Professional experience, diplomacy, tact, humour and the personal experiences a former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr Ayikoi Otoo, has had with some members of the Supreme Court panel hearing the 2012 presidential election petition saved his client from being imprisoned.
Mr Otoo “stood in the shoes” of the General Secretary of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Mr Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie, who had been summoned before the Supreme Court to justify why he should not be imprisoned for contempt of court.
It was a tense and unfamiliar moment when known firebrand Owusu-Afriyie, popularly known as Sir John, stood with both hands clutched behind him and awaited his fate from an upset bench.
But Mr Otoo succeeded in treating the bench, lawyers and audience in the parked courtroom to bouts of laughter with the numerous jokes he cracked in an attempt to save his client, classmate and party general secretary from experiencing prison life.
The nine-member panel, presided over by Mr Justice William Atuguba, with Mr Justice Julius Ansah, Mrs Justice Sophia Adinyira, Ms Justice Rose Constance Owusu, Mr Justice Jones Dotse, Mr Justice Anin Yeboah, Mr Justice Paul Baffoe-Bonnie and Mr Justice N. S. Gbadegbe, as members, laughed intermittently from the jokes.
“Dr” Ayikoi Otoo
At a point, Mr Otoo sounded like a medical doctor when he made strenuous efforts to “calm the temperature” of Mr Justice Atuguba, who was visibly upset by the unguarded comments from politicians which, he noted, had the tendency to derail the country’s peace and endanger the lives of its 24 million citizens.
Mr Justice Atuguba responded and said his blood pressure had always been “normal”, to which Mr Otoo said, “We pray it does not go beyond the normal.”
He stuck to the ‘doctor’ strategy each time Mr Justice Atuguba’s voice shook in anger.
Mr Otoo performed creditably in telling Ghanaians that Mr Justice Atuguba was speaking through his colleagues and not in his personal capacity.
“We are not here to justify anything”
Mr Otoo set the ball rolling by telling the court, “We are not here to justify anything” and that there was no doubt the court had enormous powers “to deal with contempt issues”.
On realising that his description of Article 19 (2) of the Constitution as giving the court “arbitrary” powers in contempt matters had not gone down well with Mr Justice Gbadegbe, Mr Otoo quickly changed the “bandwidth” and pleaded with the court to “show justice with mercy”.
Mr Otoo had also attempted to state that the translator of the tape recording in which Sir John attacked the bench might not have translated properly, but Mr Justice Atuguba asked if he wanted the tape played in court.
Knowing the implication of allowing the tape to be played to the hearing of the public, Mr Otoo quickly declined the request and said, “No, my Lord. We are not here to challenge.”
He then prayed the court to caution Sir John “and advise him to go and sin no more”.
Mr Justice Dotse asked Mr Otoo if he had enquired from Sir John what came over him on the day he uttered the contemptuous words, including asking relatives of the justices hearing the election petition to plan their funerals.
Mr Otoo’s answer drew laughter from the courtroom when he said an unknown power which one had no control over, called “Gbeshie” in Ga, might have come over Sir John.
Today is my birthday
While admitting his client’s wrongdoing and apologising unreservedly, Mr Otoo used his 59th birthday, which fell on Wednesday, August 14, 2013, to persuade the justices to have mercy on Sir John.
He also informed the court that his client had begun purging himself of contempt by issuing communication guidelines to all NPP communicators to be decorous in their utterances.
Illegal Political Galamsey
Still in the mood to nip the irresponsible behaviour of some politicians in the bud, Mr Justice Atuguba said it was important for the authority of the country to be upheld for peace to prevail.
“Are people not entitled to sleep peacefully because of people like this?” Mr Justice Atuguba asked while looking in Sir John’s direction and wondered if people should be “anaemic” because of persons of Sir John’s stature.
He dared any person running against the tenets of the safety of the state and Ghanaians to dare demonstrate his or her power to the court and also asked if 24 million Ghanaians should be taken for a ride by a few “self-bloated individuals”.
Labelling the lack of sincerity in Ghana’s politics as “illegal political galamsey”, Mr Justice Atuguba indicated that things were worsening in the country because of the irresponsible conduct of some politicians.
Turning to Mr Otoo, Mr Justice Atuguba commended him for defending the authority of the bench and wondered why Sir John could not behave like Mr Otoo.
Mr Justice Atuguba, after stating that Sir John saw himself as “specially powerful”, indicated that Sir John “has to be watched closely to be sure he has changed”.
Go back to Pre-general secretary Days
Mr Justice Atuguba said he had been informed that Sir John was a very good lawyer which he (Mr Justice Atuguba) had no doubt about.
He further pointed out that he had also heard that Sir John had been a sober gentleman in his pre-general secretary days and accordingly advised him to go back to those times.
Eventually, the court took into consideration the genuine pleas by Mr Otoo, steps taken by Sir John to purge himself of contempt and the ongoing peace dialogue in the country before deciding not to jail him.
It, accordingly, fined him GH¢5,000 and bonded him to be of good behaviour or go to jail for six months in default.
He has since paid the fine and signed the bond.
The former Member of Parliament (MP) for Asikuma-Odoben-Brakwa, Mr P. C. Appiah Ofori, issued a cheque for GH¢7,000 to pay the fines for the two contemnors, Sir John and Mr Hopeson Adorye, a member of the Communications Team of the NPP.
Mr Adorye was convicted and fined GH¢2,000 for stating that the heads of members of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) would be chopped off if President John Dramani Mahama is declared winner of the presidential petition challenging his legitimacy.
Conviction and public office
In an interview with the Daily Graphic in Accra yesterday, Mr Otoo said, “I was simply doing the work of an advocate on behalf of a client. The duty of a lawyer is to ensure that his client is not sent to prison.”
He expressed profound gratitude to the bench and said Sir John was not an ex-convict because the offence he committed did not fall under the offences listed under Article 94 of the 1992 Constitution, which include fraud, dishonesty, moral turpitude, high treason, robbery, treason, among others.
“Otherwise, people who are convicted and fined for offensive driving cannot hold public office,” Mr Otoo concluded.