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Unmasked! Ghana’s state of security

Esther New Ayawaso West Wuogon follows other by-election violence that includes allegations of police failures

Thu, 21 Feb 2019 Source: thebftonline.com

Revelations and consternation. Ghana’s police and our state of security continue to face scrutiny with the ongoing Ayawaso West Wuogon Commission Inquiry led by the venerable Justice Emile Short.

What is emerging: a picture of failures and farce when it comes to Ghana’s national image of peace and security during this by-election voting process. From unapproved uniforms to questionable masks to convictions of non-polling violence to revelations there was indeed polling violence – the picture of Ghana’s security and policing is cause for grave concern.

The list is not so much long – but it seems to reveal that those testifying are committed to ensuring their particular head stays off the block, rather than a full commitment to truth-telling on behalf of improving the woeful lack of security during by-elections.

The political shenanigans of the minority and their sexist placards in Parliament during the walk-out of the swearing-in of Ayawaso West Wuogon’s newly elected representative momentarily overshadowed the necessary in-depth questioning required to reveal just how wrong things went leading to violence, gunshots, injured citizens and scenes of utter chaos.

Security and police’s seeming lack of awareness, lack of control and quick to blame approach for the images that shocked and horrified the nation needed careful scrutiny. Sidelined and sidetracked, the police reveal their lack of full engagement, control over the issues, lack of sophistication and poverty of training when it comes to such scenarios.

It is disturbing for the by-election. It sets a disturbing precedent for a presidential election. And it speaks to the ongoing questions and concerns regarding vigilante groups and their silent blessing from the governments, in whose name they commit violence.

This escalating issue of Ghana’s police and poverty of quality regarding investigations reaches a fever pitch with the failures at Ayawaso West Wuogon’s debacle.

But it’s origins are not there.

Tune in to any discussion regarding the state of policing in Ghana and three issues consistently come up: lack of training, lack of skills and lack of resources. Ghana’s police constantly cry lack of resources when an incident reaches the public’s – and especially – the media’s attention and for which they are being held responsible.

We have seen this in the failures regarding the still kidnapped Takoradi girls, the assaults on journalists and in police responses to gender-based violence.

This call and response has often led to questions of ‘what next’ regarding poor police skills. Well, the Ayawaso West Wuogon violence is one of our ‘what next’. The inevitable escalation of violence in the face of weakened security, reckless vigilante groups and poor policing is in danger of becoming a familiar refrain here in Ghana.

That makes clear, swift, decisive action an imperative.

That action must include depoliticizing recruitment of Inspector General of Police’s (IGP). Clearly, as long as the Executive Branch has a say in who this person is, questions about political motivations in investigations on issues such as voting-booth violence will mar – or at the very least cloud – a process that is about freedom and fairness.

Ayawaso West Wuogon follows other by-election violence that includes allegations of police failures, security issues and vigilante groups. There was violence at the by-elections of 2015 Talensi, 2010 Atiwa and 2009 Akwatia and 2009 Wulensi. Each is named in a petition calling for the investigation into incidences of and casualties of violence at these by-elections.

Police SWAT team Commander and National Security DSP Director of Operations, Commander Samuel Kojo Azugu’s claims that he did not know why the masked men seen in images from the Ayawaso West Wuogon byelection violence scene were, in fact, masked was the epitome of farce. Nor should we be fooled by such claims. A team leader unaware of his team’s actions is not a leader who should maintain his position, authority or uniform. His very ignorance endangers our security. And his deference to the 3-person Commission did not endear him or his utter ignorance.

The Electoral Chair’s testimony that there was no violence at any of the 137 polling stations was reiterated by the Minister of National Security. Except, there was shooting and violence at the La Bawaleshie Polling Station. Indeed, polling had to be halted. The EC sought to cover its own tracks and stay free of the political fray and security fallout on this. But, it doesn’t look good. To deny violence in the face of violence, calls your leadership into question. It also, crucially, prevents the very necessary work of investigating what happened – and correcting it – from the pollster’s perspective.

Sidelined and overlooked – that was East Legon’s District Police Commander’s testimony. His claim that he was not included in the strategy level discussions of policing – essentially dumping the blame in the lap of the Regional Commander – may free him of immediate blame, but actually calls into question his own leadership. And once again it puts police tactics under laser-hot scrutiny where professionalism, strategy and institutional organization are melting away and sporadic, individual decision making is rising its ugly, disorganized and problematic head.

It all makes for deeply disturbing listening.

No less disturbing is National Security Minister Albert Kan-Dapaah’s response to Professor Henrietta Mensah-Bonsu’s question about when the police knew who owned the residence where ammunition and guns were being stock-piled. Police only found out when they got there that it was an NDC base – said the Minister in his long and convoluted response. The residence was being used as one NDC base for the region, explained Hon. Dapaah.

This claim – that police only found out who owned the residence when they got there – and Hon. Dapaah’s inability to be specific about whether the owner’s details were in the Intelligence file is troubling. How is it possible to not know such crucial information when an intelligence report had been compiled? How is it possible for the police not to have or to have been given such crucial information?

Lining up and listening to the security and the police testimony does not offer confidence in either. Ghana’s security and policing is not just under investigation, it is revealing itself as ill-equipped, unprofessional and undeserving of doing such important and sensitive work.

Professor Henrietta Mensah-Bonsu’s question: “Can we begin to de-traumatize the Ghanaian?” in reference to hundreds of years of state oppression is insightful and telling.

Ghana enjoys a global reputation of political stability in comparison to some of the other 54 nations on our Continent. That reputation makes Ghana economically attractive to foreign investment. But, in the face of what happened at Ayawaso West Wuogon, and equally importantly the security services list of failures, this reputation begins to look farcical.

The violence at Ayawaso West Wuogon; together with the police and security response, lack of information, loss of control and absence of clear strategy puts a dent in this glowing global reputation.

It is not the major issue for me.

We privilege Ghana’s image in the face of the outside world over Ghana’s reality for her citizens. Ghana’s political process is for Ghanaians, and our safety in the face of exercising a basic democratic right must be prioritized.

We deserve more than obfuscation, inaction and frankly, politically-motivated incompetence.

But deserving it is not enough.

What are we willing to do to get it? Are we willing to petition the government – irrespective of party – to depoliticize the IGP head so that policing is a matter of people and not politics? Are we willing to fully disband the vigilante groups and their contribution to and influence in the police? Are we prepared to punish an inept security system and those who enjoy its power and privilege?

A Commission Inquiry with this mandate, these revelations and this public scrutiny should not conclude with a report that collects dust on the shelf of a president. It requires motion. It deserves action.

This is a test for a Rule of Law president with a political career rooted in a law and order mandate. Will he pass or will he fail?

Equally important, will we push him to pass or will we sit back and enable him to fail?

This is about our power to push our president and our government; and call to account our security services and our police.

How willing are we to use it?

Columnist: thebftonline.com
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