One thing I’ve always been proud of as a Ghanaian is our ability to make a joke out of anything, no matter how shocking, grotesque or frightening. When the AIDS epidemic struck in the late 80’s, we made an ampe song in which the disease served as the protagonist. When war broke out in Liberia and our troops were sent to fight, we choreographed a danced called ECOMOG. When the likes of Duncan Williams and Dag Heward Mills feel compelled to flaunt their misogynist views and insult the worth and intelligence of Ghanaian women, they do so in song. And guess what? There are vapid Ghanaian women in their congregations who dance and sing right along with them.
It’s always a circus in Ghana! Nothing is ever serious. Even when people are dying from cholera, starvation and preventable disease, it’s all fun and games, all the time. That’s why even as a woman, and therefore a second class citizen, I have always felt safe in Ghana. No matter what calamity may befall me because of my gender, I knew at some point, we’d have a good laugh about it later. As Swaye Kidd once said “We’re a nation of jokers!”.
That all changed on Friday, November 14th, 2014.
When you’re a woman living in Ghana, there are certain realities that you become accustomed to. Age and gender can either give you access or serve as barriers to certain privileges, and in Ghana, there is no one more barred from basic privileges (like the right to dress her body as she chooses, and not to have that body touched or commented on by perfect strangers) than young women. But as I said before, that reality has never truly mattered because it’s all fun and games in this country run by circus clowns, trapeze artists and magicians whose sole skill is to cause the unexplainable disappearance of millions of dollars in foreign loans and tax-payer funds. Somehow, we manage to smile, cope and keep trudging.
When it comes to basic women’s rights, Africa as a whole has a horrible track record. Too many countries on the continent lead in global maternal mortality, women are still barred from owning property and scores more are discouraged from getting any education beyond the primary level. There are parts of Ghana –particularly in the north – that typify the worst of Africa, and though I am ashamed of many of the attitudes society holds towards Ghanaian women in general, I still have pride in our constitution. It gives me hope. The constitution tells me as a citizen of Ghana, I have a right to an education, protection provided by our armed forces and a rule of law that guarantees my safety and well being. That constitution is upheld by a whole cadre of parliament members who individually swore to reject practices that “dehumanize or are injurious to the mental and physical well-being of a person.”
Of course, as any Ghanaian on the ground can tell you, this is all stuff written on paper and the reality is very different. Accra is Gotham, and it is run by semi-literates, goons, thieves, cowards and philanderers of the lowest order. And because business and politics in the country operate on “trickle down” principles, the entire nation is corrupt from root to tip, starting from its capital. Still! I felt safe…that is again, until November 14th when MP Nelson Abudu Baani took his turn on the floor to debate the Intestate Succession Act (PNDC Law 111). Unsatisfied with provisions in the law which are designed to be more fair to widows (and we’re talking about a country in which right now, a man’s extended family can kick his wife and kids out of their marital home and seize their property if he does leave a will stating the contrary at the time of his death), MP Baani used the opportunity to propose murdering women who have been unfaithful in their marriage by hanging or stoning. He offered Afghanistan as a model to emulate, because “in Afghanistan, day in [and] day out if you go behind your husband they will hang or stone you.” He says that this will ensure that wives remain faithful in their marriages.
Seriously. When since the creation of Hell has anyone woken up on any day of the week and declared “I want my country to be just like Afghanistan!” ? No one but Nelson Boko Haram Baani till last week, that’s who.
No one stopped him y’all. NO ONE. The Speaker of Parliament didn’t halt him. The female parliamentarians didn’t walk out in protest. Even ECG didn’t turn the lights and air-conditioning off and shut down on his crazy behind. In fact, he was asked to speak louder, and after his conclusion the Majority Chief Whip, Alhaji Muntaka Mubarak also chimed in, saying the promulgation of the Bill will encourage “cohabitation, which adverse effect will be the creation of more problems for families.” (Never mind that more and more people can’t afford to date, let alone get married in Ghana due to the ridiculous cost of existing.)
