Discussants at a roundtable discussion organized by the Faculty of Arts have unanimously called for the disbandment vigilantism in the country.
They were speaking on the theme: “Towards Attaining Credible and Transparent Elections: the Role of Vigilantes in Ghana”.
Make the Report of the Emile Short Commission Public
Setting the ball rolling, a former Chief Executive Officer of the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), Mr. Sylvester Mensah stated that his party, the National Democratic Congress fully supports the call to ban activities of vigilante groups in the country. In the light of this, Mr. Mensah described the call by the president for the two major political parties, that is the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) to find solutions to the menace “as a right one” and also lauded the setting up of the Emile Short Commission to go into the Ayawaso West Wuogon violence, but regretted that the report of the commission submitted to the president has not been made public.
Again, the former MP for Dadekotopon was unhappy that the president could not wait for the two parties to conclude the assignment he gave them before sending the bill on vigilantism to parliament. “It is not right at all, the president should have allowed the two parties to finish, before thinking of sending the bill to parliament. This completely undermines the effort to disband these groups”.
Politicians Should Allow the Police and Judiciary to Enforce the Law
Mr. Mensah who was speaking on the topic: “Vigilantism as a means of political checks and balances in Ghana- Prospects and challenges”, believed that the rise of the canker was as a result of helplessness of the Ghana Police Service to tackle those who engage in these unlawful acts. Another reason according to Mr. Mensah that vigilantism has festered was due to the inability of the judiciary to handle cases brought before it expeditiously.
The former legislator was of the view that the Civil Society and the International Community had a huge role to play in finding lasting solutions to the problem of vigilantism.
Most Conflicts in Africa Started with Vigilantes
When he took his turn, Minister of Information, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah said: “there was no doubt that political vigilantism has to be tackled once and for all”. His topic was: “Vigilantism in Ghana’s Political Culture- Political Awareness or Hooliganism”. Mr. Nkrumah noted that the antecedents of most conflicts in Africa started with such small groups and later grew into full-blown militia wings to visit mayhem on people.
Hooliganism Has Taken Vigilantism to a Different Level
“Vigilantism in itself is not bad, every citizen is encouraged to defend the constitution from being overthrown, so ordinarily, the law expects us to be vigilant”, the minister said. The MP for Ofoase Ayirebi constituency said, unfortunately, hooliganism has taken this to a different level adding “in societies where there are law and order you can’t see this happening”. According to him in those jurisdictions, the long arm of the law dealt with all who flouted the law, but in Ghana even where the law purports to work, because of mistrusts people do otherwise. “Even when the law is applied, there is political interference to stifle the enforcement of the law”, he noted.
Government Boldly Confronting the Vigilantism
In solving the menace, the minister indicated that this time around the matter was not being swept under the carpet, rather “we are boldly confronting the beast” by asking the two parties to meet and find a solution to it. But, this Mr. Nkrumah said was not enough hence the president’s decision to send the bill on the vigilantism to parliament and explained that even though there were some existing laws; where there is a lacuna you create laws to close them.
“That is why the US, for example, passed the Anti-terrorism act to deal with the spate of terror in their country”, he said.
“We as a government are not sweeping it under the carpet, we are coming out with laws and also resourcing the law enforcement agencies to give them the confidence to work”, he concluded. Making his contribution, Dr. Joseph Kingsley Adjei of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology said the problem confronting the nation now was a result of failed political leadership.
‘Vigilantes’ are Local Terrorists
Speaking on the topic “The Future of Political Vigilantism in Ghana’s Political Culture-The Way forward”, Dr. Adjei noted that it was a misnomer to describe those engaged in the unlawful acts as “vigilantes” because their activities do not depict vigilantism, he preferred to call them ‘local terrorists’. These groups Dr. Adjei averred that they thrived on political culture for survival since they were nourished by political parties to enable them to carry out their activities whenever the need arose.
In Ghana presently, the political party that wins the general election has the power to distribute political positions to its party members. This is done many at times regardless of expertise and competence. It is this practice that, according to Dr. Adjei has created the problem facing the country. “Ghana has developed a system of winner takes all, this is the crux of vigilantism. The problem is the monopolisation of power, where the president sees all competent people only in his party”, he noted.
Dr. Adjei intimated that the entire country has failed to recognise that it was sitting on a time bomb ready to detonate anytime soon since political parties misconstrue a change in government and give room to a coup-like situation in the change of government through the ballot box. Citing another case, he said, events in the 4th republic have shown that the security agencies switch allegiances to parties in power. “A change in government means a change in leadership of security agencies. Security agencies sing songs of political parties even if the songs are discordant”, he noted. This, he said made it difficult to keep law and order when political crimes were committed.
Dr. Adjei concluded that political militias would have a bright future if political promises were not fulfilled. He added that what the president has done about vigilantism was good but if these laws were not enforced it would be rendered useless and, therefore, called for the police to be empowered to enforce them to serve as a deterrent to others.