Going through seven consecutive elections without large scale violence and three peaceful changes of power between the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP), who would have thought that someday a group of so-called vigilantisms will pose a threat to Ghana’s twenty-seven years of hard earned democracy.
Despite the peace and stability the country has enjoyed so far, the NPP and NDC have managed to establish vigilante groups and they heavily rely on them to provide them security. A report by the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) in 2017 indicates that currently Ghana has about fifteen vigilante groups. Out of these, the Azorka Boys, Hawks, Ahata Boys and Dragons are affiliated to the NDC. Whereas Invisible Forces, Kandar Boys, Delta Forces, Bulldog are all affiliated to the NPP.
According to the police, some known activities undertaken by vigilante groups in Ghana include protection of ballot papers during local and national elections, provision of security for political party executives, monitoring elections, protection of the general interests of their political parties, amongst others.
A vigilante, according to the Webster Dictionary, is a person who considers it his/her responsibility to uphold laws in a community. However, these groups who illegally own deadly weapons, fire guns without authority, illegally takeover and damage public properties, visit mayhem on law-abiding citizens, steal ballot papers, seize toll booths, just to mention a few. Taking a look at these, it is quite clear these groups cannot be termed as vigilantes and not only have they gone contrary to the term but have also deviated from their main purpose of establishment because these groups tend to attack their own party figures in government when they feel promises to them aren’t fulfilled. On 7th October, 2018 Delta Force members reportedly attacked the NPP Member of Parliament and Minister for Monitoring and Evaluation, Anthony Akoto Osei, during a party meeting in his constituency. Their complaint was his failure to recruit them into the national security service as promised. Also, we all recall how some gun-wielding men alleged to be members of ‘Hawks’ stormed the office of the National Democratic Congress in Kumasi, and fired shots killing one person.
Speaking to a Senior Officer of the Public Affairs of the Ghana Police Service, Inspector Justice Abdullai Issah, acknowledged that “indeed vigilantism posed a [huge] threat to the security of our country.”
\When asked how the acts of vigilantes have affected work of the Police Service, he noted that these vigilante groups are now operating as a parallel force; they are performing duties similar to what the police do. We all know that when it comes to internal security, the known agency is the police. But these vigilantes appear to be doing the work of the security agencies, especially the police, and this is a threat to us.”
Furthermore, he disclosed that the police have made a lot of effort so the issue can be resolved and currently have worked on a roadmap which he declined to share its details for security reasons.
“We have a roadmap on how political vigilantism can be resolved, but since the president who is the chief executive officer of the country has set up a commission, it is only proper that we wait so that we can also add ours to put it together.
Speaking on the issue of political influence on the Police Service, Inspector Justice Abdullai said: “I don’t think politicians can prevent the police from acting. People may say that because of political influence we will not be able to and I can assure you that we can deal with it…Ghana Police is one so whether it is the NPP or the NDC in power, we don’t really care which government, as long as they conduct themselves in a manner that is contrary to the law, the police will deal with them.”
However, a security expert, Dr Franklin Biney, expressed his disappointment in the way the Ghana Police Service had handled political vigilantism in the country.
“I’m also not very comfortable with the police, they are not able to stand on their feet.”
In his view, the police must be firm and prevent any form of political influence when it comes to the prosecution of unlawful acts by these vigilante groups since they have sworn an oath to serve the country duly. Otherwise, such groups will always pose a threat to this nation.
Finally, he suggested that politicians after benefitting from the youth who make up such groups should consider giving these youth jobs to do. They, therefore, become a nuisance to society when they are not given jobs, which situation gives rise to the level of impunity exhibited by many of the members of political vigilante groups we have in this country.
The President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, in a letter to the National Democratic Congress dated 14th March, 2019, indicated that he has instructed the Attorney-General to draft a legislation to tackle the vigilantism canker in the country after both the NDC and the NPP failed to meet the one-week ultimatum set for them to meet and decide on a solution to political vigilantism.
One would have expected a positive and supportive reaction to this news, however, some lawyers have expressed concerns. Speaking to Mr Justice Abdulai, a lawyer, he emphasised that there were enough laws in the constitution to deal with these vigilante groups and, therefore, not necessary for any legislation.
“Some of us have maintained the position that a piece of legislation is not a means to stopping activities of what has become known as political vigilantism. If anyone thinks by enacting a new piece of legislation would stop political vigilantism, that person must have a rethink.
He added that, “we don’t have political vigilantism in Ghana, we have politicians and their possibly terrorists groups operating within this jurisdiction and the conduct exhibited by these politicians and their terrorists group have always been against the law.”
On how to tackle this menace, he submitted: “What we need is a commitment to enforce our existing laws. There is no single activity done, orchestrated by these political buffoons that are in favour with our already existing laws.”
Ghana’s democratic dispensation and long-term stability are seriously being undermined by ever-entrenching political vigilantism that is supported by the NPP and NDC.
And to prevent this, the rule of law and state institutions must be strengthened. The goal should be to inspire trust and confidence in the independence of law enforcement, and to limit wealth accumulation through the control of political power and state resources.
Article: Nana Yaa MILLS
The writer is a student of Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ).