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General News of Friday, 11 April 2003

Source: gna

Period when life meant nothing should not recur

General Alexander Erskine, Member of the National Reconciliation (NRC), on Thursday said the period when life meant nothing should never reoccur in the annals of Ghana's history especially as she pursues a healing process for the wounded and afflicted.

"As Ghanaians move along, we should be guided by the principles of our religion, so that no matter the circumstances, life should be of some meaning to us," he said. This was the advice General Erskine gave to Ghanaians after a Witness, Madam Sarah Boye said two of her sons, Edward Offei and Henry Obeng, who were personnel of the Ghana Armed Forces, were arrested and executed by the PNDC in 1983.

He expressed his sympathy to Madam Boye, who was left with three children, saying that her second born, Obeng should have lived and she should have been spared the agony of the loss if he had not been arrested for sending food to his bother, Edward Offei, who was then in detention at the Teshie guardroom.

General Erskine expressed the hope that the period of pain and torture was gone forever. Madam Boye said she heard of the execution of her two sons in a radio announcement at Madina while on her way home from the Nsawam Prisons after she had unsuccessfully tried to see her sons, who had been detained there.

She said Offei was among a group that was alleged to have attempted to stage a coup to overthrow the government. After the execution of her two sons, their father developed hypertension and died. Madam Boye said in 1983 her first born; Offei was arrested and detained in the guardroom at Teshie.

Obeng tried to send food to his brother but was arrested on the orders of W.O. Joseph Adjei-Buadi, then member of the PNDC. She said after a long search for him, they found him at the BNI Annex with a swollen face and signs of having been beaten.

Madam Boye said Obeng told her that W.O. Adjei-Buadi said he should be killed together with his brother because an officer was not supposed to visit a detainee. She said during conversation with her son, a soldier ordered her to leave the premises.

"As I pleaded with him to allow me to talk with my son, he hit me twice with the gun, pushed me to the ground and kicked me all over my body with his boots." Madam Boye said she had to run for her life because the soldier threatened to shoot her if she did not leave the premises.

"While I was searching for Obeng, my husband was also searching for Offei and it was after he came home that night that he told me he saw Offei, who had been tortured to the extent that he was paralysed."

Madam Boye said her two sons were taken to the Nsawam Prisons where they were later executed by firing squad. She said no charge was laid against them, even though, whenever she tried to see them, the warder told her that they had been taken to court but never mentioned the particular court.

She said the People's Defence Committee at the time warned them never to organise a funeral or perform funeral rites for their sons. "To add insult to injury, the first of the two sons of Offei was knocked down and killed by a car that was being driven by an Army Officer."

Christian Appiah Adjei, Member of the Commission, urged social commentators to take note that "Once upon a time in the development of this country, this was how low we sank".

Commissioners express displeasure

The National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) on Thursday expressed its displeasure with a Witness, George Adongo Azaah, for being evasive when he was questioned by Commissioners after telling a story of his arrest, detention and torture in 1985.

At different times Commissioner Christian Appiah Agyei and Professor Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu asked Mr Azaah whose answers were winding to be open and frank with the Commission. Agyei told Azaah: "You submitted a statement to us. Be frank. I thought you would open up". He added, however, that the Commission was not forcing to extract information from him.

The Commission had asked Azaah, who said he was being trained in the Commando Unit at Asutsuare, if he saw any torture there. After a winding answer, which had no link with the question, Commission Chairman Justice Kweku Etrew Amua-Sekyi asked him to be forthright in his answers.

At another time Professor Mensa-Bonsu wanted to know what happened to Azaah at the beach, which was in his written statement to the Commission, but Azaah could not come out clearly.

Her advice to Azaah not to prevaricate his answer made a number of Journalists noting down the word. Others in the public gallery shouted "Brofo", and Prof. Mensa-Bonsu said she wished she could speak Frafra, which she said she understood, to make Azaah more comfortable and at home.

In his narration, Azaah told the Commission that he was picked up late in the night on 19 February 1985, by a group of soldiers led by one Quarshie, a member of the Commando Unit, who was also a Journalist.

He said their vehicle developed a fault on the way and they arrived at Gondar Barracks the next day where he was interrogated. Among the questions was whether he knew one John Adongo. He answered that John Adongo was his younger brother but did not know where he was because they were not living together.

