Protests broke out on Tuesday at Winkogo, a key electoral area in the Talensi District, 24 hours before President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s timetabled tour of the Upper East Region.
The protests were staged by the community members of Goriko, an integral suburb of Winkogo, where the now-governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) organised its last rally whilst in opposition ahead of the eventful Talensi by-election in 2015.
In fact, polls watchers have always said Winkogo is to the Talensi Constituency what Florida is to America in the light of electoral importance. The Tuesday’s protests had the agitators threaten to ban all political parties from campaigning in the area ahead of the December 7 general elections if their demand was not met in seven days.
The protests were provoked by three core issues: Goriko has not had electricity since it came into being centuries ago; a project initiated by government to connect the community to the national grid has been abandoned since 2016, yet the same abandoned project has been deceitfully declared to have been completed in a document sighted by the community.
The protesters were wearing blood-red bands and vehemently showing placards to news cameras as they chanted in unison and repeatedly: “No electricity, no vote!”
The Goriko Youth Association convened a news conference on the same day, with the Chief of Winkogo and both the immediate-past and the current assemblymen of the electoral area in attendance.
According to the association’s narrative, the contract was awarded to the E.K. Asare Enterprise under the government’s Self-Help Electrification Programme (SHEP). Work was in progress until the project came to a standstill in the last quarter of 2016. When asked why the execution was halted, the contractor said government failed to provide him with some “high-tension poles, wiring cables and stays” required to complete the job. Then, he told members of the community to get involved in a monthly meeting held by contractors at the conference room of the Northern Electricity Distribution Company (NEDCo) in the Upper East regional capital, Bolgatanga, so that they could verify his claims there.
As representatives of the community attended the contractors’ meetings, they eventually discovered a copy of minutes taken in a meeting held on Thursday 31st May 2018, stating that the electrification project at Goriko had been completed and was awaiting commissioning. The community’s representatives left the meeting, shell-shocked as the project in question actually was yet far from completed and had remained abandoned.
“The assertion in their minutes is rather on the contrary, misleading and does not conform to the reality,” the association remarked in a statement read by its Chairman, Abugre Stephen Ategebire, at the Tuesday’s news conference.
The statement continued: “Again, we proceeded to the [Talensi] District Assembly to either confirm such information on the minutes or prove otherwise. Then and there, the current DCE, Dr Boatbil Christopher, showed us a document with information not different from what we intercepted in the minutes. Based on the information gathered, we the community have the suspicions that the project has been abandoned and will not be continued.”
A community in grief over four evils
The depth of the wrath in the hearts of the agitators could be felt in the heavy sound of their feet as they tramped around places where the contractor had planted electricity poles and left them to waste away in their holes.
Angry men lifted some rotten electricity poles and carried them together on their shoulders as women and children marched along with plywood placards. The association’s Organiser, Achim Awuni, told journalists at the scene that those rotten poles belonged to some separate electrification projects which similarly were abandoned halfway in the past. He said those poles after they got rotten, were removed and replaced with fresh ones which also were left to rot in the community after contractors walked out on the projects in succession. He pointed at the surviving poles (which have been standing without wires since 2016) as the fourth set of poles brought in to replace the ones contractors left to rot away.
“The absence of light in the community results in high levels of teenage pregnancies, incidences of kidnapping, stealing and poor performances of our pupils at ICT. Young girls and boys of the community resort to moving to the neighbouring community to learn at night during which most of them end up sleeping with boyfriends, subsequently becoming pregnant and dropping out of school. There have been three kidnapping-attempt cases in the community but, God being so good, these bad persons could not succeed due to the timely intervention of the community members.
“Bad persons from other communities took advantage of the dark nature of the community at night to steal our properties including the properties of the Goriko Primary School and the KG. Facilitators of our community school find it difficult to project and impact knowledge to learners using ICT devices since the school does not have electricity. If there is no sign of resumption of work at the site within one week, from today 6th October 2020, to 12th October 2020, we would have no other alternatives than to advise ourselves, not excluding banning any political party from campaigning in the community and we mean it,” the statement said.
“Demonstrations against the government, not against me” — Contractor
Speaking to the press, the Chief of Winkogo, Naba Moses Aganzuah, appealed to the government to pay attention to the public outcry at Goriko before the upcoming polls. He said the threat by the aggrieved community to ban political activities in the area if the contractor failed to resume work in seven days was beyond his powers as a traditional leader.
“The NDC Government lost power when they were working. A new government has come. We are appealing to the current government, the NPP Government, to complete the work for Goriko people. Electrification is an important project in any community,” the immediate-past Assemblyman for Winkogo, Joseph Ateem, told the media at the news conference.
Adding his voice, the current Assemblyman for Winkogo, Edward Azuah, commented: “This project is so dear to us and it’s being abandoned is so saddening. Since I was voted into office in 2019, I have made some follow-ups trying to see whether the project would come into full fruition. We are appealing to the current government to expedite action, to work assiduously to ensure that the community gets its fair share of the national cake in terms of electricity.”
Gifty Alukuboro, a woman spotted weaving a straw basket at the scene of the press conference, told journalists the lack of electricity was affecting productivity in the community. She used the basket she was weaving to buttress her point, saying her daytime was mostly devoted to farming and her nighttime to basketry. She said once the sun had set and the day was over, weaving was almost an impossible task at night without light.
“When a campaign activity forces politicians to enter a community at night, they are in a hurry to leave the community for fear of being attacked by bad people and robbed on the way at night. But the same politicians are not concerned as our children, for the lack of electricity, are being forced to walk to the other communities to go and study at night with all the risks involved,” one of the aggrieved members of the community, Adombire Abeeko, observed.
When contacted, the contractor told Starr News on the telephone: “The protest is against the government, not the contractor. I was doing the work, the material was not coming, what should I do? If I did not complete the project, is it my fault?”.