By Bernice Bessey .
The Director of Operations at the National Security Secretariat, Colonel Michael Opoku, has justified why civilian security operatives under his Secretariat wore masks on the day of the Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency by-election.
He told the Justice Emile Short Commission on Wednesday, February 20, 2019, when he appeared before it that what Ghanaians witnessed was a normal thing – for the security operatives to wear masks to keep their identities secret.
The following is how Colonel was grilled by the Commission to solicit information on happenings on the day of the by-election:
Lawyer: Sir, how many units do you have under your Secretariat?
Col: My lord, if you can explain what you mean by units.
Lawyer: For instance, those of us outside know some people calling themselves National Security personnel. We also have recently come to know another group called the SWAT Group or Unit. So I am referring to such groupings.
Col. My lord, the Ministry has departments. We have the Operations Department, Finance and Administration, External Affairs Department, General Services Department, Legal Department and Internal Affairs Department.
Lawyer: Which of these departments, do you head?
Col: I head the Operations Department.
Lawyer: Very well sir. So let us deal with the Operations Department. How many operatives do you have?
Col: As I stated earlier, I have the Operations Room as one of the units. I have the Interventions or Human Security Unit, and I supervise the National Police SWAT as one of the units.
Lawyer: So then putting all these units together, how many men do you have?
Col: My lord, I can’t answer how many men or manpower for the purposes of National Security.
Lawyer: Colonel, you’re aware that on the 31 of January 2019, there was an election at the Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency, are you aware?
Col: Yes, my lord.
Lawyer: Did you, in person as Colonel Opoku, play any role in the security arrangements for the by-election?
Col: My lord, I will say I supported the Ministry of Interior in the by-election.
Lawyer: Colonel, how did you carry out the security support?
Col: My lord, on the 17th of January this year, I was invited to the Ministry of Interior and I had a meeting at the office of the Deputy Interior Minister. We had the Director General of Operations, Ghana Police, DCOP Mensah, we also had the Comptroller General of Ghana Immigration, Mr Takyi, and was chaired by the Deputy Minister for Interior, Hon. Henry Quartey.
At the meeting, I was requested to support the Ministry of Interior with two things. First one was to provide a communication backup to the election task force; it was headed by DCOP George Mensah. The second request was to provide a place for them at Abelemkpe. It is within the Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency, as their taskforce headquarters. And, after that meeting we went to greet the Minister, Hon Ambrose Dery, and he encouraged us to do our best to ensure a successful by-election, and that the National Security should give them the needed support.
On 24 January, I was called again. This time, to come and brief them on their request they have made to the Ministry of National Security. At this meeting, we had the Director General Police Operations, Comptroller General of Immigration, the Regional Police Commander, Mr George Mensah, then Chief Superintendent Kwasi Fori, the Regional Operations Officer.
As part of my brief for them, I made them aware that the office is ready for them to use as their taskforce headquarters.
Lawyer: Now, these two duties you were given at the meeting on the 17th January, did you carry them out?
Col: Yes, my lord. I have the communication network security form that I can tender in evidence. First, the National Security was to provide their communication support, and with their second request, they requested that on 31st morning they will have their communications set, the one which is known as Gota.
Lawyer: Colonel, these your support services on the day itself, I am referring to 31st January, 2019, did you find yourself anywhere near the Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency?
Col: Yes, my lord.
Lawyer: And what took you there?
Col: My lord, as normally in general elections, National Security is not actively involved in the taskforce, but we provided some support, probably to such operations. For some time now, we have been monitoring the movement of weapons in the country. On the 30th, we had a lot of information that people have moved from Tamale and Kumasi to join their counterparts in Ayawaso Wuogon in the Greater Accra Region here.
And most of these people were all carrying weapons on them. Late in the evening on 30th, my SWAT Commander, who has been here before, DSP Azugu, came and reported to me that he has had information that some of these people we have been monitoring have come from the north and Kumasi.
They were moving into a house close to La Bawaleshie with weapons. All weapons we assumed carry some ammo in them. I took his information and asked him to standby the SWAT team, which is made up of police personnel, and their total number is 36 or 35. And we needed more than that number. I have lots of operatives working within the system. If you need it, I will provide it in camera; their deployment within the system.
