At Emile Short's AWW inquiry: Blow by blow account between Prof Henrietta Mensah Bonsu and Col Mike Opoku
The following is the give-and-take that ensued between Professor Henrietta Mensah Bonsu, a member of the Emile Short Commission probing the gun violence that errupted during the January 31, 2019 Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election, and the Director of Operations at National Security, Colonel Michael Opoku, when the latter made a second appearance at the Commission to provide answers.
Commissioner Mensah-Bonsu (CMB): Who do you report to?
Col Michael Opoku: I report to the National Security Coordinator (Mr Joshua Kyeremeh).
CMB: As a senior military officer what do you think about this split line of reporting?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, the Minister is the political and strategic direction head of the ministry. The coordinator is the operational head of the Ministry. In most cases, my report goes to the Coordinator on operations. Anytime I’m given an assignment by the minister, I report directly to him.
CMB: Most of the ministries don’t implement anything but set policies. So how come your ministry seems to be implementing as well as setting policy?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, the ministry is there and the National Security Council Secretariat is also there. So the National Security Secretariat normally sets the objectives for us to achieve.
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CMB: You’re part of the secretariat?
Col Michael Opoku: Yes! My Lord
CMB: But we also have the Bureau of National Investigations?
Col Michael Opoku: It’s like a sub-unit under the Ministry. We have the Bureau of National Investigations, the Research Department and the Bureau of National Communications come under the ministry.
CMB: Yes, I can see those as implementing agencies. But your security work which falls under the secretariat seems to be an anomaly, don’t you think?
Col Michael Opoku: No, my Lord, I think those who thought through the operations department as it is today, thinking through the fact that sometimes in the evening, some information may come and they would need to work on it and putting it through the other services may take quite some time that is why they asked the police force to give them a SWAT team that could be used to do some of these quick interventions from the secretariat.
CMB: You mean the other services like the BNI can’t work over the hours and you need a body that can do these things out of term?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, the police duties that are to be executed is done by the SWAT team but when it comes to other intelligence issues it goes to the BNI.
CMB: But the kind of duty they were involved in Ayawaso wasn’t the average police duty. It was a combat duty…
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, it was an intelligence operational duty.
CMB: A lot of the violence there was unintelligent, Sir.
Col Michael Opoku: Admittedly, my Lord.
CMB: You said for the security arrangement of the by-election, you supported the Ministry of the Interior. Did the Ministry of the Interior request this support?
Col Michael Opoku: Yes, My Lord.
CMB: Then how come those in the field did not know of the presence of your men?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, those in the field would have to come and answer that because as I said earlier, they requested for two prominent supports; that is communication support and the use of National Security yard at Abelenkpe as their taskforce headquarters and normally in all elections and other duties, we normally have the intelligence agencies being part of it, the CID, BNI and ourselves.
CMB: I heard you when you said they asked for communications and operational headquarters. Did that include people on the prowl going to search for weapons in homes?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, that was a different assignment as I said, we were following information or intelligence that we had earlier on that is separate from what the election people were doing.
CMB: In terms of the use of discretion on an election day near a polling station which is in a school? By the way were the school children there? I’ve never gotten it from anyone if they were there.
Col Michael Opoku: My Lords from what I’ve seen, the school children were not on the scene.
CMB: But I have seen children in the video. It means there were children in the vicinity. Was it well advised that you conduct an operation of that nature in broad day light with shooting and so on?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, the intention was not to go and be shooting at the area which was close to the polling station. The commander had a lot of discretion on what to do. As he said earlier, we reacted to shooting in the house.
CMB: You were expecting to use a gun that is why you went with guns?
Col Michael Opoku: Yes, or we knew they were armed ...
CMB: How are the people in your unit recruited? You said they are not trained to handle weapons or crowd control but to do patrols and escort VIPs?
Col Michael Opoku: Yes My Lord.
CMB: And I’m asking how they are recruited. Are they trained in hand-to-hand combat or unarmed combat?
Col Michael Opoku: The recruitment is done through various means depending on the intelligence needs of the ministry or the secretariat. When they are recruited, we assemble a team from the CID at the police headquarters, Police operations, the BNI and Research Department and my secretariat to do vetting and thumb printing. We did this for all those recruited in 2017.
CMB: Do you do psychological profiling?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, as and when we need it.
CMB: As and when you need it? When do you need it?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, with what happened at Ayawaso, we need to do some psychological profiling by recruiting a psychologist to look into the behaviour of some of our men and how they behaved.
CMB: You’re a senior military officer and you want to do psychological profiling after the horses have bolted from the stable?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, in all our security services, this has not been part of the system, it is as when it is needed that we do some of these things.
CMB: Did you check the background of some of the people you were recruiting?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord as I said a team made up of the CID, BNI, the research department and police operations….it was done thoroughly.
CMB: In what instances do you need masks during operations?
Col Michael Opoku: The mask that we normally use is to ensure that our operatives are not identified. When you go to town now, there are lot of posters in town where some supposed members of my team are wanted by somebody I don’t know who wants to arrest them. There are posters in town that even includes the police men…
CMB: Any idea who is doing this vigilante work?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, we’ll know the person and the printing house that did the printing.
CMB: You don’t know? You’re an intelligence agency you should know by now.
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, we’ll know.
CMB: There was an incident, you deployed the team. Have you had board of inquiry?
Col Michael Opoku: The Ghana Police Service is conducting an investigation and statements have been taken from our ministry by the police.
CMB: Officer, you’re a senior military officer and having a board of inquiry is very much the part of how your outfit operates. Do you have a system for doing internal investigations when incidents have occurred?
Col Michael Opoku: Yes my Lord. We set up boards but in the secretariat, they don’t call it board of inquiry. They are given terms of reference and they give the report to the minister. But we have not set up a board for this incident.
