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Opinions of Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Sediki Diallo’s last ride through town

…a national security tale from Bawku

The ethnic and political conflict at Bawku in the Upper East Region has always been compounded by the other security-related problem of cross-border crime. So it came to pass that in May 2000, a crack contingent of soldiers from the Ghana Army was dispatched to the town with an express mission: To flush into the open, a gang of armed and ruthless men who had for weeks terrorized the people of the town and other smaller towns and villages along Ghana's borders with Burkina Faso and Togo. Bawku shares common borders the two countries.
With the help of local vigi¬lantes, the soldiers identified and cordoned off one after another, houses in which some members of the armed gang were believed to have lived. The operation ended in disappointment: The robbers had been tipped off about the coming of the army contingent and they had slipped across the borders into Burkina Faso and Togo.
During their reign of terror at Bawku, the bandits repeatedly attacked citi¬zens in their homes and robbed them of valuables at gun point. The gang however seemed partic¬ularly interested in seizing motor cycles. Armed with AK 47 rifles obtained from only the Lord knows where, they roamed the town stopping motor cyclists and order¬ing them to hand over their bikes, sometimes in broad daylight.
The border town has a very large population of motor bikes. The chilling command "Hand over the keys" followed almost always by gunfire, became uncomfortably familiar and at the peak of the gang's invasion, many motor cyclists put away their motor cycles and took to riding bicycles.
The gang appeared to be nomadic, moving from town to town along the borders, robbing the residents of border towns and villages and moving on when their activities in any town began to draw public outrage and the heat appeared to be on. It was suggested that the gang had secret depots in Burkina Faso, Ghana and Togo where stolen motor-cycles were kept and later ridden across the borders for sale.
On one particular day, the gang appeared to be at its worst: As a senior nursing officer of the Bawku Presbyterian Hospital pulled up in front of a bungalow off the Bawku-Bolga Road one evening, members of the gang suddenly materialized out of nowhere and seized her motor bike at gun point. The gang attacked the house of the Director of the Bawku Vocational Training Cen¬tre and ordered him to hand over a motor-bike and all money in his possession. Before they made off with the loot they inflicted knife wounds on his back for no appar¬ent reason.
In another daring motorbike-snatching drama, the robbers seized at gun point, a motor-bike ridden by a relation of the proprietor of the Zana Mat Restaurant located right opposite the Bawku Police Station. When they next attacked the house of Mal¬lam Mamudu, a businessman at Bulogo, a suburb of Bawku, the hapless man made the fatal mis¬take of calling out the name of one of the masked men whose voice he had recognized. He then reported¬ly asked the bandit "how can you do this to me?" , whereupon, one of the gang turned round and shot him dead. Stories about their reign of terror abound.
Eventually the gang leader was arrested during a dramatic raid on hotel. Townsfolk who besieged the Bawku Police Station to catch a glimpse of alleged gang leader, Sediki Diallo alias “Red”, remarked how the youthful, fair skinned Diallo's slender, almost fragile frame and delicate facial features were at stark variance with his reputation as a ruthless killer.
Diallo, a national of Burkina Faso was wanted in that country for alleged robbery and murder including the alleged killing of several gendarmes. Following his arrest in Ghana, he made a pre-liminary appearance before a tri¬bunal but was later extradited to Burkina Faso to stand trial there for his alleged crimes:
Burkinabe security agents arrived at Bawku and took custody of Diallo and two other members of his gang. Three gangsters wanted for rob¬bery and acts of terrorism at Bawku were almost simultaneously arrested at Dapango in Togo by Togolese secu¬rity agents in connection with crimes under investigation there. The Bawku police said that the three went by the names Bawa Whisky, Rambo and Awal.
This is the story of how Diallo “the terror” was arrested: One evening as he relaxed in a hotel room at Sabon Zongo with a beautiful lady friend, armed security men surrounded the hotel and then charged into his room to seize him.
A batman or superman flying ¬around roof tops in the neighbour¬hood and eventually drifting sky¬ward into the clouds is not the kind of picture anyone would expect an adult to attach too much seriousness to. The fact did not discourage a widespread myth about a shirt with a talisman sewn in it, which Diallo was said to have carried around.
In desperate situations it was alleged, Diallo would quickly wear it and promptly vanish into thin air. Two out of every three people interviewed seemed to believe in Diallo's alleged super¬natural powers. They included many fairly well-educated people. Some local vigilantes who watched the arrest of Diallo claimed the man wanted by the Burkinabe authorities made a dive for the famous shirt when police stormed his hotel room but was prevented from snatching it off a wall hanger!
Police Detective Richard Daplaah, who led a team to arrest Diallo, gave a slightly different version about the famous talis¬man that purportedly enabled Diallo to pull the vanishing act. He said that there was a violent scuffle in Diallo's hotel room before the gangster was over-pow¬ered. Detective Daplaah said before Diallo was handcuffed he tried to reach for a shirt saying he wanted to show the police his identity card.
"Initially, I thought he had a hand gun concealed in the pocket so I quickly searched the shirt pocket and came up with a two-in¬-one talisman. A smaller talisman had been crafted into a larger one. We had heard numerous stories about this talisman. We did not allow him access to it."
Diallo's arrest literally sent the entire Bawku Township surging toward the police station. Men, women and children rushed to the police station in cars, motor¬bikes and on foot to catch a glimpse of Diallo. A fortnight after Diallo's arrest, two members of his gang arrived from Burkina Faso with four brand new motor-cycles believed to have been stolen from a warehouse or motor shop in Burkina Faso.
The two on arrival, went looking for Diallo to hand over the bikes. The manager of the hotel where Diallo had lodged tipped off the police who arrested the two and seized the bikes. The Bawku Police discov¬ered that like Diallo, the two were wanted in Burkina Faso for vari¬ous violent crimes, including rob¬bery.
More than a month after Burk¬inabe security agents visited Ghana and took the three men into their custody, it was widely rumoured that they had been exe¬cuted. Police sources at Bawku confirmed hearing the rumour but added that a rumour was all it was.
Since the First Republic to date, discerning national and local administrators have recognized what a sensitive security zone Bawku is, not only because of the ethnic conflict there but also because of the cross border crimes.
Bawku has gone through its painful periods of eth¬nically and politically inspired violence. During the First Repub¬lic, the town was staunchly divid¬ed along the CPP and UP tradi¬tions and perhaps more so than at the national level at the time. Bawku described by some as a "highly politicized" area, has contributed its share of firebrand politi¬cians to the national political leadership from Nkrumah’s administration to date.
During the First Republic, it was even found "convenient" to have a political detention camp off the Bawku-Bolga Road close to the present location of the offices of the district administration, to hold people arrested under the Preventive Detention Act. People in the town believed to be trouble-mak-ing opponents of Dr Nkrumah were detained at the camp.
Quite significantly, it was on the out¬skirts of Bawku that bomb-throw¬ing, would-be assassins mortally wounded Dr Nkrumah in an attack. Wounds from that bomb attack it is believed, developed into the ailments that eventually led to his death in a Bucharest Hospital.
Law enforcement at Bawku today is hindered by an inadequate number of police and the challenges of policing a fast-swelling population. The Bawku Municipality’s estimated total population in the 2010 population census was 205,849 whilst its population density stood at 213 inhabitants per square kilometer. The average national population density is 78 inhabitants per square kilometer.

The population of the Municipality constitutes about 20 per cent of the entire population of the Upper East Region!
It all justifies the call by some national security observers, for the establishment of military garrison in one of Northern Ghana’s most famous if also insecurity-prone towns.