Among the operatives, I have trained about 100 of them. They normally assist the SWAT team. They are not SWAT members, as they are always referred to. They are operatives who work with the SWAT team. So my DSP, after doing his assessment, came back and said he will need about 60 men. The SWAT is only 35 and 36 men, and I will need to support him with operatives. So we decided that we will use 25 of his police SWAT members, and we will argument the strength with 35 National Security operatives.
So, in total, we had 60 members on the team, which was also made up national…, national police SWAT personnel on posting to national security and 35 operatives. I issued him with an operational order to standby to conduct confidence patrol and be prepared for any other task, because, as at that time, we were still doing surveillance on the people who had come down to Accra.
The operational order was issued to them and they were released, and by 3am on 31st January we assembled at the Emergency Command Centre with the 60 men. We had 10 vehicles, out of the 10 the police SWAT team provided three vehicles, including the Hunter (that vehicle in the videos that we see is called the Hunter). And I added 7 operational vehicles for my team.
By 05:30am we were all at Abelemkpe, the National Security personnel were at the constituencies with the taskforce. By 6:45 in the morning, my SWAT Commander came to me and said they were going on confidence patrol. The essence was to make those who had come from Kumasi to Ayawaso know that we were ready to protect people in the constituency and nobody should take the security for granted.
We had them deployed all around and even the… asked that he should put more emphasis as we go on patrol as I continued … who were monitoring. Actually there were places where we were monitoring. I want to put on record. The house in question was one, second place was El King Hotel where the NPP was using as their operational centre, and there is a place around Okponglo; I think skills training centre or so. That was the third place we were doing lot of surveillance.
On that particular day, I think around 8:47, I had a call from somebody, not from my SWAT team, that there was firing around La Bawaleshie. So I tried contacting the Commander of the team that went, that is the patrol team -DSP Azugu. I think he was also engaged on the line, it took me time, but finally I had him. And asked him what was happening and he said oooh, there have been some problems and that he is taking them (suspects) to the police station.
So I asked him where are you taking them because you have not really informed me about this incident, but he should call DCOP George Mensah, who is the head of the taskforce team, to tell him where he should take those arrested to. And I asked about the number of casualties, and he told me there were nine men who were arrested. As to the state of their casualties, he couldn’t tell me. He only said nine men who were arrested.
Subsequently, my Honourable Ken Dapaah called me to find out what was happening at the by-election area, and told him I have had information that there was some firing there, some suspects have been arrested and I will get the full details and let him know. Within some minutes, the Minister of State for National Security also called trying to find out what was happening. I gave him the same information that there’s a problem at La Bawaleshie Primary School, but the full details are not yet in my hand and when I get it, I will let them know. I think when DSP Azugu handed the suspects to the East Legon Police Station, where, he said, he was directed by DCOP George Mensah to send them. He now gave me some brief on what has happened.
So I have to call my Minister to brief him and the Minister of State to tell them about what the DSP has given me on the occurrence of 31st. The patrol, I think, reported back to my location around 9:30-9:40. Then in the evening we drove to …and made our report as requested after every operation.
Lawyer: Now, from your narrations so far, you personally were not in the constituency?
Col: My lord, the Abelemkpe yard is part of the constituency.
Lawyer: Now you have mentioned that in two separate meetings the security arrangements for the constituency election. First one was you were given specific duties, and the second one you were to assure them that you have carried them out, is that not it?
Col: Yes, my lord.
Lawyer: At none of them; none of these meetings were you asked to bring your men to the constituency, am I right?
Col: No, my lord.
Lawyer: Very well. Now you have told the Commission that you do support various elections, am I right?
Col: Yes, my lord.
Lawyer: and that on the day, you and your men decided to provide surveillance support, am I right?
Lawyer: There are reports of some men who were in black T-shirts at various polling stations, who claimed to be National Security operatives, are they your men as well?
Lawyer: Did the police know about their presence?
Col: I am not sure.
Lawyer: As the man in charge of operations, now we know your men. Who deployed them there?
Lawyer: Who deployed them?
Col: I did.
Lawyer: You did?
Col: My men? Yes, I did.
Lawyer: When I asked you whether the police knew they were there, you said weren’t sure (Col: I won’t know). Whose duty would it be to inform the police what the National Security operatives are going to do the various polling stations?
