The Commander in charge of the National Security SWAT team, DSP Samuel Kojo Azugu, appeared before the Justice Emile Short Commission on Monday February 18, 2019 to give his evidence about the recent Ayawaso West Wuogon election violence.
This particular account contains the famous “mosquito statement” that got the whole country talking about.
The following is the transcript of the questions posed to him by Counsel Eric Osei-Mensah and the answers he provided.
Q: DSP, what took you to the area?
A: As I already stated, I was given information while we were setting off from our location that there is an intelligence; that there were a stock piling of weapons in a particular area, so I should go to that particular area and make the necessary arrangements for deployment and possible search of the facility.
Q: You were there to make arrangements for deployment and possible search?
A: My lord our presence there was to position ourselves for me to be able to access my deployment list in order to know the number of people to place at a location before we move, because our operations are such that if we go to a facility to conduct any search, we position the men at particular points where those coming in cannot come, and those going out cannot go, to enable a successful retrieval of any illicit item that we are looking for.
Q: Now positioning of your men, as at the time of the incident had you successfully positioned your men at the vantage points?
A: My lord, if you may allow me, when we got there, we drove from the Mempasem direction to the Bawaleshie area, but when we approached there we were in 10 vehicles and I was leading the team, so my vehicle and the second vehicle behind me parked on the main street leading to the polling station.
Then, because it was a working day, Thursday, there was a lot of traffic on the road and our presence was hampering free flow of traffic, so we were doing the necessary arrangements to position our vehicles then also continue any further action that we wanted to take. So while making that traffic management arrangement to allow free flow on the main street, and also enter the school park, we spotted a convoy of motorbikers, and they numbered about 15, and some with one or two passengers, and they were coming in a group, so it aroused my curiosity and I said let me verify what was going on.
So when they approached us, actually the riders didn’t know we were there, so as they approached they realised that we were on the street.
I saw three other vehicles which were being escorted by those bikes, and those three vehicles came to park and the motor riders some of them disembarked from the bikes. When the occupants of the vehicles got down, I realised that the first vehicle, Honorable Sam George, MP for Ningo-Prampram was in together with one man and the Deputy National Women Organiser. The other vehicle was occupied by Honorable Nii Oko Vamderpuje, and the third a salon car.
So when they came I approached them, greeted them as a sign of courtesy, and I approached those on the motorbikes. I asked some of them what they were coming to do, and they said they were coming to protect the ballot paper at the voting going on at the school.
Then I told them that, ‘my brothers you can see from there that there are policemen from immigration, the state has made enough provision for that, so there is no need for you to be here.’
I said this because their presence may hamper the operation that we were there to conduct, but they didn’t take kindly to that, so they started to banter with me and even one of them, the Deputy Women’s Organiser, at a point, took pictures of my men, and because they didn’t know that she was the one, so there was an altercation. So, I and honourable Oko Vanderpuje came in and that problem was resolved, and there was peace.
All this while I was insisting that those who were on the motorbikes should leave the place, and eventually, they left but also took the same direction and went to the back of the school where some of their colleagues had already left for.
When they left, not quite long then we heard a gunshot. That time, if you know the geography of the area very well, I was actually by my vehicle on the street, so it attracted my attention and we moved quickly to that location to ascertain what was going on.
While we were moving honourable Sam George also joined, and was also running towards the place together with us.
When we approached the place, we did a turn and went towards the building; we were met with hundreds of men throwing stones, pelting us with stones amidst gunfire from the building behind them.
So immediately I asked my men to give a warning shot, so they fired a warning shot. This made them to retreat and run helter-skelter. Some were able to run back into the compound where the gunshot was coming from, but the rest, well, unfortunately, they could not because before they got there the gate was locked.
All this while there was gunfire, and at that particular moment, my concern was for the honourable MP, because I could not see him again.
