Minister of State at the Presidency and Member of Parliament for Navrongo Central, Mark Owen Woyongo, and a group calling itself the Youth of Paga have engaged each other in a tense tangle over the recent attack on the palace of the chief of Navio, Pe Adams Kwarase.
The chief was attacked last Thursday by some unidentified armed men but he managed to escape after he fled into a bush where he stumbled across a motorcyclist who took him at a deaf gallop to Navrongo, capital of the Kassena-Nankana Municipality.
His palace and three rooms were set ablaze as members of his family around took off in different directions. Minutes after a detachment of soldiers and police officers had stormed the troubled area, the chief told journalists at the Navrongo Police Station, where he was taking shelter, that his assailants were sent by the Paramount Chief of Paga, Pe Charles Awiah Awampaga II. But elders of the palace at Paga, led by Carl Kwotduah, have rubbished the claim.
Keep your distance― Paga Youth to Woyongo
The two areas, Paga and Navio, have remained very tense since the Thursday’s palace attack, with the youth of Paga claiming they have unduly suffered some forms of brutality at the hands of soldiers in its wake.
Addressing a news conference at the weekend at Paga, capital of the Kassena-Nankana West District, the youths accused Mr. Woyongo of meddling in the district’s chieftaincy conflict by providing asylum to the runaway chief at Navrongo and backing him against the Paramount Chief of Paga.
“His (Woyongo’s) boys at Navrongo currently are those who are housing him, Mr. Adams. When he ran away to Navrongo, they quickly went and picked him and housed him and they are feeding him. Do you think this is just for nothing?
“The man (Chief of Navio) himself confessed that he (Woyongo) is supporting him. And that’s why we are saying that he (Woyongo) should remove his hands from that. We didn’t pick this information from the ground; neither did we conjure it from the skies. When Mark Woyongo was the Interior Minister, this man (the chief) could beat his chest that the security was in his hands,” spokesperson to the group, Addiyire Peter Ajegiwe, stated.
Woyongo to drag group to court
The conference had barely ended when Mr. Woyongo replied, describing the allegations as “insane, malicious and wicked”. He also swore to go to court to prove his innocence.
“When I came last week, I went to the Paga Pio (the Paramount Chief of Paga) and I assured him that I was going to work around the clock to get this issue resolved. From Paga Pio’s place I went to the Chiana Pio’s house the same day. I had a chat with the Chiana Pio. The following day, I met the Navro Pio and the Navio chief. And the conclusion at that meeting was that the Navio Pio would go back and meet his elders and give me the feedback.
“I am utterly surprised that they would make this kind of, excuse my language, insane allegation against me. The allegations are wicked, malicious and unfounded. I am completely innocent of this allegation. It’s utterly, utterly disgusting. I’ll take up the matter in the law court. If I get a copy of the statement, I’m handing over the statement to my lawyers for the appropriate action to be taken against them,” the MP retorted.
Youth protest “military brutality”
The venue for the conference was packed with angry-looking youths some of whom climaxed the event with a display of wild cycling.
The action was in protest against the arrest of their kinsmen and some forms of brutality they claimed some residents undeservedly suffered on Thursday at the hands of soldiers following the palace attack.
“We are the people they beat here. They brought soldiers to beat us here, spoilt everything. Others are still in hospital. They chained them by the hospital beds. People from farms, they beat them, they ran. They poured this woman’s food away. Is there no more rule of law in Ghana? Soldiers beating people everywhere?” Roland Tedam, a former assemblyman, groaned.
The angry riders decided to take their protest deep into the district capital but the conveners of the conference forbade them for fear the development could spin out of control and trigger police arrests for breach of the Public Order Act.
Free suspects, fire commander―Group clamours
Calls for the release of some residents of Paga arrested for their suspected roles in the Thursday’s attack and for the transfer of the Kassena-Nankana West District Police Commander, DSP Isaac Kojo Forson, also shared centre stage at the conference.
The group, who maintained that the attack at Navio was neither masterminded nor executed by the people of Paga, described the Thursday’s arrests in Paga as wrong and demanded the immediate release of the suspects. The crowd accused the police commander of bias and chorused for his transfer from the district.
