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In defence of Denkyira-Obuasi

By Kwabena Owusu-Ampratwum

This article does not seek to justify the ghastly actions of the people of Denkyira-Obuasi- the killing of Major Maxwell Adam Mahama, or to endorse the act of mob INJUSTICE that has gone on for decades in this country, without any concrete steps by the security agencies to rein it in.

Right until one of their own was brutally lost.

The criticisms of the people of Denkyira-Obuasi have rained from the heavens. Even the devil hasn’t missed an opportunity to spew scorn on them for killing an innocent man in broad day light, smashing his head with concrete blocks.

I, like many others, have taken to Facebook, and other social media platforms to lash out at them and I don’t regret it.

But when all is said and done, when the dust has settled and the last flames of the embers are fizzling out, we ought as individuals and as a nation to try, no matter how difficult, to find the reasons an entire township, made up of human beings like you and I, could perpetrate an act, gruesome as this, and which has brought the nation so much pain, grief and shame.

In my attempt to understand them, I will not consider all the conspiracy theories emerging from reports as to why Major Adam Mahama was so cruelly lynched. I am strictly sticking to what the media articulated; that he was killed on the suspicion of being an armed robber. In this article therefore, I am rigidly assuming that the people seen in the video attacking him thought he indeed was guilty of what he was accused.

Many of those criticising the residents of Denkyira-Obuasi have been proudly assuring   themselves that they are incapable of meting out such self- righteous punishments on others. That under the circumstances, they would be composed and allow the law to take its course. You may be right, but maybe, just maybe, you could be very wrong.

I argue that, under certain circumstances, when pushed to the wall, residents of any city, town or village in Ghana, could act same or worse towards another human being.

Over ten years ago, the people of Mampong-Ashanti, the capital of the Mampong Municipality of the Ashanti region were in the news for apprehending and killing two of three armed robbers who stormed a bank in the town in broad day light.

Around midday that fateful day the three robbers, heavily armed with AK 47 assault rifles stormed the Otuasekan rural bank in grand style. Their first act was to shoot and kill the police man at post. It took a few minutes to rob the entire bank. As an appropriate end to their mission, they killed another police officer as they attempted to flee the town.

The death of the two policemen spread like wildfire and within minutes the men and women of the town were up in arms, grabbing object they chanced on to pursue the robbers. The scenes were as dramatic as a Hollywood action movie.

The robbers were openly running on the streets of the town shooting in an attempt to scare off the charged crowd determined to lay down their lives to avenge the killing of the two policemen. One of the robbers budged into a house near the main lorry station, entered a room and took a woman hostage. That could not save him, the residents managed to subdue him after he was shot through a window in the room sniper style.

He was dragged like a rag through the streets to the main lorry station where some vehicle tires and gallons of petrol were already assembled. Such was the fury and anger of the residents that all attempts by the police to prevent the lynching proved futile. The tyres were placed around the robber and set alight, to resounding cheers from of the crowd.

file photo

Meanwhile, others were hot on the heels of the remaining two robbers who had managed to enter bushes at the outskirts of the town. The other managed to escape into a carrot farm, injured by a gunshot from the police, he approached the carrot farmer for water. The farmer, though unaware that he was a robber, shuddered at the sight of his gun, and obliged to get him some from a nearby river. He immediately placed a call to a friend and told him about ‘the man with a gun’.

The friend raised an alarm, and within minutes the angry mob had arrived at the farm. Exhausted and weak from the gunshot wound, the robber could not put up a fight.

Like his partner in crime, he was dragged to the lorry station to meet his fate. I am told upon seeing the charred body of the first robber killed, he exclaimed “Awurade mawu” to wit, God I’m dead.

The third was lucky enough to escape, but police investigations led to his arrest days later, by which time the anger of the town had subsided and no one demanded his head on a stake.

The policemen killed by the robbers were buried at the premises of District Police Command, where they continue to rest in peace.

The actions of the residents of Mampong though unlawful were hailed by many, especially when news spread that the town had killed two of the men that took so painfully, the lives of two law enforcers. The people boasted of their bravery, identifying with their slogan, “wo kum apem a, apem beba” (if you kill a thousand, a thousand more would come).

Mampong residents were not branded as murderous, Ghanaians never bothered about the lynching of the two people, no one was ever prosecuted, and I bet if an attempt had been made to arrest any of the people that killed the armed robbers caught in action, the entire nation would have jumped to their defence.

I have witnessed a number of people being lynched at Kejetia and Atasomanso in Kumasi, and some other places in my work as a journalist. In all these instances, my heart bled and I felt depressed for weeks following the incident. I have cried at night recalling the bloody faces of the victims and how they struggled to even lift a hand in defence.

But a series of events about a year ago, wiped all that empathy from my heart and mind.

The first occurred at the car park of the Ghana International Trade Fair Centre, at La in Accra. I parked my vehicle to see a man I intended to interview for a story. I did not fully roll up the windows because I did not want the scorching sun to take over the little breeze circulating at the time. I returned less than 15 minutes later to find my car broken into, my two phones, a Samsung Note 5 and LG G4  taken. Interestingly everyone around denied seeing anyone break into the vehicle.

I went to a police station to report the theft, and to my utter surprise, the officer on duty, a fair tall lady asked me to pay 20 cedis for the piece of paper given me to write my statement. I protested to the displeasure of the other police officers on duty, they started making derogatory remarks about me being all knowing, and thinking I’m more sensible than all the others who had paid. I was bluntly told to forget about any investigations into the incident if I didn’t make the payment. What incensed me the most was when I overheard one policeman comment “do you think we have no work to do, we should go and chase your stolen phone, this man is not serious”. I calmly put down the pen and walked away from the station, none of the officers bothered about my leaving.