I only saw him also moving towards that direction, but from there I did not see him again. So I was worried; you know, I said to myself that what is going on? Because you can be hit by any friendly bullet or any bullet can cause harm to him, and this could be a problem of security.
So I asked the boys to arrest those who could not enter the compound and were trying to escape and run away. We managed to arrest nine of them to be able to help investigators establish why that action, and some of them surrendered and were taken to the vehicle.
But, some, on their way, decided to, you know, run away or put up a resistance to their arrest, so the security men pounced on them, and that one I agree that my boys over reacted when they were re-arresting them. I made sure they arrested them and put them in the vehicles.
So there I placed a call to my director that this is what has just happened, we were met with this challenge and so far we have arrested nine suspects, then he told me to call Director General of Operations, Ghana Police Service, and I called him and he directed me to send the arrested suspects to the East Legon Police Station. Erm!
Q: What were you going to say let me listen to you?
A: I wanted to add the MPs own, because I know you will ask.
Q: Let’s leave that one for now, let’s stay at the scene of the shooting.
A: Okay sir.
Q: In the course of your evidence, you said that all that while shootings were going on, what do you mean by that?
A: Yes, there was sporadic shooting.
A: From the other side.
A: I couldn’t identify, because the house is a well-built compound with high wall; you know, well fenced; all the security measures have been put in place you know, so you cannot even enter or jump the wall without going through the main gate, unless you use other means to go through.
Q; Correct me if I am wrong, what you are saying is that in the course of your operations, there were gunshots coming from the compound, is that what you are saying?
A: Yes, my lord.
Q: And you also told the commission that you asked your men to fire a gunshot?
A: Yes, my lord.
Q: How many?
A: Six rounds.
Q: Has it come to your attention that at least one person sustained a gunshot wound on his leg? Has that come to your attention?
A: My lord, I have not personally seen it, but I have seen it in the media that it was gunshot, but I cannot tell that it is a gunshot wound as I am sitting here. My lord, I cannot tell whether it is a gunshot wound.
Q: Very well, now there are also pictures of evidence of gunshots on a container, have you seen that?
A: Yes, my lord.
Q: Would you be able to tell the commission as to where that came from?
A: My lord I can’t. I don’t have any idea about those.
Q: Where exactly did your men fire their gunshots, where were they, I mean their position?
A: When we were approaching the house, the crowd, their number was huge. I cannot put an estimation on their number.
So immediately we made a turn, and we were approaching the house they were already coming, so when they saw us coming they started throwing the stones.
So it was just behind the school that we gave that warning shot. I asked them to give that warning shot. So they decided to retreat and run back to the compound house.
And, unfortunately, some of them couldn’t enter the building. And all that while we were hearing gunshots from that end; some of them were able to enter the gate because they hadn’t closed it, but by the time most of them got there, the gate was locked.
So that was what even made us get some of them to arrest, because if they had all entered inside, it means that we were going to use other means to, you know, get them.
Q: Very well, on the gunshot, there was also a video in which you can hear a dozen of gunshots, and there are a couple of media reportage that are attributing that to your men, what do you have to say?
A: My lord I cannot say anything to that video.
Q: DSP, I ask you once again, how many warning shots came from your men?
A: My lord six.
Q: Now the men you arrested, what did you do with them?
A: My lord, from the directive from the Director General of Police, he said we should send them to the East Legon police station.
Q: Were any of them injured?
A: My lord, at the time that we sent them to the police station, I did not see any visible mark of injury and none of them even complained to me that he was injured at that particular moment, because, from the location to the police station is not very far, and we acted as quickly as possible because of the degeneration and the tension which was building up at the area. Taking into consideration the lection which was going on nearby, I didn’t want to, you know, cause any delay which will cause subsequent activities around the area, which include the elections which was taking place nearby.
Q: Now you have indicated that your men somehow manhandled these men am I right? You said that in your evidence?
A: Yes, with the hindsight of the video.
Q: Oh, the video? Are you telling the commission that as the Commander of the day present at the scene didn’t see anything?