“The commander exhibited a high level of unprofessional conduct,” the group’s spokesperson affirmed. “He is on the side of Navio Chief. That’s why he’s behaving that way. If not that, why didn’t he go to the conflict zone and he rather came to the Paga Township where the conflict did not even generate and started beating up people mercilessly? They should sanction the police commander and in the sanctions they should ask him to pay for the motorbikes they destroyed.
“We fought vigorously just to bring a police commander to this place just to keep peace. Now that we have a police commander not even up to a year, now we have conflict in Paga. When we did not have a police commander, there was no conflict. Now that we have a police commander, we have a conflict. So, I support the idea that this commander should be fired! He should be fired straightforward!” he added.
I saw the attackers myself―Commander
Whilst the group claims Paga is not responsible for the attack on Navio, DSP Forson has given a strong indication that the attackers marched from Paga to Navio. He also has pointed out that police have not arrested one-tenth of the number that launched the attack.
“I saw them myself. I stay on the Navio Road and I saw what happened that day. I stay on the Navio Road and I know who and who went to Navio. I saw most of them. We have not arrested even one-tenth of the number that went to Navio,” DSP Forson said.
The commander also rejected the bias claim made by the group, saying “I don’t support any chief”.
“I didn’t bring the soldiers. I don’t have power to call soldiers to attend to any operation like that. The soldiers are working under their commanders. I cannot instruct soldiers to come to Paga for an operation. I asked my regional commander to bring the SWAT (Specialised Training Weapons and Tactics) personnel from Bolga because of what was going on.
“For the soldiers, they have their representatives here. That is their military defence intelligence. They were at the scene when the Paga boys and the Sakaa boys went to Navio to attack. I want everybody to understand himself that I don’t support any chief. I’m very, very neutral. I’m a policeman, doing police work, not chieftaincy affairs here, to ensure that there is peace in the area,” the commander said.
Roots of the conflict
The longstanding conflict between the Paramount Chief of Paga and the Chief of Navio, according to the natives of Paga, all started in 2012 when the former was about to install the latter as chief.
A few months after the installation rituals had commenced, Pe Adams Kwarase reportedly became embroiled in some scandals that saw the installation process discontinued.
He was accused of destroying scores of trees being grown at Kazugu, a suburb of Paga, under an afforestation project. He allegedly set some houses on fire at Navio and forced the occupants into exile at Paga. He was also said to have banned the people of Navio from taking part in political activities, constructed private cells to detain wrongdoers and established a mandatory Independence Day at Navio.
Following the termination of the installation process, he took offence and subsequently declared himself the Chief of Navio. But Paga does not recognise him as such as long as the Paramount Chief did not install him. That was where the conflict began, according to the natives of Paga who have strongly maintained that the Paramount Chief has the superseding say over the lands and the resources of the entire Paga Traditional Area “that includes Navio”.
But speaking to Starr News in a telephone interview, Pe Adams Kwarase dismissed those reports as fabricated claims. He said he was duly installed by the elders of Navio as the Chief of the area with the Paramount Chief of Paga attending the ceremony only as a witness and not as a coronation authority.
Navio, he stressed, was only geopolitically part of the Kassena-Nankana West District but traditionally fell under the Navrongo Traditional Area. The conflict, according to him, only began when he stood against the Paramount Chief of Paga crossing his boundary to control and lease resources such as lands at Navio. He said that was the norm for many years until he came to put a stop to it after he became chief in 2012.
“They are worshipping crocodile and we worship tiger. Our custom is not even one. We are just neighbours. The district brought us together. Before, we were doing our things, paying our taxes at Navrongo. I have the documents. I am the chief and my landlord is under me. Without me, nobody can come there and acquire land. You have to see me, see my landlord before we will give you the land,” he affirmed.
He added: “They have no evidence to back their lies about me. I am a development man. Since I came, I’m taking care of three hundred widows without NGO support. Only the district brought us together. We were ready to work together. But with the way things are now since my grandfathers’ times, I think enough is enough.”