Two weeks later, thieves broke through my bedroom window at dawn while I slept and made away with the replacement phone I purchased. This time I didn’t even waste my time to go to the police. I took it as yet another loss and a wakeup call to be more vigilant and protective of my property.

Before these incidents, I had never been a victim of robbery in my life. Even though almost every car in my neighbourhood at Tantra hill in Accra had been broken into and parts such as stereo systems, headlamps, power window buttons, batteries and entire dashboards stolen, my vehicle remained unscathed night after night, until one fateful dawn.

It was exactly 3am when my brother, behind whose window the car was parked, came over to my room to wake me up. He had seen someone heading towards the car and suspected whoever it was to be robber. I looked through my window and saw that the light in the car was on. The new owner to be sat in the front passenger seat. We alerted a third brother, grabbed any object within reach to apprehend the robbers. The moment we opened the front door, three young men bolted from the car with lightning speed, and the chase began.

They split up; one took a dark route and soon disappeared into the darkness. Two others took the same path, jumping into a house with a plantain garden. We were hesitant to follow suit not knowing what we would encounter in the house. Soon neighbours were coming around upon the shouts of “awi oo awi oo awi ooo” (thief, thief, thief) as we chased them. They came from all corner wielding planks of wood and any object they could find. When enough people had gathered, we entered the plantain garden to conduct a search. On seeing us approach one of the robbers scaled the wall and escaped. We gave up thinking they were all gone until one of us realised a big water container he was standing by, was vibrating.

We opened the container to find a young man coiled inside it. With all the strength he could muster, he hit the person who opened the container and jumped out, he approached one wall but realised that the section was too tall.

Cornered, he immediately knelt down and started pleading that he was not a thief, without anyone asking him a question. Suffice to say, the slaps were uncountable. Just then one of the men stopped everyone from hitting him, and asked that he gave his identity to ascertain his innocence.

He refused to give his name or provide any identity, rather insisting we handed him over to the police. When he realised majority of the angry residents asking for him to be lynched were at a distance   to allow only about two people to interrogate him, he attempted to take to his heels again. Unfortunately, a resident caught up with him after less than 20 metres and the beatings resumed.

Just then, others came out of their houses to complain about their cars that had been broken into. From one victim’s car, wax prints had been stolen and other electronic gadgets, including an external hard drive. A search on the suspected robber was conducted and the hard drive together with screw drivers were found in a pack on his trousers. To cut a long story short, the angry residents mercilessly beat him till the police arrived.  After he was whisked away by the police, the wax print were found stashed behind a kiosk nearby.

When tempers had cooled, I felt something was missing from my personality. I realised I felt no sympathy for the thief when my angry neighbours were hitting him with any stick they could find. Though I could not gather the courage to hit him myself, nothing prompted me to save him from the assault. Instead, I regretted our inability to apprehend the others and subject them to a similar fate.

 Indeed all I cared about was that my brothers and I reacted quickly enough to prevent them from disassembling the interior of my car.

I am not sure if my sympathy towards persons being lynched has been restored because I have not come across any such incident since then.

The happenings at Denkyira-Obuasi on the 29th of May brought back not so fond memories of the incident at Asante Mampong and my personal experience. 

It has provoked me to carefully think about and understand why a whole town could kill a man in such a gruesome fashion, without a drop of mercy.

According to scientist, babies are born with only two fears; those of falling and loud noise. All others are shaped by their environment and experiences as they grow. That is why a baby instinctively paddles when placed in a pool of water to stay afloat, it has no preconception that the water is capable of drowning it.

Similarly, our reactions to issues are shaped by our perceptions, knowledge experiences and the circumstances around us. I dare to argue that if indeed Major Adam Mahama was not an army officer but an armed robber, very few people would have criticised the town folk for their actions, because of the knowledge of how armed robbers kill, maim, rape and commit all sort of atrocities on a regular basis in this country.

The situation is exacerbated by the lack of trust in the law enforcement agencies, the police.

My experience with them at Labadi has taught me that they are the last to approach if one finds him/herself in trouble- a statement highlighted by the failure of a female lecturer to get through police emergency lines for over 20 minutes while armed robbers forced their way into her home.  

The police only gave a flimsy excuse of a technical problem.

No one has been sanctioned in the service, and no heads have rolled up till now.

The township of Denkyira Obuasi I am told by some natives I have interacted with since the incident, has fallen victim to numerous cases of armed robbery and mystery murders. None of these cases have been fully resolved by the police.

Worse of all there is a perception that the police only takes money from robbers when they are apprehended, produce weak evidence in court and get them off the hook.

It is therefore natural for the town folk to be defensive minded and ready to attack anyone they suspect is an armed robber, just as it happened at Mampong, especially when they find the police service unreliable.

The people of Denkyira Obuasi committed a gruesome act and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. No doubt about that, but I don’t think they are any more wicked than you and I.

We are all capable of anything under infuriating circumstances. This was manifested by the irony in the actions of people who claimed to be merciful and incapable of killing a human being in such a manner, yet were at the courts to demand that the suspects being taken to court be handed over to them so they could lynch them in retaliation.

How many of us, or our friends haven’t expressed the desire to see the military “discipline” the residents for robbing us of a fine soldier?

The beast in us needs just a trigger to rise.