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Human Rights, Individual Freedoms and Democracy in Ghana- The Preventive Detention Act and After - The Effect of the PDA

The Effect of the Preventive Detention Act on the General Population

It was not only the detainees who suffered from the indiscriminate use of the Preventive Detention Act to imprison innocent citizens without trial. The damaging effects were felt by ordinary citizens, even though they were not themselves incarcerated within the prison walls.

First, the wielding of the power of arbitrary imprisonment without trial produced a general atmosphere of fear and insecurity throughout the country. Because the detentions were arbitrary and no reasons were assigned, nobody felt safe. Belief in one’s innocence could not guarantee against the prospect of being hauled into prison for an unknown and unspecified reason. Even loyal members of Nkrumah’s own Party knew that their loyalty or their membership was not a prophylaxis against arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. That was why genuine fear gripped the whole nation. No nation can survive in which the citizens are constantly and relentlessly plagued with fear, anxiety and a deep sense of personal insecurity and insecurity of the home. Therefore, ironically even members of Nkrumah’s own Convention People’s Party breathed sighs of relief when that repressive regime was overthrown in 1966.

In addition, detention without trial very gravely affected many families. In many cases the person imprisoned without trial was the breadwinner. His imprisonment meant that the family became destitute of support. The children could not be maintained. Many children of such detainees could not continue with their education because of the loss of support. They thus became deviant youth who, drifting into prostitution, drug use and other acts of criminal and moral depravity, posed social concerns to society. Where material support was not totally lacking, the children tended to suffer from lack of discipline in the home, as they were brought up by virtual single parents. Even when the detainees were eventually released after the overthrow of Nkrumah, they still had difficulty holding decent jobs after the long periods spent in prison. Most of the former detainees were also afflicted with many and diverse forms of ailments in consequence of their long confinement in the most inhumane and horrifying conditions. In effect, we still have in the present society the ramifications of the deleterious effects of Nkrumah’s imprisonment without trial.

Many families were broken up because of the detention of husbands. Many women, after years of waiting without their husbands, were compelled by the circumstances to seek solace elsewhere. Such broken homes were common because of social pressures on the otherwise loyal spouses of the detainees.

It was not in all cases that these problems arose from actual detention. The reality of the threat of detention without trial was such that many people fled the country. Persons who had rumours or reliable information about their pending arrest often crossed to neighbouring countries through unapproved routes, usually by footpaths not adequately patrolled by Nkrumah’s Border Guards. In some cases, refugees simply bribed their way, because Nkrumah had by that time institutionalised corruption in the fabric of the body politic. In my Region, the Volta Region alone, literally thousands of people fled to neighbouring Togo to avoid imprisonment without trial. These included prominent chiefs as well as ordinary citizens. In Hohoe, for instance, Togbe Gabusu IV, Paramount Chief of the Gbi Traditional Area, spent years in exile in Togo. In his case, a Detention Order had in fact been issued against him but he was quicker than the security agencies. In the Republic of Togo the refugee population was so large and daunting that the Togo Government sought and received support from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ( U.N.H.C.R.).These exiles left broken homes, and families with children, with the accompanying social and financial problems not unlike those of persons who wee actually arrested and imprisoned under the Preventive Detention Act.



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