My first meeting with Prof. Emmanuel Yaw Benneh was in his office at the University of Ghana Law School, where he had taught for 30 years before his cruel death.
He wasn’t your typical outspoken law lecturer. He wasn’t a social commentator and if nothing brought you his way, you might not know about his existence if you weren’t his student, colleague lecturer or within his social circles.
He minded his business, but he hated injustice.
The subject of my meeting with him was the delay, or rather, the denial of his promotion by authorities of the university. The University of Ghana is notorious for such dirty internal politics and nepotism. As I write this, I know a number of persons who deserve certain positions but are being set aside because they don’t belong to the “right” cliques. They don’t have favour with those who matter at the top. My sources in the university say such dirty politics is at its all-time peak now.
That is a discussion for another day.
Prof. Benneh fought his case and petitioned until he was given a listening ear. He was eventually promoted to an associate professor and his entitlements from when he was actually due for promotion were paid to him.
“Those of us at the faculty were very proud of him because he fought the system and won,” a colleague law lecturer told me Saturday night.
My second encounter with Prof. Benneh was at the Kotoka International Airport last year. We bumped into each other while going through arrival formalities. We exchanged pleasantries briefly before heading to pick up our luggage.
Between our two meetings, however, Prof. Benneh had been on my mind a number of times. My relative worked close to his house and you could not pass by that house without noticing its imposing magnificence. It wasn’t just a mansion. It’s like a palace or a castle.
Like an extremely beautiful woman, if you passed by that house without looking back, then you’re either blind or stiff-necked.
“Ei, what a house!”
“That’s Benneh’s house?”
“Which Benneh do you know?”
“It’s very huge. I wonder how many people live here.”
“He lives alone…”
The most magnificent mansions in Ghana’s primest locations are inhabited by one or two people. In some cases, the owners are abroad and caretakers live in their quarters and maintain the main buildings. So it wasn’t unique with Prof. Benneh.
He had only one child, a son who lives in the United States. His colleagues say he’d never been married.
If you met Prof. Benneh in town, you would think you met a pauper if you’re one of those who judge people by the type of cars they drive. But if you followed him home, you would ask the question a number of people asked me after I reported from his house on Saturday and they saw photos of the house.
“So that mansion belongs to a university lecturer? Was he into something else,” one person asked.
Benneh’s colleague lecturer told me he had been building that house for the past 25 years. It had been his project since he returned from the University of Cambridge and started teaching, he said. And he was still furnishing it at the time he died.
When I was awoken from sleep with the news of the gruesome murder of Prof. Benneh, I drove there to scavenge for news, but I did not think I would be allowed in. The entire house, I had thought, would be a crime scene, but I still wanted to nose around and speak to whoever I could speak to.
But I got more than that.
A man who described himself as the late Prof. Benneh’s “houseboy” and an old man who said he was the deceased’s uncle allowed me in when I introduced myself as a journalist.
The houseboy, Isaac Botwe, led me to the smaller of the two buildings. I had never noticed this one even though I had passed by the house many times. The late Benneh wasn’t living in the main building, the imposing mansion. The entrance to the small building was at the back, a bit obscure.
Isaac Botwe led Benneh’s uncle and me to the exact crime scene, the spot his lifeless body was found. Later some neighbours and relatives came in. They all gained access to the crime scene without any difficulty, something his uncle wasn’t pleased about.
“This is where his body was found,” Isaac said. “His hands and legs were tied and he was lying in a pool of blood.”
Isaac had just washed the blood, but where his lifeless body had lain – between the hall and the bedroom – still had blood stains on the white marble floor and trickles splattered on the lower part of the wall.
Above, hung a portrait of the late Benneh. Beneath his portrait was that of a handsome young man said to be his son. There were other portraits too. Among them was the photograph of Professor Kofi Awoonor, who was shot and killed by terrorists in the Kenya Westgate Mall attack in 2013.
“I have rearranged here,” Isaac continued his grim narration. “It seems he struggled with them before they killed him so here was scattered. It’s as if he tried to run out and they stopped him.”
Isaac, who said he lived in Accra Central, had spoken with him on the phone on Thursday night at about 8pm. They had talked about the mechanics who had come to work on his car.
Prof. Benneh had sent a driver at the law faculty to buy a car part at Abbosey Okai and when he returned with the car part on Friday, all attempts to reach him failed. That’s why the law faculty became alarmed.
The story on Saturday was that a gardener had come to work that Saturday morning and realised his car was there, but when he knocked many times, Prof. Benneh did not answer. He, therefore, went to Benneh’s sister, who lived not far away, and a carpenter was brought in to break the door.
