In Djankrom, residents are fighting battles that threaten their very existence—a search for fresh air and soot-free homes.
They have, for many years now, been enduring air pollution and its attendant health effects: from sleeplessness to upper respiratory diseases
Each day, heavy gusts of smoke cloud the community from a slaughterhouse where the butchers find the use of car tyres a more effective fuel to singe their livestock.
This results in air pollution that residents say is extremely suffocating. The quiet town is in the Nsawam-Adoagyiri municipality in the Eastern Region.
“Just like the gutter here, my room is as dark as coal. They use tyres to burn off the fur of the animals they slaughter. The smoke [from the burning] takes over the whole place. And if you’re in the room, you will be suffocated, so we normally stay out of our rooms,” a resident, Anthony Ansah, lamented to The Fourth Estate.
Aggrieved residents say the situation is so dire that they are forced to abandon their rooms to sleep outside some nights because they always gasp for fresh air in their rooms.
Akua Donkor ‘seizes’ new slaughterhouse
While Djankrom and its residents continue to battle air pollution and possibly, contaminated meat, a new abattoir sits in a nearby community, wasting away.
The project, sited at Wangara, a suburb of Nsawam, was initiated by the Nsawam-Adoagyiri Municipal Assembly in 2014 at a cost of GH¢182,931. It was in response to the cry of residents for the relocation of the butchers from their current location.
The contract document indicates that the project was scheduled to be completed in the same year it was awarded. It was, however, delayed for about two years and completed only in 2016.
Since its completion, however, it has never been used for its intended purpose. Rather, it has become the home of a politician.
“We [the assembly] constructed a slaughterhouse and unknowingly on our side, Akua Donkor took over the place and was claiming ownership,” the Municipal Chief Executive (MCE) for Nsawam-Adoagyiri, Isaac Kwadwo Buabeng, told The Fourth Estate.
Akua Donkor, who is the founder and leader of the Ghana Freedom Party (GFP), took over the property meant to be used as a slaughterhouse months after its completion.
Although the MCE said the assembly did not grant her access to the building, the controversial politician asserted that she got permission from the MCE to use it as her private residence.
“Kwasi Alavanyo [the new abattoir’s security guard at the time] told me that the facility was wasting away. So, I should seek permission from the MCE, Kwadwo Buabeng, and the assembly member for the area. This will help me stay there while putting up my house on a parcel of land I acquired [in the area]. So, I went with Kwasi Alavanyo and the assembly member to see the MCE and he permitted me to occupy the house,” Akua Donkor told The Fourth Estate.
It would have been impossible for the current MCE to allow Akua Donkor to occupy the building since he was not the political head of the assembly in 2016.
The then MCE, Ben Ohene Aryeh, declined to comment on the issue when The Fourth Estate contacted him.
Akua Donkor and her party are one of those that political analysts do not take seriously. When John Mahama was President from 2013 to 2017, she enjoyed largesse, including travelling with the president’s delegation on an official trip to Italy.
She constantly sang the president’s praises only to ditch him when power changed hands.
Her occupation of the community abattoir has developed into prosecutions and litigations.
First, the septuagenarian politician accused the security guard and his son, Isaac Alavanyo, of stealing her items worth millions of cedis and caused their arrest.
Isaac Alavanyo was subsequently tried and convicted of the crime of stealing by the Nsawam Magistrate Court and sentenced to a prison term of 12 years.
His father, however, was remanded for about a year over the same accusations and was released in 2020 on bail. The Fourth Estate has learnt that he has since left the town after his release from custody and is currently on the run.
But the temporary home began to look like a permanent one for Akua Donkor. After several attempts to get her to willingly evacuate the facility failed, the assembly went to court in February 2019 to eject her.
In the suit filed at the Nsawam District Magistrate Court, the assembly accused her of illegally occupying the slaughterhouse and asked the court to order her eviction.
In her defence, Ms Akua Donkor dismissed claims.
She challenged the assembly over the ownership of the structure. According to her, a search at the Lands Commission revealed that the state did not own the land on which the abattoir was built.
Her argument was that since the state did not own the land, it did own the building that became her home. The state could, therefore, not evict her, she argued.
That was not her only argument in court. She accused the MCE of conniving with the then presiding member of the assembly and the security guard to steal her properties.
She told the court that unless the assembly compensated her for the alleged theft, she would not vacate the facility.
To solidify her case against the assembly, Akua Donkor supported her claim with a document purportedly issued by the Lands Commission.
