President John Mahama yesterday compassionately appealed to Ghanaians to have mercy on the two Guantanamo Bay detainees linked to Osama Bin Ladin’s Al-Qaeda terrorist group who have been brought to Ghana.
The two suspected terrorists – Mahmud Umar Muhammad Bin Atef and Khalid Muhammad Salih Al-Dhuby – who Foreign Affairs Minister Hanna Tetteh yesterday described as ‘Al-Qaeda foot soldiers’, are being offered humanitarian assistance in Ghana to help them reintegrate into society after their release.
Their arrival in Ghana is generating a furore, with government struggling to put up a strong defence in the face of obvious rejection by Ghanaians.
Ghanaians from all walks of life, particularly security experts, civil society organisations and religious groups like the Christian Council of Ghana, Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, are strongly against the resettlement of the Al-Qaeda foot soldiers.
Their fear is that the presence of the suspected terrorists in the country could expose Ghana to terrorist attacks.
But at a press conference in Accra yesterday to mark his third anniversary in office, President Dramani Mahama sought to allay the apprehension of Ghanaians on the back of claims that his government collected some $300 million from the US government for the deal, occasionally drawing applause from his appointees who were on hand to give him moral support.
Apart from denying any monetary consideration in the agreement which led to the two Yemeni nationals being brought to Ghana, the president gave the assurance that the two were being monitored 24/7; hence there was no cause for alarm, adding, “I believe that our security is not endangered because they are in our country.”
“We don’t have anything to fear from them. As Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces, the safety and security of this country is of the greatest concern to me probably more than any Ghanaian; I will not take any decision that will jeopardise the security of this country because it’s my duty to ensure that this country is safe,” he said.
He followed up with an emotional appeal to the conscience of Ghanaians and all who have questioned government’s decision to accept the two. “I do not think that we should feel ashamed to have done it…we must also look at the side of compassion; I’m a Christian and in the Bible, it teaches us to be compassionate to prisoners; that is even persons who have been convicted.”
An obviously worried President Mahama therefore questioned the faith of those who had raised issues about the decision to accept the two men, stressing the need for Ghanaians to give them a chance to restart their lives.
He pointed out, “Extensive consultation was held both internally and externally; a risk assessment was done by the US itself and these two detainees, Al-Dhuby and Bin Atef, were considered to be the most compliant detainees in Guantanamo Camp and they were put in the lowest risk category in Guantanamo.
“Let me be clear, people say ex-convicts; they were never tried, they were never charged, they were never convicted. At the time they were picked up, they were 20 years old and I can imagine my own son who is 20 years old and the stage at which he is, they were picked up. They were taken to Guantanamo, interrogated, investigated and there was no evidence with which they could be charged and so six years ago the American government decided that they should be released,” he explained.
According to him, it was therefore established that the two chaps played no operational role in Afghanistan and that even Ghana’s National Security had cause to assess them several times before they were brought in.
Interestingly, he could not hazard the risk of making yet another promise on his government’s failure to end the over three-year load shedding exercise (energy crisis), known as dumsor in the local parlance, which he vowed to solve by the end of 2015.
When asked how he expected Ghanaians to hold him in trust and to vote for him in this year’s elections when he had failed to make good his promise of fixing dumsor, President Mahama stated: “We haven’t closed the gap but I believe that in the next ehhh… Let me not predict…”
He therefore fell short of making any further commitment, except to say “In the next short while, we will be able to overcome the problem of load shedding. I’ve learnt to leave it to the technical people to talk about.”
Teacher Trainees’ Allowance
On the issue of government’s decision to scrap the allowance of teacher trainees, which the flagbearer of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), Nana Akufo-Addo, had promised to restore when voted into power, President Mahama thought it was mere political rhetoric.
According to him, the upgrade of teacher training institutions to tertiary institutions made it difficult for them to continue enjoying the benefit of allowances.
He insisted, “I don’t think it’s necessary for us to continue to inject politics into policymaking; policymaking must be consistent so that …We must allow policies to work so they can be reliable and predictable.”
He equally distanced himself and his wife from the DKM Microfinance scam that has hit the Brong-Ahafo Region.
The president and his wife have been fingered as having a hand in the microfinance scandal.
When the issue came up during the press conference, President Mahama said, “I don’t know DKM from Adam; my wife doesn’t know DKM from Adam. I only got to see him in the papers today after his arrest by the BNI yet we are being linked to him.”
He recalled similar scams like Pyram and R5, saying, “…If anybody promises I will give you 50 percent interest on your money, just know that he’s fooling you.”
Killer Taxes, Fuel Prices
The head of state however seemed unfazed and indifferent in respect of the cries of Ghanaians about continuous increases in fuel prices and taxes, making life difficult for the people.
Even though he claimed he did not take glorify in these increases, he indicated there was little he could do to salvage the situation since the major power producer, the Volta River Authority (VRA), is saddled with debt.
“If you want a sustainable power sector, we have to deal with that debt; and how are we going to deal with that debt? I don’t have that money; if I have I will pay on behalf of VRA and so we need to take that money from somewhere…I don’t see really what we have done wrong,” he said.
Aside that, he said “it’s not every decision that will be popular but what was I elected for as president, to take popular decisions? If I took popular decisions for you to be happy with me, this country would be in the ground by now. Do I take pleasure in imposing taxes on people as if you just take a pleasure in doing it? You don’t. But you look at the alternative and the alternative is worse and so you must take decisions that are in the national interest. The benefits might not be seen immediately but in future people will see what benefits they have accrued from the decisions that were made.”
By Charles Takyi-Boadu