A number of prison officers in Ghana are boiling with rage openly against President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and the Minister for the Interior, Ambrose Dery.
They say the president and the minister are handling the Ghana Prisons Service in a manner that exposes prison officers and the entire public to danger.
Such was the degree of their wrath that when they met with Media Without Borders in the Upper East Region on Friday, 2 June 2023, to publish their grievances, some of them strongly asked that their names also be mentioned in the publication.
They said they were ready to put their careers on the line. But the others suggested they wait. And they agreed.
However, they all requested— and reached a decision— that their voices be recorded and circulated through the media to the public.
“Our leaders cannot talk because of this thing they say, ‘I’m protecting my rank’. Up there, their mouths are sealed. They don’t talk because they know if they do, they would not be spared,” ranted one of the officers.
“Because they are quiet, we the subordinates are suffering. And we don’t want to tow the same line. Some of us are ready to sacrifice our uniforms for a change. The day prisons will strike in Ghana, it’s going to be spontaneous.”
The officers, who are stationed at Navrongo, a town near Ghana’s border with frequently troubled Burkina Faso, spoke for more than an hour as they took the issues one after the other.
Deprived prison service transports inmates to court with public means
“There is no single vehicle you can point at and say this is a Navrongo Central Prisons car, a bus, or whatsoever. If we are to come to court here, to bring prisoners, it’s a serious matter.
“Sometimes, we hire taxis. Sometimes, we wait at the mercy of police officers who are coming for their remand prisoners to join them,” another officer fumed.
Before he finished talking, one of his colleagues had searched for the 1992 Constitution on his phone and found a reference to back him.
“Chapter 16, Article 205,” he said, and put the screen of his phone on display.
He was not showing it to his fellow officers. They were all already abreast of it. He was showing to Media Without Borders.
It says, “There shall be a Prisons Service of Ghana”, and “The Prisons Service shall be equipped and maintained to perform its traditional role efficiently”.
“All of us, with the exception of the military, are under the Interior Ministry. And we form part of the criminal justice system. Now we cannot be equipped with vehicles to perform our justice delivery work,” explaining the constitutional provision, another officer said.
They also disclosed that the Navrongo Central Prisons had become so dependent on police vehicles that if the police did not go to court, the prison would not appear there.
“Today like this― 2nd June, 2023― we were supposed to have brought inmates to court, but we failed because of transportation. No vehicle. If they (the police) don’t come, we can’t come. And the inmates would have to be denied justice for lack of transportation.
“There was an occasion where prison officers joined police officers to court. When the police officers were done and were to go back, the prison officers were not yet done. They went, and left the prison officers. We had to go for a taxi to bring the inmates back to Navrongo,” one of them recounted.
He continued: “The inmates we cannot bring to court are being denied justice. Some of them may have been granted bail by now. But they are still on remand for lack of transportation.”
Inmates carried on commercial tricycles to hospitals
The same public means, according to the prison guards, are being used to transport inmates to health facilities when they are taken ill.
At times, the inmates are taken to the facilities on motorbikes and motorised tricycles, they also revealed.
“The inmates that we bring to court are seen as deviants, criminals of high profile. We are bringing them to court and you in your own myopic [view] say we should join a commercial car with them and come to court. Do you know who is in that commercial car? Do you know the driver? Do you know the communication that will go on? Anybody at all can ambush us at any point on the road.
“And the moment that thing happens, you the officer are the first target. We put inmates in these motorised tricycles to hospitals, in and out. When the need arises, you pick an inmate behind you on a motorbike. It is highly risky. A prisoner sitting behind you can easily twist your neck from behind (the officer using his own hands and neck to demonstrate it) until it is broken. You fall down and the motorbike is for him. Then, he bolts with it,” said an officer.
“Just recently, a prisoner fell sick. Do you know how he was transported to the War Memorial Hospital? We transported that prisoner to the hospital with the motorking (a motorised tricycle with a bucket) that was donated to the Navrongo Central Prisons by the Paramount Chief of Navrongo.”
