Military brutality in Wa: Culprits will be found, punished - Chief of Army Staff

BY: Nana Konadu Agyeman & Emmanuel Modey
A scene from how the military brutalised some Wa residents
A scene from how the military brutalised some Wa residents

The Military high command has promised to find the culprits of the unexplained attack by some military men on civilians in Wa and bring them to book.

The Chief of Army Staff, Major General Thomas Oppong Peprah, described the violent conduct by the personnel as unfortunate and unprecedented and would be dealt with according to military law.

He said this when he led a high powered security delegation to meet the Wa Traditional Council and also apologise to the people of Wa through the Wa Na, Fuseini Pelpuo IV.

Consequently, Maj. Gen. Peprah unreservedly apologised to the people of Wa for the incident.

Incident

Last Thursday, life and commercial activities in the central business unit (CBU) in Wa, the Upper West Regional capital, came to a halt for about an hour when some soldiers from the Hippo Barracks in Wa stormed the area, beating anybody they laid hands on.

They ruthlessly forced some of the passers by to lie down in the dirty drains and gutters, while whipping them in the process with belts, clubs and canes.

The incident forced the Regional Minister, Dr Hafiz Bin Salih, who was in Accra, to make an immediate return to Wa to convene a Regional Security Council (REGSEC) meeting yesterday, just before the arrival of the military high command. No arrest has been made.

A statement from the military yesterday said the unprofessional conduct occurred last Thursday at a time when the Commanding Officer of the soldiers, and the Chairman of REGSEC were both out of town on official engagements.

The Regional Police Public Relations Officer, Chief Inspector Gideon Boateng, told the Daily Graphic that investigations were ongoing and no arrest had been made yet.

Initial investigation by the police indicated that the soldiers were infuriated when one of them reported the loss of his mobile phone in a commercial tricycle he hired to the Barracks that morning.

This caused the soldiers to mobilise and march to town about three kilometres away to register their displeasure by visiting mayhem on everyone they saw in the streets.

Context

The incident comes almost immediately after a shooting incident at Ejura in the Ashanti Region where the military, in a bid to quell a youth protest, shot and killed two persons and injured four others.

The incident has been greeted with the strongest criticisms and a three-man committee has been named to probe the incident.

Parliament has also set up a three-man committee to visit Wa to investigate the incident and report back to the House

Punishment

At a meeting with the Wa Na, Maj Gen. Peprah gave an assurance that the incident was a serious dent on the established cordial relationship between the military and traditional authorities of the region and would, therefore, not be taken lightly.

He said with the threat of terrorism from the neighbouring Sahalian countries, the security services would need the assistance of the people to combat it, as such, it was important not to incur the displeasure of the civilian population.

Maj. Gen. Peprah further pleaded with the traditional authorities and opinion leaders of the region to forgive and forget, promising that they would ensure that such an incident did not recur.

Apology accepted

The Regional Minister, Dr Salih, also rendered apologies and gave an assurance that they would await the outcome of the investigation and consequently, the action from the Military High Command.

He, therefore, called for peace to prevail pending the outcome of the investigation.

The Wa Naa, on behalf of his council, accepted the apologies from the authorities, but asked that those injured should be appropriately compensated.

He also called on the Military High Command to ensure that the investigation was properly carried out to ensure that the culprits were duly punished.

Mayhem and victims

The masked and armed soldiers, numbering about 60, are said to have emerged from the entrance of the Hippo Barracks and walked towards the streets, with flagrant violation of traffic regulations amid whistling and singing.

Dr Hafiz Bin Salih (middle), the Upper West Regional Minister, and some members of the military delegation with one of the injured, Mr Mahama Gafaru, at the hospital

They stood at vantage points around the four-kilometre radius of the CBU and unleashed unprovoked mayhem on passers by, with many of the victims sustaining injuries. Some took to their heels, abandoning their luggage to avoid being molested.

Among the victims, who suffered varying degrees of injury, was the Public Relations Officer of the Regional Coordinating Council, Mr Cletus Awuni, who chanced upon the mayhem.

In an attempt to enquire from the soldiers the reason for their action, he was almost beaten to a pulp but released when the soldiers were informed that he worked for the Regional Coordinating Council.

Mr Awuni is said to have collapsed and was rushed to the Regional Hospital, where he regained consciousness.

The other victims, some of whom suffered broken legs and swollen faces, were also taken to the regional hospital.

Parliament

Meanwhile, the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Mr Joseph Osei-Owusu, has directed the Committee on Defence and Interior to proceed to Wa to investigate the brutality the military meted out to some residents of Wa last Thursday.

He charged the committee to collect and collate facts surrounding the incident and report to the House within four weeks.

The directive came after the Minority Leader, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, proposed to the Speaker to request the committee to act expeditiously and visit Wa to apprise themselves of the military brutality and the circumstances leading to the incident.

The Minority Leader told the House at the beginning of proceedings that there appeared to be a worrying development in the country which bordered on the safety and security of Ghanaian citizens, largely led by military.

Impunity must stop

Making reference to the loss of lives at Ejura, following the death of Ibrahim Kaaka Mohammed, Mr Iddrisu said the peaceful city of Wa was thrown into chaos when military men subjected some civilians to beatings after a civilian snatched a mobile phone from a man who was in mufti.

“You could see men of the Ghana Armed Forces beating and humiliating Ghanaian civilians; the rights and freedoms of those Ghanaians are guaranteed under the 1992 Constitution.

“Whatever grievances any member of the GAF has, we are a country governed by law and they cannot continue to take the law into their hands. We will not accept a statement of lawlessness in this country, led by men in uniform,” Mr Iddrisu said.

The Tamale South Member of Parliament reminded the military that “your uniform and your number of ammunitions will not contain a civilian rejection that enough is enough.”

Expressing worry about the alarming visibility of the military in society today, including their appearance in Parliament on January 7, 2020, Mr Iddrisu reminded the military that the “maintenance of law and order is the preserve of police.”

“Mr Speaker, the impunity must stop and I am raising this matter so that we will ensure that we can continue to coexist; the continued misconduct of a few of the military is undermining civil and public confidence in our Ghana Armed Forces who have a duty to protect us,” he said.

Majority Leader

Seconding the proposal, the Majority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, agreed with the Minority Leader that the Defence and Interior Committee undertook an investigation due to the exigency of the matter.

“Who knows that after the enquiry and investigations, the report we will receive from them perhaps will help to shape and control the activities of the military in such usual times.

“Mr Speaker, given the exigency of the time, I believe that we have to give the committee a limited time; I will propose that they should be given not more than two weeks for them to investigate and submit the report to us,” he said.

Defence Minister

Supporting the motion, the Defence Minister, Mr Dominic Nitiwul, said he would not “stand in the way” if Parliament decided to send a committee to go and investigate the incident to help reform the military.

He, however, informed the House that the military had already constituted a committee from the National Security, comprising personnel from the Defence Intelligence and another to go to Wa to establish whether there were other remote causes to the incident.

“Because it is simply not a military culture for officers to move to town and molest people,” he said, acknowledging other circumstances that caused the military to engage in similar situations under different happenings in the past.

Apology

“I still do not understand why that should have happened and I want the committee to investigate to the bottom of the matter and find out what really is the problem.

“This is because if we sweep matters under the carpet, it can create a bigger problem for us; so, Mr Speaker, I do not have a problem if you decide to set up a committee,” Mr Nitiwul said and gave an assurance that steps would be taken to pay for the medical bills of the victims.