Story by Paul Gozo and Edwin Appiah
More than two years after the Emile Short Commission into the Ayawaso West Wuogon electoral violence recommended the disbandment of the National Security SWAT team, the group and other armed civilians in the National Security Secretariat still operate in a manner that appears contrary to standard procedures.
The Fourth Estate has spoken to multiple sources and obtained videos of the National Security operatives’ recent “rampage” in Asankragua in the Western Region, where a journalist was assaulted when he went to the scene.
Day: May 7, 2021
Location: Xing-Di Casino, Asankragua, Western Region
The Toyota V8 Land Cruiser had hardly halted inside the Xing-Di casino when the doors and the boot flung open. Five armed men hurriedly disembarked.
One of them, who was in a hoodie, rushed to secure the main gate before returning to join his colleagues. He was wielding an AK-47 assault rifle. He sported his trousers the “Ottophista” way—the deliberate sagging of trousers—exposing his boxer shorts.
Another AK-47-wielding man in a mufti and hooded—handcuffs secured to the right of his sagging black jeans that displayed pink boxer shorts—pranced the yard before entering the main reception of the building.
The men wore what appeared like Covid-19 face masks, which had the convenient benefit of masking their faces. The masks are used in the pandemic for reasons of health. For the National Security operatives, who looked like an armed gang in a robbery scene, it gave them stealth.
Photo: A hooded man said to be an operative of National Security stands in front of the casino, armed.
DSP Samuel Kojo Azugu, the poster boy of Ghana’s brutish national security SWAT team, got down and made for one entrance of the building. DSP Azugu, the only uniformed man, was led by yet another ununiformed man.
Two other men in smocks—one lanky, the other bulky—both made mighty by their gun-induced confidence, roamed around the reception area of the casino.
Their menacing movement paralysed the casino staff with fear.
The operatives targeted the CCTV cameras in the guest house that shares the same compound with the casino, said some eye-witnesses to the operation.
Inside the casino, they shut down the electricity meter, plunged the place into darkness, cutting off the recordings of the CCTV cameras.
Photo: Two National Security operatives in the reception area
According to workers at the casino, they destroyed the CCTV cameras and disabled any form of recording of the operation before moving to the control room to seize whatever the CCTV had captured. But they did not know there were two CCTV control rooms.
The Fourth Estate has obtained the videos of the operatives when they first got to the scene as well as the aftermath of their operation. From the account of the people, they were like bulls in a China shop. And these were state security agents inside a Chinese casino in one of Ghana’s mining communities.
Charles Mensah, a man in his 30s, is the Ghanaian manager of the casino. He told The Fourth Estate he dared not question who the gun-wielding men were, especially when he had not yet seen the uniformed DSP Azugu to confirm whether it was a state security operation.
“If they were police or soldiers, that one I could speak to them because I know I have not done anything wrong. But in Fugu top and jeans trousers, with the nose mask and AK-47, my gut couldn’t move me to speak,” he said.
“We all got frightened because they were with guns, and they were in a mufti, so in my mind, I was asking: Who are these people? Are they armed robbers? Or who are they?”
In principle, they were not armed robbers. It was an operation by the National Security. The Fourth Estate has spoken to sources within the National Security who said the operation was sanctioned “from the very top.”
It was led by DSP Azugu, the man who had led the National Security SWAT team in the infamous Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election violence in January 2019. This time, they struck in Asankragua, where they were accused of stashing their pockets with dollar bills.
“When they came in, some of the Chinese guys were playing table tennis. So those of us who were there, they took our phones and they searched their [the Chinese] pockets and took the money they saw there. For these monies, they didn’t account for it. I was here personally so I saw it,” Maxwell Yeboah, another eye-witness, said.
Maxwell claimed his phone and those of the others were not returned even when they requested them. “They didn’t return our phones. My phone and that of my brother, which were being charged were taken. I had my Ghana card behind my phone and they’ve taken it away. When they were leaving, one of the ladies asked them for the phones, but they said phones have [sic] been placed beneath the items and that they did not have the time to take them out.”
Maxwell Yeboah, a driver of the Chinese businessmen, said he was in what they called the gold office of the guest house when Azugu and his men filled the room.
“They were like I should give them the money and I told them I don’t [sic] know where the money is. Because the Chinese people didn’t understand the English and they had their own way of speaking it, I was trying to explain to them what the national security officers wanted,” he recounted the incident to The Fourth Estate.
Maxwell Yeboah had difficulty in understanding the mission of the armed men, so he hesitated and asked questions, but a few slaps gave him an understanding of their demands. And he complied without further questioning.
“When they entered and demanded the money, we were trying to check the money with them. There was this one policeman, I don’t know if you’ve seen his pictures… the one errm…when the Sam George issue happened, he was the one they questioned…Azugu. He was the one I was checking the money with,” Charles recalled.
Charles said he was made to record the cedi notes, but not the dollar notes.
