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General News Mon, 12 Jan 2009

Elizabeth Ohene On Elections

Look On Your Handiwork, Ye NDC, And Rejoice Or Gloat As The Mood Takes You

My name is Elizabeth Ohene, and yes I am a member of the NPP and this is my story, or at least a bit of my story of the Presidential Run-Off elections in Ghana on December 28.


After the experience that we had in the Volta Region during the December 7 elections, the NPP decided to deploy some Polling Agents recruited from outside the local areas who would not be intimidated or compromised because of local pressure. Those recruited were mostly young students from the nation’s universities and Polytechnics. The day before the voting, I met with some of them on their arrival in the Volta Region and particularly with the 58 that were sent to help in my constituency of Ho West.


At about 4pm on that Saturday, I went to the Ho market and we parked on the main road which is a busy thoroughfare and realized we had parked right behind a white Pick-Up, without a registration number, bedecked with NDC posters and paraphernalia and flying an impressively large NDC flag. The vehicle had loudspeakers mounted on it and as we stopped behind, we realized an announcement was being made. We listened. There were two men in the vehicle and the announcement in Ewe went as follows:


“The NPP is sending some strangers among us to be polling agents. At the polling stations, they will try to stir up trouble and in the ensuing confusion, will try to snatch the ballot boxes and replace them with ones they have already stuffed. When this happens, simply get hold of these strangers and slaughter them. And when you slaughter them, you will have our firm support.”


After this announcement, the vehicle calmly drove off. I sat in my vehicle in a state of absolute and total shock. Shock, not just at the language that was used, but at the sheer brazenness of it all and the fact that not a single person in that busy thoroughfare appeared shocked or tried to remonstrate with the two men.

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I phoned the Volta Region Police Commander Dery and narrated what we had just witnessed to him. He told me he had had a similar report earlier in the day about such a vehicle making a similar announcement in a town about twenty kilometres from Ho. He told me he was having a meeting with the regional hierarchy of the NPP and NDC in his office and invited me to join them to see how best to address the issue.


I went to the Regional commander’s office and joined the meeting. I narrated the incident outside the market to the meeting. The response of the NDC was that it was obvious from what I had narrated that if nobody touched a ballot box, then nothing would happen. They were not shocked, at least did not look or express any shock at the public incitement to violence being orchestrated by their Propaganda vehicle. They were not prepared to condemn the language being used.


We were later joined at the meeting by the Volta Region NDC chairman, Mr. Modesto Ahiable. I narrated my story, and by this time I was almost hysterical with passion. I went on my knees and begged him that I did not believe the elections were worth a single life and no blood should be spilled.


He also said my account of the announcement showed nothing untoward would happen unless the ballot box was interfered with. I managed eventually to get him to concede that the use of such language was unacceptable. Then he told me they had evidence that the NPP had sent 30 busloads of “MACHOMEN” into the region, complete with pre-stuffed ballot boxes. I told him he should discard all such thoughts and told him the Agents we had brought were young students who could hardly be described as “MACHOMEN”.


I left the meeting with my brother Dr. Sammy Ohene who had been with me in the market and witnessed the incident. We later left Ho and went to Abutia, a town about 10 kilometers from Ho, which is our hometown. The next day, VOTING DAY, my brother Sammy was the first to vote at our Polling station because he had been appointed a Polling agent to serve at Dededo, a religious settlement in the Ho West constituency. {At this polling station, the greatest number of votes the NPP had ever got was 13, and on occasion, had got 1 vote.} My other brother, Emmanuel took Sammy to the Polling station where he showed his Agent’s tag, duly signed by Dr. Afari Gyan, the Returning Officer for the elections and a letter of Accreditation, duly signed by the Candidate of the NPP, Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo. Sammy realized immediately that the young man from the UCC, Solomon Kwakye, who was supposed to be the second agent was sitting quite far from the enclosure. The Presiding Officer at the station, a Mr. Ankude, told Sammy upon request that he had banished Solomon Kwakye from the enclosure because he had been argumentative. Sammy pleaded with the Presiding Officer to allow the agent back into the enclosure.

