The Military Must Bow Their Heads In Shame And Account For Every Bullet Discharged In Ejura. But The President Must First Lead The Way.
I woke up on Tuesday to disturbing news of the killing of two civilians by soldiers who were dispatched to help calm tensions and control violence by the youth of Ejura. A violent demonstration had been occasioned by the brutal murder of one Ibrahim Muhammed alias “Kaaka”, a supposed social media activist who is well known for his activism. My focus here is not to speak on the death of Kaaka which is still under investigation but to attempt a diagnosis of the actions of the Ghana Military which resulted in the death of two others.
The Military according to reports were invited to restore law and order after the police allegedly failed to bring the crowd under control. The videos I have seen on social media and elsewhere show Military officials shooting sporadically into the crowd after disembarking from their vehicles. In fact, one Military officer is captured on tape kneeling and aiming for a shot. The footage also showed the angry youth retreating and running for their lives amid the throwing of stones on seeing the Military.
This however did not prevent the uniformed soldiers from shooting live bullets into the crowd and in the process killing two and injuring many others. My first instinct was to question why the Military will fire live bullets into a crowd of demonstrators who were not only agitating but justifiably angry over the gruesome murder of their colleague. My initial response was that perhaps someone within the demonstrators had fired a gun. That was the only rational excuse that came to mind because I could not think of any other compelling reason why trained Military officers will decide to fire live ammunition to kill in such a large crowd. But guess what, the police are yet to provide any evidence of a counter gunshot or injury to any of their officers. They have also not arrested any of the demonstrators for obstruction or destruction of property.
One of the biggest demonstrations of the 21st century happened in America after the killing of George Floyd. His murder sparked worldwide agitation and anger. The protests also triggered civic unrest in America at a scale not seen since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr in 1968. Protesters burned a police precinct in Minneapolis, torched cop cars in Los Angeles and Atlanta, and dodged plumes of tear gas from Tulsa, Okla., to Madison. The National Guard was subsequently activated in at least 28 states, and dozens of cities had imposed curfews to quell looting, arson, and spasms of violence. Militarized police surged cruisers into crowds, fired rubber bullets at reporters, and beat citizens who were peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights. Even so, there was no reported case of Military officials shooting live bullets to kill any demonstrator. So how does a small community in Ejura instigate so much violence and anarchy that neither the Ashanti regional Police nor the Military is able to calm tensions down without firing live bullets?
As a country, we have sat aloof and watched the police kill alleged armed robbers and beat innocent citizens under the guise of “resisting arrest” and applying minimum force and no one takes responsibility or is held accountable for their actions, while the culture of impunity has grown so spectacularly over the years.
In monitoring the trial and verdict of George Floyd which attracted more attention than almost any other criminal proceeding in decades, it was clear that not only did the prosecution focus on the actions of the police that led to his death but also how the process leading to his death affected bystanders and how police policies are applied. For instance, the Minneapolis Police Chief in his testimony stated that Derek Chauvin should have halted his use of force to restrain George Floyd after he had stopped resisting and was in handcuffs. The prosecution went further to interview a force Expert who told the jurors that Mr. Chauvin should have stopped using force once Mr. Floyd was restrained.
The force expert told the jurors that Mr. Chauvin may have been justified in using some force, like a Taser, earlier in the arrest, when Mr. Floyd resisted arrest. But once he was on the ground, the force should have stopped, further reinforcing the claim by prosecutors that Mr. Chauvin’s force was excessive. This is America, the bastion of democracy learning from its past and history.
In looking back, my attention was drawn to 0ne of the most bizarre incidents that could possibly be likened to the Ejura killings. It happened as far back as 1970 in American when members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators killing four and wounding nine Kent students. The impact of the shootings was dramatic. The event sparked a nationwide student strike that forced hundreds of colleges and universities to close.
The President Nixon Commission that was set up to investigate the shootings, as well as campus violence, established that the Guardsmen’s “indiscriminate shooting” was unnecessary, “unwarranted and inexcusable” but that violent and criminal actions” by the demonstrators contributed to the tragedy. The report also adamantly cautioned against the use of loaded rifles in confronting student demonstrators.
The Guardsmen who were indicted were not charged by the grand jury because in their view they had found out that the Guardsmen, “fired their weapons in the honest and sincere belief…that they would suffer serious bodily injury had they not done so.” In their testimony, they said although they had fired tear gas canisters into the crowd, they felt the demonstrators were advancing on them in such a way as to pose a serious and immediate threat to their safety and they, therefore, had to fire in self-defense.
A separate investigation conducted by Peter Davies, a private investigation firm came to a different conclusion after reviewing photographic evidence and testimony. According to their findings between eight and ten of the Guardsmen had planned to shoot at the students with the intention of killing or injuring them and that the Guardsmen had shot instinctively in response to premeditated firing by the smaller group. This was further supported by the release of an audiotape, found by one of the wounded students that allegedly captured the command to fire. Eventually, compensation was reached, and the Guardsmen issued a statement apologizing for the events that occurred leading to the death of the students. But this was as far back as the 1970s. So, if America has learned from its past why is Ghana not learning from the events of Kumepreko and other demonstrations that have killed innocent protestors who are only exercising their rights.
I kind of wonder then how the process of violent demonstration can lead to death. The government of President Akufo Addo must show that it is committed to reforming the security services and that acts of impunity that have permeated our security services for long will not be countenanced. The Military must be made to account for their actions and for every use of force that was applied in Ejura. If the police and the Military claim that any of the demonstrators were armed, they must show us the weapons they retrieved and show us if the two people they killed were also armed. The Military must demonstrate to us if the level of force they applied was proportional to the level of resistance shown by those they killed. They must tell the nation how their own lives were at risk. It cannot be that security officials who are paid by the taxpayer and given resources by the state to protect us will themselves be killing us.
I have heard some say that the Military is only trained to kill and not for crowd control. Assuming without admitting that the logic is true then we did not need the Military to come and discharge bullets because the firing squad of the Ghana Police is well capable of firing shots. In fact, there are many units within the police service that are capable of firing shots. I listened to the Ashanti Regional Minister who has taken responsibility for the Military presence saying he gathered intelligence as Head of the Regional Security Council that the youth were planning to burn down the police station and kill two suspects arrested in connection with Kaaka’s death. So why did the Military discharge live bullets when it was clear from the video that the protestors had started running once they saw the Military come in. In attempting to prevent the killing of two suspects accused of murder we ended up killing two innocent citizens. What a shame.
We need a public inquiry that would determine for once in our lives as Ghanaians if the lethal force as applied by our security was legitimate or excessive. The reports of the inquiry must be made public and officers found culpable of murder must be prosecuted. Only then will I have faith and believe in our governance structure. Until every bullet discharged in Ejura is accounted for the culture of impunity and abuse of power will continue.