Somewhere in 2017, I was waiting at the reception area of a private company to see a friend when a man walked up to me. I hadn’t met him before, but in the pre-Covid-19 era, it was easier to recognise people you know on television or in the media. That’s how he knew me.
He mentioned his name and told me he was a corporal of the Ghana Armed Forces. He was an escort to a chief executive officer of a state-owned enterprise. When he left, I wondered why the CEO of that non-sensitive establishment needed a security escort. And why a soldier, not the police?
During the Supreme Court hearing of the 2020 election petition, a photograph went viral of an escort soldier who was carrying the file of a lawyer believed to be in the legal team of the president. That viral photograph stoked the debate on whether soldiers weren’t doing the work of the police. Some narratives emerged had it that soldiers had become errand boys and girls for the political class and some were even pounding fufu for their “masters”.
During the election petition, the soldiers were also seen providing security for the chairperson of the Electoral Commission. Prior to that, I had known a deputy minister whose security escort was a soldier.
When questions were asked, the government said it hadn’t breached any security protocols. Defenders of the regime said soldiers could be deployed to provide escort duties depending on the security situation.
Then, last weekend, a letter withdrawing four military men who were part of the Speaker of Parliament’s security detail hit the internet. The letter was signed by the Chief of Staff of the Ghana Armed Forces, Major General N.P Andoh, and the withdrawal was to take effect from January 14, 2022.
According to the letter from the Ghana Armed Forces, the soldiers “were attached to the Office of the Right Honourable Speaker of Parliament without the proper procedure.” They were, therefore, being withdrawn “whiles steps are made to regularize their attachment.”
When I read the letter, the first question that came to mind was whether the presence of the soldiers in the Speaker’s security detail could not make it possible for the so-called regularisation of their attachment to continue. Why would the military withdraw them when it was not, in principle, against their attachment?
When the public reacted, the Ministry of National Security released a statement and stated that “personnel of the Ghana Armed Forces do not form part of the security detail for the Speaker and Parliament as Parliamentary security support is provided by the Ghana Police Service.”
The contents of the Ghana Armed Forces letter and the press statement from the Ministry of National Security expose the disingenuous nature of the withdrawal of the soldiers. The military said they were being withdrawn so that their attachment could be regularised, but the ministry said they were not supposed to be there in the first place.
Who do we believe? Would the regularisation happen or not?
Even as we struggle to make meaning of this, can the Ministry of National Security tell us whether or not the security details of ministers, deputy ministers and some CEOs of state agencies include personnel of the Ghana Armed Forces?
If the Ministry of National Security had said the withdrawal formed part of a policy to withdraw soldiers from all escort duties from officials and offices that were not supposed to be protected by soldiers, it would have made a lot of sense. I would have applauded the ministry and the government for restoring order.
But that is not the case.
What we know is that the Speaker of Parliament, Alban S.K. Bagbin is a member of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC). What we also know is that Mr. Bagbin is making the work of the government difficult in parliament. Critics say this is the most vindictive administration of the Fourth Republic.
It is safe to connect the dots and conclude someone is being reminded that there is a greater power than the Office of the Speaker of Parliament. Someone is being reminded that many more privileges could be caused to erode from that office.
If that wasn’t the case, why would the office of a deputy minister or chairperson of the Electoral Commission deserve military attachment, while the Office of the Speaker, who is third after the president and vice-president, doesn’t? and would the military attachment have been withdrawn if Bagbin had been an NPP Speaker of Parliament?
Any objective watcher of these events won’t be wrong to conclude that there are sinister motives in the withdrawal of the Speaker’s military attaché. And the conflicting messages from the Ghana Armed Forces and the Ministry of National Security have not helped to dispel this.
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Estate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org