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Opinions of Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Columnist: Umaru Sanda Amadu

Umaru-Sanda writes: Of a grotesque security and a zigzag circus!

I would have seriously cursed the NDC had they succeeded in rendering the Emile Short Commission of Inquiry, which the president was forced to set up, useless. I’m glad the NDC lost the campaign. It is exciting to see the party swallow its words by purportedly allowing individual members including the Ningo Prampram MP, Sam George, who was assaulted, to make an appearance. The three-member Emile Short Commission of Inquiry into the Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency by-election has revealed to us that the masks worn by security operatives on the election day were not meant to scare voters but rather, one of the various operational strategies which include a mosquito fighting mechanism.

But that’s where the Commission exposes our inept security system. That our men in boots could gear up like they were going to fight ISIS with all the military accouterments and show up at the venue for a by-election in the heart of 21st century, Accra speaks volumes about our security intelligence. And to think that DSP Samuel Azugu, the Commander of this armed police unit, sat on national television almost a month after the event and unashamedly told the whole world that he still doesn’t know why his battalion of 60 men wore those scary masks to the election grounds raises serious questions about the people running our security set up.

It is important to state though, that DSP Azugu also confessed to the Commission, that he did not know why his men wore the masks. He could also not even explain what the prescribed uniform of these men was nor explain to the Commission why the civilians among them wielded guns. He could only hazard a guess, like you and I! As if that is not absurd enough, the man in charge of our SWAT looked us all dead in the eye and said that the brutalities meted out to innocent civilians by his men on the Election Day were mere “exuberance” and not brutal assault. Exuberance led to some 18 persons being hospitalized with doctors reportedly planning to amputate the leg of one of them. DSP Azugu calls that exuberance!
But do you blame him?

Before his testimony, DCOP Alex Mensah, who is the Director General in charge of Operations of Ghana’s Police Service sat before the commission and sounded clueless about the operations of these men. For many who heard my interview with him several months ago when he said residents of Accra who get robbed at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra suffer that fate as a result of their “own carelessness”, thus his responses weren’t surprising. And the contradictions between the witnesses who were collectively tasked to organize a simple by-election were stunning and embarrassing. The naked half-truths told at the Commission which flies in the face of pictorial evidence makes one wonder if the witnesses thought no one else followed the by-election.

The cluelessness of the man in charge of National Security, Albert Kan Dapaah, about national security was pathetic, and his explanation that there was “marketplace of vigilantes” where political parties go “to shop for thugs” to do their bidding sends chills down the spine. Surprisingly, he has not stated anything that is being done by his Ministry to close down this illegal marketplace. Meanwhile, the Inspector General of Police, David Asante Apeatuo had organized a press conference elsewhere and literally begged political parties to disband their vigilante groups. He sounded like he needed to negotiate and dialogue over this threat.

Amazingly, it took three days of sitting before we could finally determine the ownership of police branded truck that carried these so-called SWAT members. I mean, if the Ministers for the Interior and National Security supported by the police director of operations could all deny knowledge or ownership of a vehicle with the words POLICE SWAT and a Ghana Police logo boldly embossed on it and which was carrying gun tooting men of our security service, then what is the guarantee that they could ever find our girls who were allegedly kidnapped by a hostile and tight-lipped Nigerian suspect in Takoradi? Again, these senior civilian and police officers could only come up with guesses about who could have owned that vehicle.

“I have never seen it in my fleet before…” screamed DCOP Mensah. Just a day later, his subordinate came to tell us everything about that vehicle and was willing to give us everything else we wanted to know. He sounded like he could have even told us the date of manufacture, importation and chassis number if we wanted to know.

The Minister for the Interior, Ambrose Dery told the commission that the retiree Inspector General of Police under whose cap, Ghana’s security lies, had told him via the social media messaging platform, WHATSAPP that all police vehicles were registered GP and since this particular vehicle didn’t have GP, it didn’t belong to the service (although it had POLICE embossed on it).

I wonder how sheepishly Mr. Dery and IGP Asante Apeatuo would look when a lowly ranked officer sat on TV and told us all, that the vehicle was an operational one used by his team. It was pathetic, embarrassing and even unpatriotic watching the men in charge of our security sound so clueless while answering questions from ordinary civilians.

