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Opinions Wed, 6 Mar 2019

Umaru Sanda writes: The agony of National Security; The case of Double

Growing up as a cowboy at Asutsuare Junction, one of the scenes that excited us most, was seeing young men in funny hairstyles running through the bushes escaping from the excruciating and torturous training they were undergoing at the Asutsuare Military Training Camp.

The camp is located in a village called Kongo which is not far from our grazing fields. It was a regular occurrence to see these recruits flee from the camp, usually in the early mornings and sunset. They were usually barefooted and wore no more than boxer shorts and singlet.

Often, they flee along the main road connecting the training camp to Asutsuare Junction on the main Tema-Akosombo highway. In those days, military jeeps and other state security vehicles were about the only vehicles using that stretch. The sounds of the military vehicles were distinct, and these recruits often fall flat in the bushes by the road when they hear the sound of these vehicles from afar.

They did that to hide from the occupants of these vehicles who will return them to the camp when caught. So excruciating was the level of training in the camp that these recruits would rather run all the way to Ashaiman or Accra, intermittently hiding in the bushes whenever a military vehicle approached. That would be their last time at training sessions.

It was also a sight to behold, seeing these young men in training. They carry timber logs on their shoulders and trek or jog for several kilometers. Sometimes, two young men carry the log on their shoulders at each end.

For those with more muscle, they are made to carry the log alone throughout the training while their commander jogs behind with a whistle in his mouth, a cane in hand and a sidearm strapped to his waist. They spend all mornings or evenings jogging in the neighbourhood while balancing these heavy logs on their shoulders.

Because the training camp’s clinic also serves residents of all the adjoining villages, we often had the privilege to enter the camp and see them training.

Several meters before the main gate to the camp, a huge signpost announces: IF YOU DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO, DON’T DO IT HERE! There may be a question about the grammar in there, but the warning was understood by all.

There were sacks of sand placed along the sides of the road with the nozzles of rifles sticking out. The owner of the gun — usually masked and battle ready. At the entrance itself, two armoured tanks are stationed by either side of the road. Behind the tanks, fierce looking gun-toting soldiers stand guard at heavy iron gates. On the storey buildings and huge trees, guards keep an eagle eye on intruders.

In the camp itself, all manner of scary training equipment are erected. Commanders are heard all over the camp issuing instructions to recruits undergoing training. Aside from the Milo (beverage), they serve in special jugs with bread, nothing in that camp looks friendly or appealing to a civilian.

Rumour was rife in all the villages, that the camp was a training ground for a special unit of the Ghana Armed Forces called 64 Battalion, and which was like a private army of then Head of State, Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings.

Indeed, anytime any helicopter flies too close to the ground, word went round that the former military ruler was in town.

Truth be told, when these recruits graduate and are passed out in some of their ceremonies, we had the chance to watch. It was the most beautiful and proud moment. These recruit-turn soldiers looked elegant and it made us, the children especially, have very high regard for these professionals and give them all the respect.

On occasions that we attended their annual WASSA ceremonies, it was elegant. In these trained professionals, we felt protected, knowing they were there for us and they would not wear masks just for the sake of it and appear on election grounds to intimidate us. We chanted and sang songs to their vehicles when they drive past.

The area around my village seemed fertile for military training because aside from the Asutsuare Military Camp, there was also the Shai Hills Military Training School and the Mitchel Camp Military Training School.

It was usual to have our nights re-echoing with loud gunshots as these soldiers and recruits train in a nearby village called Bundase. It was often our pastime while on the grazing field, to pick shell casings that were left after training.

Sometimes, we even find unused bullets and it was our pastime to engage in the silliest and most dangerous game ever as children. We set fire and place these bullets in there and take cover as they explode with a bang.

I am boring you with this long history of my childhood because this week in Accra, a powerful Presidential Commission of Inquiry investigating the violent Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency by-election heard a testimony from Bright Ernest Akomea, a man who calls himself “Double”, and who until the election of the New Patriotic Party two years ago, was a mobile phone hawker at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra.

He told the whole nation that he is a National Security Operative at one of the most sensitive places in the country (the VVIP section at the Kotoka International Airport).

Emile Short Commission of Inquiry

With my little knowledge of how political parties reward their members upon assumption of office, I would ordinarily not be surprised that this ordinary party member would be calling himself ‘National Security’, a term which has become the cheapest title around town lately.

A joke has it that all you need to be called a National Security operative in Ghana these days is a cheap second-hand jacket and a track record of having slapped a member of the opposing party at a campaign rally.

So yes, I knew that there may be so many “Doubles” in our National Security setup and this could range from party youth who used to collect 5 Cedis to intimidate opponents at campaign rallies to fraudsters and mobile phone snatchers who sell bars of soap as mobile phones to unsuspecting customers at Tip-Toe lane at Circle in Accra.

