An unresolved conflict between two rival camps of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) in the Bongo Constituency has burst into an open clash, leaving the area in a very tense atmosphere.
The brawl, involving supporters of the party’s parliamentary candidate, Edward Bawa, and a group opposed to the candidate, is remotely related to the party’s parliamentary primaries held in November, 2015.
Bongo has remained an NDC’s electoral stronghold since 1992 and it is the first time supporters of the party have engaged one another in a street fist fight. Some news reporters, before the clash, reportedly were attacked by alleged supporters of the parliamentary candidate, and most of the media practitioners who took footages of the fight left the constituency under police escort upon reported signals of a highway ambush by the same group.
Clash rooted in hooting video
Just last week, a 47-second video showing Edward Bawa dressed in a green-necked white smock being chased away by a group of constituents believed to be NDC supporters during a meeting at Vea, an electoral area in the constituency, went viral.
Whilst the clip was scattering across social media platforms, Edward Bawa reportedly told the press in Accra that the jeering group belonged to one of his competitors at the primaries who also hailed from that electoral area, Professor Ephraim Nsoh Avea. He is also alleged to have rubbished the video, saying he was not booed and shooed.
A group calling itself NDC Lai Group, a name connoting that the coalition is dead set against Edward Bawa’s candidature, convened a news conference Saturday to affirm that the parliamentary candidate was not only hooted at but also chased away at Vea.
The conference was scheduled for a space around the Bongo Post Office block. But just before the event could take off, supporters of the parliamentary candidate reportedly stormed the area and drove the Lai Lai group away on the excuse that they (the pro-Bawa group) had secured the space earlier for a programme. Although the anti-Bawa group saw the development as a ploy to disrupt the news conference, they relocated amid unpredictable grumbles to the shades of some neem trees in front of an isolated hall of the Bongo District Assembly about one hundred metres away.
News conference sparks punch-up
No sooner had the group settled under the trees for the event to begin than members of the rival camp emerged from all angles around the main road in the town to disrupt the conference. Tension then began to mount seriously. To avoid any bloodletting, conveners of the conference, armed with copies of their statement, decided to abandon the conference and rather issue a release and leave.
But, whilst the journalists around the boiling ground were soliciting some individual interviews with members of the coalition, the leading conveners of the conference returned to the original arrangement: to have a press conference. The group’s secretary, Francis Aloyagle, had barely read out the first line of the statement in front of a bouquet of recorders when supporters of the parliamentary candidate surged forward to dispel the gathering.
Tempers spun out of control. Taking each other on in splinter groups, a number of the supporters grabbed one another by their shirts and traded blows. Police officers arrived from the nearby Bongo Police Station to restore order. The conference resumed under the keen watch of a police team determined to remain at the scene until it was all over.
But unruffled by the presence of the law enforcers, some of the angry party members persistently uttered provoking statements that repeatedly rekindled violent confrontations that saw the police coming in each time to block, to plead and to warn.
“They have followed us here, drunk. And they have come to disrupt the programme. Look at how they are beating people here, left, right and centre,” Martin Ayenera Akolgo, a member of the Lai Lai group, poured out his frustrations as voices jangled loudly at the rowdy scene.
Media men ambushed
Three media men reportedly were attacked on their arrival at Bongo before the clash, their recorders and mobile phones seized.
Samuel Mbura, Head of Programmes at Tanga Radio in Bolgatanga and correspondent for Kumasi-based Kapital Radio, Frederick Awuni, Citi FM correspondent and Gaspard Adongo, a reporter with Word FM at Zuarungu in Bolgatanga, purportedly came under a sudden attack from some alleged supporters of the parliamentary candidate.
It is said to have happened around the St. Anne’s Catholic Church, the first church to the left entering the Bongo Township.
“We just moved in and we understood that they told them not to hold it over there because they would not allow it to happen in Bongo Constituency. Just on my way, a constituency executive, Stephen Awinmarkiya, saw me and was like ‘you have been writing stories about our parliamentary candidate and you have been making the party have some problems in the constituency’.
“Before I realised, all of them just at once came on me and took my keys. Then, the [constituency] secretary told me categorically that he’s going to make sure I pay for it,” Samuel Mbura told Starr News shortly after he had disclosed that he had reported the matter to the police in Bongo.
Angry supporters threaten skirt-and-blouse votes
Tempers at the scene shared centre stage with a collective vow by members of NDC Lai Lai Group to campaign and vote against Edward Bawa but do otherwise for the leader of the party, President John Dramani Mahama, in what is known in Ghana politics as “voting skirt and blouse”.
Their statement listed eight reasons they want their own parliamentary candidate to crash massively in defeat in November. The group claimed Mr. Bawa did not win the primary “fairly” and indicated that he only got involved in Bongo politics after he had mobilised resources to contest the 2011 primaries in the area. Some party executives, from the constituency to the branch levels, according to them, suffered undeserved defeat in 2015 because Mr. Bawa sponsored his preferred candidates to elbow them out.
