The Commander of the National Security SWAT, the group at the centre of the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election violence, on Monday told the Justice Short Commission investigating the incident that he did not know why some members of his team wore masks.
Almost three weeks after the incident, DSP Samuel Kojo Azugu said he was “yet to get that information”.
In his testimony that lasted four hours, the man who led the National Security team to the by-election explained to the commission that members of the team sometimes wore masks during operations in order not to fall prey to mosquitoes.
“There is no particular gear we wear that covers the neck to prevent mosquito bites. Some of them, when we are moving out, put it on themselves as a precautionary measure,” he said.
He also explained that there were instances when they used the uniform to prevent being identified or compromised by members of the public, since they (operatives) came from the same community and served as informants and surveillance officers.
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Not satisfied with the answers, some of the commissioners took turns to grill DSP Azugu on the wearing of the masks and the incident as a whole.
Below are excerpts of the questioning:
Commissioner Justice Short (CJS): If I understand your statement, the people who were masked were people who came from that community or knew the people in the community and provided information. That is why they were masked. Is that what you are suggesting? In this particular operation, why were they masked?
DSP Azugu: I’m yet to… I’m yet to get that information.
CJS: Are you aware of any policy which determines when any member of the SWAT team will be masked?
DSP Azugu: Yes, my Lord.
CJS: What is that policy? You mentioned that may be they wanted to be protected against mosquitoes and so on. This was an operation during the day. It was not for protection against mosquitoes.
DSP Azugu: I used that example to buttress the fact that in preparing for a possible staying outside overnight, they keep those materials on them so that if our operations take us deep into the night, they can keep them and use them. But on that particular day, I’m yet to know why those you saw in masks decided to put them on.
CJS: Even though you were in charge of the operation, you didn’t know?
DSP Azugu: Yes, my Lord. I’m yet to know sir.
CJS: There was a polling station where you went with your team. Do you think it was prudent for some of your men to be in masks close to that polling station? Don’t you think that created fear and panic in the civilians who were there to vote?
DSP Azugu: As I have already indicated, we didn’t go there for the election. But if I saw any of them masked while operating, I’d ask why he had put on the mask, and if he did not give any tangible explanation, I’d ask him to de-mask.
CJS: But on that occasion, you did not ask them to …
DSP Azugu: I couldn’t because of the turn of events. My Lord, all those things, from where we heard the gunshot, lasted for just about 15 minutes.
CJS: When you saw that they were wearing masks, why didn’t you ask them to remove.
DSP Azugu: I indicated earlier that we were stationed in our vehicles. I asked that nobody should drop down until we started moving towards the … As the commander, I wouldn’t have the time in that chaotic situation to go about and be asking them, with all due respect.It was after the ….. that I saw that some of them were wearing masks. Even then some of them had the eligibility to mask themselves to avoid being identified as national security operatives.
Commissioner Prof. Mensah-Bonsu (CMB): You said you have been in this SWAT team for a year.
DSP Azugu: Yes, My Lord.
CMB: When was it formed?
DSP Azugu: That is a long time ago; probably 20 years ago.
CMB: The people in the team now; when did they join?
DSP Azugu: Most of them were transferred there on the assumption of this government.
CMB: They have been there since 2017. Did you go and meet them there?
DSP Azugu: I met almost all of them because I am the latest addition. I went there over a year now.
CMB: Does the SWAT team at National Security have any relationship with the Formed Police Unit (FPU)?
DSP Azugu: Yes. When we are conducting operations in and outside Accra, sometimes we invite the FPU to join us to assist in some of our operations.
CMB: You indicated that the people wore uniforms and you were describing them. They are ginger coloured uniforms and not police uniforms.
DSP Azugu: The police were in the blue-black police camouflage with bullet-proof vests and the civilian operatives were in black.
CMB: What about the ginger uniforms; who wore them?
DSP Azugu: The brown that they wear normally when they go for training they wear it with black T-shirts. But because they wanted to be in uniformity, they decided to wear the uniform they use for training.
CMB: Are you saying that the men, when they are going out on an operation, decide what to wear.
DSP Azugu: No, my Lord. Because when they do that they appear uniform for easy identification. When we go out and maybe we engage, you know that this man is with you, that man is with you.
CMB: Can they dress as they like as long as they are wearing black T-shirts?
DSP Azugu: Yes, my Lord.
CMB: The ginger uniform is what they wear in training, but it has become the uniform for operations.
DSP Azugu: That is not what they are to use it for.
When another member of the commission and former Inspector General of Police, Mr Patrick Acheampong, took his turn, he asked the witness about the level of collaboration between the National Security SWAT team and the Directorate of Police Operations.
He observed that the National Security team was ill-prepared for its assignment and advised Mr Azugu not to allow the team to be used, as there had been instances when the SWAT team had been used for even land guard duties for state institutions.
Who assaulted Sam George?
Mr Azugu declined to give in public the name of the operative who had assaulted the Member of Parliament for Ningo-Prampram (NDC), Mr Sam George, as well as what the lawmaker allegedly said that warranted a slap from the National Security operative.
He told the commission that what the operative told him was in bad taste and a threat to national cohesion and unity, adding that he could only provide the details in camera.
The commissioners were not initially convinced about the response and insisted, after a three-minute deliberation with counsel for the commission, Mr Samuel Osei Mensah, that they were immune to profanity, but DSP Azugu still declined to give the name in public
At that point Justice Short stepped in and said the commission did not think that whatever had triggered the attack was a national security issue.
But DSP Azugu remained adamant, saying: “It is not just for national security…. national cohesion, national unity...... because what he told me that the MP told him, if I say it here, the MP may be attacked by somebody, especially when I mention it here.
“That is why I plead on your honour that I should say it in camera. If, in your other sittings, it comes out, I don’t want to be the carrier of a problem.”
Given the green light by the commission, he wrote the name of the said operative and what Mr George allegedly said to the operative to warrant a slap from him.
DSP Azugu was also asked to submit the names of all the operatives on the mission and their service numbers, the after-action report of their mission, as well as all other documentations about the operation.