Umaru Sanda Writes: Why Oh Why, My Brother Manasseh?

I hesitated a lot before publishing this piece. I conceptualized the idea and abandoned it several times. I consulted many people and got varying responses. I even told Manasseh himself that I was writing a critique of his work but I may abandon it.

I went through these gruelling steps, not because I am wrong in writing, but because of the many intolerant people out there who think only on party lines and not how to advance the nation.

Of course, I know Manasseh Azure Awuni himself should have no qualms with a critique from his colleague in the media space because he lives on the criticism of others. I mean, even William Shakespeare’s works have been critiqued by ordinary students of Literature like myself when I was in High School so no one is exempted.

Back at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, I recall the countless number of articles Manasseh hung on the few trees on campus and how people who disagreed with him wrote to critique. It was purely intellectual intercourse.

And for the loyalists of the Multimedia conglomerate who may misconstrue my post as an attack on the organization because of the competition that exists between us, please remember that the leading brand in that media organization, Joy FM, describes itself as radio for “discerning listeners” and discerning listeners surely do have dissenting opinions and for me, I see this critique against my brother’s work as another step in the peer review spirit.

I have known Manasseh since our days at the Ghana Institute of Journalism in 2008 and we have grown to become brothers and confidants. We share views and visit each other and reflect on our short journey thus far. In so many ways, we share a similar background and often when we meet, we reflect on our respective lives and thank God for how far we have come. Indeed, our year group is ever proud of his exploits and when he was declared Journalist of the Year shortly after leaving school, we all knew he deserved it.

Over the past few years, my brother’s work has shown that when given the chance, “the son of a poor watchman can show to the world that journalism is a skill and not an inheritance”. His work on the Mahama Ford saga and his work dubbed the “Sad SADA Saga” stand out tall and would be remembered by history.

So when I saw a Joy News promo about an exclusive “undercover” investigative piece coming up by Manasseh which bordered on a “militia in the heart of the nation” with complicity from the NPP government, I smiled and said, “The Bongo Boy has done it again”.

Because of my relationship with Manasseh, I know he does not largely follow the line of secret recording/filming type of investigative journalism that Anas AremeyawAnas deploys. But when I saw in the promo that he had gone undercover for this particular work, I said, for what it’s worth, the guy has probably had his “Paul on the Damascus journey” moment and chosen to switch gears.

So extensive was the promo and hype of the documentary that people on all my social media timelines discussed nothing else on that day. Ghanaians have not anticipated a media publication like this in a long time (since Nyantakyi was caught on Anas’ cameras engaging in an unprovoked verbal diarrhea I guess).

I have heard that someone who was stuck in the Accra traffic parked his car and hopped on an “okada” motorbike home just so he could catch the show on TV that evening. It was an evening of anxiety and I have heard rumors that persons at the helm of the country’s security were on tenterhooks ahead of the airing.

For a journalist working with a competitor media house, you can imagine my anxieties that evening. I worried that my boss would be unhappy with his Newsroom that all eyeballs would be shifting to the Joy News channel that evening.

I was scheduled to present the television news around the same time the documentary would be airing on the other platform and deep down; I worried that my broadcast that evening would be watched only by the camera crew in the studio during filming.

Truthfully, I was anxious and hurt that it was not my media house that landed that big story. Out of desperation, I told the studio Manager to ensure the technicians in the Master Control Room record the other channel for me. In fact, if it were possible, I would have been watching the much talked about documentary while presenting my show. After all, this was documentary which I thought was going to shake the very core of the nation’s security and which could possibly lead to our first Presidential Impeachment!

Immediately I finished my show, I fled like I was being chased by bees to the Control Room. I screamed for the team to playback the recording and they did in haste. I sat on the edge of the chair and watched with the attentiveness of a prey near a den of lions. In my wild thoughts, I have already imagined President Akufo-Addo or any of his appointees in desert boots, wearing a military camouflage and holding a cane or some kind of weapon and ordering party foot soldiers with blood-sucking eyes as they undergo “militia-type” training somewhere close to the seat of government. Because I have watched many movies about jungle warfare and have listened to the BBC over the decades report on hardcore militias operating mostly on the African continent, I already had the whole plot covered in my head–all I was waiting for, was to see it in black and white!

Then after 22 minutes, a seemingly unamused host (Israel Laryea) showed up on the screen and announced that the “movie” was over and before I could say COW, he said goodnight and fizzled out.

I blinked in quick successions and turned to the technician. “Is that all?” I quizzed. Before he could say the obvious, my mind raced back to the early 2000s when after what seemed like a national hullabaloo, former President Jerry John Rawlings appeared before the National Reconciliation Commission and after a short session, he was asked to go, and which made him blurt out to the chairman of the Commission; “Is that all?”

For a moment, I thought the technicians had not recorded the whole piece so I went on my phone to watch it from Facebook where it supposedly streamed live. I wasn’t successful in that. Frustrated, I started scouting for it until a media colleague sent me the full video via WhatsApp. I watched it and realized it’s the same length as what my technicians recorded.