Shame at public events
They added that even when the Ghana Prisons Service was to be represented at public functions, the officers often felt a great shame because:
“Sometimes, when we are going for national assignments― Eleven-Eleven Parade (Remembrance Day), 6th March― we have to go for a senior high school bus. We have to adjust ourselves inside. When the bus is getting close to the event ground, people would be asking, ‘Which senior high school is that?’ Before they know it, uniformed personnel are getting down from the bus and they are making fun of you.”
The regional commander himself, they said, suffered public ridicule and at times failed to attend such crucial occasions like the Regional Security (REGSEC) meetings for lack of an official vehicle.
“You get down from a borrowed senior high school bus in your uniform and your morale is down. You would be standing on parade. A command would come. Your mind would not be there. Before you realise, you are making mistakes. People would not understand. And they would be clapping for the military, clapping for the police. We have to beg senior high schools for their buses. And when the time we need the bus coincides with the time the schools also need their own buses, we can’t attend the national programmes.
“While the police are in an air-conditioned bus, we are writing letters to schools begging them for a bus. The regional commander, who is ADP, that is Assistant Director of Prisons, currently cannot sometimes come for REGSEC meetings for lack of transportation. The only vehicle we used to have was the pickup that was conveying us for the Eleven-Eleven Parade. It would bring the contingent that would come for the event and go back to bring the regional commander,” seethed one of the officers.
He added: “At times, you would see about 20 prison officers in the bucket of the pickup. If the crowded pickup veers off the road, you can imagine the scale of disaster that would happen. When the various commanders are coming, you bow your head in shame. You would see the car that would bring the military commander, the car that would bring the regional police commander and the car your prison commander would be sitting in. You would look at the car and be shedding tears.”
Armed with ancient weapons, housed in rented barracks
Besides their dissatisfaction about the lack of official vehicles, the officers also lamented the state of their residential apartments, the reliability of the service firearms they carried and the quality of the uniforms they wore.
The officers said the ‘barracks’ they lived in were only rented apartments scattered around Navrongo. Some of them, they said, were not rented structures but they were huts only fit for animals.
“We are pained. And whatever the president does or government does, or offers to the other services, we watch. Recently, the president was at Dome-Kwabenya, commissioning ultramodern apartments— more or less a community— for the police service.
“Go to the Navrongo Central Prisons and see the dilapidated structures we are living in. We are staying in rented apartments we call barracks. They are huts that look like animal pens. That is where some prison officers are staying with their families,” said a corrections officer.
“When you wake up and wear the uniform, before you step out, you ask yourself if you are worth being called an officer. You just have to go and do your work under those distressing conditions and go back to your pathetic huts called barracks.”
One of the officers said almost 90% of the guns in the entire Ghana Prisons Service today were the G3 rifles the Germans discarded and later sold to poor countries after using them during the Second World War.
Such guns, he noted, were no match for the modern brands. Relying on them in any duel, he stressed, would most likely see the prison officer shot several times and killed even before his own G3 rifle would sound once.
“Go and look at the rifles we are using. Look at the proximity between the Navrongo Central Prisons and Burkina Faso. Every day, we hear what is happening in Burkina Faso. If they are entering Ghana through the Paga Border, where would be their first port of call? Navrongo Central Prisons. They would come and you, the officer, are standing there holding a long piece of wood, a log, called G3 rifle.
“You try to cock the gun, it won’t mind you. Before you struggle with that big thing to cock, won’t they finish you? If you want to wait and cock it, you will die. You will die because the attacker will not wait for you. And when they finish you, what happens? They would open the jail, free high-profile and hardened criminals and innocent people in town and passersby would suffer,” he said.
They showed Media Without Borders some service berets worn by prison officers in the region. The brown berets, tattered, are donned with uniform dresses which mostly are equally faded. The uniform, they said, fades so quickly because each officer is usually provided with only one set nowadays and the material is “substandard”.