“The office had some few dollars 100-dollar bills. Some 15 of them and that’s $1,500. I was about to record it and one policeman took the money and put it inside his pocket so he didn’t make us record that one.”
Charles Mensah, recounting his mistimed zealousness for accountability, said, “…I was telling him that he should bring it out so we record.” But the response came in a slap, not words. “That tall man in the batakari [smock] and jeans slapped me for saying that.”
Done inside, the men moved out, a sack full of items from the ransacked rooms.
“And they took one of the [casino’s] V8 vehicles away. I know the car was registered in 2021 and the car number was 666.” The Fourth Estate checks confirm that the vehicle has been impounded and is at national security.
The security operatives arrested six Chinese. Maxwell was to be taken along. But he said he was too dizzy from the slaps and was considered unfit for the 8-hour ride to Accra.
“Due to the severity of the slaps I received, I was feeling dizzy, so they left me alone to go take care of myself.” He is now recuperating in Kumasi.
Alleged assault of journalist and Immigration officers
Outside the casino, word had spread that some armed men from the National Security had stormed the facility and residents in small pools of curiosity stood outside the building.
Among the curious onlookers was Peter Tabiri, the Western regional correspondent of Accra-based Pent TV, a television channel run by The Church of Pentecost.
In an interview with the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Peter Tabiri said his troubles started when he pulled out his phone to inform the Amenfi Divisional Police Commander.
“They smashed my phone and proceeded to slap and hit and kick me several times. Not satisfied, they pressed me to the ground and poured water on me, amidst curses and insults on journalists.”
The Amenfi Divisional Commander, Chief Superintendent Nana Kumi, confirmed the incident. He said when he arrived at the scene in response to Tabiri’s call, the security operatives had put the journalist in the bucket of their pick-up.
A medical report from Father Thomas Allan Rooney Memorial Hospital in Asankragua after the assault says Peter Tabiri has a “perforated eardrum.” Peter says he now has trouble with his right ear after the assault.
Another journalist with Ahobrase FM in Asankragua, Ebenezer Blay, tried to record the scenes from the relative safety of a Petroland fuel station, some distance from the casino. But standing on a bench, Blay was spotted and received barking instructions to leave.
“When I was leaving, I found out one of the vehicles had its number plate changed using masking tape [used by electricians]. If the number was to be 2, it was changed to 8 and if it was 1, it was changed to 7 using the masking tape, the one used by electricians,” he recalled.
“So I wanted to take a picture of the vehicle to verify what I was thinking was right so as I took out my phone, one of the officers came out of the car and asked what I was doing and I was like… nothing. Another person from behind came to snatch my phone from me and asked me to follow him. I followed him to the filling station and he gave my phone to another officer then asked me to sit down and whilst being kicked in the back.”
The final set of assaulted professionals were two officers of the Ghana Immigration Service who had been dispatched to investigate the upheaval in town.
Assistant Control Officer II Frank Attah, one of the immigration officers who were assaulted by the National Security operatives, recounted their ordeal in an interview with The Fourth Estate.
“When we got there, my senior man paid compliment to the seniormost in police uniform but then he snubbed him.” He would later learn that this police officer was DSP Azugu.
“We were trying to talk to them but they weren’t minding us,” he said.
At this time, they spotted the Divisional Police Commander of Asankragua, Chief Superintendent Nana Kumi. He had been called in by the Pent TV reporter, Peter Tabiri.
The two immigration officers approached the divisional police commander, who explained that the men were from national security. The officers now had something to report.
“So, immediately, my senior man had to call my boss and give him the info [information] as to what the people are [sic] there doing. As my senior man was giving the information to my boss, they just rushed on us.”
“Some were in uniform some were not in uniform – fully armed, sidearm, bulletproof, and then with their AK47. They just started pushing us, pushing us down, hitting us here and there. They even slapped my senior colleague, took his phone and his car keys.”
At this stage, the immigration officer recounted hearing DSP Azugu shouting, “Handcuff them! Handcuff them! We are sending them to Accra.”
They were handcuffed behind their backs and their bodies embraced the ground in a 45-minute public humiliation, they said. Assistant Control Officer II Frank Attah said after they were released, an officer in a police uniform approached him and said, “Such operations you people shouldn’t come close. This thing, if we come and we are being killed, we are killed for free. No one will ask any questions.”
MP for Amenfi West, Eric Afful, has petitioned the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mr. James Oppong-Boanuh, detailing the rampage within his constituency, the brazen lawlessness, and the sense of insecurity and fear in the wake of the National Security raid. He alleged the National Security team stole money and a number of valuables during the raid.
Our sources say the IGP has started an investigation into the petition and has written to DSP Azugu to respond to the MP’s allegation.
Eric Afful also wants the Interior Ministry to conduct a thorough investigation on DSP Azugu and his team.
A response from the National Security
The Fourth Estate spoke to highly-placed sources within the National Security Ministry, who are familiar with the Asankragua operation. They want to remain anonymous.