It was a letter signed by one Bismarck Ntiri Atobrasah, who is said to be the Assistant Land Administration Officer at the Eastern Regional Lands Commission. It states: “The site is not [a] state land. The site is not affected by any state-proposed acquisition by the Government of Ghana.”
The letter, dated April 26, 2019, was in response to a letter Madam Donkor had written to the Commission a day before – April 25, 2019, requesting a search to be conducted on the land.
The search report, however, does not mention her as the owner of the parcel of land on which the slaughterhouse is built.
The Municipal Assembly countered this claim with lease documents which indicate that the land was acquired by the assembly in 2014 from the Aburihene and Omanhene of the Akuapem Anafo Traditional Area, Otoobour Djan Kwasi II, for GH¢6,000.
The court ruled in favour of the assembly.
In a judgment delivered on August 30, 2019, the court established that the Assembly was the rightful owner of the facility and ordered Madam Akua Donkor “to vacate from the premises today to enable the plaintiff [the Assembly] use it to serve the purpose for which it was constructed.”
The court, presided over by Priscilla Sophia Yeboah, said Akua Donkor’s dispute with the assembly over the ownership of the property was untenable since she claimed it was the same assembly that allowed her to occupy the building.
“The Defendant [Akua Donkor] who again claims to know the owners is not in the capacity or has not been clothed with the capacity to fight on behalf of the alleged owners or challenged the ownership of that property,” the court ruled.
On the allegation of theft, the court said Akua Donkor could not prove that the assembly or the MCE orchestrated the stealing of her properties.
The court said it was, therefore, constrained to grant Akua Donkor’s demand for compensation before she vacated the property.
“If the defendant has any damages to recover, it must be from the alleged offenders [the security guard and his son],” the court said, warding off any financial liability on the assembly.
Petitions to Chief Justice & President
Despite the court judgment against her, Akua Donkor, The Fourth Estate has learnt, refused to move out of the slaughterhouse until she is compensated.
But the court would not have it. On June 10, 2020, almost 10 months after the judgment, the Magistrate Court issued an order eviction order against her.
A day after the notice was served on her, she petitioned the presidency, calling on President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to intervene in the matter.
In those petitions, Akua Donkor re-echoed the theft allegations the court dismissed against the MCE, Kwadwo Buabeng, and a former presiding member of the assembly, Otoo Bekoe.
She claimed she lost assets worth GH¢5.5 million in addition to two water tanks that had four expensive bottles in them.
She said she had intended to pursue the alleged “atrocious” crimes at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and as well give it wide publicity in the media.
Described by her critics as a political opportunist for her ability to switch camps to leaders of parties in power, Akua Donkor backtracked on going to the ICJ with a case that couldn’t survive the litmus test in a Ghanaian court.
“But I have reconsidered my decision because all the culprits [Mr. Buabeng and Otoo Bekoe] are serving under Nana Addo’s government, and I am also advocating for His Excellency to be given another four-year term, so if I pursue this case or publish it, it will go a long way to affect him in the impending general elections,” she said in her petition to the president.
She appealed to the president to “let them pay GH¢12.7 million to me for a replacement of the assets and the money they stole from my apartment”.
Another petition to the Chief Justice in September 2020 made a bizarre demand that the case be moved to a higher court because it was bigger than the District Court.”
She repeated her arguments in the District Court and pleaded with the Chief Justice to dismiss the magistrate who ruled against her.
Akua Donkor moved but still controls the building
Akua Donkor has moved out of the building into a place she has rented at Pobiman in the Ga West Municipality in the Greater Accra Region. It is about 11 kilometres from Nsawam. However, her belongings are still locked up in the building.
Although the court has empowered the assembly to throw out Akua Donkor, she bragged to The Fourth Estate that nobody could evict her from the abattoir.
The assembly says it is helpless in enforcing the court’s decision.
On May 6, 2021, the Nsawam-Adoagyiri Municipal Assembly wrote a letter to the police administration in the Municipality requesting assistance to pack out Madam Donkor’s belongings in compliance with the court order.
The police, the MCE says, declined the request with the excuse that they needed instructions from their superiors at the national headquarters in Accra.
“We have written to the national police headquarters and still, we haven’t gotten any positive response. So, we don’t know what’s going with Akua Donkor’s issue,” the MCE poured out his frustrations.
He suspects there is something wrong.
Bright Yirenkyi Kwafo, the Assembly Member for Oparekrom Electoral Area, where the abattoir building is sited, also shared this suspicion.
“Akua Donkor is very powerful and influential in this place,” he told The Fourth Estate.