Col: They were at the polling stations as part of their operations. They were monitoring and providing surveillance. (Lawyer: And yet they were in uniform); they were in T-shirts; not all, very few, most of them were in mufti. Most of the people at the polling stations were in mufti.
Lawyer: But you do agree with me that there some who were in T-shirts as National Security, am I right?
Col: The NSC people in T-shirts were part of the team that was released for the patrols.
Lawyer: Now, before then, you had meetings with a committee, and these members were supposed to be in charge of the taskforce? You didn’t see the prudence to inform them that at least you will provide surveillance, am I right?
Col: My lord, I must state that it was not only I who was providing surveillance. I know that the BNI was there, and other agencies were also there, including GIS. Such things, we normally don’t inform other agencies… mainly on the need to know or need to share, there was no need to share this information.
Lawyer: So then you wouldn’t be surprised if I tell you that the Director General of Operations of the Ghana Police has been here, sat exactly where you are sitting, and said he didn’t know the presence of you men who were in the constituency. What is your answer?
Col: I wouldn’t.
Lawyer: You wouldn’t also be surprised, if I should tell you the Regional Commander of this region has been here, and also states he didn’t know of your presence?
Col: My lord, as I said, our presence in the form of patrols or those who were doing…(lawyer: I will come to the patrols), alright.
Lawyer: men stationed at polling stations were NSC..?
Col: My lord, as I have said most of the men at the polling stations who covered the operations were in mufti, they were not in that attire.
Lawyer: You do agree with me that some of them were?
Col: It could have been my lord.
Lawyer: Is it the case or it could have been?
Col: I know that those who were asked to wear black T-shirts were supposed to be part of the patrol team.
L: If they’re supposed to be doing or carrying out what covet operations, is it proper to go to such sites with T-shirts embossed with a name?
Col: My lord, as I have said, the embossment… those who have NSC are for the patrol team.
L: Sir, I am not on the patrol team, we will come there. Do be in a rush (Col, I am not my lord). Let talk about those stationed at the various polling stations for now. When we get to the patrols I will let you know. So they were supposed to be at the polling stations, and they were supposed to be providing surveillance?
Col: Yes my lord.
L: And yet, not all of them, but some of them, were wearing T-shirts that readily gave them out, yes or no?
Col: My lord it is possible.
L: Now, there’s a belief among a cross section of Ghanaians that the presence of your men, which was obvious, was intimidating and that was the biggest concern, what do you have to say?
Col: No my lord.
L: If you say no my lord, what are you saying?
Col: The purpose was to provide the necessary surveillance.
L: Colonel, is it part of our everyday life that we see that the National Security operatives around so conspicuously?
Col: My lord, as I have said, most of the people who were doing surveillance were in normal civil attire.
L: Now, let come to the taskforce; before I have a video I would want you to watch.
Col: Yes, my lord.
L: And whilst the video is being prepared, tell the commission of these civilian operatives who were part of the taskforce. Are they trained?
Col: Yes, my lord.
L: To do what?
Col: They are trained to do patrols; they are trained to guard and assess control areas, and they are trained to give protection to others.
L: Are they trained to handle weapons?
Col: No my lord and they were not issued weapons on that day.
L: Are they trained in crowd control for instance?
Col: No my lord.
L: Have they received training as to how to handle pressure on the ground?
Col: Yes my lord, that’s why they normally work under the police officers.
L: Now, first thing is with the numbers. According to you, you have either 35 or 36 police operatives, which one will that be, 35 or 36?
Col: Their total strength, I think it was 36. They were 36, but one has been posted out, so I think they should be 35 now.
L: Now, you call for such an important operation and you decided to use out of 35 or 36 police, you decided to use 25 trained police officers, but fail, I mean people trained… crowd control, pressure managerial… you didn’t but added 35 civilian operatives. Who, according to you, they are only trained to provide surveillance
Col: Yes, my lord, and this is not the first time that we have deployed the SWAT team with the operatives. If you will recall, there was a serious armed robbery at the Afram Plains. The SWAT team, together with the operatives and National Police Operations Department, were deployed in the Afram Plains. They did a lot of arrests; they were able to bring the armed robbery down. We have deployed these combined teams on several occasions, and they have achieved good results for the state.
