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08.10.2004 Feature Article

Dagbon – When will Justice Come for the Ya-Naa?

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It is now clear that as far as the case of the Yendi murders is concerned, the government of Ghana has so far scorned all calls for justice. The mess is illustrated by the actions and utterances of its top officials including the president himself, the interior minister and others. The President who described the murder of the King of Dagbon as a “heinous crime” turned round to say that when he goes to Yendi it will be to reconcile both sides; that is to reconcile murders and their victims. In this kind of Kufour justice, he wants to proclaim himself a just man who can harm no one.

What government wants the whole world to believe is that Dagbon has its long-standing chieftaincy feud that got out of hand and government is doing its best to manage it. This is the story is being propagandized by government to cover up its embarrassment in woefully falling to stop a heinous crime that it could have.

This is also the hypothesis with which the government appointed commission of inquiry started its work. Ironically therefore, a commission set up to identify murderers stated at its first sitting that the murderers and their victims “are brothers and should go home and live together in peace”. Mr. Hackman Owusu, the Interior Minister, also says that he and his government cannot give justice by perpetrating injustice - no one knows what he means. All this spinning are attempts to rationalize the murder of the Ya Naa and his elders.

Such judgments aimed at appeasing political allies, lie behind the stances that government has taken so far regarding the Yendi massacre. Clear reasoning has been coloured by political judgments and this therefore means that government stands stubbornly committed to protecting murderers and is not desirous of pursuing them. By refusing to vigorously investigate the Yendi murders, government along with its law enforcement agencies have firmly sided themselves with those who are intent on the blatant misuse of state power.

For now let me get to the purpose for writing this piece, namely to provide brief background facts to the murders. The account below gives details that most Ghanaians do not know, but which are commonly told in Dagbon, about the terrible events that took place in Yendi.

As luck would have it, speculations about the fate of the Ya Naa were widespread in Dagbon during campaigns towards the general elections in 2000. It was feared then that if the NPP won power the Dagomba faction that usually supports the UP tradition, and who oppose the King of Dagbon, Ya Naa Yakubu Andani II, would take advantage and use state power to remove him. To back their assertion those who feared that the kingship might be interfered with cited a similar situation which occurred in August 1969.

So persistent were the speculations in the run-up to the elections that it took the Ya Naa himself to come out on radio to set the minds of people at rest (an audio tape of the radio interview is available!). Vice President Aliu Mahama, who was then a presidential running mate, said at the time that if they came to power their government could not remove even the lowest placed chief let alone the King of Dagbon himself. This was Aliu's pledge to the people of Dagbon. But despite this promise by the NPP government not to disturb the Ya Naa, they lent support to the creation of a parallel traditional authority to his throne in Yendi when they came to power in 2001. The creation of this parallel authority is what led to the murders in a manner unimaginable to even the most wicked. Some continue to ask whether the August 1969 and March 2002 attacks on the Ya Naa, when a particular political tradition assumes state power in Ghana, are just coincidence.

Soon after the inauguration of the new government in January 2001 delegations from Yendi started to bombard the corridors of power, instigating for government to interfere in Yendi. So intense were these demands that the NPP party chairman in Yendi often led these delegations to Accra to meet first with their tribesmen in government and then with higher government officials. This is one of the reasons why some people point to an NPP connection. There were at least nine such delegation to the corridors of power. There is even evidence that the Yaa Na was contacted by government emissaries as to how to appease these trouble makers.

It is now evident that these people did not limit themselves to dialogue to get what they wanted – they were also preparing to attack the king's palace. Yet government failed to recognize the extent to which these their party allies were prepared to go and did not put a beat on them.

On 22 February 2002, a month before the murders, the parallel authority to the Ya Naa was given tacit official support to celebrate the Eid festival. Some people in Government made it possible for a busload of police from Tamale and another busload of soldiers to travel to Yendi to help those who were now openly challenging the Ya Naa, to celebrate the festival.

The Ya Naa complained bitterly to the Police and the Regional Minister about this event and added that what he was now experiencing had not occurred in the last twenty years or more; could the open challenge to his authority be due to the change in government? He was so humiliated by this open defiance that he asked the police to stay away from his own Eid celebration a couple of days later.

[After his murder, his snub of the police has now been turned against him, accusing him of refusing state protection. This accusation was captured very cruelly somewhere by a very senior minister when he implied that the Ya Naa was killed because he “depended on his own guns” instead of the state.]