When contacted, the Municipal Police Command refused to speak to the issue and directed The Fourth Estate to seek answers from its top hierarchy in Accra.
More than two years after the court’s decision, the building remains locked up and enveloped in weeds while it deteriorates. The Fourth Estate’s visit to the facility at Wangara revealed its windows are beginning to deteriorate after six years of completion.
While Akua Donkor’s belongings are locked up in the building and the destructive hands of nature are busily at work, residents of Djankrom are still suffering from the pollution, which the new abattoir was intended to mitigate. The situation has exposed the residents to life-threatening conditions.
We’re dying – Community members cry out
For months, Agnes Mensah’s child had been coughing and running temperature. The family always found a quick fix in cough syrups and other over-the-counter medications until an unending episode of coughs forced them to send the child to the hospital.
Agnes, who lives about 100 metres from the slaughterhouse, told The Fourth Estate various diagnostic tests run on her child revealed that he has been exposed to harmful smoke. He was suffering from upper respiratory disease.
“By 5:00 am, they will start the fire. You can’t breathe. The smoke is killing us. Even in the evening, they would come and set the fire with tyre and the whole place would be filled with smoke”.
She has only one request.
“We want them[butchers] to be relocated so that we will have our peace of mind and our children won’t fall sick again.”
Upper respiratory disease top list
The Nsawam-Adoagyiri Municipal Health Director, Dr. Augustine Ankuvie, shared that sentiment.
He told The Fourth Estate that upper respiratory tract infections topped the list of most reported illnesses from the Djankrom community in the last three years, followed by malaria, diarrhoea and skin diseases.
The prevalence of these diseases in the area, he said, had everything to do with the pollution and poor sanitation fueled by the activities of the butchers at the slaughterhouse.
“Upper respiratory tract infections have to do with air pollution. Diarrhoea is as a result of the filthy environment and the choked gutters, which also have a link with Malaria, breeding places for mosquitoes. The skin diseases are also a result of air pollution and poor personal hygiene,” Dr. Ankuvie said.
Another resident, Henry Nortey, said his health had deteriorated significantly ever since he moved into the neighborhood, and his children, who are suffering from asthma, experience frequent attacks due to the inhalation of polluted air.
Butchers worried too
Mercy Offeibea, who was discussing their ordeal in the community with her co-tenant at the time of The Fourth Estate’s visit, said their rooms and everything in them had lost their colors to the smoke from the slaughterhouse.
But Mercy and her household do not only have the pollution to contend with. The local authorities hold residents responsible for the unsanitary conditions of the slaughterhouse.
A few metres away from the compound where Mercy and her co-tenant sat is the slaughterhouse.
Muddy wastewater from the dilapidated structure, which serves as the slaughterhouse, flows in between houses into the Densu River. There are no drainage systems.
At the entrance of the slaughterhouse, maggots have a field day in stagnant water, whiles an orchestra of flies buzzes ceaselessly.
The day’s work had ended when The Fourth Estate visited and most of the butchers had left.
The few who were still around admitted that the place did not meet the safety standards of a slaughterhouse and that their meat was produced under unhygienic conditions.
“Here, we use car tyres to scorch the meat, but it is not hygienic. It causes cancer. We are supposed to have a lairage here, [but] we don’t have it. We don’t have an inspection lab. We don’t have hangers to hang the meat,” a butcher, who introduced himself only as Mintah, said.
He continued, “Sometimes, when we slaughter, we put the meat on the bare floor. The inspection may be all right. But due to one or two things that are not in place, it may cause infection or contaminate the meat.”
The butchers, however, said they could not do much about the situation as their appeals to the government to provide them with a befitting slaughterhouse had not yielded positive results.
But the MCE for the area, Isaac Kwadwo Buabeng, said he was waiting on the police to enforce the eviction order on Akua Donkor and to free the new abattoir.
While he plans to renovate the new one, he intends to demolish the old slaughterhouse and relocate the butchers into the new one.
For residents of Djankrom, each waiting day worsens their plight in a country where the effects of air pollution are telling on the lives of the people.
Data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that in 2015 alone, 2,800 people died from air pollution in Accra alone.
Across the world, air pollution is a growing concern.
Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) tightened its air quality guidelines for the first time since 2005, warning that air pollution was one of the biggest environmental threats to human health, causing seven million premature deaths a year.
Residents of Djankrom are hoping they won’t become part of those statistics, but information from the health directorate there suggests they are already endangered, while the solution to their problem remains locked up in a bizarre tussle.
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