Violence in all forms causes pain and trauma to victims at the receiving end. While some never live to recover, others have to endure lifelong injuries and scars.
One of them is 38-year-old Ishau Yaro, a victim of the 2019 Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election chaos.
I travelled to Fadama to meet him, exactly one year, eight months since the ‘bloody’ election.
Ishau Yaro can still not walk. He has to be assisted every step of the way by his wife, Ayisha, who has stood by him in the darkest period of his life.
The affected leg is suspended on a stool at the knee-level; heavily bandaged and sitting on a pool of clothes to offer him a semblance of relief.
“If I put the leg down, the pain gets worse. It is excruciating and I feel a heavy pressure dragging through the flesh,” a teary Ishau told me.
It is my first time meeting with him after watching him appear to painfully testify before the Emile Short Commission of Inquiry established in March 2019 to look into the disturbances.
A by-election turned violent – that day; January 31, 2019.
Supporters of the opposition NDC clashed with some hooded and masked security operatives in the Ayawaso West Wuogon constituency.
A free-for-all fight broke out; gunshots were heard, people were brutalized and some agents and sympathizers of the NDC sustained varying degree of injuries.
Probably the most affected that day was Ishau, whose gory footage from the January 31 violence, pricked the conscience of a nation and set it on a path to begin processes to attempt to deal with electoral related violence.
There were exchanges between national security operatives and Member of Parliament for Ningo Prampram, Sam George; some of which were captured in a viral video.
The footage showed a fierce encounter – a gesticulating Sam George and a slap from one of the men in ‘uniform’ landing in the face of the MP.
Around him, similar exchanges were seen. Other available footages show a fracas in front of the home of the NDC’s parliamentary candidate at the time, Delali Brempong.
A marauding bunch of uniformed men chased after a crowd of party folks amidst gunshots and pelting of stones.
The result of the chaos – severe injuries to some of the NDC party sympathisers and ‘agents’ plus destruction to property.
A man in a white tee over a pair of blue ripped Denim pants was breathless.
He lay on the ground almost motionless and was later helped into the bucket of a police vehicle with a bloody wound to his right leg.
Public sentiments were rife. Everyone was shaken and intense pressure from civil and moral society, triggered an action from the presidency.
The four-member Commission led by former CHRAJ boss, Justice Emile Short, with Professor Henrietta Mensah-Bonsu and Patrick K. Acheampong as members, was to look into the January 31 disturbances.
The terms of reference of the Commission was to make a full, faithful and impartial enquiry into the circumstances of, and establish the facts leading to, the events and associated violence during the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election.
It was also to identify any person responsible for or who has been involved in the events, the associated violence and injuries plus to enquire into any matter which it considers incidental or reasonably related to the causes of the events and the associated violence and injuries.
Within a month of being set up, the Emile Short Commission was to submit its report to the President, giving reasons for its findings and recommendations, including appropriate sanctions, if any.
Ishau appears before Commission
The Emile Short Commission which was holding its sittings at the Osu Castle had to pitch camp at the 37 Military Hospital where the former footballer was on admission – to hear his testimony.
I recall vividly Ishau speak at the Commission with a lot of passion-cum anger.
He appeared in pain, from what television cameras captured that day.
Occasionally wincing in pain while he spoke and tears streaming down his cheeks in the process, Ishau recalled the incidents of that day as far as he knew it.
He said to the commissioners;
“I have a family, wife and children. How do I care for my family now?
As this committee completes sitting, justice must be done. I mean, I want justice.
I am having sleepiness nights. I used to cry like a baby because I went to support my candidate.
Someone who is outside enjoying just destroyed my life. I am thinking of my mum, dad and other sisters I used to support. I am begging this commission that justice must be done.”
Medical officials at the 37 Military Hospital established that the victim was hit by a high-velocity weapon.
They also told the Commissioners that a bullet was stuck in the victim’s leg and will require that, he is hospitalized for about three months.
Commission of Inquiry report
After a month of hearing testimonies from parties involved in the chaos – including security operatives, party officials, journalists and EC officials the Commission presented its report to the president.
The Commission among others recommended the payment of financial compensation to the following persons on the basis of injuries sustained by them arising out of the reckless gunshots by the SWAT team, and that is to say:
- Mr. Theophilus Sedofu
- Seidu Zaneh
- James Moore
- Mohammed Alhassan
- Ishau Yaro
The Commission also recommended payment of compensation to the following persons for damage caused to their properties.
- Owner of vehicle (model unknown) with registration number GE 3844-17.
- Owner of Kia Picanto vehicle with registration number GW 1045-17.
- Mrs. Justine She, Owner of beauty salon bordering the road.
Other recommendations were made with the hope of reforming the structural and operational chain of the security agencies on such duties.
The commission also recommended prosecution and reprimand of some of the individuals liable for the disturbances.