I felt betrayed, cheated and hurt by what I watched. The documentary I watched made me feel like I had just pulled a “one-minute” on a lady I had flown to Dubai on a private jet. “This is soooooo wrong”, I muttered. “You mislead a man on his own TV set?” I laughed. But I knew it was not funny.

As an anxious viewer who was wooed by the enticing promos on Myjoyonline and other media platforms, I felt defiled and insulted that this piece was paraded as an undercover investigation into the operations of a “militia in the heart of the nation” when the evidence presented shows these guys aren’t even fit for a school cadet.

The first 7 minutes focused on the violent Ayawaso West Wuogon By-Election of January 31st and while I watched, I knew that although the allotment was rather long, it still served the purpose because it helped put the impending revelation into proper context. So I waited. The rest of it was meant to reveal the shocker, and boy, did it shock me? Viewers were subjected to a shaky footage of young men and women wearing white shirts and mostly over-sized jackets on a loose parade listening to a braggart tell them tales that could pass as By-The-Fire-Side stories. For a moment, I thought they were ushers or waiters at a wedding reception organized in the Aburi Botanical Gardens.

In the boastful words of their so-called commander, we learn that these guys wear “cheap jackets” and from the footage, they did not even hold toy-guns for their so-called training. From what I saw, their “Commander” did not even hold a cane.

Ghana’s current democracy emerged from series of revolutions and military coup d’etats. People who lived those days tell tales of fear and grief. Ghana has played host to thousands of refugees fleeing civil wars from neighbouring West African states. There are parts of the country that are under curfew and military tanks and boots are a scary sight for many. Now, if you package a documentary and say you have “uncovered” the operations of a militia group in a country which is just healing from the thuggery of masked men at an election center paraded as “National Security Operatives”, you either do not appreciate fully, what militia truly means, or you are up to some hyped mischief intended to earn you undeserved eyeballs.

The scariest of the definitions I found for the word “militia” on Google said it is “a military force that engages in rebel or terrorist activities in opposition to a regular army.” But these guys shown in the so-called “militia’ group had nothing about them that could even scare primary school children, let alone, members of our beloved Ghana Armed Forces. I know you cannot construct terrorism or militia on a man’s face by just looking at them, but “if it does not walk like a duck, nor quack like a duck, it definitely isn’t a duck”. At worst, it could be an ugly hungry duckling.

In 2018, the International Criminal Court in The Hague began hearing a case involving an ex-militia leader from the Central African Republic. Alfred Yekatom, popularly known as “Colonel Rambo” faced 14 charges for his role in that country’s bloody unrest between Muslim and Christian militia groups in 2013.

His charges include murder, mutilation, torture, cruel treatment and recruiting child soldiers into the anti-Balaka militia group which attacked Muslims and claimed several dozens of lives. Members of his group, which was formed to fight another pro-Muslim militia group known as Seleka, wield weapons including guns, grenades and machetes.

In 2014, the International Criminal Court in The Hague sentenced a former Congolese militia leader, Germain Katanga to 12 years in jail for various offences relating to the massacre during the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His crimes also included attacks on civilian populations, destroying enemy property and pillaging. Katanga’s Lendu ethnic militia was responsible for the murder of some 200 civilians when it operated from 2003.

As I recollect this history, I wondered how hard Katanga or Yekatom would be laughing when they watch Manasseh’s documentary after the hype about a militia operating in Ghana. Their laughter, from the prison cells, would surely be one of mockery and disgust for what we call militia. Sadly for the producers of the documentary, the narrator even said this so-called “De-Eye” militia group has a website on which it claims to be a security company whose recruits receive “training from retired military officers”.

I recall how in its early days of operation, the UT Group was said to have employed the services of ex-military personnel to help it go after defaulting customers. There are several retired military and police officers who help train members of private security companies in Ghana. I wonder how that makes the training of these guys at the Castle in Osu akin to militia training.

The closest the documentary could link this group to the President was a claim that it is commanded by a man popularly called “Chooman” who had once been in the employ of Nana Akufo-Addo and who was reportedly fired in 2010 (6 clear years before the man became president).

From what the documentary showed us, this braggart of a commander tells the group about the President’s “knowledge of the group and how impressed he was with them”. Again, the documentary, says some 400 members of this militia group attended an event organized for one of the NPP’s founders, S. K Dombo and played various roles including security at the main gates. Shots were shown of people in dark suits standing at the gates and we are told they are members of “De-Eye” group.

But with my knowledge that members of the regular National Security team who conduct searches on visitors to the Jubilee House (seat of government) dress in a similar fashion, I am left wondering whether these guys I saw in the documentary are actual militia or just part of those national security operatives I see at the presidency. The funniest part of the story is when the narrator told viewers that some of the 400-man team was used as seat fillers in the Conference Center. Absurd! Dictionaries must definitely rethink the definition of “militia”, at least, in the Ghana context.