In blood, sweat, and pain, four critically injured persons are battling for their lives after police and masked gunmen shot at an unarmed group, resisting a commercial takeover of salt mining in Ada in the Greater Accra region.
Three others sustained various degrees of injuries in the armed violence on Thursday, September 8, 2022, at Kablevu, a predominantly salt mining community in Ada West District.
The three are receiving treatment at Sege Polyclinic while the four critically injured were shared among Battor Catholic Hospital in the Volta Region, which is more than 50km away from Ada and the 37 Military Hospital in Accra in a two-hour desperate journey to receive urgent medical attention.
The incident is the latest escalation in an increasingly violent saga between Electrochem Ghana Limited, owned by businessman Daniel McKorley, and community members who have been depending on the Songor lagoon for their livelihood for centuries.
Mr. McKorley is backed by powerful paramount chiefs, and on Thursday, September 8, 2022, his Electrochem workers, backed by armed police, went into the community with excavators to dig trenches to connect the salt water from the sea to the Songor lagoon.
The process would kickstart large-scaling salt mining for the company.
But the community members, clad in red and led by their chief, approached the team and demanded that they halt their operations.
“…So, we walked to them and said what you’re doing will flood our community even before the wrath of the perennial tidal waves because we’re in between the sea and the lagoon and when that happens, we wouldn’t know where we are sending our children and women to,” Mr. Evans Agbashie, a resident told The Fourth Estate in an interview.
According to them, not long after this encounter, branded police pick-up vehicles from the Sege Police Command arrived with armed officers at the scene. They were joined by masked armed men, believed to be land guards working for the company.
“The police then invited the Chief, Nene Huadzi Asem II, for questioning, and in the process of driving him away the community charged on him to alight from the moving vehicle, which he did.”
At that point, live shots rang out.
“They wanted to shoot and arrest him, but we didn’t agree because we wanted to protect our chief so while he was running, they were firing towards his legs, but he escaped,” Agbashie added.
Residents scurried away, some of them chased by the police and the sound of sporadic shooting. Women grabbed their children to find safety. Several men were beaten up as the police tried to re-arrest the chief.
Mr. Abraham Tetteh Ahumah who is the public relations officer for the Songor Lagoon Association, a group resisting the takeover, condemned the violence.
He said the police had arrested eight residents who were to be put before a court in Tema in the Greater Accra Region.
On Friday, September 9, 2022, the Tema Regional Commander, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCOP) Daniel Kwame Afriyie denied police involvement in the incident.
This was after residents showed him some empty shells fired during the incident.
The community members accused Electrochem Ghana Limited of using the local police to terrorise and intimidate them and pleaded with the Police commander to intervene.
DCOP Kwame Afriyie asked the community to capture images of police personnel who intimidate them as evidence and also urged those who had fled to return to the community, assuring them of police protection.
Attempts to reach officials of Electrochem Ghana Limited, a subsidiary of the McDan Group of Companies for comments have proven futile.
When armed men, locally described as land guards, and the police arrived at the Songor lagoon area on Wednesday, September 7, 2022, they reportedly drew a line in the sand.
They were about to start diverting the seawater through the community into the Songor lagoon for salt production. Witnesses say they threatened to shoot anyone who dared cross the line.
Two paramount chiefs and four elders who are backing the commercial takeover had earlier approached the Chief of the Kablevu community, Nene Huadzi Asem II, who is against the takeover.
They notified him of the company’s plan to divert the seawater to the salt mining site. The chief and the people objected to the idea. They explained that the area was already at the mercy of tidal waves. Any diversion of the sea to the lagoon would open the community to further tidal impact, they said. Nene Asem II told The Fourth Estate that a community member had drowned in a similar canal created by the company.
The residents are also apprehensive that the plan would effectively kick them out of the salt business. They fish for tilapia in the freshwater lagoon during the rainy season and mine salt from the lagoon in the dry sea. They say the seawater in the freshwater lagoon will destroy fishing in it. It would turn the lagoon into an exclusive salt mining reservoir.
Protests against Songhor lease agreement
In November 2020, the government of Ghana leased the lagoon to the private company (Electrochem Ghana Ltd), a subsidiary of Daniel McKorley’s McDan Group of Companies.
Electrochem Ghana Limited, on its website, says it expects to produce 1,000,000 metric tons of salt per annum for the local and export markets.
It says the Songor salt works will be the largest in Africa. “And we are set to make a remarkable contribution to the Ada community in terms of job creation and social impact,” the company has promised.
But the lease continues to irk residents in the Ada West and East districts, who have since been protesting.