There was no evidence of a carpenter intervening.
The police told me later that a carpenter was called, but one of the domestic workers had a key so it wasn’t broken into. That answers Isaac’s query about where the carpenter touched. But he had insisted only the late Prof. and he (Isaac) had the keys to the room.
“He made us buy locks for all these windows,” Isaac went on, “when his relative was killed. All these windows were locked and the main door was locked. There was no break-in so whoever killed him may have been given access by Prof. himself. The person knew him.”
Prof. Yaw Benneh hated injustice. He has suffered a kind of injustice that is worse than the one he faced at the University of Ghana. But he’s not here to fight it. This fight is in the hands of the Ghana Police Service.
As I left his house, however, the thought that came to mind was whether justice would be served or that he would be added to the long list of unresolved murders in the country.
I hoped Prof. Benneh’s story would be different but feared it may be the same. What I had seen in his house was disturbing.
I am an investigative journalist, not a police detective. But all forms of criminal investigations follow a broad outline – going after evidence, which someone is interested in hiding or destroying.
In murder investigations, unlike corruption, the stakes are higher because there are often no documentary traces. If the incident is not captured on CCTV cameras or if the killer is not caught in the act, as in Prof. Benneh’s case, then a lot more sophistication is needed to link the crime to the criminals.
Proving it in court is even more difficult.
When I got to Prof. Benneh’s house, I was told the body had just been conveyed to the police hospital. There was no single police officer or detective in the house. The crime scene was not secured. Nothing showed that it was a crime scene.
The “houseboy” and other persons of interest had not been questioned or picked up.
It was when I was about to leave that the siren of a police Toyota Camry blared outside. Together with the houseboy and those in the house, we met the two occupants of the vehicle at the entrance.
“We’re not coming in,” the senior of the two policemen, who identified himself as the station officer of the East Legon police, said.
He wanted to know the place so that in the night, he would send a police man to guard the house “until further notice.” They left immediately.
As I left the house, I knew why many murder cases are left unresolved in Ghana. You cannot take away the body without securing the crime scene. Any argument that the detectives may have got everything they needed before conveying the body does not make investigative sense.
You cannot get everything in one swoop, especially before you even identify the persons of interest.
On Sunday, the police announced that they had picked up all four domestic workers of Prof. Benneh to help in the investigations.
Among them was Isaac Botwe, the houseboy who cleaned the blood and rearranged the room after the body was conveyed.
In essence, one of the suspects being held was the one who managed the crime scene. If he had any evidence to erase, wouldn’t he do it?
If there’s the need to take fingerprints and other forensic details of Isaac and link him to the crime, they will need to go back to the crime scene. If they need to do same for other persons of interest who may be mentioned in the course of the investigation, they would need to go back.
But the doors and tables and chairs and the floor of the room where the late Professor was murdered have been touched by many people, including me.
If Isaac’s hands are traced to any object in the room, he can argue that he was the one who cleaned and rearranged the place after the body was conveyed so his biometric traces had to be there. I have watched a real life investigation in which the DNA of a strand of human hair found at the crime scene was the most important piece of evidence that linked the killer to the crime.
In this case, however, the crime scene which could hold the key to many important pieces of evidence was messed up immediately the body was conveyed. The forensics have been compromised.
Our police must sit up and step up their game. In each case they are handling, there should be constant updates at each level of the investigation. They can give the public details and ask for specific assistance without compromising the investigations.
People often have information to share. Because I reported Benneh’s story, I was contacted with a lead, which I shared with the police. But the most disturbing issue is that many people don’t trust the police.
When the diplomat was kidnapped in Accra last year, someone who knew the kidnapper reached out to me. When I got him the contact of the lead investigator working on the case, he refused to meet him unless I was part of the meeting.
Many people don’t trust the police.
Someone once reached out to me when I did a story that involved shooting. The police treated it as an attempted murder. The main suspect had, on three separate occasions, asked this person where he could get a pistol to buy. This was shortly before the shooting incident, but this source refused to cooperate with the police. Mistrust!
In the 2015 Benita Dankwa shooting incident in Tema, the police failed to secure the crime scene. It emerged in court that a blood-soaked towel, which was a crucial piece of evidence, was later given by the main suspect to the victim’s cousin to wash. This would have made the investigation and prosecution earlier if the police had found this and confronted the husband, the only one who was in the room when Benita woke up with a bullet through her chest.
If the numerous murder cases are to be resolved, the police must be more professional in their investigations and give the general public the confidence to come forward with information.
I pray that Prof. Benneh’s killers are found and punished. But if they are not found, part of the reason will be how the investigators went about their work.