July 11, 2012

Ghana’s Parliament may be more susceptible to a terrorist attack than any other arm of government in the country, a retired Military Officer and Member of the 230-member Legislature has said.

Major (rtd) Derek Oduro says it would be “very easy” for terrorists or trouble makers to enter Ghana’s Parliament with guns and grenades to carry out deadly attacks. His comments are a major indictment on the security personnel, including the police officers, who have been tasked with the job of keeping the Legislature secure.

In an age where neighboring countries are crawling with potential threats, Major Oduro is worried that Ghana’s Legislature has taken security in and around its premises loosely.

“Security in this House is a joke,” he said in an exclusive interview with The Globe. “If we are not very careful, one day somebody will roll a grenade or a bomb onto the chamber … and it will blast. We will lose the Right Honorable Speaker and …any of the members.”

Currently, Nigeria is under siege from Islamist insurgents, including an Al-Qaida-backed terror group, Boko Haram, and northern Mali – after the March coup – is under the firm control of Islamist and Tuareg rebels believed to have strong links to Al-Qaeda.

Security experts fear that the growing number of terror groups operating in and around West Africa could give rise to deadly terror attacks that target civilian and government installations.

For instance, over the weekend, Senator Gyang Dantong and the Majority Leader of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Mr. Gyang Fulani, were killed while attending the mass burial of the 50 victims of last Saturday’s attack on villages in Barkin Ladi and Riyom.

Here in Ghana, Major Oduro said Ghanaians should not think that the institutions are immune to terror attacks.

“Therefore there is an urgent need for us to keep the security of this place intact so that one day we will not be surprised or we will not get shocked. We should be very careful about our security situation in Parliament here,” he said.

The Nkoranza North MP added, “Parliament is one of the arms of government; we must protect our Parliamentarians; we must protect the staff who work here; we must protect our documents because they are there for the whole nation.”

The opposition MP, who was a member of an ad hoc committee set up to investigate previous security breaches in the House, said there was an instance “where people broke into the control room of this House at night to steal but until today they have not been punished.

Our committee recommended that they be handed over to the Police but nothing came out of it.”

Independent investigations by The Globe corroborated Hon Oduro’s comments about lax security at Ghana’s Parliament.

Our investigations found a string of security lapses including broken body scanners, malfunctioning CCTV cameras and recorders, as well as a general lack of security presence in the lawmaking house.

As a result, all kinds of people flock the Legislature daily to sell petty items such as clothes, panties, mobile phones, wrist watches, food products and herbal medicines, or to beg MPs for cash handouts.

Others are burglars who break into offices and cars to steal valuable items belonging to workers, journalists and lawmakers.

The investigations were prompted by a day-time raid on this reporter’s private vehicle last month.

The attack in June saw burglars breach lax security in the premises of the nation’s Parliament, stealing items worth thousands of cedis from this reporter’s private car, which had been tightly locked and parked just outside the Parliamentary Chamber block.

Although the legislative building has security cameras mounted all over it, the technical department of the House could not produce the video tape of the burglary because the CCTV recorders, according to one source, “are out of order.”

The broad day light attack, which has since been reported to the Ministries Police Station, did not surprise anyone in the nation’s legislature.

Vehicles of Members of Parliament and staff are attacked every now and then and many valuables are stolen. A number of staff of the Legislature and MPs confirmed to The Globe that their cars were broken into and laptops, mobile phones, money and several valuables were stolen.

“I lost millions of cedis when my car was broken into here in Parliament,” said one MP who wished not to be named.

“The threat to our lives and property is real and nobody seems to care. It is just by God’s grace that we come here and go back to our families safely each day,” the MP added.

Although there are tons of security guards the nation’s Parliament, our investigations found that most have no basic training.

“Most of them came here as cronies and relations of MPs, Ministers and big men here. They have no real training in security management and we do not even know their backgrounds. That is part of the problem,” one Parliamentary source said.

Part of the problem, our investigations found, is also that there are no consequences for security officials with a devil-may-care attitude toward security in the House. Also, there are virtually no administration sanctions.

One other MP, who spoke to The Globe said security personnel in the Legislature are notorious for adopting “an absolutely passive approach to their work,” suggesting that “at best they mostly hassle Members for cash handouts.”

“The security situation here improves only when you have the President coming to the House,” one senior staff of Parliament said, adding that “security measures have to be implemented every day of the week and not from time to time. Only then will there be some sort of guaranteed security for people who work here.”

Top officials of Parliament who spoke to The Globe on condition of anonymity said they support handing over screening duties at the nation’s Parliament to the private sector.
Reached for comment, Deputy Majority Leader, Hon Rashid Pelpuo, said “the issue of poor security is being seriously discussed and a new policy will soon be adopted to improve the situation.”

“The House Committee has been discussing the matter and will soon come out with new guidelines to protect members, staff, journalists and visitors to this place,” he added.

His comments came weeks after United Kingdom Police closed off roads and carried out explosion of a car just a short distance from the Treasury and Palace of Westminster.

The noise of the explosion from the security alert in Storey’s Gate on June 13 caused a brief flurry on Twitter shortly before MPs crowded into the Commons to hear David Cameron and Ed Miliband clash during Prime Minister’s question time.

In 2001, twelve people died in an unprecedented suicide attack on the Indian parliament in Delhi.
Witnesses said the attack began with an explosion and heavy gunfire as a group of men armed with AK47 rifles and grenades stormed the upper house at about 11.45 am, local time.

Again, in October 2012, six people perished and 17 others suffered debilitating injuries when a small group of militants stormed Parliament in the restive Russian republic of Chechnya.

Shouting Islamist slogans, three fighters launched a bomb and gun attack as deputies arrived for work, killing two guards and an official. All three attackers were later killed in a lengthy gun battle.

Source: The Globe newspaper