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A reminder: my suggestion to the Police Service

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

In the brouhaha over the shooting incident at the Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency, during the by-election on January 31, it has been very difficult to sift out the truth from the misinformation, sheer propaganda and ‘political talk’.

Nevertheless, as the Police Service and the state security seem central to the trouble and the swirling rumours, I would like to repeat a suggestion I made to the Police Administration in 2016: the need for an online ‘Police Rumour Control Centre’.

Reports about the presence of some intimidating, masked men who were involved in the fracas are disquieting.

They were, supposedly, part of the state security officials seen near the La Bawaleshie polling station, West Wuogon, in Accra, soon after the voting began. But it appears that their masks apart, they also didn’t have name tags or any identification.

It seems factual too that, horrifyingly, there was some gunfire because people who were reportedly wounded at the scene were seen on TV.

Viewers also saw the assault of the MP, Mr Sam George (Ningo Prampram, NDC), who had allegedly gone there to observe the voting.

However, contrary to earlier misleading reports, the shooting incident didn’t take place at the polling station, but rather, apparently nearby, in the house of the candidate of the National Democratic Congress, Delali Kwasi Brempong.

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Although in response to the shooting incident NDC Chairman Mr Samuel Ofosu-Ampofo had angrily announced that his party had withdrawn from the by-election, seemingly, the decision was not backed by a letter to the Electoral Commission, because the NDC supporters still voted and their votes were counted.

It has been reported that Mr Brempong’s house was where some men, allegedly from outside Accra, had apparently been waiting to be sent on an assignment.

However, whatever the assignment was appears to have been stillborn, allegedly because of “intelligence” received that the NDC had planned to disrupt the by-election. State security and the police had been tipped off, hence the confrontation.

The scenes on television of clashes, chaos, assault, blood, and wounded people naturally led to alarm in the country, rumours and fear mongering.

What heightened public anxiety was the history of violence associated with past by-elections under the NDC, which incidents are yet to see closure.

In all the commotion, the impression was created initially that the violence had taken place at many polling stations leading to deaths; that ballot boxes had been snatched and taken away; and that the by-election was in disarray.

A police statement confirmed that nobody died, although some gunshot victims had to be hospitalised, and the La Bawaleshie was the only one of the 137 by-election polling stations to experience such a conflict in its vicinity.
The by-election had been necessitated by the death in November last year, of the incumbent New Patriotic Party MP for the constituency, Emmanuel Kyeremateng Agyarko.

The NPP candidate for the by-election, Lydia S Alhassan, a widow of the late MP, won the election with an overwhelming 12,041 votes, representing 68.8per cent. Her closest contender, Mr Brempong got 5,341, (30.52 per cent).

Ms Alhassan was sworn in to take her seat in Parliament on Tuesday, February 5. Predictably, following their stance on the by-election, the Minority MPs walked out while she was being sworn in, with some of them waving white sheets on which they had written “BLOODY WIDOW”.

Whatever they meant by that, it certainly didn’t endear the Minority to the public, judging by the continuing negative responses from many quarters to that description of Ms Alhassan.

The Police Administration swiftly announced that an investigation would be conducted into the violence and a panel has already been constituted.

Hopefully, the enquiry’s findings will provide answers to some nagging questions.

One can understand the Police Administration and state security not wanting to share “intelligence” with the public before an exercise of that nature, but what about AFTER, when the confrontation, blood and the wounded, were being seen on screens?

Would it not have boosted national harmony if there had been an immediate official explanation about the police raid, instead of keeping the public guessing and helping to feed the rumour mill?
In any case, did the police have to use live ammunition?

And why were there masked operatives at the scene? If all those sent there had the right to be on that mission, carrying out a national assignment, why the masks?

Anyway, shockingly, in a video that has gone viral, reacting to the Bawaleshie shooting, former President John Mahama is heard saying that “NDC has revolutionary roots and that when it comes to unleashing violence, nobody can beat us in unleashing violence …

Then in an apparent reference to the general election scheduled for next year, Mr Mahama added his infamous ‘boot for boot’ threat, which has earned him a lot of criticisms: “We are not going to joke in 2020,and I’m sounding a warning to the NPP: We are going to match them boot for boot.”
President Nana Akufo-Addo had a caustic response to that.

In a statement congratulating Ms Alhassan, he said: “The new Patriotic Party from which my Government was born, would never dream of competing with any other political party in unleashing violence on the Ghanaian people.

Our policy … is to liberate the energies of the people for the growth of a property-owning democracy in the land.”

The suggestion I referred to earlier, made in 2016, related to the then IGP Mr John Kudalor’s threat to close social media on Election Day in 2016. My suggestion had been that the Police Service should establish a social media site, a ‘rumour control office’, which people could access “for accurate information that counters potentially dangerous messages or rumours” (‘Of the IGP’s’ alternative and variables’, my column of July 29, 2016).

In my opinion, the idea is still relevant.

Now, more than ever, I believe that it is crucial to have an online Police Service Rumour Control Centre.

With the general election next year and political actors more intent on swaying public opinion to their side, no matter the national interest – or the truth – it is becoming increasingly difficult for the facts to emerge, notably where security matters are concerned.

A 24-hour police fact-checking social media platform for the public could be a vital weapon in stopping rumours before they lead to regrettable, or even catastrophic, consequences.

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