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AWW Commission: How did EC boss miss the obvious?

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It is two months after the shameful Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election incident. Within this space, a number of things have happened; notably, the NPP, NDC blame game, the AWW Commission of Inquiry and a seeming political will by key political actors to disband political vigilantism. We should resolve never to descend so low again in our quest to exercise our choice of who leads us.

Among all the things that have happened since the incident, the AWW Commission of Inquiry and the testimonies for me is the biggest. Perhaps, because I attended every single day of the hearings.

“He is the only one who has been consistent with his facts so far”, I tweeted as MP for Ningo Prampram, Samuel Nartey George gave his testimony at the Justice Emile Short Commission of Inquiry which investigated the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election violence.

As a reporter who covered the elections, including the chaos at Bawaleshie, I couldn’t help but cringe a number of times, listening to the testimonies from both the ‘big and small’ who appeared before the commission.

It appeared a number of the witnesses had agreed on what to let the commission and the public know, but were not even consistent with their half-truths, of course, except Sam George who seemed to remember everything, including his exact quotes on the day.

Before Sam George would appear before the commission, there had been a different narration of events from different people, including those who were not present at the crime scene. Each one narrated what he had been told had happened, and not what exactly had happened.

Sam George displays bullet casings he got some people to pick from the crime scene
But Sam George seemed to be different. He came prepared and told his version with such consistency. it almost appeared like that was the honest truth. He painted a vivid picture with his story, he almost swayed everyone, until the woman I would later name my “Star Commissioner,” Professor Henrietta Mensah-Bonsu began her cross-examination.

But let me tell you about my biggest disappointments listening to the witnesses recount their own version of what happened on that 31st January 2019 day and the thoughts that ran through my mind.

The Electoral Commission and its Head

It was clear the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, Jean Mensa was nowhere near the scene on the day of the election. And I cannot fault her. This was only a by-election whose organization was spearheaded by the Greater Accra Regional EC office. No wonder I caught her several times conferring with the Regional EC boss, before answering questions posed to her by the commission’s lawyer. And I am not even sure anybody expects the EC boss to be on the ground monitoring events herself.

I never saw Afari Gyan or Charlotte Osei on the field on an election day monitoring voting during their tenure, therefore Jean Mensa was not expected to be at the constituency on that day either. But to say I was hurt when she told the commission the shootings happened near a polling station, and that no shots were fired at the polling station, would be an understatement. This was an untruth the political players (notably NPP and people related to them) had told from the day the incident happened.

The politicians almost always twist stories to favour themselves, but what does an Electoral Commission gain if it tells the world there were no shots at a polling station when that wasn’t the case?

When the first gunshots went off at the La Bawaleshie Presby Basic School, journalists, observers and everyone took flight, including EC officials who abandoned the ballot boxes and papers. I found myself in the Staff Common Room, from where I filed my first radio report while peeping at events through the louvre blades.

While reporting live on air, listeners could hear sounds of gunshots from the background. I turned later to see an official of the EC who I had interacted with earlier, also hiding inside the room. I made a funny comment, about their running and leaving the voting materials behind, to which we all laughed.

It, therefore, came as a surprise to hear the EC say no shooting happened at any of the polling stations, when in fact its own officers could have been killed in the melee by ‘stray’ bullets.

It makes me wonder whether the EC officials at the polling station (who also ran for cover) failed to state what happened in their report, or the EC in an attempt to pass the by-election off as a peaceful one, expunged that incident from its report?

The EC, no wonder denied a less serious incident, captured by officials of the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers, CODEO.

CODEO’s report had said there was an altercation between a police officer and a national security operative at another polling station, which halted the process temporarily. The EC vehemently denied this. And when its head appeared at the Commission, she re-echoed this denial. But if the EC could close its eyes to bigger happenings like a shooting incident at a polling station, how did we expect it to concede a less serious incident?

How did Madam Jean Mensa miss this? I wonder how she felt when witness after witness later came to testify corroborating earlier reports of gunshots at the La Bawaleshie polling station. It will be interesting to know what discussions she held with her officers after it became apparent to many followers of the public hearings that her version was not accurate. Did she reprimand them for not painting the full picture to her in her brief or it was deliberate to deny the obvious? How she missed it baffles me.