The candidate was said to have divided the John Mahama Ladies recently inaugurated in the area and caused disunity in the party with his supporters also alleged not to have regard for those not in their camp. They also claimed Mr. Bawa, who is also the Head of Communications for the Energy Ministry, brought some solar panels and lamps for the constituents but deliberately left out those perceived not to have supported him in the buildup to the primaries in the sharing.
An angry woman, whose voice could hardly be heard after she lost it in the clash, told Starr News at the scene: “My name is Azure Maame, the Deputy Women Organiser for Bongo Constituency. They said they would not give me a solar lamp because I don’t support Edward Bawa. They said I support Lawyer Bawa (one of the defeated parliamentary aspirants). So, they didn’t give it to me. I have a group, Ghana Head Dressers and Beauticians Association. They didn’t give any of them because of me.”
“And they were sponsored by the alleged PC (parliamentary candidate). He bought drinks for them to get drunk to come and beat us. He wants to be a parliamentarian in Bongo and these are the people he works with; people who are very aggressive, unforgiving. No matter what, we are going to vote skirt and blouse in Bongo!” Mr. Akolgo exclaimed with rage amid thunderous cheers from supporters and blowing of vuvuzelas at full volume.
Journalists leave Bongo under police escort
Reports from the scene had spread beyond the constituency through the reporters’ phones before the conference was over but the reporters themselves could not leave the constituency.
Their lives came under threat after it was gathered that supporters of the parliamentary candidate, who supposedly did not want the event reported, had gone behind the rocks outside the town in ambush on the half-tarred road to the regional capital. Police officers keeping watch at the scene to avoid further disturbances advised the trapped journalists to ask for security assistance at the Bongo District Police Command.
The commander, DSP Kojo Appiah, provided an escort squad who accompanied the newsmen to the border that separates Bongo from the regional capital. The newshounds left the district police headquarters, told by the command that the strife in Bongo would be brought under control.
No reactions from candidate, two others
Attempts by Starr News to hear from parliamentary candidate before coming out with this report failed as he did not answer the calls placed on his mobile phone.
The Bongo District Chief Executive, Alexis Ayamdor, also came under fire from the NDC Lai Lai Group at the conference. The group’s statement lashed him for allegedly creating disunity in the party by openly supporting Mr. Bawa at the primaries, for once showing barefaced disregard for Albert Abongo, the Member of Parliament for Bongo, prior to the MP’s appointment as Upper East Regional Minister and for reportedly taking decisions for the party and government without recourse to the party’s senior members and cadres.
The Constituency Chairman, Tahiru Aberinga, was accused of not showing “good leadership qualities”, of being “autocratic” and using “divide and rule tactics” to lead the party.
Both the DCE and the constituency chairman did not respond to their telephone calls when Starr News sought to hear their side of the story. The Constituency Secretary, Mr. Awinmarkiya, refuted the allegations that he attacked reporters going to cover the conference and that he issued a threat, reportedly telling one of them he would “pay for it”.
“Pay for what? What is he going to pay for? He can even report to National Security. I don’t have problem with that. I’ve not said those words. He can report it to any appropriate quarters. I have never said that,” Mr. Awinmarkiya disputed.
Joy in NPP’s camp
Meanwhile, the NDC’s main political foe, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), looks very satisfied at the development in Bongo, dying for all the details, including the video clips, of the clash.
But NPP’s communicators have been very cautious, too, saying they are not going to take chances.
“I see those things as a positive signal for the NPP because it tells me that there is no unity within the NDC party in Bongo. It tells me that it’s a good signal for the NPP if only we can capitalise on it, go to those areas, work hard for those disgruntled NDC members to see the NPP as a very, very attractive party to them. Then, it is something that will inure to benefits for us. But if we sit down as a party and say that because they are fighting among themselves, there is no unity in that party, and that in itself would help us, I’m afraid it will not happen,” a famous NPP’s social commentator in the Upper East Region, Kareem Ahmed Bediako, told Starr News in Bolgatanga moments after the brawl that lasted about two hours.
He added: “We are fully aware of events in the NDC, what is happening there. We are not going to take chances. We are going to approach all the disgruntled NDC members, sell the policies and programmes of NPP and Nana Addo very well to those people and let them appreciate the competence of Nana Addo and all our parliamentary candidates.”
The NPP attracted 11, 118 votes (32.01%) in the 2012 parliamentary elections at Bongo, finishing behind the NDC who obtained 18,609, representing 53.57%. In the presidential polls that same year, the NDC garnered 23,185 votes (64.42%) whilst the NPP got 9,414 votes, representing 26.16%.