By Emmanuel Mensah-Abludo.
On Ghana’s 61st Republic Anniversary (July 1, 2021), whilst we were commemorating a day which signifies the country’s “full” independence and self-determination status, some soldiers of the Ten Merchanised Battalion in Wa exuberantly but unwittingly chose to desecrate the day. They went to town indiscriminately molesting their civilian counterparts on the streets of Wa because they could not bear the pain of the loss of a colleague’s phone.
It is a pity that the attacks were unprovoked. Besides, it is heart-wrenching and unthinkable that soldiers will unleash terror on innocent citizens of the country they swore to defend to the hilt even at the peril of their lives. Have the soldiers forgotten the oath they took?
Why is it that the soldiers were able to cope with grueling endurance test(s) [physical, mental and emotional] during their training but could not manage phone-induced stress?
Proof of misconduct
Without the video recording, it would have been very difficult if not impossible for the people of Wa to prove that the soldiers unjustifiably molested them. It would have been the word of the people against that of “atrocious” soldiers. Thanks to improved technology, the burden of proof in the Wa molestation was not that laborious as social media came in handy. Imagine what would have happened in the George Floyd case in the US without video evidence.
The unprofessional conduct of the men in uniform attracted a couple of headlines: “Lawless” soldiers terrorise residents of Wa over lost phone; Wa: rampaging military officers beat, harass residents alleging a Camboo driver stole their phone; Uneasy calm in Wa following military brutality over missing phone; Wa Military Brutality: Senior Military officers visit Wa to investigate incident; Ghana Armed Forces vows to deal with officers involved in ‘Wa phone assault’.
As a result of the viral video on social media, the Military High Command made a quick assessment that the “boys” performed below the bar from the perspectives of right-thinking members of society. The Military High Command acted with dispatch, it did not hesitate in making a decision on the inappropriateness of the soldiers’ conduct nor went on the tangent of technicalities to say we need more evidence to take appropriate action. I doff my hat to the Military High Command for not activating any delay mechanism which would have eventually imploded. The speedy apology, to say the least, had a cathartic effect. The Statement from the PR Directorate which preceded the request for forgiveness equally calmed the nerves of the people at the receiving end of the military brutalities and all those affected in one way or the other.
Assurance from DPR
As stated supra, the Public Relations Directorate, General Headquarters, Burma Camp expeditiously issued a statement condemning the unprofessional conduct of the soldiers. The statement which was signed by the Director PR, Colonel E. Aggrey-Quarshie assured the people of Wa that their safety is/was paramount at all times.
Maj. Gen Peprah at Nayiri (Palace)
The Chief of Army Staff, Major General Thomas Oppong Peprah who led a delegation of Military High Command to Wa to render an apology to the overlord of Waala Traditional Area, Wa Naa, Naa Seidu Fuseini Pelpuo recalled the warm reception the people of Upper West accorded the military when it came for a training exercise on how to defend the country recently.
He Said: “In fact we were planning for a visit to come and thank the good people of this Region [Upper West] only for last night [1-7-2021] seeing some horrible events on social media, Facebook about some misguided soldiers taking the law into their own hands and going round and brutalizing people. The Military High Command immediately met and a decision was taken that early in the morning, first thing in the morning, as the Chief of the Army Staff responsible for land operations, must get on board an aircraft and fly over here [Wa] and come an render an unqualified apology to his Excellency, the Overload and the good people of this area. We have as you said, been living in harmony. It is rather unfortunate that soldiers who went for training and just passed out and reported only about four days ago, you start behaving this way.”
I want to assure you, his [your] Excellency that we are going to fish out today [2-7-2021] all those who were involved in this and exact the maximum punishment according to our Code of Service Discipline.”
Sentiments from Wa Naa
The Jinpenhi Naa and spokesperson of Wa Naa, Naa Ibrahim Kadri: “The atrocities meted out to innocent people in my Traditional Area following closely in [on] the heels of ghastly events at Ejura by those who are supposed to protect us are frightening and should be of concern to all peace-loving citizens of this country. Thursday, July 1, in Wa, a veritable beacon of peace in the country was suddenly thrown in a state of panic as rampaging men in uniform pounced on unarmed and unsuspecting civilians pummeled some into pulp. The act was as dastardly as it was unacceptable and anyone within the operational zone of the men we pay to protect us could have fallen victim to their senseless bestial brutalities.”