But what struck me hardest, was when this “Double” guy went further to explain how he was trained to become a part of an institution thought to be high on intelligence gathering.

He claims he received a 3-week training from Asutsuare where he learnt “how to read maps” and how to “speak on the GoTa ” and small weapon training. This scandalized me.

I know “Double” may not have been sent to Asutsuare as a military recruit in a funny haircut, and may not be taken through the excruciating training I recounted supra, but to hear him say he was given training for only 3 weeks from this sophisticated training institution and all of a sudden, he has become an interface between the Republic of Ghana and the rest of the world at the VVIP lounge of our major international airport shocked me to the marrow.

I had heard former President John Mahama say the reckless hoodlums who terrorized Constituents of Ayawaso West Wuogon were NPP boys who had been given training at Asutsuare and deployed into our national security setup, but I was not sure whether to believe it entirely, especially since government operatives had doubted his account to the foreign missions.

And now, we are all shocked to see this gentleman who can’t communicate in the English language sit on national television and call himself a National Security Operative. And the only operation he learnt was how to read maps and talk on the GoTa phone. And this is the type of people we deployed to a peaceful election center.

This gentleman said he had no weapon assigned him on the day, but grabbed the weapon of a uniformed police officer in the heat of the moment during the confusion that ensued on the Election Day with the intent to “intimidate people”.

This Tip-Toe Lane trader who turned into a National Security Operative overnight told the Commission he did not know what specifically he was going to do in the Constituency but was taking orders from DSP Azugu — another individual whose appearance before the Emile Short Commission made mockery of our security setup.

In his testimony, “Double” made so many revelations that suggested our National Security is insecure. His testimony showed how unprofessional and how unskilled he and his folks were on the day of the by-election. He further confessed to personally breaking laws and aiding in the breaking of the very laws we supposedly pay him to enforce.

The evidence presented to the Emile Short Commission confirmed our fear, that our so-called National Security is filled with party foot soldiers who for all intents and purposes are not fit to occupy that high office.

‘Double’ told the whole nation he was a polling station chairman of the NPP in the Adentan Constituency. I know parties reward members, but should this reward be in a very sensitive area like national security?

This guy, who can’t string together a simple sentence in the English language, is the man we trust with the security of our President whenever he uses that gate at the airport. In the same manner, we also entrust the security of other dignitaries including, I’m sure, Melania Trump when she visited Ghana recently.

The fact that he could not understand or respond to questions in English means he cannot communicate in English and this makes me wonder if security operatives at our international airport communicate in Twi or they all communicate in English but have a dedicated channel to “Double” which only transmits in Twi.

Or is it the case that the state has employed a translator to accompany “Double” when he is on duty at the airport because of his sheer usefulness to our national security setup?

This guy, who only knows how to read maps and speak on the GoTa, is the man we trust to gather intelligence on a possible terror attack on our airport and pre-empt same. He is the guy we trust to gather intelligence and possibly pass it on to the Ghana Immigration Service should someone come from Beijing with the intent to engage in galamsey but lies to us that he is coming on an excursion.

This guy, who told us his job includes intervening to prevent the clamping of wrongly parked vehicles at the airport, and aiding people “smuggle” people through the VVIP section of our airport, is the guy we trust our National Security with.

If he could admit on oath to having smuggled people through unauthorized routes in the airport, then only God knows what else he helped smuggle through our international port.

The story of how a lady smuggled cocaine through this same VVIP lounge only to be busted in the UK is still fresh on our minds.

It makes sense now why our airport has become like a “connecting point” for drugs from one part of the globe to another. It is possible that people move into our country every day with bags of weapons because anytime an instruction is given to “Double” through the GoTa to stop a suspect passenger, he watches them walk past because he had no idea what was said in the English language.

I am not against less privileged people assuming high offices but it is absolutely absurd, to hand over the security of our state to a misfit. Political Parties can reward members at anywhere but at our international port of entry. If our National Security truly found “Double” useful for its work, he could have been enlisted as an informant, but not an operative.

Watching him sit at the Commission and sound the way he sounded, I started wondering how many other people like him are occupying which offices in this country simply because of their party card.

If a 3-week training in “map reading” could entitle one to occupy such a sensitive position, then I wonder why those recruits in funny haircuts who spent months at the Asutsuare Military Training Camp have not been made President of the Republic.

Indeed, if our National Security is manned by people like “Double”, then we might as well not have a National Security at all. And it saddens me, that he was supposedly trained at the highly sophisticated training camp at Asutsuare.

Columnist: Umaru Sanda
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