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Opinions of Saturday, 5 March 2016

Columnist: A. R. Gomda

On guard for terrorists

Ghana is on an informal red alert for terrorists. No formal announcement in that direction has been sounded nonetheless new security arrangements especially in Accra's main high-notched hotels present sufficient evidence in that direction.

The National Security Coordinator and his team do not want to take any chances and have engaged all the tricks in the industry to make it impossible for any Boko Haram or ISIS grade attack to be replicated in Ghana, it would seem.

Perhaps the next thing for the security system to consider is educating Ghanaians about the importance of being inquisitive so that signs of terrorism can easily be determined before they mature into explosions and avoidable kidnappings. We pray no such thing happens in our part of the world. We cannot take things for granted though.

We have never been so close to a terrorist operation as we did when the Ouagadougou terrorist attack was reported. Given the proximity of Ghana to that country, the story made the front pages of local newspapers; after all Bawku should be about a three hour road journey to Ouagadougou.

For those who for long viewed ISIS or even Boko Haram attacks as too distant to be of strategic value to us, the Burkina Faso deadly hotel operation was enough to have them review their positions.

Such review of positions has however not propelled some of my compatriots to be as security conscious as they should be perhaps because they haven't had sufficient education about international security issues; their horizon limited to local scathing political polemics on radio that is all.

Such heightened security consciousness necessary at this time comes only to persons who have come close to witnessing a terrorist attack. Even though there is a certain degree of apprehension about the possibility of some bad guys seeking to descend upon us, it is only marginal, not enough to raise security consciousness beyond one on a scale of one to five, the last figure being the highest.

In the security industry nothing is taken for granted that is why the top hotels are being given the cover we are witnessing these days although there are shortcomings which need to be addressed.

Periodic education on basic security consciousness would go a long way in inculcating this life-saving trait in Ghanaians.

Even persons living next door are hardly known by residents in the neighbourhood. Bad elements can live in such places for a long time with nobody caring to find out who they are let alone determining their security status.

Had such consciousness been part of us as a people some criminal elements living among us in the suburbs of the cities would have long been smoked out.

In the wake of the Ouagadougou hotel attack by some militants with links in the Islamic Maghreb, local authorities have found it necessary and prudent to unfurl fresh and relatively unknown measures such as determining whether visitors to hotels are bearing metals or other items which can be used to aid terrorist attacks.

The usual easy drive into the Movenpick Hotel in Accra is no more. After traversing the National Theatre and heading for the former Ambassador Hotel last Sunday, I was startled to find a queue at the entrance to this star-studded hotel; an unusual spectacle and inconvenience.

I searched my mind for what informed the new security arrangement. It did not take long for me to find out why. A national security response to a terrorist attack was being played out.

I do not know the level of training the guys in white shirt and wielding metal detectors had received beyond running the gadget along the sides of cars and booths. Although the gadget beeped mostly I wondered whether in the event of firearms being carried in the car, the gadget would emit a varied sound.

I was ordered rather gently to open the car booth which I obliged respecting what the guys were doing since after all it is intended to secure the hotel and its occupants.

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I was not going to book for a hotel room but to patronize a pharmaceutical shop close to the facility's emporium.

Eventually the check was over and I was flagged to drive on because I neither bore firearms nor anything that could pose a security threat to the hotel and its occupants. In other words I was not a terrorist.

I wondered, however, how the guys would have reacted had I been a terrorist or the other motorists in the queue.

I wish other motorists would bear with the metal detecting gadget wielders as they probe their cars but not the bodies of the motorists behind the wheels.

The guys appear to be personnel of one of the many private security companies in town. Getting the nod to organize such screenings at the top hotels could be highly rewarding considering the miniscule monthly slave wage that they would pay the staff.

At the façade of the hotel sat a vehicle from the Formed Police Unit (FPU) formerly Armoured Car Squadron with some cops sitting their black and white lanyard depicting their unit. Delta was clearly inscribed on the side of the vehicle as its occupants sat in it weary and tired, it would appear. Such duties are very boring and I was not spotting they looked just that.

I saw a similar police presence at the Holiday Inn Hotel in the Airport City enclave earlier but without the metal detecting crew as it is at Movenpick Hotel.

I have also learnt about how a special Police anti-terrorist unit is in the offing to take on militants who attempt any bloody attack.

Much as we respect the security moves, we wish such seriousness should have rather been extended to our frontiers which are maintaining their porous characteristics.

Personnel of the Border Patrol Unit of the Ghana Immigration Service continue to languish at their remote border locations unarmed, their camouflage colours their only deterring feature.

It was relieving though that Parliament finally gave them the green light to bear firearms, gadgets which would enable them ward off intruders seeking to enter the country.

As one of the most impoverished security agencies in the country, equipping and motivating the guys in this unit would enhance our undeclared war against terrorists. They lack a lot of gadgets necessary for their rather dangerous assignments in this age of killer terrorists who know no borders.

They would now be armed but other incentives need to be extended to them including further training to confront the new threat from terrorists.

Taking precautionary security measures such as the ones being witnessed now in big hotels, would exact lots of inconvenience on patrons of these facilities so would they also protect lives and properties.