The sources say 25 men from the National Security’s SWAT team, as well as armed civilian national security operatives, took part in the exercise.
When The Fourth Estate asked why some of the National Security operatives dressed in mufti with some hooded, our sources said it was allowed.
“The operatives are civilians,” one source said. “They are not in the police or military so they wear mufti. They choose what to wear for an operation. It’s allowed.”
“If they are civilians, why are they holding AK-47 and other weapons?” The Fourth Estate asked.
“They are trained to use guns,” the sources explained.
The sources denied the allegation of assault by the National Security operatives. The sources, however, admitted they initially held two officers of the Ghana Immigration Service, but later released them when the District Chief Executive and the Police Commander in the area identified them.
The Fourth Estate’s sources say the operation was conducted simultaneously at two locations in Asankragua—at the Xing-Di Casino and another facility behind the Petroland fuel station. This second facility, the sources say, had a casino and an entertainment centre, as well as a secret gold refinery facility and a gold trading centre.
The operation, according to our National Security sources, was meant to clamp down on illegal activities such as illegal gold refinery, gold trading, and other illicit activities undertaken by the Chinese, with the tacit endorsement of compromised Ghanaian officials including some in the security services.
In all, six Chinese nationals were arrested and have been remanded in custody while undergoing trial. They are:
- Chen Gui Bin, born on February 5, 1990, and arrived in Ghana in 2016.
- Lu Xian Chu, born on December 25, 1985, and arrived in Ghana in 2013
- Wu Xiao Bin, born on August 17, 1981, arrived in Ghana in 2016
- Yao Zheng Shan, born on August 2, 1975, and arrived in Ghana in 2015
- Xue Lian Hua, born on May 22, 1987, and arrived in Ghana in 2012
- Cheng Chun Rong born on January 2, 1969, and arrived in Ghana in 2021
Our sources say six unlicensed pump action guns, gold, and other evidence of their illegal activities were seized in the National Security Operations.
According to The Fourth Estate’s National Security and police sources, the Criminal Investigations Department of the Ghana Police Service has taken over the investigation and prosecution of the people arrested in the Asankragua raid.
The six Chinese are standing trial for illegal possession of arms, illegal trading, and refinery of gold without a permit, among other charges.
Unending abuse by the National Security operatives and why DSP Azugu is leaving
The Ghana Police Service has recalled DSP Samuel Kojo Azugu, who until Friday, May 29th, 2021, served as the Commander of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team at the National Security Ministry.
He will now work at the Operations unit at the headquarters of the Ghana Police Service, sources told The Fourth Estate.
Sources within the National Security say DSP Azugu received the news of his removal from the National Security with jubilation. They say he had been fed up with the negative publicity that characterized his name and the work of the National Security SWAT team and had started asking to be sent back to the mainstream policing work.
DSP Azugu and his team at the National Security Ministry have often been in the news for assault or acting in a manner contrary to established national security protocols.
In January 2019, DSP Azugu led a team of National Security operatives to the Ayawaso-West Wuogon by-election. The election which was reported peaceful until their arrival was marred by a shooting incident.
Operatives of the National Security Ministry recently assaulted Citi FM’s Caleb Kudah. The journalist said they slapped and kicked him in the groin. They also seized his phone and used the WhatsApp application on the phone to try to lure and arrest Caleb’s colleague, Zoe Abu-Baidoo, who had received videos and photos Caleb took of abandoned MASLOC vehicles at the premises of the National Security. They sent her messages as though it was Caleb who was chatting with her.
When they failed, they raided Citi FM to arrest Zoe in a manner that attracted wide condemnation from Ghanaians.
The public uproar which greeted Caleb’s incident caused the termination of Lt. Col. Frank Agyeman’s secondment to the National Security Ministry. He was to report to the Chief of Defence Staff for further investigation and action. A day after that announcement, however, Lt. Col. Frank Agyeman landed a top job as the Commander of the 64 Infantry Regiment of the Ghana Armed Forces.
Three other policemen who were involved in the Caleb Kudah assault were referred to the IGP for further investigation and possible punishment.
Our sources say DSP Azugu was not involved in the Caleb Kudah assault, a reason he was not named in the press statement released by the National Security Ministry. That, therefore, cannot be responsible for his recall from the National Security, they said.
However, both the MP for Amenfi West as well as some eye-witnesses in the Asankragua operation say he led the team there and cannot be absolved of wrongdoing in the brute force and violence that was visited on people in the area. That investigation has just begun and our sources in the police say it could not be the reason for his removal from the National Security, either.
Our sources said the National Security operatives and the SWAT team have become notorious for human rights violations. Since DSP Azugu, like other trained police officers, cannot insist on professionalism when there are “orders from above” to be obeyed, he had been lobbying to get out of the place in order to save his face.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story shall not be republished or broadcast, in part or in full, in any form or shape without the express permission of the Editor-in-Chief.