Residents of Bolgatanga were struck with a raw shock Saturday when the Upper East Regional Storekeeper of the Ghana Education Service (GES) was allegedly caught shoplifting free uniforms meant for deprived schoolchildren.
The development coincided with a market day in the Upper East regional capital— a link that prompted some observers to conclude the storekeeper, whose name is not known yet to Starr News, was carting the items to market to sell.
He is said to have taken a motor tricycle rider to the premises of the Upper East Regional Education Directorate in the afternoon and was about to leave the grounds with one hundred packs of the stolen uniforms on board the hired vehicle when some young men accosted him.
When interrogated, he reportedly said the Pusiga District Director of Education, Duncan Nsoh, asked him to bring the uniforms for distribution to some pupils. But when Mr. Nsoh, who was 15 kilometres away attending the Azambene Festival in the Bongo District, was called to the scene to ascertain the truth of the matter, he said he never requested any uniforms from the storekeeper.
The place was on fire for hours as a crowd of witnesses, after placing calls to the Bolgatanga Police Station, tried to hold him down and he fought them off to avoid an impeding arrest. And to dodge public attention as the scene became more crowded, he walked off towards his office inside a dilapidated single-storey building, spewing curse words with his hands in the air.
Some of the angry young men went after him, demanding he return to the spot where they caught him with the school uniforms. “We didn’t arrest you there!” one of the men yelled twice at him. “We arrested you over there with the items!”
The storekeeper turned back. “You took it there! You are a thief! You took it there!” he bawled back, pointing a finger at both the witness and the uniforms. Then, he continued to the office.
“We arrested you with those things over there! You will go to jail! Your time is up!” the witness seethed. And to assist journalists identify him, he added: “Look at the criminal going inside!”
Turning a deaf ear to the calls, he entered his office room, removed the padlock to the door and shut himself inside. But one of the men, who was following him closely, reached for the door sooner than the storekeeper might apply an inner lock to block his accusers from entering.
“My friend, come out! Come out! That’s not where we arrested you with the items. Come out! You see, you are running away,” the witness continued to yell at the evasive storekeeper.
Whilst two men were pushing at the closed door, the storekeeper came out unexpectedly and attempted to punch them. A man, accompanied by a woman, also came to the door side, questioning the action of the young men and restraining the media from taking footages.
His solidarity boosted the storekeeper to fight back even harder. The more the highly incensed men sought to drag him back to where they had grabbed him with the uniforms, the clearer a staring crowd saw a bigger brawl tiptoeing nearer as the police delayed in coming.
An Eyewitness Testimony
According to an eyewitness, Saturday was not the first time the storekeeper had come when nobody was around to take things away from the stores— in bulk.
“We were here to work on our vehicles. And we saw him packing these things (school uniforms) from the regional education stores into this tricycle. We apparently had information from some nearby people that he has been doing this and they are sets of uniforms.
“He sends them to the market to go and sell. We [intercepted] the vehicle and truly we saw that there was a sack of uniforms, hundred packs. And when we stopped them, they didn’t even want to stop. We had to force them to stop. And when we asked where the [items] were going to during this weekend— a weekend generally not a time when you do official distribution of commodities— he said that he was sending them to Mr. Duncan, the Director for Pusiga, Ghana Education Service,” narrated Urban Akagwire.
Mr. Nsoh himself was standing close, looking sad and shocked at the alleged mention of his name by the storekeeper and making calls to his colleague directors to come to the grounds, as Urban narrated everything with wrath.
Urban continued: “Fortunately, Mr. Duncan rushed here upon a call. And Mr. Duncan is confirming that he does not know of any distribution during the weekend. Although he attested there were some shortages that he needed to take, for this particular one, he does not know anything about it.”
“What it goes to confirm is that the regional storekeeper is stealing these uniforms and selling in the market to the deprivation of our small children. Where government is suffering to give uniform to small children, you have people like this who come to steal them. Where can Ghana develop to? How can we say we want to be on our own— grow beyond aid? How can we do this?” he added, vigorously flapping one of the stolen pairs of school shorts in the air near the impounded yellow motor tricycle for the world to see.
It’s not palatable at all— Education Director laments
The Pusiga District Education Director could be heard talking on the telephone about the development, after he arrived, to someone believed to be his regional boss.
“Even if it is anything at all, I have never taken anything here without signing [for it]. It should be a weekday where you would sign and pick them, but not an ordinary day like this. I just want to get any of the directors close so that they come to be witnesses.
“They should be able to get down to everything and solve it. When I came, he (the storekeeper) told them again that he didn’t say he was bringing the things to me. But actually, it’s not palatable at all because at this point, our area, we are talking of poverty, poverty, poverty. And if we continue to do things like this it would aggravate the already-deprived nature we are suffering from,” Mr. Nsoh told newsmen as the crowd still awaited the arrival of the police.
The incident is much similar to what happened in 2012 at the Bolgatanga Nurses’ Training College where some students and an anti-corruption tutor caught a taxi driver loading bags of rice, sacks of maize and kegs of cooking oil meant for students from the school’s food store into his boot on a weekend night.
When grilled as to where he was transporting the items to, he said the school’s matron directed him to take them to a mill.
“Are you going to grind rice at the mill?” some asked. “And are you going to grind cooking oil at the mill?” others probed him.
As answers were not forthcoming, some of the angry students deflated the tyres of the taxi. Then, suddenly he snatched himself from their grips and bolted through a nearby bush at the blind speed of a hunted antelope. To this day, the questions they asked him have not been answered.