Nigeria’s controversial “miracle man,” Prophet T.B. Joshua, has a lot of influence in Ghana emanating not only from his close association with deceased President John Atta-Mills but also from his ties to some high-ranking members of the New Patriotic Party.
But a recent incident in which Mr. Joshua’s bodyguards detained some journalists in Ghana has revealed the level of influence and power he actually wields in the West African nation.
On May 7, 2013, Mr. Joshua, who is the General Overseer of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), landed in Accra for a special event at the Spintex Road branch of his church.
Media reports indicate that the event was well hyped and that a huge crowd flocked to the venue to see the renowned televangelist. The crush of people created a traffic nightmare on Spintex Road. T.B. Joshua’s program was billed to start at 7 a.m. However, many of his followers started arriving as early as 2 a.m. Since Ghana’s Police Motor and Traffic Unit (MTTU) had not been advised of the event, no preparation was made to contain the situation. Consequently, many motorists were caught up in the horrendous traffic snarl for hours.
The event had also attracted a lot of press attention, but two journalists who went there to cover the resultant traffic chaos were seized by bodyguards ostensibly hired by the church to protect Pastor Joshua. In brash contravention of Ghanaian laws, the bodyguards detained Emmanuel Anteh and his cameraman Gilbert Azu of the Multimedia Group for over two hours. Another group of journalists, Abdul Wahab Giwah and Seth Yeboah, cameramen from Net 2 Television, were also detained for over six hours.
According to Mr. Anteh, the bodyguards approached them as they were filming the crowd and invited them into the church, promising to give them a better spot to film from. But once the cameramen were lured into the church premises, the bodyguards tried to confiscate their equipment. The journalists were then locked up in a room where the reporters from Net 2 TV were already being held.
After several hours, Superintendent Alex Kumankani of the Ghana Police Service intervened and the hostages were released.
The illegal detention of reporters has sparked widespread condemnation from civil society groups and activists. The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) called for an apology from the church, which the church reportedly tendered. A source said the General Overseer even invited the journalists to personally apologize to them, but this development was not confirmed. However, SaharaReporters learnt that the Church hierarchy issued a prompt apology.
Despite the church’s apology, many Ghanaian civil society advocates are wondering how the bodyguards took the license to stop journalists from carrying out their duties. “Did the bodyguards have the right to place journalists under arrest?” asked an Accra-based lawyer. He added, “Were the bodyguards’ actions not tantamount to kidnapping?”
One of the critics told SaharaReporters that she was shocked at the chilling silence maintained by journalists. “Journalists are normally very loud when issues like this occur with politicians, and they readily band together to condemn such infractions when they are committed against one of their own,” she said. Then she added that the same journalists “seem to have no major problems with such a gross impediment to press freedom and abuse of basic human rights. Does it mean that journalists are so afraid of Pastor Joshua’s connections to the high and mighty in Ghana that their tongues are tied?”
In a recent interview with SaharaTV, Fortune Alimi, editor of the Daily Guide newspaper, stated that T.B. Joshua has courted a lot of bad press in Ghana and that he had rendered an apology. Mr. Alimi seemed to suggest that, since Joshua’s church had offered an apology, it should be the end of the matter.
However, some civil society advocates recalled that a huge furor was unleashed by the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) when two journalists, Vincent Dzatse of the Ghanaian Times newspaper and Nii Martey Botwe of the Daily Graphic, were allegedly manhandled by members of the security services. The GJA vehemently condemned the conduct of the Ghanaian army. Even after the public relations officer of the Ghanaian Army paid a visit to the offices of the assaulted journalists to render apologies, the editor of the Ghanaian Times, David Agbenu, stated that the apology would not stop the paper from pursuing the matter to its judicious end.
“It is thus quite surprising that, in this case, not much importance seems to be put on a similar infraction of the freedom of the press,” said one of our sources.
Ghana is ranked third in Africa in terms of press freedom, behind Namibia and Cape Verde.