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After about five minutes, the Presiding officer told Sammy that he wouldn’t accept his accreditation because he claimed the letter had not been signed by an election official. He therefore asked Sammy to leave. Sammy told him he was properly accredited and will therefore not leave. Soon, members of the public hanging around the enclosure took up the refrain that Sammy should leave and there were mutterings of “strangers in their midst”. The Policeman on duty, an Inspector, Atitsogbui told Sammy that he had better leave because earlier another NPP man had been there and he had been almost lynched by the crowd. My brother told him he had done nothing wrong and would stay on to perform his properly assigned duties.


Soon the Presiding Officer held my brother by his trousers and started pushing him; then Inspector Atitsogbui held him by the shoulder and together, they pushed him out of the voting enclosure into the hands of the now baying crowd. Someone kicked my brother to the ground and they pulled him on the ground like a common thief to a spot and set upon him. A group of between ten to fifteen people set upon my brother, some kicked him, others took planks and sticks and stones and beat him in the manner in which crowds beat up thieves that are apprehended or the way people beat a snake. When blood started spurting from his face, some of them get startled and pulled back and exclaimed they were spilling blood; one of them said they should finish him off.


In that brief moment of the frenzy being interrupted, my brother managed to get himself up and run into the voting enclosure with blood spurting from his face and his left eye, closed from the wounds inflicted on him. Luckily, he managed to keep a grip on his mobile phone and from the enclosure, he phoned me to tell me about his ordeal and then phoned my brother who was on the road on his way back to Abutia and he turned round and went back to Dededo. I called the Regional Police Commander and asked him to please send some of his men to rescue my brother and then set off myself. Just outside Dededo, I met my brother Emmanuel’s car and in it, a bloodied and brutalized Sammy and a group of policemen who had rushed there from Tsito the nearest police post. I took photos of my brother by the road side, and they then left for the hospital whilst I went on to Dededo.


I went to see the chief of the town and asked him to please help identify the people who had spilled my brother’s blood in his town. Since then the doctors have found that my brother’s left wrist is fractured and he is in a cast. His cheekbone is fractured, there are bruises and contusions on his face and body. But the most worrying injury is to his left eye, where there is what the doctors call retinal bleeding and other injuries. The doctors have not yet been able to determine if there is permanent damage to his left eye because of the swelling and the bleeding. We are praying that he will recover fully from his injuries.


I have no doubt at all in my mind that what happened to my brother was as a result of a well-planned strategy by the NDC. My mind has gone back constantly to the spine-chilling announcement I heard on the NDC van urging the people to “slaughter strangers in our midst”. I recall Mr. Ahiable’s words to the effect that they had given whistles to their people and when they blow the whistle, the “community will take charge”. The community certainly took charge in Dededo and in the event, an NPP agent did not need to go near a ballot box to incur the murderous instincts of the community. In the event, they did not need to blow a whistle before the community sprang into action. They had been primed to see any and every NPP agent as an enemy. And that was enough to unleash the violence that was visited on my brother in Dededo.

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My brother Sammy is a medical Doctor. He is head of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Ghana Medical School. He spends his life healing people and teaching people to become doctors. The NDC incited ordinary citizens to see in him such a threat as to want to murder him simply because he was performing the duties or trying to perform the duties of an NPP agent. Later on, the vehicle that we sent around to distribute food to our Agents was confronted everywhere by angry townspeople claiming that there were stuffed ballot boxes in the vehicles. Often they insisted on and indeed inspected the vehicle. In some towns some people helped themselves to some of the bread that accompanied the breakfast of “Rice water”. I was grateful they took the bread and did not assault the people in the vehicle.


There have been many incidents during these elections and many of the young people who came to be NPP agents in the Volta Region have been traumatized beyond belief. I have narrated here a bit of my story and I hope that the NDC and their supporters are happy.


By Elizabeth Ohene

Source: Elizabeth Ohene