot undo such breaches of freedom but we can begin to chart a path that does not deny persons of their freedom and that is my call. As this month marks the month that the freedom fighter, the late Dr. J.B Danquah died, let us correct the wrongs and make headway as a country.
The human right of the kelewele seller is as important as that of the banker and the right of the national service person is equally as important as that of the lawyer, doctor, politician and even the president of Ghana. We need to respect the right of persons irrespective of their social classes, gender, race, ethnicity, and economic status.
National Service Secretariat must with urgency stop regarding the National Service Personnel’s Association(NASPA) as compulsory and as the mouthpiece of all service persons. The wrong cannot be allowed to thrive. Enough of the breaches.
Bright Agropah is a National Service Person with the Danquah Institute. The views expressed in this article are his personal opinions and do not reflect, in any form or shape, those of the Danquah Institute. You may reach him on firstname.lastname@example.orgRead Full Story