Military and police patrols have been intensified in the troubled municipality as residents who reportedly had their property vandalised in the aftermath of the clash are counting their losses.
The two rival chiefs, Naba Joseph Apakre Nyaaba and Naba Raymond Alafia Abilba, belong to some seven royal gates that have remained locked in a longstanding chieftaincy dispute that became renewed when Naba Martin Adongo Abilba III, the immediate-past paramount chief, passed away on September 26, 2013.
The latest clash erupted during a funeral at Dapoore-Tindongo around the Bolgatanga Sports Stadium at about 1:30pm Sunday.
Some reports suggest that the two factions were invited to the funeral because the deceased, in whose honour the event was being held, was related to the two rival groups. The contingent from Mr. Abilba had the chance first to exchange greetings with the bereaved family inside a yard and to make way for Mr. Nyaaba’s delegation to do same. The two sides crashed on the way as Mr. Abilba’s group was leaving the yard for Mr. Nyaaba’s party to go in. The crash ended in an instant clash that saw gunfire and knife attacks from both sides as the funeral crowd dispersed in different directions.
Other reports indicate that the two factions, regardless of the bitter rivalry between them, were performing a war dance together at the funeral in line with tradition. But the dance took a sour twist when some members of the faction, whilst displaying with sickles and swords in traditional war costumes, brought the venom they had long harboured for one another to bear on the ground.
Three people went down when guns sounded repeatedly at the arena.
Minutes later, some young men, packed in a taxicab, bearing arms and said to be members of one of the factions, chased a motorcyclist carrying a pillion rider. The driver knocked the motorcycle into a gutter along the Regional Library Road in Bolgatanga. Those inside the taxicab came out and opened fire on the riders inside the gutter.
Soldiers whip residents; police keep media in the dark
It is difficult to tell if any arrests have been made in connection with the clash, much as it is difficult to say for now if the victims of the bloody brawl are still alive. And conflicting reports have continued to swell about what actually renewed the clash on Sunday.
The police have kept the media in the dark. Calls and short message service (SMS) inquiries placed by journalists on the mobile lines of authorities at the Upper East Regional Police Headquarters, desperately seeking clarifications, were ignored. Whilst the Regional Police Commander, DCOP Simon Afeku, did not respond to phone calls and messages, the Regional Crime Officer, Superintendent Kofi Gyabaa, told Starr News he would not comment.
The fighting factions massed up again in the evening and continued where they left off earlier at the funeral ground. Soldiers, apparently to avert reprisals, blocked roads that lead to Atulbabisi, the suburb where the two factions reside and have their palaces, on Sunday night. In what was like a curfew, movement of people was restricted in and out of the suburb and its perimeters with patrols all over the municipality. There have been reports of soldiers whipping anybody they found in the streets.
Social media platforms belonging to various social groups in the region are awash with reports of pointless beatings meted out by soldiers to civilians who did not even know there was a clash and also were not informed about the sudden restriction of movement in the area. Scores of residents away from home, after they reportedly saw scenes of the alleged beatings on their way home or were warned on the phone by their confined relatives, had to rough it, involuntarily sleeping over elsewhere.
If ever there was a place in Ghana where people could not say good night on Monday owing to a bloody clash and the resulting widespread allegations of soldierly beatings, it was Bolgatanga.
Curfew scare grips municipality
Bolgatanga was once described as Ghana’s Geneva because of its generally peaceful outlook. And Atulbabisi, the seat of traditional power and centre of the decades-old contention, is also the core of economic activities in the municipality.
That is where key financial institutions and business centres, including the uniBank, the Ghana Commercial Bank, the Barclays Bank, the National Investment Bank, the Fidelity Bank, the Apex Bank, the Naara Rural Bank, Star Assurance Company, State Insurance Company, Enterprise, the Melcom Shopping Mall, the Graphic Communications, the Bolgatanga Central Market, the Ghana Post Office, offices of all telephone network service providers, et cetera, are found.
Any curfew imposed at Atulbabisi, many fear, would cripple the entire municipality with rippling effects on commercial nerves across the region and beyond. There is a general feeling, growing by the minute, that the final destination of the rolling struggle, with all the unpredictable turns it has taken in recent times, is a curfew.
Cost of the conflict
Observers have described the quantum of damage done to belongings so far as heartbreaking.
Seven persons including a teenaged girl were shot when the groups clashed late in 2015. Several houses were also set ablaze and sporadic gunshots were fired from unknown sources in the dark.
Most residents of the area fled their homes to stay the night elsewhere for fear of midnight attack. Women with babies strapped to their backs ran barefoot from their homes for cover.
Some bedridden oldies were carried in the bare arms of their children to safety. Anxious-looking families stood by the roadside warning their loved ones (who were not at home at the time and might know about the trouble in the area) very loud on mobile phones to keep their distance from home.
Stores that often would run until midnight on a daily basis were closed abruptly. Nocturnal fast food merchants overturned their wooden tables and plastic chairs apace and crossed paths in blind speed with panicked passersby as police siren blared deafeningly in the background. Some abandoned their foods (with a lot of meat still in their plates) halfway at roadside restaurants for safety amid a hail of bullets.
It came barely weeks after some elders and sub-chiefs had come under a brutal ambush attack for allegedly meddling in succession procedures. They were clubbed and knifed by cutlass-wielding youths at Atulbabisi who openly dared the police to arrest them.
REGSEC meeting on Monday
The Upper East Regional Minister, Albert Abongo, told Starr News Sunday night there would be a Regional Security Council (REGSEC) meeting on Monday over the latest clash.
“We are calling for a REGSEC meeting tomorrow at 9:00am sharp. In the meantime, to keep the situation under control, we are asking for reinforcement from Bawku, from the military attachment and the police unit over there. The Commander of the Northern Command is also sending in some military men from Tamale. The security on the ground are alert to apprehend anybody who would attempt to foment trouble,” the minister said.
How Bolga got two chiefs
Joseph Apakre Nyaaba, a media practitioner and marketing officer, was installed at Nanlerigu in the Northern Region on Wednesday May 6, 2015, by the King of the Mamprugu Kingdom, Naa Bohagu Mahami Abdulai Sheriga, otherwise known as the Nayiri.
Friday 8th May, 2015, saw the installation of Raymond Alafia Abilba, a lawyer and eldest son of the late paramount chief, by some elders within the traditional area.
Each of the two gentlemen has gone through what he with his supporters strongly upholds as the right coronation procedure and, therefore, holds a strong conviction that he is the rightful Paramount Chief of Bolgatanga.
The dispute is being heard by a judicial committee at the Upper East Regional House of Chiefs. The case has been adjourned several times since hearing began in July, 2015.