An elderly man has died and two people have been critically injured in a cutlass attack related to the protracted chieftaincy dispute in Bolgatanga, the Upper East regional capital.
The violent clash erupted around 8:00pm Sunday, just 48 hours after the Bolgatanga High Court had annulled a ruling that affirmed Raymond Alafia Abilba at the Upper East Regional House of Chiefs as the Paramount Chief of Bolgatanga. Although the high court verdict does not say Mr. Abilba’s rival, Joseph Nyaaba Apakre, is now the next Bolga Naba, those on his side say the decision taken by the court last Friday means only one thing for him- victory at last.
That “victory” was celebrated throughout the capital, beginning from the court premises Friday and continuing until a sudden hail of bullets disrupted the party Sunday night. It is not clear yet what triggered the hours-long gunfire in the capital. Residents panicked as echoes of gunshots clapped in the air from the seat of the traditional council and the commercial core of the capital, Atulbabisi.
Stores and tabletop teashops, which often do not close until the wee hours, parted ways with the streets in a hurry. And so intense was the shelling that police officers were withdrawn from checkpoints to add their numbers to a joint security force already positioned on the ground, fighting hard to bring the situation under control.
The old man reportedly was attacked in his room and his house set ablaze. The attackers did not spare his son and his younger brother who are currently at the emergency ward of the Upper East Regional Hospital. The elderly man, said to be between 60 and 70 years of age, lay motionless on a hospital bed as of the time Starr News visited the hospital around midnight Sunday.
Suspecting the man had passed away, women moaned in one of the busy corridors of the hospital, repeatedly exclaiming “Nsoh!”- a Gurune word for “Father”- referring to the butchered old man. Some men sat in another corner, dabbing their eyes, looking downwards and not saying a word.
“They have removed the drip. We are at the mortuary,” a young man, sobbing on the telephone, confirmed the death of the elderly man after Starr News had left the hospital.
Bolga still has no Chief
Soon after his installation at Nanlerigu as the Paramount Chief of Bolgatanga, Mr. Apakre, a media practitioner, filed a petition in May, 2015, at the Upper East Regional House of Chiefs, asking that Mr. Abilba, a lawyer, be restrained from holding himself out as Bolga Naba.
Hearing on the case ran for months at the house of chiefs until its judicial committee dismissed the application in October, 2016. And it was an all-night party at the palace of Mr. Abilba, a son to the former paramount chief, Naba Martin Adongo Abilba III, not just because the verdict, in effect, affirmed him as the new bearer of the centuries-old skin of authority but also because the petitioner was in addition fined Gh¢50,000, for what Mr. Abilba’s lawyer, John Ndebugre, described as a “frivolous petition meant to waste everybody’s time”.
Not satisfied with both a perceived bias and the ruling itself, Mr. Apakre sought redress at the Bolgatanga High Court, presided over by His Lordship Jacob B. Boon, and where the judgement passed by the house of chiefs was squashed and the house of chiefs slapped with a fine of Gh¢15,000, for failing to follow due process on the case. There was a reprisal jubilation in the camp of Mr. Apakre who, also for the first time, sat in the courtroom Friday.
The latest ruling does not mean Naba Abeka Nonge-Buuri Maltinga (as Mr. Apakre is addressed in royal terms) is the Bolgatanga’s new paramount chief. It does not say Naba Awogeya-Lebna Raymond Alafia Abilba IV (as Mr. Abilba’s skin title is called) is not the successor of the departed paramount chief, either. It means Bolgatanga is back to square one. It has no paramount chief yet. And until the legal advisers to both sides decide what to do next, probably after laying hands on the transcript of Friday’s proceedings and verdict at the high court, it may be difficult to predict what is next.
Per the checks conducted by Starr News, the resources needed to sustain the military troops dispatched to maintain the needed peace at Atulbabisi have been an unbearable burden on the taxpayer’s cedis at the Bolgatanga Municipal Assembly. The conflict is a serious threat to Atulbabisi, which is the commercial live wire of the entire region. That is where all the banks are- Unibank, Fidelity Bank, GCB, Apex Bank, Agricultural Development Bank, Bank of Africa, National Investment Bank, Barclays Bank, Access Bank, Naara Rural Bank, Stanbic Bank, HFC Bank, GN Bank and the Bayport Financial Services, et cetera. The region’s biggest shopping mall, Melcom, is at Atulbabisi.
Insurance companies, including Star Assurance, ELAC, SIC and SSNIT among other financial institutions are pitched in that community. Even the embattled DKM Microfinance Company chose Atulbabisi. The regional post office, the Seat of the Catholic Bishop, offices of commercial airlines are located there. Atulbabisi is a capital on its own inside a capital. A similar chieftaincy struggle in Bawku shut down a branch of the Barclays Bank in that municipality some years ago, with grass spreading unrestrained on the once-busy and beautiful compound today. Worries are beginning to creep into Bolgatanga, with some saying the situation at Atulbabisi gradually might inspire the mega institutions to look elsewhere on the relatively calm outskirts. The concerned public, in the aftershock of the latest clash, is asking two questions. What is happening to intelligence gathering in the region? And how have the ‘unknown combatants’ been able to sneak in lethal weapons and hoard the kinds of firearms that dazzle civilians with their rumbling sounds and leave the security agencies themselves in raw awe?
Police, Peace Council call for Calm in Bolga
Military and police patrol teams have remained on the ground since the last night’s bloody attack. And residents who competed passionately for cover during the heavy firing are tiptoeing back into the streets of the busy capital to buy and sell as usual.
The National Peace Council (NPC) has called for calm. So has the Bolgatanga Municipal Police Command.
“Both parties have to be calm. There should be peace in Bolga. We should not take the law into our own hands. That is why we have got the law courts. If anybody is not happy about any ruling, the structures are there to guide us. Nobody should take the law into their own hands. Let’s let peace remain in Bolga,” the Upper East Regional Chairman of the NPC and Paramount Chief of Sakote, Naba Sigri Bewong, told Starr News.
The Bolgatanga Municipal Police Commander, Superintendent Samuel Punobyin, confirmed the elderly man died of cutlass wounds. And he urged the disputed chiefs to help bring an end to the turmoil the capital has continued to suffer as result of the conflict between them by appealing to their camps to respect the law.
“They’ve gone to court; the court has ruled. They should continue to use the court process. I don’t see why they are fighting. The people they are going to rule are the same people who are being killed. At the end of the day, who are they going to rule? If the place is volatile, how can they be good chiefs? They should talk to their supporters and followers to exercise restraint,” the commander stated.
A number of lives, including those of individuals who had no stake in the dispute, have been lost with several others seriously injured and houses burnt since the chieftaincy conflict between the two sides, who are said to be one big family, resurfaced in 2014 after the departure of the former paramount chief in September, 2013.
Mr. Abilba, who was installed in 2015 as chief by kingmakers within his clan, has the full support of notable sub-chiefs who served his father dutifully. Mr. Apakre looks relaxed in the backing of the Nayiri- the revered Paramount Ruler of the Mamprungu Kingdom, Naa Bohagu Mahami Abdulai Sheriga- who installed him also in 2015 at Nanlerigu and reportedly told him: “Return to home. Don’t fear. I have installed you. When I plant a tree, that tree does not die.”