Alice Adu always thought Tamale was chaotic - associating it with conflict rooted in land and chieftaincy issues. However after visiting the northern city, she discovers something unexpected.
Minister of the Interior, Prosper Bani was going to assess and beef up the level of security in Tamale and its environs ahead of the 2016 General Elections.
I was terrified: I’ve always, admittedly, wrongly stereotyped Tamale as being chaotic - associating it with conflict rooted in land and chieftaincy issues. The chronic news of negativity that always streamed from there helped grow this perception. But how wrong I would be proved to be!
I was anxious, too. I had no idea what to expect to see, or what it’d feel like, and this suspense weighed on my thought process in the days of anticipation. And oh, the knowledge that we would be going via air got me so excited: it was going to be a first for me, and so you can imagine!
At about 5.30 am on Monday 10th October, I was already at the Kotoka International Airport, all sharp and punctual, waiting for the rest of the entourage to come in. I was asked by the protocol officer to start with the check-in since they were still on their way.
I stood in a queue of about 10 people and waited patiently for my turn. When all was done, we were directed to another room where I sat together with about 30 more people waiting to board the flight.
It was going to go down, finally. The time had come! I was on board. After the usual prompts and instructions, it was time for the flight to take off. As I mentioned earlier, it was my debut air experience so the adrenaline level was just out the roof. Thoughts were just flitting about in my head. I kept quizzing myself many times: Could what people had told me earlier about airplanes be true? Would I feel dizzy? Would I throw up? Would I scream?
Being up in the skies felt wonderful at the beginning till I began to panic when the plane started making sudden movements, going through what felt like potholes in the clouds!
Yeah, very funny - I know: turbulence! But of course, I didn’t know that then, and you weren’t in my shoes too; in fact, I’m sure you’d have done worse.
We finally and by God’s grace landed in Tamale around 7.30am and the first thing that caught my attention was a female nurse (judging by her uniform) in her early 30s who had a little girl in front of her and rode a motor bike. I watched in awe at its rarity, but little did I know there were more of such sights in Tamale! Women on motorbikes, owning the ride like nobody’s business. In about five minutes, I counted about 30 of such ‘bosswomen’ and the confidence with which they rode with was just inspiring. I remember wishing I could get out of the car and just stand by the road to observe it all. You hardly see a woman riding a motorbike in Accra. “This is very normal here,” the driver who had picked us up from the airport explained to me.
At about 12pm, we started work. The entourage was set, consisting of the Minister of Interior, the Inspector General of Police, Director of Prisons, P.R.O of the Ministry, Protocol officer and five reporters from Accra - including myself.
The first point of call on our itinerary was at the residence of the Northern Region Minister, Abdallah Abubakar. This was naturally the first step since we were in his Region and had to pay a courtesy call. He has a spacious office on the third floor of a storey building, part of two apartments, with the first housing his two secretaries, one of whom directed us to the second, which is his main office. We were received pleasantly.
During the meeting, the Interior Minister gave his reasons for traveling the North and in response Abdallah Abubakar told him, for now, there are no serious issues as the police and other security heads are putting all measures needed in place as part of preparations for the election.
He assured of a prevalence of peace before, during and after the election in the Northern region, which as you can imagine came as good, calming news for everyone on the entourage. This was especially reassuring because we had earlier felt a sense of collective terror upon being told of 81 flashpoints in the North, which is the highest ever recorded in all of Ghana’s 10 regions. Flashpoints are areas prone to electoral violence.
From there we headed straight to the office of the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO) regional secretariat. The Interior Minister asked how they are ‘faring’ and in response learnt that disasters which are common in the region are rains, conflicts, droughts, river and road accidents. They talked of working closely with their collaborators, who are members of the Northern Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, to play a role in supporting and managing disasters in the region. They however raised the issue of internet connectivity, citing it as a major challenge in the execution of their duties, handicapping their ability to send in important reports and reducing them to the outmoded dependence on paper.
The police were the next to be visited. We were received by the Regional Commander, DCOP Ken Yeboah, who reiterated his commitment to safeguarding peace in the region, elections or not. He also spoke of how calm the region had been recently, and how the Military have helped the police out greatly to address this because it looks like the people are not afraid of the police but rather “the rains and the military”. In response the IGP assured them of helping the region with more policemen if need be.
On day two of the tour we started our visit at the Tamale prisons. The minister first inspected the parade then we moved to the office of the commander who narrated the happenings and how many inmates were inside the yard. After the briefing, we went into the main yard where the minister started with some inspections of their kitchen, remand cells and we were received at a durbar organized by the inmates, where a musician, in his 50s limped to his post, watched on by the 460 other inmates in the yard of the prison.
In the heat of the North, the man used music to directly appeal on behalf of his fellow prisoners who have served more than 30 years.
And his appeal came moments after one of the convicts was carried on the shoulder of another into the yard, to take part in the durbar.
The musician welcomed the Minister and other security heads to the durbar and through a melodious tune asked for mercy for his colleagues.
He was cheered on by his fellow prisoners as the Minister with his entourage sat down quietly to listen to the lyrics sang in the style of ace reggae musician Shasha Marley.
"We know we have wronged society that is why we are serving in prison,” he sung.
The appeal didn't just end with the Minister but was extended to president John Dramani Mahama and his government to come to their aide.
"Please tell John Dramani Mahama to temper mercy with justice, please tell government that we won't steal, rape, murder, defile again.”
The yard was silent as the Minister's entourage quietly listened to the lyrics as four old men between the ages of 70 to 80, suspected to be the target of the music, sat on the front row right in front of the dignitaries.
In response the minister assured them that the government is not interested in keeping anybody there and also urged them to be prayerful, law abiding and to exhibit good conduct in order to benefit from government's' periodic amnesty when the time is due.
We left the prisons in a very sad mood, honestly, that is not a place you should even wish for your enemies, it was such an emotional moment. One thing which really shocked me was a young woman who had delivered there whilst serving a jail term of one year, what a beautiful baby girl, you couldn't help but feel extremely sorry for both mother and baby. At this point, I had tears filled up in my eyes. I know I'm a journalist but this I saw, I'm sure you will cry as well.
The catholic bishops conference had began that day so the entourage proceeded there. Present were the Electoral Commission chairperson, Charlotte Osei, IGP, Minister of Interior and some Bishops. The meeting was held behind close doors but after that the media was briefed on some happenings which the major discussion was about the EC and the disqualification of some political parties. The Catholic Bishops lauded it and entreated people to respect that decision.
On Wednesday, 12th October 2016, it was time for me to say goodbye to Tamale. I was leaving the good food, the serene atmosphere, the precedence we were given and the comfortable bed I laid on at my stay in the hotel.
Not forgetting my women who were riding the bikes.