A: My lord, I am saying that even the video confirms it, my lord.
Q: No, I want you to tell me, what do you say; forget about videos, let’s stay with you; you are the Commander of the SWAT team, on the day you were present, DSP, how did your men handle these citizens of Ghana?
A: Erm, they, they, they… it was not in the proper manner. They didn’t handle them in a professional way, the way they were taught to.
Q: And by not handling them in a professional manner, what exactly are you saying, we need to know, as a commission?
A: Erm, erm, based on that we have initiated disciplinary actions.
Q: DSP, since you are struggling to tell us, let me help you.
A: Yes, my lord.
Q: Did your men beat these people up?
A: No sir, they, erm, their idea of minimum force that we saw on TV too much for all of us, you know they were trying to…
Q: DSP, DSP before you go, before you go on, please let me remind you of your oath, we are not here to prosecute anybody, the commission needs to get to the bottom of this, and we want you, as I told you to be as candid as possible. Please tell the commission, what exactly did your men do to these people?
A: Erm, as I said, as I have stated already, when the nine persons were arrested, some of them surrendered peacefully and were taken to the vehicle, but some decided to run away from lawful arrest, and the boys pounced on them, and the mood, and the way they were handled, that’s what I am saying that it amounted to subject of action against them.
Q: Now would you be surprised if I should, for instance, tell you that some of these men were said to have evidence of assault, would you be surprised? Evidence of assault, as in having been beating, would you be surprised?
A: My Lord, at what point, my lord,
Q: From the police station.
A: Oh, my lord, yes of course, my lord, I, I later got to know that some of them reported or showed marks of assault to the Legon police.
Q: And you are not able to tell the commission as to how these men had those evidence of assault, is that what you are saying as the Commander on the field that day. You arrested men, after arresting them you took them to the police station, and subsequently, you have seen pictures, or you have been given evidence. In fact, some of them, we are told, sustained cuts to their head, would you be surprised?
A: Ah, my Lord, as I have already stated, as at the time I took them to the police station, I didn’t see any mark on them and none of them informed me that they were injured.
Q: Would you also be surprised; I have seen here a picture of one of them in a blood-stained dress, would that surprise you?
A: No, my lord.
Q: That wouldn’t surprise you?
A: Yes, my lord.
Q: Is it, therefore, right for me to suggest to you that as at the time you were taking that particular man to the police station, he had that blood-stained shirt, is that right?
A: My lord, ermm, I can easily identify that gentleman because, after his arrest, he was wearing a white T-shirt and I even interviewed him. That time there was no stain in the singlet. I believe for one reason or the other, later, when we left he used that singlet to, you know, wipe the blood that may be oozing from his cut, which I didn’t see. But at the time I took him to the police station his singlet was not soaked in blood.
Q: DSP how come you are so sure of the gentleman I am referring to?
A: Because my lord he was wearing a white dress, later on, I saw it in the media, I saw that particular gentleman in the media with blood. In fact, when I saw him with the blood, I said wow… oh, I’m sorry for using “wow”
A: I said oh, how come that this blood was there and I didn’t see it. I realised that when you get a cut, immediately the blood will not be oozing, but when you disturb the cut, then it starts to ooze. I think that’s why, at the moment, I didn’t see the blood for him to use the singlet to wipe it, that’s my observation.
Q: Is there a possibility that the cut on his head might have come from the manhandling of your men?
A: My lord, so far as my men were the arresting officers, anything that happens to the suspect can be attributed to them. But it is up to the victim to establish as to how he came to sustain that injury, whether he fell over and hit his head against something, or whether one of my men did something to him to sustain the injuries.
Q: Okay, these men of yours, how were they dressed up?
A: Well, because it was a combined team, we had the police component and the national security operative component. The police were in police gear, and the operatives were in black and brown trousers.
Q: DSP, if you say police gear, were they dressed like this gentleman sitting here?
