By Dr. Nana Sifa Twum, Media and Communications Consultant
The mass outcry against the wanton and inhumane molestation of the people of Ashaiman by scores of military personnel has brought to the fore the urgent need for a second look at the role of all the security agencies in relation to the kind of democracy we are practising as a country. The neighborhood of Taifa in the Ashaiman was last Tuesday dawn forced into a self-imposed curfew after some soldiers reportedly stormed the area, following the alleged stabbing to death of a soldier by unknown persons.
He was a member of the Ghana Armed Forces Band at Sunyani, in the Bono region. According to sources, he was in Accra on a course and had been visiting his parents in their home at Ashaiman every Friday. Pictures from the incident showed the lifeless body of the victim, who was in what seemed to be torn trousers in military camouflage. The pictures revealed his military cap and a white cloth had been used to cover his face. Also, his bag in camouflage colours was lying close to his body. This murder, for whatever reason, is unacceptable and must be condemned in no uncertain terms. The reaction of the military to the murder was rather a cause for concern.
Unleashing military brutality is becoming one too many of late. A rundown of few will buttress this assertion. In July 2021, some soldiers were captured on video brutalising innocent civilians on the streets of Wa without any provocation. The rampage, which was allegedly motivated by a missing phone of one of the soldiers, was captured on video that went viral. Some few years back, there was a report of pandemonium at the Tamale airport when about 20 heavily built soldiers from the air force base descended on personnel of the Aviation Security and beat them to pulp for reasons yet to be uncovered.
Residents in Tamale Metropolis were reported to have been living in fear as angry soldiers stormed the town in what appeared to be a reprisal attack on their colleague, who was arrested by the police for allegedly assaulting his wife. The angry soldiers were said to have unleashed violence and brutality on police personnel at various duty posts in the metropolis, leaving residents in a state of shock and resulting in seven police officers getting injured as a result.
In December 2019, nine soldiers from the Bawa Barracks in Tamale, according to media reports, stormed a busy bus terminal, popularly called “Bus Stop” in Tamale at about 7 p.m. and launched a sporadic attack, targeting Savelugu taxi drivers, after a misunderstanding earlier in the day with a soldier. In June 2010, soldiers from the 4th Garrison in Kumasi went on a rampage, brutalizing more than a dozen policemen at various duty posts in the Kumasi metropolis and leaving three of them unconscious. In their two-day assault, the soldiers also vandalized property at some police stations and caused some policemen to flee their duty posts. This series of military rampages has obviously become one too many. Whatever the cause or “motivation,” it is not justifiable.” The military brutality at Ashaiman was dehumanizing, condemnable, and unacceptable”.
The Commissioner for Human Rights and Administrative Justice, Joseph Whittal, has condemned the act of military action at Ashaiman and said the exercise does not pass the test for an intelligence-led operation, adding that the military acted wrongly. Indeed, the action by the military at Ashaiman, like all others, has been widely condemned by well-meaning civilians. This brings to light the question of civilian-military relations in the country, which have not been worked on properly. It refers broadly to interactions between the armed forces as an institution and sectors of the society in which they are embedded.
The relationship between the army and civilians in the country must be worked on vigorously to ensure a better understanding and appreciation of each other’s role and importance. The truth of the matter is, there would not be a need for the military if there were no civilians. Soldiers must therefore learn to tolerate civilians, no matter what. The soldier is trained to protect and not to brutalize civilians. Their mission and vision may not make sense when they decide to provide territorial or international protection to the same civilians they molest and brutalize at some point in their home country.
The old and popular slogan “Work together with Soldiers as one Army, one team, one fight,” makes sense to the reason the military must see civilians as friends. After all, the civilian also supports the army in times of war and peace. They help improve the readiness of the force. Preserve continuity and provide essential support to the Army’s mission. By and large, tolerance on the part of the military is key, taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of the military and civilians in keeping law and order and also in arresting perpetrators of crimes, as the Police have done now with the arrest of six suspects linked to the killing of the late soldier.