CMB: But you know as the commanding officer, you should have?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, I’m the Director of Operations… maybe I’ll advise the minister to constitute such a board.
CMB: The minister is the C.O?
Col Michael Opoku: We don’t have commanding officers in that unit. In that unit, I’m a director like any other civil servant. That is why I wear my suit and most often my uniform. I don’t have commanding officers under me or platoon commanders under me. When it comes to this thing, it is only the police commander that I have under me. There are other sub-units under the operations department.
CMB: But you direct operations?
Col Michael Opoku: I do.
CMB: You are at the operational headquarters and it is not only the tactical commander who was in charge. You are in charge as well?
Col Michael Opoku: Yes my Lord.
CMB: So, it is your responsibility to investigate what happened especially if it was contrary to your orders?
Col Michael Opoku: Yes my Lord. I’ll do that my Lord.
CMB: It’s been three weeks now, Sir.
Col Michael Opoku: Noted, my Lord.
CMB: You said there are three principles of your internal operations, justification, minimum force and prevention?
Col Michael Opoku: Yes, my Lord.
CMB: In a democratic system, don’t you think there should be a fourth – accountability?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, justification takes care of accountability. Your actions must be justified and justifying your actions, you must be accountable for every action that you have taken.
CMB: Because some of the firing I have heard on videos did not seem to come from people who knew they were going to answer for how many shots they have fired?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, the firing has become one of the bones of contention of this operation, how many gunshots were fired from our side and the other side too. May be by the time we finish, the CID would know whether they fired more than what they claimed they fired and how many rounds were also fired.
CMB: We are hopeful. You were also to bring the casing to tender in evidence?
Col Michael Opoku: It is the DSP (Azugu) who is going to do that. I have the weapon issue book for 2017. In it, the weapons at the SWAT were issued to them on 26th April 2017. ASP Theodore Dzikunu was the one who signed for the SWAT team.
CMB: You don’t know how many of the weapons assigned to them was used for that day?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, as the DSP said, they issued 10 weapons. Those weapons are issued from the police. I don’t control that. The ASP has asked to bring it tomorrow (Tuesday)
CMB: Of the 10 that was issued, you were the operational commander that is why I’m asking you. At the event, how many were fired?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, I cannot answer. May be the DSP should be able to answer.
CMB: You see why a board of inquiry would have been useful?
Col Michael Opoku: Yes My Lord.
CMB: These are operational matters that you as the operational commander ought to be able to answer.
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, I must be frank, like the military…
CMB: I hope you have been frank all the time?
Col Michael Opoku: I have. I’m under oath and I am a Catholic. In the military, when we go for such operations, we nominate people who are likely to fire and they would never give their position out to even members. I’m sure the police commander when he comes will be able to in-camera tell you who and who was supposed to fire when there is an order to fire. It is within the commander’s purview to do that. He doesn’t need to tell me who and who will be tasked to fire when there is…to fire. We normally even add blank ammunition to the live fire. You see everybody firing but wouldn’t know who fired a live weapon.
CMB: Col, you embarked on an operation in a civilian neighbourhood heavily built up. You were expecting that your people would be able to return fire if fired upon and issued live ammo?
Col Michael Opoku: Yes my Lord.
CMB: With the danger that children and anybody in the vicinity including those who have lined up to vote could have been killed?
Col Michael Opoku: I expected my professional SWAT team members to be more professional and in being professional, they don’t aim at unarmed civilians. They don’t aim at children. The task was to do confidence patrol and do the cordoning of the area. In cordoning that particular structure, they were expecting children. Cordoning means that you don’t want people to come in. People who we are not interested in to enter the area of operation and those you want don’t leave the area. If the children were within that cordoned area, they would have been taken out of it before the operation can commerce.
CMB: You said you had mounted operation surveillance there. So what caused you to intervene? Was there any sign that some movement was about to occur that you sought to prevent?
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, the intervention was the decision of the commander on the ground. I got to know about the firing from a third person. So I cannot answer that issue. From what he (DSP Azugu) told me, they were responding to firing from the other side.
CMB: It’s been nearly three weeks now. There has been a lot of problems because of this operation and you have not shown enough interest in finding out the details and so on. At least to brief your minister because your minister has had to appear here, so I’m a little surprised that you still don’t know details of the operations.
Col Michael Opoku: My Lord, I’ll say that since we are all appearing individually, I asked that the commander should be fully responsible for answering questions on what he saw. Some of these issues have been reported to us. Reporting to us and coming here to say it is different from what he said and did on that day.
CMB: What he saw and did, is it fair to ask him if somebody authorised the operation. Somebody set it up. No accountability for that?
Col Michael Opoku: Anything he tells me, I take it as what pertained on the ground.
CMB: Who takes responsibility for his choices if they happen to be wrong choices?
Col Michael Opoku: We are officers and as officers we normally take responsibility for every action that we take. I gave him the discretion and I am the overall commander of the team so whatever the decision he took…although I was I was not there, I was part of it.
CMB: Are you taking responsibility for your tactical commander did?
Col Michael Opoku: I gave him that discretion as the overall commander, even though I was not there I was part of it.
CMB: Part of it or responsible for it?
Col Michael Opoku: To say responsible, I’m not fully responsible for it. He had the discretion to decide what to do. If he had even informed me that this is the situation, that would have been a different thing.
CMB: So where does the buck stop?
Col Michael Opoku: The tactical commander is responsible for tactical decisions.
CMB: And the operational commander?
Col Michael Opoku: My operational decisions.
CMB: And when the operational decisions translate into tactical decisions by the tactical commander? Who takes the responsibility?
Col Michael Opoku: The operational commander.