The parallel authority, having been so empowered, again prepared to challenge the Yaa Na to celebrate the coming Fire Festival. The Ya Naa and his elders were murdered as he was preparing to celebrate the March 2002 Fire Festival. Curious enough, just two weeks before he was murdered, Vice President Aliu Mahama flew in to Yendi, met with the Ya Naa and assured him that he was very safe.

Events on that day, 27 March which has become the 'Ides of March' of Dagbon, are too clear to confuse any dispassionate investigator. The palace had been under siege for the third day running. Police and army reinforcements arrived in Yendi the in evening of the second day of the siege, that is Tuesday 26 March. So when on the morning of 27 March at about 0700 hrs the sound gunfire changed and tempo intensified, many were those who thought that it was the security forces that arrived overnight who were stamping state authority in order to break the siege. Alas, this was not to be. Apparently the attackers had received fresh professional killers with powerful weapons and had overrun the palace, all was over by 0930 hours.

Soon after the gunfire died down, a mob gathered and the dreaded war song of the Dagomba was heard. Those who understood drum-language knew at once, as they say in Dagbani, that “the waters had been muddied” - the owner of everything, the lion … the Ya Naa, King of all of Dagbon had fallen.

The sort of cannibalism and barbarity that was displayed surpasses even what is known about Liberia, Sierra Leone or Rwanda. The events are painful to narrate and surely will be shocking and sound unbelievable to the reader. The King was decapitated and, Good Lord!, his head mounted on a spear. Others made a necklace of his severed hand with his wristwatch left on, and wore it and brazenly.

Women and children who were brave enough to put up with the gruesome sight of the severed human parts mounted on a spear soon joined a procession. No one could mistake whose body parts were being paraded. Other people watched in bewilderment, some in shock. But believe it or not, others danced, and some ululated as the Butchers of Yendi marched to present the body parts to those who gave them orders to murder. There were even cameramen in attendance and some brazenly posed for snapshots holding the severed head as they passed it on, one to the other.

It is important not to forget that all this occurred in broad daylight and it is even said some CID and BNI officers mingled with the crowd. Other state officers like ordinary policemen, prison wardens, civil servants and students were left gazing in shock.

Narratives such as this are commonly told by both sides to the conflict in Yendi: one side tells it in tears and in grief hoping that somebody will listen while the other side tells it with glee and bliss and boasting that the matter will end there.

Despite that there was this multitude of people who took part in this evil procession and that there were photographers, drum beaters and those who were soaked in blood, dancing and rejoicing for several hours, no arrest were made.

A commission of inquiry was set up to find out those who committed the murders. It is obvious to all who followed proceedings at the hearings that some key suspects committed perjury. For example the fellow to whom body parts were presented denied ever receiving the body parts or even hearing of the death of the king on the day he was murdered. Mention must be made of two accomplices who were arrested in Tamale in the immediate aftermath of the murders and interrogated by the authorities. It is said that they sang like canary birds, to the investigators at the army barracks in Tamale, about their role and that of other accomplices in the sordid events but the NPP government is adamantly not interested. A sate official, in the person of a Deputy Attorney General, did not help matters when she tried to cover up this chief accomplice: she said that the body parts were sent to this man quite all right but that “he drove them away”.

Despicable and sordid as this multiple murder case is, some people want to trivialize it. Somehow it is believed that the case will disappear. Prominent citizens of Dagbon who are demanding justice are being demonized and branded as warlords. Even the lay person would think that the above happenings point to a conspiracy to murder. But instead of government to carry out a vigorous investigation, the victims who have no power or means to investigate are being taunted to either produce evidence or to shut up and forgive.

Government is demanding evidence while at the same time some officials are busily obliterating and twisting facts in order to protect the chief suspect and accomplice in the crime. The relatives are not even to be seen to be mournful or express grieve about those gruesome and murky events. When one is seen lamenting or condemning those barbaric acts, it is interpreted as taking an 'entrenched position' and an act against government.

The evidence of the events leading to the murders is patently clear for a government that is truly impartial. The NPP government claims to be the bastion of democracy and the rule of law in Ghana and is supposed to be setting a better example; instead they are giving ugly examples and creating 'black-holes' in our justice system. By shielding political allies from facing justice they are inaugurating a golden age of impunity in Ghana.

The rise of International Criminal Courts should have inspired the NPP government to prosecute the criminals roaming about openly in Yendi. The case of the Yendi massacre is being watched closely within Ghana, by foreign governments, and also by the United Nations. How government can maintain a balance between murderers and their victims and still remain credible in the eyes of the international community is yet to be seen. God bless Ghana. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Dasana Pukariga
Dasana Pukariga, © 2004

The author has 8 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: DasanaPukariga

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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