Tension is mounting between the Tongor- Dzemeni community in the South Dayi District of the Volta Region and naval officers stationed in the area, following an assault on a youth, whose only crime was that he had complained about the way the naval officers were brutalising a child.
But for the timely intervention of the elders, the youth had also planned to retaliate. The chiefs and their elders have, instead, petitioned the government, through the South Dayi District Chief Executive, Mr. Semanu Kafui Bekoe, to withdraw the naval personnel from the area, and that they could no longer co-exist with them.
Speaking at a press conference at Tongor-Dzemeni, Mr. John Abotsi, an Elder of the town who read the statement on behalf of the chiefs and people, noted that they -Tongor- Dzemeni people – are law abiding citizens who have tolerated the bad conduct of the naval personnel over the years. They, however, became fed up on May 13, 2016, when the naval officers, without provocation, assaulted a youth in the town.
Mr. Abotsi explained that the petition calling for the withdrawal of the security men until the matter is resolved was for peace to prevail and that there was high tension in the town which could endanger the existing peace, if the government failed to withdraw the naval personnel. He pointed out that the security men deployed to the Tongor-Dzemeni area had abandoned their core duties, which includes helping to prevent accidents on the Volta Lake.
According to the elders, the security men are allegedly collecting between GH¢15 and GH¢200 from each of the boats that would land at Tongor- Dzemeni during market days, without any reason. The naval personnel have also turned themselves into revenue collectors at the Dzemeni market during market days, thereby depriving the District Assembly of the needed revenue, and that the security personnel issue no receipt for the monies they collect. Those who resist the illegal payment, the elders alleged, were brutalised.
Mr. Abotsi also stressed that it was a shame that naval officers trained by the state to perform specific duties in the interest of the nation had turned themselves into debt collectors in the community. According to him (Abotsi), the naval personnel had demonstrated gross disrespect to the traditional authorities, as they arbitrate cases among the people without the knowledge of the chiefs. This, to them, is a taboo, and hence the need for the government to remove the personnel immediately.
Mr. Abotsi noted that the community members were very worried about the negative activities of the naval personnel, because traders and boat owners who transact business at the Tongor- Dzemeni market have stopped coming due to assaults at the hands of the naval personnel. Traders are now patronising markets like Akatey, thereby, destroying business activities at Dzemeni.
He continued that what had annoyed the members of the Tongor-Dzemeni community in recent times was the alleged sexual activities of the naval personnel with married women, as well as the luring of some of the youth into the smoking of India hemp, popularly known as “wee”, and that anytime the elders reprimanded those youth, the naval personnel would beat them up, including chiefs and their wives among others.
The National Chairman of the Lake Region Fishermen Association of Ghana, Mr. Robert Castro Mediale, in an interview with the media, explained that the association was highly disappointed in the activities of the naval personnel, because they had failed the people over the years by not helping to prevent accidents on the Volta Lake.
According to Mr. Mediale, the naval personnel lacked the requisite equipment, and that accidents continued to occur on the lake. Regrettably, anytime the naval personnel, based at Tongor-Dzemeni, were called to help in saving lives and property, they would not respond, but due to the effort of his outfit no life has been lost in such accidents.
Chairman Mediale disclosed that the chiefs and people of Tongor-Dzemeni have tolerated the negative activities of the security personnel, to the extent that three persons had died through similar assaults since 2007 when they assumed duty in the area. According to him, the life of the current victim was in danger, and even though he was medically treated and discharged at the Volta Regional Hospital in Ho, Mr. Gadri (victim) could no longer engage in any meaningful economic activity.
Mr. Mediale further explained that there would be no problem at all when the naval personnel are withdrawn from the area, because the Lake Region Fishermen Association had formed rescue committees who worked on the Volta Lake regularly, and that the reduction in the accidents on the Volta Lake was not in any way due to the presence of the naval personnel, but rather as a result of the commitment and cooperation from the various boat operators and the rescue committees.
The Commanding Officer in charge of the Naval base at Tongor-Dzemeni, Chief Petty Officer Emmanuel Boakye, explained that the incidents took place before he took over command recently, and hoped to build a healthy relationship between the naval officers and the Tongor-Dzemeni community, promising that those negative incidents would no longer happen.