Counsel points to a policeman sitting at the commission hearing in normal police uniform.
A: No, we have operational uniforms that we use when we embark on operations.
Q: Could you please describe to the commission what this operational uniform is?
A: Yes, ermm, we have the long boots with tucked-in trousers over blouse. We also have something we call camouflage uniforms; we have long sleeve blouses over tucked-in trousers. And mostly, in our unit we wear our trousers tucked into the long boots with other accoutrements like body armours, helmets, and sometimes, as the situation demands, we put on other accoutrements which enhance the job. Because, sometimes, we go to the beach to lay ambush, sometimes you will go and lay ambush for a particular assignment, and mosquitoes and what have you, you will fall prey to them and other reptiles, so based on the type of operation that we conduct, we take along the necessarily accoutrements. Sometimes too, you will be at the mercy of the rain, and we do all this to protect ourselves.
Q: DSP, let’s stay on the day under reference, 31st of January 2019, at La Bawaleshie, what uniform were your men wearing?
A: They were wearing operational uniform as I described to you. Because, erm, the uniforms… when you are operating…
Q: Okay, let me ask you this, we have all seen pictures, including the commissioners, of some men in dressed in brown khaki trousers, black T-shirts with a vest, which is also brown, and some wearing masks and carrying weapons, are these your men?
A: Carrying weapons?
Counsel: In some of the pictures.
A: Well, ermm, my lord on that particular that the only people who were…
Q: Before you go there, are these your men?
A: I haven’t seen those pictures so I can’t comment.
Counsel: Unfortunately, I don’t have these pictures in colour, but you can easily tell if they are your men or not.
Counsel walks to the witness, DSP Azugu, to show him the pictures.
Counsel: My lord, let the records reflect that the witness has been shown pictures of the men I am referring to.
DSP points to some men in the sheet of paper with pictures and says, “yes these ones I can confirm that they are my men.”
Q: So, they are your men?
A: Yes please; they are my men.
Q: What about the one?
A: Because it’s black and white I can’t see well, so I cannot easily identify him as part of my men.
Q: Very well, but then for the record, you can tell that the picture I am showing you, even though it’s black and white, they are your men?
A: Yes, my lord.
Q: You can also say for the record that some of them are wearing helmets over masks?
A: Yes, my lord.
Q: You can also say for the record that some of them, though they are not wearing helmets, they are masked.
A: Yes, my lord.
Counsel points to another man in the picture and asks a question.
Q: Now, talking about weapons, on this gentleman here, standing behind the car, what is hanging by his side?
DSP examines the picture and answer:
A: I can’t ascertain, because it is black and white I can’t ascertain.
Q: Now you have told the commission that your men fired gunshots?
A: Yes, my lord.
Q: But, then you are doubting when I told you that they were carrying arms.
A: My lord, I said we issued arms to the police, and I even ordered them to give them warning shots.
Q: What about the civilian component?
A: Nobody was issued a gun.
Q: Now, these men we see here (referring to picture), is there any, to the best of your knowledge, a civilian component among them, you were with them on that day, set off together with them, so tell the commission if there is a civilian component or not?
A: Ermm, my lord, I can’t confirm from the picture because it is black and white
Q: Very well, did any member of the civilian component wear the apparel for the day, which is the black T-shirt, brown trousers, brown vest and mask, to the best of your knowledge?
A: Yes, my lord.
Q: Did any of them carry guns?
A: To the best of my knowledge my lord, none of them carried guns.
Q: Now DSP, from your account, what was the purpose for the mask?
A: My lord, errm, as a matter of fact, that particular operation was among a lot of operations that we have conducted, and as SWAT, some of the men that we go on the field with are normally use as informants within the areas they come from.
We also use them as surveillance officers who give us information from areas that most us cannot go, so when there is any operation and they are going to a particular location where they know that they would be identified, we allow them to use the mask so that it doesn’t hinder subsequent operations. It is not for any ulterior motive.