Government White Paper on compensation
Civil society groups and other individuals came down heavily at government for what they believed were a rejection of a raft of the recommendations by the commission.
But government accepted, in part, the recommendations on compensation as captured in the Commission’s report.
Government, in principle, accepted the Commission’s recommendation on compensation on the basis that the injured persons were unfortunately caught up in a “legitimate National Security operation”.
However, according to government, the Commission failed to provide an assessment of the injuries sustained or make recommendations on the quantum of compensation to be paid to the injured persons.
On damaged properties in and around the incident zone, government accepted the Commission’s
recommendation on the basis that those properties were damaged during a “legitimate National Security operation”.
Again, government was of the view however, that “the Commission failed to provide an assessment of the damage to those properties or make recommendations on the quantum of compensation to be paid to the owners of those properties”, which owners are not identified in the report.
The Government, therefore, referred the recommendation on compensation to the Attorney-General for assessment and payment of compensation, if any.
Victims permanently scarred
As he is aided from the room by his wife with his crutches on our arrival, Ishau leapt on one foot, in visible pain.
It’s been one year, nine months since the incident but events are still fresh on his mind.
Ishau tells me, “I am suffering. It’s been a horrible road for me. I have sleepless nights.”
“I would be telling lies if I told you it’s been easy and whenever I sit down, I feel the sharp, piercing pain in my leg” he said.
As he manages to sit down, he explains his bone was damaged through multiple gunshots that day.
“There is no bone from above my ankle through to my sheen. The doctors managed to use a metal clip to join the two parts, but the wound would still not heal,” the father of four tells me.
He was on admission at the 37 Military Hospital for eleven months undergoing all sorts of medical procedures.
Ishau Yaro says there had been conversations about the possibility of having him flown out of the country for advanced care, only for Covid-19 to plaque the country and cause all entry and exit borders to be shut for almost five months.
The NDC election observer was discharged to go home and return twice to the hospital for dressing of his wounds.
All these, Ishau says have become a huge burden on his young family.
During the period, “former president John Mahama has been supportive,” he murmurs.
“He has been settling the medical bills, cost of feeding and upkeep since I was incapacitated. Life would have been hell if he had not come through for me.”
His wife, Ayisha Yaro could not hold back the tears rolling down her cheeks while she applied an oily balm on her husband’s injured leg.
She recalls how vividly the news reached her and what she saw on arrival at the hospital after her husband was rushed there.
“You should have seen how my husband’s bones were scattered on the ground that day, and he lay down there almost lifeless. Everyone was scared,” she sobbed.
And since then, it’s been a life of pain.
She has accepted her fate – and is thankful her husband is alive at least.
She says, “once there is life, there is hope.”
Their most recent child, is nearly a year old. And while Ayisha continues to rub her husband’s leg, the baby wakes up from a nap and begins to cry.
Though their three other children at least have a sense of what their father has been through, Ayisha says she does not wish to have to explain to the fourth how it all happened.
But it is a reality she cannot run away from.
Ishau and Ayisha are both disappointed about government’s handling of the matter.
They want the state to honour its obligation of paying them their due compensation so they can seek advanced medical care for him.
“Government has not been fair to us. Or is it because we are NDC? What is happening to the recommendation by the Commission of Inquiry for us to be compensated,” they ask.
“Meanwhile those officers in uniform who did this to me are still walking around freely. Justice must be served. I am suffering,” Ishau emphasizes while raising his voice.
Security analyst and executive director of JATIKAY Center for Human Security and Peace Building, Adib Saani is disappointed but not surprised the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry still hang on shelves, without any implementation.
“There was no commitment from day one – it was just a way to let the diplomatic community believe that government was committed to it,” he says.
Adib tells me, “it was almost around the same time the Anti-vigilantism and Other Related Offences Act was passed into law to deal with some of these things, but it was a political gimmick because I knew there was no commitment.”
He wants the laws to work; institutions must also work going forward.
Resourcing the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) for him, is a key step to intensify education on the dangers and long term impact of electoral violence on people and communities.
Adib Saani also believes “we have to invest in peace building and collaboration between state agencies, CSOs and security groups to pick up early warning signals and deal with them before they blow up into full blown crisis.”
Fears as Election 2020 beacons
With barely two months to the December 7 elections, there are fears the country could be plunged into chaos – with pent up anger and scores of clashes during voter registration exercise among others.
But Ishau wants the youth to stay away from trouble spots during the elections. He prays for a peaceful process.
“I would not pray tensions degenerate during the elections. Because the impact would be painful. Like I sit here, almost two years, unable to walk.”
His wife says, “I have conviction this year’s election would be the most peaceful if all parties commit to it.”
“It would be an example to the rest of the world if it happens and the youth should stay away from trouble during the vote,” she concluded.
By Komla Adom|3news.com|Ghana