Several news portals on Sunday, March 5, 2023, reported the death of a young soldier at Ashaiman, a suburb of Accra.
The portals, including Daily Guide’s website, said the soldier, later identified as Sherif Imoro, was stabbed multiple times on Saturday dawn by unknown assailants who took away his iPhone, leaving behind his laptop and other electronic gadgets. The crime was reported to the police for investigation.
However, on Tuesday, March 7, 2023, it emerged that some fully armed soldiers stormed Ashaiman and allegedly began physically abusing residents.
Some videos and photos on social media, as can be seen here, here, here and here, also claimed that the uniformed personnel arrived in their numbers, accosted some residents, flogged them, and forced some of them to prostrate in a muddied pool of water.
Many questions arose immediately after the news went viral. Why was the soldier killed? Was the military’s invasion of Ashaiman sanctioned? What is the government’s position on the incident?
Two conflicting reports are circulating online over the reasons the soldier was killed. While some reports say the soldier was returning from his girlfriend’s house and stabbed by a jealous rival, others claim he was returning from his mother’s place and was attacked by unknown persons who wanted to rob him of his belongings.
A statement released by the Ghana Armed Forces on Wednesday, March 8, 2023, said the deceased had gone to Ashaiman to visit his parents but was found dead in a pool of blood. The military defended the soldiers’ actions in Ashaiman, insisting the military high command sanctioned it.
“GAF wishes to state categorically that the military operation, which the Military High Command sanctioned, was NOT to avenge the killing of the soldier but rather to fish out the perpetrators of the heinous crime,” the statement said.
The statement signed by Brigadier General E. Aggrey-Quarshie, Director of General Public Relations at the Ghana Armed Forces, said a total of 184 persons aged between 21 and 47 were arrested after the operation at Ashaiman-Taifa and Tulaku and seized 29 slabs and 57 mini slabs of suspected Indian hemp and amnesia among other forms of the narcotics.
“The Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) also wishes to record that the swoop was not targeted at innocent civilians but was an intelligence–led operation conducted on suspected hideouts of criminals and crime-prone areas in the general area,” the statement explained.
On the alleged brutalities, the army described some of the abuses as regretful, saying, “regrettably, some innocent persons might have been caught up in operation and consequently suffered some distress due to the location they found themselves in at the time.”
President Akufo-Addo, the Ghana Armed Force commander-in-chief, has yet to comment on the development. Well-meaning individuals, including Francis Doku, General Manager of TV3, a private TV station in Ghana, Afrobeat star Stonebwoy who resides in Ashaiman, and many others, have roundly condemned the action by the military.
The Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice has also condemned the action by the police even though Deputy Defence Minister Kwaku Amankwa-Manu remains intransigent.
This is not the first time civilians have been brutalised by military personnel.
In May 2018, a group of angry soldiers aboard three branded vehicles stormed the Tamale metropolitan police command and exchanged gunfire with police officers to protest the arrest of one of their colleagues assisting the police in investigating an assault.
The soldiers later attacked the police station and assaulted police officers on duty and officers stationed at other duty posts within the Tamale metropolis, including the Tamale Teaching Hospital and the Tamale ADB main branch.
In August 2020, two soldiers clashed with some residents of Dome-Faase in the Greater Accra region over a boundary dispute resulting in injuries sustained by the soldiers and some residents. What followed was a take-over of the community by more soldiers who brutalized the few residents left behind after many were forced to flee, sensing danger.
In July 2021, a viral video captured some soldiers attacking residents of Wa in the Upper West region. According to the residents, the soldiers claimed that an unknown person snatched the mobile phone of one of their colleagues, so they flooded the streets to retrieve it. In the process, innocent people were assaulted by the uniformed men.
In October 2021, the military again clashed with police at the Ashanti Regional Police Headquarters and the Suame District Police Command after some police officers allegedly maltreated a plain-clothed military officer and handcuffed him over his use of an unregistered motorbike.
No formal report of injuries was reported in this incident, unlike a similar event in 2010 that reportedly left two police officers unconscious.
Following the killing of then Captain Maxwell Adam Mahama, which dominated media headlines for several weeks, some soldiers invaded the town where the lynching happened, Denkyira Obuasi. According to then District Chief Executive (DCE) of the Upper Denkyira West District, Daniel Appianin, several residents were beaten and held hostage by the soldiers in reaction to the killing.
Misinformation is ripe
The recent Ashaiman incident has generated a lot of conversation on social media, with “Ashaiman” and “Ashiaman” dominating Twitter trends since Tuesday.
The related tweets are filled with many users’ views on the development, but some have used the opportunity to share misinformation online.
Several far-reaching multimedia contents claimed to be associated with the incident have been shared alongside the hashtag.
Reviews by DUBAWA found some of the materials to be false, while others captured by citizen journalists gave true reflections of the happenings on the ground.
For instance, a video popped of a civilian slapping a fully armed uniformed man after he and two others were seen being punished by the military man. Even though that event happened in Old Tafo in the Ashanti Region during the Covid 19 outbreak, it was posted as something that happened in Ashaiman.
In this video, it is alleged that one of the residents of Ashaiman arrested by the soldiers was made to sing while in the bucket of a military pickup, but DUBAWA found it false.
The video originated in Nigeria and predated the Ashaiman incident.
The brutalities in Ashaiman have been widely condemned by the public, as have previous similar incidents in other parts of the country.
While the Ghana Armed Forces prepare to release suspects arrested at Ashaiman to the police for civil prosecution, the debate continues about the appropriateness of the military’s action.