In the days that have followed, Nelson Baani has not backed down from his position, going as far to say he would happily see his wife stoned if she were to commit adultery. Really? What about all his male colleagues in Parliament, many of whom have are currently having illicit affairs with university girls, other married women and the occasional cross-dressing prostitute? Would he happily see them stoned as well? It might do the country some good actually, and save us all time and money…but of course because patriarchy utterly blinds those who it benefits, MP Baani does not see the hypocrisy in his words.
A petition has been generated and directed at Speaker Adjaho asking him to compel Nelson Baani to retract and apologize for his statements. It pained me to even have to start this petition. I would have thought the NDC – which dealt so swiftly with Victoria Hammah after audio of her declaring she would never leave office until she had made $1 million was leaked – would have come out with a statement condemning Nelson Baani’s utterances or at least distancing themselves from them. But again, Victoria Hammah is a woman, and Nelson Baani is man who only suggesting the wholesale slaughter of adulterous women (and not ALL adulterers).
Reaction from the general public has been to express disgust, and for good reason. If Nelson Baani was sitting at a bar having a beer expressing these views, it would merely troubling. He has a right to his opinions, after all. However to speak these views while operating in his full capacity as a Member of Parliament is inexcusable, is a violation of the constitution and must be repudiated in the strongest terms possible! If Ghana were not Gotham, he we would be made to resign immediately for failure to comprehend and uphold the constitution. But because each of these MPs runs their regions and districts like a personal fiefdom, this is the rot we get.
Ghanaians have very serious questions for our leaders, especially women who fought so hard to get into these positions via struggles like the 31st December Women’s Movement. As one user wrote:
Where are the women in parliament? Why did you sit and watch silently as Nelson Abudu Baani was making such barbaric and inhumane proposals for the punishment of your fellow Ghanaian women? Are you in support of hanging or stoning women who are suspected to be unfaithful to their husbands? I have been struggling to maintain respect for parliament and parliamentarians in light of recent events such as the irresponsible decision to buy furniture from China and your deafening silence on issues that bother the Ghanaians you claim to represent. Do something. Take a stand for the women of Ghana. Ask your colleague Nelson Baani to retract his statement and render a full and unqualified apology. Your grandchildren and their grandchildren will read about you in the future. What sort of legacy do you want to leave?
Others haven’t been so generous, writing:
Dear Abudu Baani,
Growing up, my grandfather used to say that if ex-president Rawlings did not do much for Ghana, he will always commend him for passing the PNDC law 111. And that is a man I consider to be the first ever misogynistic male in my life yet even he, recognized the importance of the law and always praises it.
But you, kind sir, greatly surprised me with your statement that a woman who commits adultery should be stoned. What, you want the Sharia law frowned upon worldwide to be enforced in Ghana to give you further reason to subdue women? If you can further elaborate your point, I will be very grateful because I cannot seem to get my mind around it. I am as baffled as the next Ghanaian woman.
No, we do not and will not agree to this. It is the most absurd suggestion of a law I have ever heard out of the confines of the Ghanaian parliament house and trust me, you lot do come up with some amusing ones but this is just unacceptable and we are not having it. Perhaps a law on the reasoning capabilities of MP’s or that men who commit adultery should be castrated and fed their balls (so both sides are favored, right?)
It’s not fun and games anymore; not when our lawmakers feel at liberty to advocate murder on the hallowed halls of our government. Ghanaians deserve better. Nelson Abudu Baani should be sacked from his position and barred from ever entering Ghanaian politics again! We must discover how many other MPs hold these and similar views, gut them out and ensure that they do not lead our nation down the path of anarchy.
I’m asking all right thinking people, Ghanaian or not, to sign this petition send a message to Nelson Baani and our Parliament at large that this foolishness will not be tolerated. This is the moment we prevent the next humanitarian disaster in Africa. This moment, right now!