One night in 2001, I went to bed after 11pm…. And I experienced what was so surreal to be real. I was fast asleep and about 2:30am thereabout I started hearing what sounded like gun shots and screams of terror in my dream. It was so persistent that it woke me up.
With sleep in my eyes and dressed in just a boxer shorts, I grudgingly dragged myself to the living room to see me eldest brother standing there in despair. His voice was gone from shouting himself hoarse and the first words he could whisper, was “we have armed robbers in the compound”.
I had barely finished processing what he said, when I heard a few more warning shots and a thud at the main door. The robbers were breaking the door and they didn’t give a hoot that an alarm had been raised, albeit through voices that had gone hoarse.
Let me tell you how it all began.
This incident happened barely six months after my parents had relocated to Ghana after being away for several years. They had started a small business and were trying to find their feet in a country which was very different from what they had been used to in their active working lives.
Earlier in the day, my dad had gone to the bank to conduct some transactions, but I can’t tell if it was related to the robbery incident or not.
We lived in Dome Piller 2, and it was a very remote part of town at the time. I was working at Radio Gold and in the morning, my dad would wake up early and drive me to the station to board trotro to work. Periodically, he would let me take the car to work.
The night of the robbery incident, he had agreed to let me use the car the next day, so in order not to wake up earlier than usual to wash the car, I decided to wash it that night before I went to bed so slept after 11pm.
My younger brother who was in St. Augustine’s College at the time was preparing to write his Senior High School Certificate Examinations, but he had come home because he wasn’t feeling too well.
Around 2am, he was studying when he realized someone was trying to open the backdoor. He peeped through the window and saw armed men, so he rushed to my eldest brother’s room to wake him up and then to my parents’ room to wake them up as well. Then they all started screaming, hoping it was going to scare the robbers away.
This probably angered them, and they started firing warning shots to deter the neighbours from coming close. The area was very underdeveloped at the time and almost all the houses around us were uncompleted. Instead of trying to clandestinely enter from the backdoor they brazenly decided to break the front door amidst the sporadic firing of warning shots.
It was that noise that woke me up.
When I entered the living room and saw my eldest brother standing there with despair written all over, I was torn between going to hide or just waiting in the living room for the robbers to enter the house. Then my inner voice reasoned that if I go into hiding and get hit by a stray bullet, I might bleed to death because no one would know where I was hiding. I also felt it was better to be discovered in a pack than to be discovered alone. The house was also small so there were limited places to hide, anyways!
So, like my eldest brother, I decided to accept my fate and just stand there. The robbers finally succeeded in breaking the door and they matched us straight to our parents’ room.
When we entered the room, my mum was sitting on the bed with her chin in her palm and it was heartbreaking to see. We were ordered to lie down and warned that we’d be shot if we looked up.
The first thing they did was to pick my dad’s wedding band, bracelet and watch which were lying on the bedside draw. Then they started searching the room frantically and carting suitcases away.
One of them kept pulling my mum’s hair and started asking her repeatedly; “woman where is the gold?!!” luckily, one person who I suspect to be the ringleader, slapped the one pulling my mum’s hair and instructed him to “search well!”
One person had a gun pointed at us and two people were doing the searching. However, when they entered the Living Room, we saw about five people, so I guess the rest were searching other rooms and others were keeping watch in the compound.
They returned a suitcase to the bedroom and asked me to open it. It was locked with a number combination and I had no clue what the numbers were because it belonged to my dad. I just told them to take it away and before I realized, the robber had used the side of the gun to smash my head!
With blood oozing from my head like a tap, I instinctively picked the bedsheet from the bed, folded it and used it to compress the cut with both hands. My head was on fire and I was angry as hell.
Sometimes, one can get to that space where there’s nothing like fear anymore. With a gun pointed at me, the robber asked me to lie down, I refused. My head was on fire, my emotions were all over the place and I was burning with mad rage! At that point, I had no fear of death, I was just brimming with fury.
I saw the look of terror in my mum eyes as she frantically told the robbers she had more money to give them. She stood up and started ransacking her stuff to look for more money and anything to give them. Before then, she had already given them the cash my dad picked from the bank as well as the day’s sales.
The point is, when you are faced with such a situation, you’ll give anything you have just to survive.
Ironically, they left that suitcase behind, but it also contained most of my dad’s most treasured valuables. According to my dad, he would practically have left Ghana the next day if they took that suitcase away.
During the operation, the leader kept shouting the word “napo” periodically and the others kept responding. I guess it was a way of checking if every member of their team was okay.
After what seemed like eternity, they all left the room, locked us in and started a short debate from behind the door as to whether they should leave us alone or kill us. I guess it was to make us more paralyzed with fear as they made their escape.
About 30 minutes after they locked us in the room, we heard our neighbours shouting our names to ask if we were okay. They came in, unlocked the door and my dad drove me and a neigbour who had a gun pellet lodged in his upper lip from the sporadic shooting to Korle-Bu.
I didn’t mention where my dad and my younger brother were after the thieves matched us into my parents’ room but all I can say is that my younger brother practically saved my dad’s life.
We moved from the house to a hotel for the house to be fortified like a prison and of course, to help ease the traumatic experience.
For weeks, I couldn’t sleep and sometimes the tick of the clock in the living room could even wake me up.
I have had a few more experiences with robbery incidences but this remains the most traumatic and I am eternally grateful that the family and our neighbours escaped any serious physical harm or even death.
You see, before all of this experience, my dad had been a strong advocate of a national identity card and a proper addressing system and he had published an article in the Daily Graphic titled; “The case for a national identity system”.
The thieves left a throve of evidence behind; fingerprints etc and if we had a proper national identity system and address which was mandatory, these prints could easily have been matched into a national database. These and many others are some of the reasons why someone like me is a strong advocate for a digital addressing system and a mandatory biometric national identity system.
The current coronavirus pandemic, for example, and issues of contact tracing, support for vulnerable groups etc. are all factors that keep bringing issues such as the need for a proper addressing and national identity system to the fore. When all this is over, there’s the need for us to re-think our interest and approach to such critical issues and ensure that they work, for our own good!