What started as a normal day in the life of any journalist, turned out to be the most challenging, but also one of the most exciting for me as I travelled with the military to break up the camp of a paramilitary group suspected to be linked to the secessionist group, Homeland Study Group Foundation.
It was on February 17, 2020, a day after my birthday and I was expecting a relaxing day, not one that would take so much energy from me. I had just finished taking my breakfast when a call came through. JOYNEWS’ Managing Editor, Elvis, Kwashie – my boss – wanted me as the Assignments Editor, to put a reporter on a special operation being carried out by the military.
At the time, I was the only member of the security desk available, so I had no choice than nominate myself, even though I didn’t know the nature of the operation or even where it was to take place. I quickly got a camera technician – Solomon Amponsah – and drove to the Air Force Base.
We were met by the head of Defence Intelligence and the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) boss. They then briefed us and journalists from five other media houses on the assignment ahead. In the briefing, we got to know some 20 people had been arrested in an earlier dawn operation by the military that same day.
Those who had been arrested were said to have been recruited by the secessionist group, Homeland Study Group Foundation – a group seeking to make Ghana’s Volta Region a separate sovereign entity.
The military intelligence brief indicated that the group had already declared a part of Volta Region independent and called it Western Togoland. But their leaders and supporters had been arrested in batches since 2017 and put before the court.
The Attorney General withdrew all cases against the group in July last year for reasons that are not entirely clear for now. But the continued presence of the group in a remote part of the Volta Region, along the border with Togo, is a persistent cause for alarm in government and the country’s security agencies.
After the briefing, we boarded a military helicopter along with some soldiers. By 10 am we were airborne, heading towards the Volta Region. We landed at the 66 Artillery Regiment of the Ghana Armed Forces in Ho about 40 minutes after takeoff. In Ho, some more troops joined us for the operation.
The trip from Ho to Dzodze took just about 10 minutes, but it took about 30 minutes in the air, with the helicopter checking for safety before landing. This was because the airborne team could not spot the ground troops who were holding the suspects who had been arrested earlier at the training camp. They had also lost all contact.
When we finally landed at a school compound in Dzodze all the children left their classrooms to catch a glimpse of the aircraft, and for the entire duration of our visit, remained spectators. Shortly, we were joined by a convoy made up of many more troops and the head of the Ketu North Municipal Security Council Anthony Avorgbedor, who is also the MCE.
The trip to the illegal training camp now begun. At this time it was past 11 am and I was getting worried I won’t be able to connect to Accra to file a report for the midday news. It took 30 minutes of convoy speed to reach the edge of the forest where the camp is located.
We had to then continue the journey on foot, stopping intermittently to check if we were heading in the right direction. It took us about an hour and 30 minutes on foot, to get to the destination. This trek was led by soldiers who had been there at dawn for this operation.
On arrival, I found it difficult to appreciate that that particular location was what they called the paramilitary training camp. I saw absolutely nothing to give me that indication. Then we entered a valley.
There was a makeshift kitchen, a sleeping area under makeshift tents and a training ground – all in that valley. The valley itself had trees grown around it, giving it the semblance of a cave that had been strategically designed and intended to be obscure.
On the training ground were logs, a major tool for their training regime. Some of the recruits told me they lifted those logs, did press-ups as well as other drills in preparation for a takeover of the territory they had designated as ‘Western Togoland’.
In this area is the Akosombo dam, significant oil deposits in the Volta Basin among other economic interests. When all 21 recruits were rounded up, they pleaded innocence and continued to claim innocence in the presence of the media. It was now time to leave the forest and head back to Dzodze for our flight back to Accra.
That was another difficult 90-minute journey to the entrance of the forest, then another vehicle ride which took more than 30 minutes to Dzodze before finally a 40-minute flight to the Air Force Base in Accra where a combined team of investigators were on standby to receive the suspects.
It was an interesting trip which has given me valuable experience but has also left me with severe bodily pains.