On March 3, 2021, the chiefs and people of Toflokpo, Salom, Bornikopey and surrounding communities around the Songor Lagoon said they would not relinquish their main source of livelihood over the lease agreement signed between the government and Electrochem Ghana Limited to enable the company mine salt. They said the company was to mine 41, 000 acres of land at the Songor lagoon and its surrounding communities for 15 years.
The custodian of the Songor lagoon and the chief priest, Numo Amate Apedo Ayornu, said although Electrochem Ghana Limited failed to consult the true owners of the lagoon and was granted 12, 428 acres of land, the company had acquired the entire 41,000 acres of land fraudulently, far exceeding what was granted to the company by the government.
He accused the government of looking on unconcerned while residents were shot and maimed for protecting what rightfully belonged to them.
The people of the area claim part of the land taken over by Electrochem belongs to private individuals.
The indigenes also claim they were not consulted in the takeover. Despite the opposition to the project, several traditional leaders in the area have publicly declared their support for it.
The shootings and the chaos
Tensions in the area over the project have also resulted in several incidents of attacks on community members.
February 5, 2020: 14 people, including a schoolgirl, were reportedly shot by gun-wielding land guards and the police at Salom-Madagber, one of the deprived communities in Ada West. The attack left four people severely injured. The 15-year-old girl was hit by a stray bullet while standing in front of her house.
While the motive of that shooting incident was not established, an eyewitness claimed that “some black, white and ash pick-ups packed with masked men, came in and started shooting anybody they saw in the community. They were all in masks so I can’t identify them, but they looked like land guards or macho men with the police in uniform.”
The Police arrested nine residents and charged them.
August 9, 2021: Some residents of Ada invaded one of the premises of Electrochem Ghana Limited at Mantsekorpe and destroyed a wooden structure alongside other property. Twenty-three people, including three chiefs, were arrested, detained, and subsequently charged.
In the same month, the Ada Traditional Council held an emergency press conference condemning Third World Network (TWN), an independent non-profit research and advocacy organization, for calling for proper consultation over the Songhor Lease Agreement.
August 16, 2021: The Ada paramountcy through the court served some community chiefs an injunction not to go near the concession given to Electrochem Ghana Limited.
October 21, 2021: Electrochem surveyors reportedly accompanied by masked land guards and police went to Luhour, a salt mining community, to take measurements and plant pegs, advancing measures to mine salt in the enclave.
A police pick-up vehicle, with registration number GP 4652, carrying two masked persons and two police personnel, was reportedly prevented from driving through the village to the area.
The youth reportedly asked the police to unmask the two suspected land guards onboard the police vehicle before they would be allowed to drive through. It subsequently resulted in a scuffle and brutalities.
October 22, 2021: A reported 800 residents of Luhuor fled from the community after some police personnel stormed the area.
The Police, numbering about 80, allegedly assaulted people in the village and raided various homes. They were alleged to have vandalized doors, burnt motorbikes, and destroyed TV sets. Some 37 persons were arrested, detained, and charged for the confrontation with the police.
January 13, 2022: Some unidentified thugs attacked Radio Ada and its staff, amidst several warnings to the management of the station to stop its programming on the Songhor Lagoon lease. They have since not been arrested despite assurances from the police.
April 2022: Scores of residents around the Songhor Lagoon enclave blamed the activities and operations of Electrochem Ghana Limited for recent flooding in the area. According to the residents, the flood, which rendered thousands of residents homeless and destroyed property, was the first of its kind.
The Corporate Communications and Public Relations Manager of Electrochem Ghana Limited, Mr. Henking Anyingmor Adjase-Kodjo, admitted that the affected communities were along the concession where the company was operating and creating salt pans for both communal mining or artisanal miners and commercial purposes.
He explained that Electrochem Ghana had deployed equipment and engineers to the affected communities to create access ways for the water stagnating in the communities.
August 2022: The Ada Traditional Council banned Radio Ada from covering this year, Asafotufiami Festival.
Later in the same month the deputy station coordinator of Radio Ada, Noah Narh Dameh, was charged with publishing false news and is facing prosecution at the Tema Magistrate Court.
Noah Narh Dameh had made a post on his Facebook wall about the sidelining of indigenous salt miners by some Chiefs of Ada and Daniel McKorley (McDan), whose company has been given the concession to mine salt in Ada. He used a photo of a man chained to a bed and that of Daniel McKorley.
The writer of this report, Philip Teye Agbove, is a Fellow of the Next Generation Investigative Journalism Fellowship at the Media Foundation for West Africa.