07.05.2011 Feature Article

The Barbarians Amidst Us

The Barbarians Amidst Us
07.05.2011 LISTEN

I am still trying to process a rather morally and visually disgusting story that was posted on the website of on April 21, 2011. Accompanying the story was the gut-wrenching picture of a man with a sheared off and bloodied right ear that was alleged to be the barbaric handiwork of some city guards employed by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA).

In the story, captioned “Trader's Ear Chopped Off By AMA Taskforce,” readers were told that Mr. Ebenezer Obeng, 35, and victim of an allegedly brutal assault by the aforesaid city guards, had been so savagely manhandled because he had flouted an AMA bylaw prohibiting hawkers from selling their wares on sidewalks and pavements of the Accra metropolis.

For starters, the manner by which Mr. Obeng, a foot-ware seller, sustained his disfiguring and life-threatening injury leaves much to be desired. On this score, two variant accounts are given, neither one of which puts the city guards involved in any laudable light.

The first account, provided by the victim himself, has a prostrate Mr. Obeng having his ear violently stamped upon and ripped off by the heavy boots of an angry city guard. The latter, we are told, was angry because Mr. Obeng had, allegedly, altercated with the city guards while the latter were attempting to eject the street hawker from the spot where he had his wares displayed.

Needless to say, about the only situation in which the ripping off of Mr. Obeng's ear would have made a little bit of sense, without necessarily meeting with the approval of the passive observer, onlooker, or even a bystander, would be if the victim had been clearly demonstrated to have endangered the lives of the arresting city guards, such as drawing up a jack-knife or even a gun and actually attempting to use it against any of these guards. Quite interestingly, however, no such threat had been alleged to have been posed by the victim in anyway.

The second narrative account, allegedly provided by the Public Relations Officer of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, Numo Blafo III, has Mr. Obeng struggling with arresting city guards at the (wrought-iron?) gate leading into the “Holy Gardens” headquarters of the city guards at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle for what purpose and reason, readers are not told.

Anyway, according to Numo Blafo III, Mr. Obeng sustained his unsightly ear injury as a result of having his head banged by the guards against the gate leading into the “Holy Gardens.”

In both accounts, it goes without saying that the city guards are guilty of intentionally and violently causing bodily harm to Mr. Obeng primarily because the latter had, allegedly, resisted arrest by the city guards.

The preceding, of course, brings us to a third narrative element, which concerns the fact of whether, indeed, city guards employed by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly are invested with the same coercive powers as those invested in a sworn member of the Ghana Police Service, for example, or these guards are simply authorized to issue tickets and/or summonses to hawkers and vendors who flout metropolitan bylaws vis-à-vis quality-of-life issues.

Anyway, I have elected to put quotation marks around the name of Holy Gardens because I know this spooky location just outside the northern perimeter of the Kwame Nkrumah Circle very well and even had the privilege to perform there when it was called Salifu Amankwaa Gardens and had just been created prior to the mid-1980s. And to be certain, other than those blissful Saturday evenings when the place was converted into a makeshift entertainment center, there is absolutely nothing “Holy” about “Holy Gardens.” If anything at all, it may be more aptly described as eerily approximating the very depths of “Hell,” at least by those who had the all-too-common misfortune of being dragged there when the notoriously exuberant radical faux-revolutionary Mr. Salifu Amankwaaa ruled the proverbial roost.

The last time that I heard of Mr. Amankwaa and his wanton PNDC “revolutionary” exploits, the man had, allegedly, fatally assaulted an elderly relative of the Ga-Mantse and was punitively oscillating somewhere between death by firing squad and life imprisonment.

Anyway, what the avoidably sad story of Mr. Ebenezer Obeng and other equally tragic but largely untold stories of vigilantism all over the Accra metropolis tell us, is the fact that virtually nothing has changed for the better between the unprecedented reign-of-terror generously visited on Ghanaians by the Rawlings-led Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) and the Mills-led National Democratic Congress (NDC).

According to Numo Blafo III, the AMA Public Relations Officer, the AMA is in the process of investigating the evidently excessive use of force on the part of city guards which precipitated the loss of Mr. Obeng's right-ear flap. We are told that personnel found to be criminally culpable of exacting such barbaric bodily harm on Mr. Obeng will be punished to the fullest extent of the law. We hope, indeed, that Numo Blafo III and his superiors in the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, in particular Mayor Alfred Oko Vanderpuije, mean every word of their statement.

Ultimately, what matters most is that the AMA responsibly undertakes to underwrite any medical expenses involved in seeking reconstructive surgery for Mr. Obeng as well as affording the latter a reasonable package of compensation. And on the latter score, it goes without saying that strict and much more humane operational guidelines may also have to be designed for the city guards.

Indeed, had Mr. Obeng even been caught snatching the purse/wallet of an unsuspecting citizen or even a tourist, ripping off his ear would not have met the criterion of condign, or even measured, punishment. The lesson here, of course, is that under no circumstances, whatsoever, ought any hardworking Ghanaian attempting to eke out a modest existence for himself/herself and his/her family be subjected to the sort of punitive barbarism meted Mr. Obeng.

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is a Governing Board Member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI) and the author, most recently, of “The Obama Serenades” (, 2011). E-mail: [email protected]


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