“The Public Relations Officer of the Upper West Regional Coordinating Council, [Cletus Awuni] who was passing through the “war zone” in his car was forced out of it and given the beatings of his life,” Naa Kadri narrated.
From the psychological point of view, one may understand the frustration of the soldiers in connection with a colleague losing a phone to a “common civilian” as non-uniformed citizens are referred to in some quarters but their action (attack) is not appropriate and cannot be countenanced in any progressive society.
Esprit de corps
One can arguably say that the soldiers were exercising esprit de corps with their colleague who lost his phone. Because they were doing the wrong thing on the back of “esprit de corps” [a good principle], their unacceptable action had poisoned and therefore negated the good principle they were upholding, hence a lot of flak from all angles. Tons of congratulations would have gone the way of the young soldiers if they had exhibited esprit de corps in an acceptable way. It is common knowledge that esprit de corps must be intact in difficult times, but this phone missing/stealing saga, in my humble estimation did/does not qualify as a difficult time.
In the Army, “esprit de corps” is one of the five essential characteristics (Trust, Military Expertise, Honorable Service, Esprit de Corps, and Stewardship of the Profession) present [required] to ensure an effective, ethical, and trusted military profession.
Trust is paramount
The indiscretion exercised by the soldiers in Wa really bruised the “Trust” which is the bedrock upon which the military develops its relationship with its internal and external publics and it is a key element in each of the other characteristics. The military knows pretty well and it must be reminded that without trust, the military cannot succeed in discharging its professional duties to the state/citizenry.
Civil-Military Relations (CMR)
With the inception of the 4th Republic of Ghana on 7th January 1993, successive military authorities have tried to foster cordial interactions between civilians and the military aimed at building confidence and restoring trust. The excesses of military administrations and acts of violence visited on some civilians during military regimes had created disconnect hence efforts to mend bridges via civil-military engagements. The institution of military open day formed part of efforts to create the needed ‘rapprochement’ or a harmonious relationship. The indiscretion on the part of the young soldiers in Wa coming on the heels of the shooting incident in Ejura by the military has sort of put a damper on the gains the military had made in reaching out to civilian population via CMR over the years.
Against this background, it is troubling to see security personnel brutalizing their civilian compatriots. It is an unpardonable sin!
The rights of the offending soldiers
The commendation for the Military High Command is not in any way discounting or suggesting that the principle of “Audi alteram partem” (listen(ing) to the other side) be done away with. The young soldiers should be taken through due process per the Code of Service Discipline and Offences.
Code of service discipline-A probable defensive move
We cannot tell, but the soldiers could say or claim in their defence that the video of their “interaction” with the people was doctored or spliced. Better still, the video did not tell the full story. “It is better to die fighting than to die on your knees.” – Emiliano Zapata
Compensation for victims
The Member of Parliament for Wa Central, Rashid Hassan Pelpuo was not happy about the abuse of innocent citizens by the soldiers and observed that “the military at a point went mad”. Mr Pelpuo insisted that those who sustained injuries should report to the police and seek medical attention. He stressed the necessity for compensation to the victims of the military brutalities.
Meanwhile, the First Deputy Speaker, Joseph Osei-Owusu has directed the Committee on Defence and Interior to visit Wa and investigate the military brutalities there and report to the House within four weeks. The directive came on the heels of the concerns raised by the Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu in connection with the molestation of civilians in Wa on Thursday, 1st July 2021. He emphasized that the impunity must stop. The Majority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu was equally in support of the call for a Parliamentary investigation pointed out that it will be in tandem with Article 103 of the 1992 Constitution.
Among the security services, the military is one of the most respected but this unprofessional conduct of a few has left a sour taste in the mouth of the people of the Upper West Regional capital, Wa. Some of the residents were shell shocked and traumatised because they have not witnessed such terrifying scene before.
Though the incident is regrettable, it will offer us the opportunity for the soldiers who took part in the reprehensible act to be dealt with appropriately in the purview of Ghana Armed Forces’ internal disciplinary procedures. Other security agencies/personnel should take cue from the unfortunate event in Wa and be guided in their interactions with the civilian population.