Azaah said he was driven to the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) and when he asked where he was being taken he was told Commander Baafuor Assassie-Gyimah of the National Security wanted to see him.

Azaah said on reaching the BNI, one Maxwell Okwabi, told him to wait for Commander Assassie-Gyimah who was then not available. He said he ended up spending the night in solitary confinement.

Azaah said the next morning he was taken to another cell where he met a group of persons and was confused. He said he did not mix with the people he met there for four days and was later convinced to join a prayer group in the cells.

Azaah said he was called to the BNI office, and one Atopley asked him to write his statement. When he said he had no statement to write, Atopley insisted that he wrote what he knew. Later, a panel including Mr Peter Nanfuri, then BNI Boss, Commander Assassie-Gyimah and Annor Kumi interrogated him. They asked him a number of questions including whether a goat was black. He said he became annoyed but the panel asked him to be calm.

Azaah said he spent two months in the BNI cells where he met Corporals Attipoe and Seidu, and his own sister Elizabeth Adongo. Elizabeth told the Commission earlier of her abduction at Tamale, detention and torture in the BNI and a number of Police cells in Accra on suspicion of hiding information on the whereabouts of John Adongo.

"I asked myself if they want to arrest all members of the family," Azaah said. Azaah said the BNI operatives one day took Attipoe away and when he was brought back, his whole body was soiled and he could not walk.

One Warrant Officer Mensah, who was also in the cells, was taken away one day, and when he was brought back he had his nails removed with bayonets. "The place was in fear", Azaah said. Azaah said the operatives at different times picked him and tried to extract incriminating information from him but he stood his grounds of innocence.

On 14 June 1985, he was transported in "Black Maria" vehicle to James Fort Prison and kept in remand cell. The cell was congested, infested with lice and filthy with stench from human excreta and urine. The toilet and urine bowls overflowed and at times dripped to soil the feet of some of the inmates.

Movement of inmates was restricted and they developed rashes. If an officer or a vehicle were not available they would not go to the hospital on the day they fell sick. Azaah said he was in detention for a total of eight years - six years in James Fort and two years in Ussher Fort.

He said he sent a number of petitions to the Army Commander and the Commanding Officer of Gondar Barracks for his release but to no avail. Clement Kpakpo Akwei from Amanfro, near Kasoa, said he and a friend Kanyi, now deceased, were brutalised by armed men when he accompanied a friend of Kanyi to a house at Odorkor in 1989.

Akwei said he had returned the night before from Togo where he was an apprentice mechanic and a friend of Kanyi had taken them to the house to look for a job. When they entered the house and Kanyi's friend was taking them to the prospective employer, two soldiers came from behind, held their heads and hit them against each other.

"They sent us outside, they beat us for a long time, and threatened to kill us," Mr Akwei said. They were then taken to a place he thought was the Odorkor Police Station.

He said the following day a man came to the Station, signed some papers and asked that they were sent to the Castle, Osu. Akwei said they were detained in the Castle Guardroom, shaven and then transferred to the Bureau of National Investigations.

He said his friend was left at the BNI, while he was taken to the BNI Annex. Akwei said he fell sick and was wheeled to the 37 Military Hospital where some officers in mufti visited him, asked him where he hurt most and went away within five minutes.

He said he was not given any treatment at the 37 Military Hospital and was sent back to the BNI Annex. The operatives later came back to the cells, where he spent one month and 23 days, to ask him to direct them to his father at Amanfro.

Akwei said the operatives went to his father, who told them that he was supposed to be in Lome, Togo. They told his father where he was but prevented him from coming to see him. Akwei said he later learned that his father kept mentioning his name and died before he was released.

He said he was taken to the Ussher Fort Prison, where he met his friend Kanyi, who developed an infection in ear and died when he was released because he could not continue with the expensive medication.

Akwei said he was transported in 1992 to Nsawam and stayed there for the next three-and-a-half years. He was released on 14 January 1992 and warned not to disclose what happened to him, he said.

When the Commission asked Mr Akwei if any charges were preferred against him, he answered that at one time a panel at the BNI, told him he had been seen broadcasting on Togo Television.

He said he told them that he could not have done that since he did not have any appreciable education. The Commission expressed sympathy to Akwei and his family. Chairman Amua-Sekyi said there was press confirmation of the arrest and detention of Akwei and his friend Kanyi.