Prisons guards demand equitable distribution of state resources
The angry prison officers said they expected the interior minister, as the head of internal security, to share service vehicles and other resources entrusted to his ministry among all the state security services fairly and impartially.
They pointed out that he had rather consistently failed to do the needful, giving all his attention to one agency— the police.
“Would the Ministry of Education give something to NAGRAT and leave GNAT? Are they not performing the same functions? Let’s say you are sharing 100 vehicles as a ministry. And let’s say that’s what you have been given from the central government. What do you do? The sectors are under you. Maybe if you give the police 50, give prisons let’s say 10. Immigration 10. NIB 10. And so on.
“But all the time the police. And you have neglected us as if we don’t matter. All the people arrested by police, military and immigration end up in prison. But those who are taking care of the suspects, the accused persons and the criminals are not recognised. No better treatment for us. You still do not see us as important. It’s as if we, because we don’t hold guns like the other ones, don’t deserve better. The politicians, do they hold guns? Are they not served well?” boiled one of the guards.
A different officer noted: “Meanwhile, the government cannot do this to the other security services, Government has presented vehicles to the police more than three times in recent times.”
“Even recently, police were given 100 pickups and 600 motorbikes. Why should we be left out? We pay taxes like the police officers do. Are the police better than us? Is the military better than the prison service? Fire service is now outweighing us in terms of logistics, resources. Why?” said another.
‘Prisons Service is of no importance to government’
The interior minister, according to the crestfallen prison guards, paid a working visit to the Upper East Region in 2022.
They said, before that visit, they were not absolutely sure if the minister cared about the Ghana Prisons Service or not.
For them, that visit was only a begging opportunity to table their long-stomached concerns before him.
But the minister, they stated, cleared their doubts after making a road trip to the Paga Border. He reportedly was too busy for their concerns.
“He came to Navrongo last year. He went to Paga and came back. How many minutes did he spend with us? It means there is no importance attached to the prison service,” noted an officer.
They reiterated the point that the government did not attach any importance to the prison service by referencing the last address President Akufo-Addo delivered to the nation on Covid-19.
The president himself, they said, demonstrated that the Ghana Prisons Service meant nothing to him when he failed to mention the service as he sang the praises of other security agencies during his televised 29th address on the pandemic on Sunday 28 May 2023.
“The whole President of Ghana, the father of the nation, in his recent Covid-19 address to the nation, acknowledged the contributions of the Ghana Armed Forces, the Ghana Police Service, the Ghana National Fire Service, jumped Prisons, the Ghana Ambulance, the market women, the nurses and doctors, journalists, almost every single person except the prison officer. We wonder what we have done,” a guard angrily recalled.
While entreating the government to address their concerns without delay, the officers also warned that failure to meet their demands might compel them to take an action that should have been avoided. They did not disclose what they had in mind.
“Our Director General, together with the other members of the directorate and prisons service council, cannot tell the government, ‘Please, my people are suffering’. Our leaders cannot talk because they want to protect their ranks. We are suffering. No vehicles. Come and check and see.
“We are pleading. The government should do unto prison service as it does to the other services. The way they fear the military thinking they can do something, the police can do something, we can equally do. When you are angry, you can do anything. But we don’t want to get there. The inmates are fed on Gh¢1.80. Improper feeding and whatever can cause riot in the prison. We, too, fear for our lives,” said another guard.
“The government’s neglect poses a very serious threat to the criminal justice system, to prison officers and to the public. If a blind man tells you he’s going to throw you a stone, you should know his foot is on something. We don’t want to go to that extent,” an officer added as the others nodded vehemently in approval.
Watch in the video below the part where President Akufo-Addo omitted the Ghana Prisons Service from the acknowledgement list at his last televised Covid-19 address to the nation:
Source: Edward Adeti/Media Without Borders/mwbonline.org