On vigilantism and tackling it.

It was obvious from the first person to appear, that the commission was worried about the activities of political vigilantism or militia groups as it chose to call it. Almost every person, who appeared, depending on his position, was asked either what they were doing to end the threat or what they thought about it. It was apparent from the responses from the Interior and the National Security Ministers that there was no clear strategy (as of the time) to end the unlawful activities of political vigilantes.

Ambrose Dery told the world that the police had mapped out a strategy and would be coming out “in the coming days” with specific measures to crack down on such groups. However, he stopped short of saying what these strategies were.

Immediately after him, was the National Security Minister, Albert Kan Dapaah who admitted that that kind of lawlessness was one of the things that kept him awake at night. Well, if political vigilantism was such a big deal to our National Security Minister, then he must have been doing something about it. No?

His response to what his outfit was doing?

“The president has given specific instructions to the IGP on this matter. I have given similar instructions to the security and intelligence agencies that I control.”

The Minister in charge of national security expects the police to adhere to these instructions, but what has the police done exactly?

The “coming days” have come and gone. What strategies has his outfit rolled out, except the IGP, joining the rest of us to lament some more about the problem he is paid to solve?

The ‘outsider’ victims

Few days into the hearings, I felt the commission was spending too much time on persons who were not at the crime scene. Apart from Sam George and a few other police officers, we had not heard from victims, neither had we heard from the scary-looking masked men in black. But this would change in the days to follow.

Victims of the violence appeared and told stories of how they had gone to the constituency to observe the election or provide food and water to party people and everyone, only to leave with gunshot wounds and other injuries. Forget the fact that almost all of them were not coherent and consistent with their narrations.

All of the victims, except one, did not live within the constituency and had no business being there had it not been for the fact that they belong to the NDC. In effect, if they had minded their own business on that day, they would not have been caught in the web.

One of them, Yaro Ishau, who winced in pain and failed terribly to control his tears that last day of the commission’s public hearing, when he was wheeled into the 37 Military Hospital conference room for his testimony, for me, captured why exactly we must not encourage political violence. The doctors were still working hard almost a month after the incident to remove the bullet from his leg. They contemplated amputating the leg, and he is a professional footballer! As I sat close to him in that conference room, I thought deeply about what we can do to make our experiment with democracy violence free.

Even though he had given his testimony (in Hausa) through an interpreter, Yaro chose to say his final words in English, perhaps to appeal to all Ghanaians and especially, the president. His emotionally-filled final words were a call for justice;

“I have [a] family, wife and children. Now my business is not going on well. How do I care for my family now? As this committee completes sitting, justice must be done. I mean, I want justice. My doctors are doing very well but I am having sleepiness nights. I used to cry like a baby because I went to support my candidate. Someone who is outside enjoying just destroyed my life. I am thinking of my mum, dad and other sisters I used to support. I am begging this commission that justice must be done.”

This time, I watched him from a corner of the fully-filled room. As he struggled to push out words and not tears, I struggled with what to feel for him; to sympathize or to just be indifferent.

The Vice President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia couldn’t have put it any better a few days after the commission rounded up its work.

“When these politicians come to you, ask them why they are not using their own children to do what they’re asking you to do,” he said at the 51st-anniversary celebration of the birth of Prophet Muhammad in Kumasi.

If only the intended recipients of this message will pay heed. We will not need countless letters and replies between the NDC and the NPP to uproot the evil works of political vigilantes.

Finally…

The Emile Short Commission did such a brilliant job unravelling the mystery behind the masked men and more even the NDC which had earlier complained about “its biased composition” was forced to commend its balanced work. Undoubtedly, everyone was left satisfied.

Nonetheless, it remains to be seen what becomes of their recommendations, and if Ishau and the many other victims, demanding justice will indeed be served.

 

By: Eugenia Tenkorang

The author is a broadcast journalist with Citi FM/Citi TV

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