‘Strange crowd’ at Ayawaso West Wuogon violence - Emile Short Commission
A member of the Commission of Enquiry into the violence that rocked the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election on January 31, 2019 has described the crowd that was reported to have clashed with National Security operatives, leading to the outbreak of violence, as a “strange crowd”.
Professor Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu wondered why the crowd would fight and resist National Security operatives and not run for their dear lives as any normal crowd would have done.
She made the observation yesterday when she cross-examined the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Member of Parliament for Ningo-Prampram, Mr Sam George, who had earlier testified that he had seen a scuffle between the crowd and National Security operatives in front of the house of the NDC’s parliamentary candidate, Mr Delali Kwasi Brempong, during the by-election.
“They seem a very strange crowd to me because most Ghanaians would take to their heels when they see uniformed people, especially if they are armed,” she said.
“Tried to de-escalate the scuffle”
Earlier, Mr George had presented a number of videos and pictures to the commission to aid its enquiry and also support his testimony that he was assaulted and had to run for his dear life during the violence.
Giving more insight into his version of events, he said before he was assaulted, he had tried to de-escalate a scuffle between the crowd and National Security operatives in front of Mr Brempong’s house.
According to him, when he arrived at the scene, he got to know that the main reason for the scuffle was the seizure of a key by National Security operatives, which had agitated the crowd.
To de-escalate the situation, Mr George said, he asked the leader of the National Security team present, whom he named as “Double”, to give him the key, so that he would give it to the crowd.
Below are excerpts of what transpired between Prof. Mensa-Bonsu and Mr George.
Commissioner Mensa Bonsu (CMB): You said somebody had seized a key?
Sam George (SG): That was one of the complaints I heard from the crowd when I tried to douse the tension.
They said a key had been seized by one of the National Security operatives.
CMB: Did they say what key it was?
SG: No, they just said a key.
CMB: Mr George, you went to a premises, you saw a large crowd, you did not know why they were there, who they were and you saw that a minor scuffle was taking place and you intervened?
SG: I tried to de-escalate the situation because I noticed that the crowd was at the residence of my party’s candidate.
CMB: You said you had interposed yourself between the crowd and National Security operatives?
SG: Effectively so, my Lord, because if you watch the video that I showed you, it was not as though there was a lot of room between them.
They were basically pushing against each other.
So in my engagement, I had pulled aside with Double, but I was right in there.
CMB: The crowd was fighting off the National Security team?
SG: I would not use the word ‘fighting’; the National Security team was trying to get the crowd into the building.
They were trying to push them back.
CMB: The crowd was resisting?
SG: Yes, my Lord; with the pushing and shuffling, you will see people throwing their hands.
CMB: Is this the usual behaviour of crowds in this country when they see armed men in uniform?
SG: My Lord, I am not an expert in crowd control.
CMB: They are a strange crowd to me because they were fighting National Security operatives.
SG: My Lord, I do not have expertise in crowd management.
I am sure that if I see someone dressed in a police uniform, I will respect that uniform, but to see people in masks, I don’t think I can respect that.
“I don’t trust the police”
Another issue that came up during Mr George’s cross-examination was his failure or refusal to hand over some cartridges which, earlier in his testimony, he had said he made some people collect at the scene of the violence to the police.
In his testimony last Monday, Mr George had presented about 28 cartridges to the commission to, in his words, “aid its enquiry”.
During yesterday’s cross-examination, the Chairman of the commission, Mr Justice Emile Short, asked the MP why he did not present the cartridges to the police or why he refused to state their presence in his statement to the police.
“I am sure you are aware that these shell cases are critical evidence, but you never at any time considered it prudent to hand them over to the police or to even write them in your statement,” Mr Justice Short said.
Mr George answered that he did not trust the Ghana Police Service, especially “for them standing aloof when I was being assaulted, even though there were armed policemen who could have intervened”.
Meanwhile, in a related development, the commission rejected attempts by lawyers for Mr George and Mr Brempong to recall and cross-examine other witnesses.
In a ruling read by Mr Justice Short, the commission held that granting such an application would turn the enquiry into a court forum, where the interest of competing parties were determined.
According to Mr Short, witnesses who appeared before the commission gave testimonies to aid the work of the commission and not to achieve any personal interest.
“This commission is an investigative body whose mandate is to conduct a thorough, dispassionate and accurate enquiry into matters related to our terms of reference.
“The work of the commission, unlike that of a regular court, is not to decide what the balance of rights and liabilities are between competing parties and, therefore, the rules of evidence do not apply the same way,” he held.
Counsel for Mr George and Mr Brempong, Dr Dominic Ayine, had argued that in the interest of fairness, his clients should be allowed to cross-examine other witnesses who had made statements against his clients in their testimonies.