L: Sir, from your narration of the day, you have enough police operatives, about 35, same number as the civilian operatives you were using. What informed your decision instead of using more well trained police officers, you use less and rather used more civilian operatives. What informed that decision?
Col: Yes, my lord, the police are actually deployed on other duties; they are providing some guard duties for some VIPs. So the number 35, you will never get 35. Actually, as for the 35, I am sure that they were about 28. And we were to keep some of the policemen at the unit at the armoury there. We have the armoury at the SWAT office and we always leave them to be guarding the place.
L: Now, you indicated to the Commission that, that operation you prepared for from the operation manual, am I right?
Col: Yes, my lord.
L: Have you caught a copy of that here?
Col: My lord, I think you requested for it from the DSP, that is why I didn’t bring a copy, so I know that he tendered it. I can get it for you as soon as it is ready (lawyer, how soon?). Maybe today; I even expect that by this time it should be at the Secretariat.
A video of the Ayawaso violence was played for him to testify of the events on the scene,
L: Have you seen it?
Col: I have seen it, but not in this sequence my lord. The previous ones I watched, you can watch it again and again, the immigration officer was moving when, I think, Hon Sam George was slapped. In this situation, the reporter said a different thing all together. My lord, I said I have watched this video on my phone before, and this video doesn’t follow the sequence of events as we all knew it on the first day. If anybody can get the first day’s video, you will see this one is a doctored video.
The immigration officer that we saw moving away, moved when Sam George was being slapped, and you could see that he was moving away, and don’t what to an evidence of what am describing and in the video now, we are seeing a different thing, it is a different narration. Whether those things happened before they went into the house, from the video it was in the opposite way. This video, I don’t think is the true reflection of whatever happened there. And this is what our press must be very cautious in doing, because the first footage I watched from the office at Abelemkpe reported that two people had died. And they quoted a Joy FM reporter, and I think we can get that person to confirm it. I think if we can see the original video, the Joy FM reporter had reported that two people have died. I had to do a lot of checks before I could even report to my Minister, because he was insisting that the report is that two people have died. Maybe this video is meant for some purpose and not meant to be used by this commission. It is a well doctored video that we have all watched.
L: Very well, now what I want to know from you is whether or not the men seen in the video are members of the SWAT team?
Col: Yes my lord. The men I saw are part of the SWAT and the operatives from the patrol team.
L: Very well. Now the video, which are pieces of videos joined together, so I can imagine the sort of sequence that you are saying. You can see two differently dressed personnel, one in black top and khaki trousers, and the other a brown vest and brown desert boots, which one are the civilian operatives and police SWAT team?
Col. My lord, as the DSP in charge of the team said the other time, the attire that was required of them was black top with either blue jeans or their training trousers, which is the brown one. All those in brown and black, I think except one policeman who was in black, the rest of them were in mufti, others were wearing brown trousers and black tops, there was this particular person who said this the beginning of 2020…
L: What you are telling the Commission is that on the day, not only your men were found in black tops and khaki trousers?
Col: Yes, my lord.
L: You can identify your men?
Col: Yes my lord
L: Some were in khaki trousers (Col: yes) and black tops (Col: Yes my lord)?
Col: You requested for the names of the 35 and we are providing it, (L: How soon?) You requested it from the DSP…?
L: Now we saw some men also in masks, (Col: Yes, my lord) are they also your men?
L: And they aided the police operators and the civilian operators, am I right?
C: Yes my lord.
L: These men, according to you, have the first duty of building confidence, am I right?
C: Confidence patrol team.
L: Colonel, as it stands, what does confidence patrol mean?
C: My lord, the essence of that patrol was to let the people who are in the constituency know that the security forces were to ensure that no vigilante group, as we have known them to be, could disturb the election on that day. So we were rather giving confidence to the populace to ensure that we come and do what we are supposed to do.
L: Confidence patrol! Are you sure that will give the need assurance to the electorates?
C: Yes, my lord. I think the mask, like my DSP said, it was not for the mosquito bites, it was just a joke that he made, but we are normally masked to ensure that our operatives are not seen. Operatives live within the communities. You will see a policeman even masked, it means that the policeman lives in the community, and normally those who live within, or who are likely to be seen and their cover will be blown, are masked.