As if to make matters worse, the Accra Regional Police Commander, DCOP Patrick Adusei Sarpong said he knew nothing about the presence of these men clinging on to the bucket of his trucks. “I have been on patrols (in the Constituency) and never came across the people you are describing”, he told the visibly shocked members of the Commission. “When the incident happened, it was being discussed on the TV, and that was when I also saw it”, he confessed. Painfully, he also confessed that before the incident, he did not know that “men from other units outside the people we deployed were going to come to town”. And yet, he is the Regional police Commander who ought to know everything about the security of people from Nima to Adenta.



It was unsurprising, therefore, when he added that he only heard about the intelligence purportedly gathered by National Security which claimed that there was a stockpile of weapons in a particular house in that Constituency on the election day. It is regrettable to announce though, that that stockpile of weapons has become as evasive as the Weapons of Mass Destruction claimed by former US President George Bush in Iraq.

Violence at By-Elections is not new to Ghana. Indeed, some Constituency became prominent in the minds of many Ghanaians by the sheer number of people maimed just because a by-election was being held there to elect a new MP. The violence of Ayawaso is only getting the national attention it is getting because of the advent of social media and the circulation of the hoodlums seen brutalizing unarmed citizens. If there were as many smartphones a few years back, there might have been a Commission of Inquiry on Talensi, or Atiwa, or any of the other Constituencies that recorded ugly scenes.

The manner in which these events repeat themselves and compete for notoriety makes our poor country look like a circus of armed jokers. We are often competing for who can best unleash violence and the police service which claims to operate by Service with Integrity is always found wanting when issues involve political parties. Politically tainted police commanders and appointees find it difficult showing the professionalism expected of them. The few who show bravery to operate in the face of serious political opposition find themselves on the next unplanned reshuffle list to Siberia.

The need for a radical shake-up

On the Citi Breakfast Show last week, I heard a resident of Accra tell my colleague that he was going to hire snipers to protect his property from land guards because the police were in cahoots with those armed bandits. But do you blame him? He’s helpless and the people he has been paying all these years to protect him are now guessing what to do. Our policing needs serious review because it seems we’re tackling modern-day crimes with stone-age technology and tactics.

But what do you expect, when both the IGP and his Deputy are retirees occupying that position not because they possess any specialized and extinct skill set, but because the appointer in chief (President Akufo Addo) thinks there is no young officer capable of being IGP in Ghana. When you rely on retirees on the front line of your police service, you expect to have a police hierarchy that can’t even take inventory of simple things like a vehicle which is as big as a tipper truck!

One thing the Emile Short Commission has succeeded in doing is to show us, that even our security set up needs securing. Our top security operatives communicate through mobile phones and WhatsApp messages in discussing critical national issues.

As the President of the Republic prepares to deliver the State of the Nation Address, I expect him to, first of all, admit, that our security is weak! I also expect him to touch on the public infrastructure that supports our security set up. How many CCTV cameras can we rely on in the event of a crime? In my short stint to the developed Western world, I noticed cameras in almost every corner. We have seen how advanced security systems are able to rely on CCTV footage to apprehend a criminal. If the cameras of Citi TV and other media houses had not captured the dastardly events of Ayawaso West Wuogon, we would have had nothing to rely on because our security agencies had nothing on camera to show us. Indeed, it was not their wish to show us anyway.

But the public infrastructure our security needs to strive does not include only CCTV cameras. The President should tell us about what the government is doing about making operational, our street names and reviving signages. We also expect to know the state of affairs regarding the botched controversial Ghana Post GPS address system which cost the Ghanaian taxpayer so much. That is what government ought to do in supporting us in addition to a cessation of the appointment of retired IGPs (except when they possess some specialized skill sets of course).

And for the police and security services, we expect them to restructure their intelligence gathering mechanisms. Police service is as strong as its intelligence. And intelligence here does not mean mask wearing heavily built operatives. I know the police know what is involved in intelligence gathering and I know they will admit they did a poor job in the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election because according to their bosses, their intelligence could not even detect that 60 armed men were due to drive in police branded vehicles into the constituency that morning on an “operation in a house believed to contain a stockpile of arms”

When all is said and done, the ordinary Ghanaian citizen expects that the grotesque revelations at the Emile Short Commission do not just end up in another publicity stunt as seen in previous Commissions of Inquiries. For now, we can only guess, like all other persons in our security hierarchy, that we are secure.