Defense Minister Hides Identities Of Wa Soldiers Cover Up Suspects In Abuse Of Residents

Defense Minister, Dominic Nitiwul Defense Minister, Dominic Nitiwul

There are suspicions that the Minister of Defense and the Military hierarchy, have not punished the soldiers who stormed the Wa township on July 1, 2021, brutalizing residents for stealing a smart phone belonging to a soldier.

Mr Dominic Nitiwul, last Thursday was in Parliament, responding to questions on the brutalities which has landed some of the residents in hospital, saying while some of the young soldiers of the 10 Mechanised Battalion in Wa, have been demoted, others are in detention as punishment.

Interestingly, as the minister was addressing Parliament, a combined team of Military and National Bureau of Investigation (NIB) was still in Wa, investigating the incident, thus casting doubt on the veracity of his claims to the House.

Mr Nitiwul's claims, mainly on a preliminary report ahead of the conclusion of the investigation, suggested either he and the military high command, were hurriedly attempting to cover up the soldiers' misconduct or seeking to frustrate the probe, especially so having deliberately withheld their identities.

Media reports have said that although eighty-six soldiers were identified to have taken part in the inhumane act that was not sanctioned by the military authorities. At the time of the Minister's appearance in Parliament on Thursday, the investigative team had interrogated less than 30 of the 86 soldiers, and was continuing its interrogation at a time the Minister was in Parliament detailing how the culprits had already been punished.

There have since been mixed reactions among residents in the Wa Municipality of the Upper West Region following the submission of a preliminary report by the four-member committee tasked to investigate the military brutality that occurred on Thursday, July 1.

Mr Nitiwul, had told Parliament that, with the exception of the duty officer, all the personnel who were on duty on the day of the incident had been "charged, tried and punished as appropriate".

Eighty - six young soldiers were involved, and according to him, the Orderly Sergeant, who was a Staff Sergeant, had had his rank reduced to Corporal; the Guard Commander, who was a Corporal, had been reduced to Private, and the Sentry on duty, who was a Lance Corporal, had also been reduced to Private.

"The trial of the Duty Officer, who is a Lieutenant, will commence on or before Wednesday, July 14, 2021. All the above trials are without prejudice to the outcome of the subjects under other forms of investigations," he stated.

Presenting a statement on the brutalities by the young soldiers in Wa, Mr Nitiwul, said eight other soldiers who were deeply involved/visibly identified in various videos brutalising some residents had been charged, tried and given 30 days each in detention by a disciplinary board chaired by the Commanding Officer.

He added that the remaining soldiers who were involved in the incident would be transferred out of the region.

Giving the background to the incident, Mr Nitiwul said on July 1, 2021, 86 young soldiers of the 10 Mechanised Battalion in Wa stormed Tindama, in search of a colleague's smart phone which had allegedly been stolen.

The soldiers, he said, assaulted some members of the community, an incident that triggered public condemnation across the country.

The Minister said subsequently on July 2, 2021, a delegation led by the Chief of the Army Staff, Major General oppong Peprah visited Wa to assess the situation.

To ascertain the circumstances that led to the said brutalities, he said, the military high command was tasked to collaborate with the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) to investigate the matter.

Subsequently, a four-member team, made up of Colonel B.Z. Ayorrogo as team leader, Lieutenant Colonel G.B. Eduah, Mr Francis Aboagye and Mr Maxwell Dassah, all from the NIB, was tasked to do the investigation.

He said the victims who were interrogated reported the loss of 13 mobile phones, a tricycle and an amount of GH¢1,460.

"However, seven mobile phones and the tricycle have been retrieved and returned to the owners. No money has yet been retrieved.

"Mr Speaker, notwithstanding the above incident and other incidents, it must be stated clearly that the members of the Ghana military are very disciplined, well-trained and respected across the world for their professionalism," he said.

Responding, the Minority Leader, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, said while he found the sanctions against the soldiers reassuring, the conduct the personnel put up during the search for their colleague's mobile phone was unacceptable.

He said he was optimistic that the sanctions would allow for some order and send a signal that lawlessness would not be tolerated within the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF).

He said a few miscreants should not debase the standing of the GAF as a disciplined professional entity that owed the people the responsibility to keep the peace and not lead the breakdown of law and order in the country.

Contributing, the Majority Chief Whip, Mr Frank Annoh-Dompreh, said the reputation of Ghana's military was not in doubt locally and internationally.

He said while the sanctions being initiated were commendable, further steps needed to be taken to heal the damaged relationship between civilians and the military in Wa.

"We need to do more than just investigating and meting out deserving punishment. We need to heal the psychological effects for what has happened to the people of Wa," he said.

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Modey writes from Wa that investigations into the circumstances surrounding the military brutality of civilians in the municipality entered the fourth day yesterday, with the committee members visiting the various crime scenes with the victims, as well as gathering evidence from the soldiers.

Eighteen victims led the committee to the various places where the soldiers brutalised them without any provocation.

They also visited the Wa Regional Hospital and gathered views from one of the victims, Gafaru Mahama, who was still on admission.

Commenting on the developments, some residents and shop owners at the Wa-Tindamba Crescent, said the punishments did not measure up to the injustice they suffered at the hands of the soldiers. Many of the residents are demanding harsher punishments.

The preliminary investigation also revealed that 11 persons suffered various degrees of injury including Gafur Mahama, who developed a fracture on his thighbone and has undergone surgery. Three other persons were admitted at the Wa Municipal Hospital.

Some of the victims interrogated reported the loss of 13 mobile phones, a tricycle, and an amount of GHC1, 460.

They have, however, retrieved only 7 mobile phones and the tricycle returned to its owner.

The investigation revealed that the incident started when a soldier, whose name has been withheld, alleged that his mobile phone was snatched from him around 6:00 pm on June 29.

He informed his colleague soldiers who in turn informed the Duty Officer that same day.

The Duty Officer is alleged to have permitted the troops to go into the town to search for the missing mobile phone which led to the alleged brutality in Wa.

Sources say the 86 young soldiers who were part of the act passed out between April 30, 2021, and June 4, 2021, and were posted to the 10 Mechanized Battalion Aggrey barracks.

JoyNews quotes some of the residents insisting that the abuse from the military personnel was a disgrace to the institution and should not go without harsher punishment.

"We know the military institution and the discipline that is there. They should be sent back for another round of training. How can you finish training to come to Wa for only four days, which we don't believe and you go into town to brutalize people over your missing phone," they fumed.