By Christine Efua Nyarko, a TV Africa Reporter
Ghana, a country with almost three decades of democratic credentials, in the past, had been plagued by military juntas with its attendant evils of gross human rights abuses, culture of silence, military-style discipline and law enforcement, among a host of many others.
Gone are those days! However, the canker of vigilantism: a state where the civilian population becomes the law enforcers and administers of justice, is fast rearing its ugly head in Ghana’s political landscape, especially during elections and after political appointments.
The growing phenomenon, apart from gradually eroding the country’s reputation as peace-loving and relatively less violent during elections, is fast becoming the modus operandi by which the major political parties – New Patriotic Party (NPP) and National Democratic Congress (NDC) – guarantee security for their campaign activities.
Vigilantism is gradually taking roots in the body politick of Ghana as the credibility and neutrality of the Police Service, is increasingly being compromised; causing these usually politically formed groups to become a law unto themselves.
These often well-built armed men, usually unemployed, are society’s underdogs drawn from poor and squalid communities such as the shanty towns, uncompleted and wooden structures.
During elections, these young people are usually situated at key polling stations and mandated by their paymasters, to closely monitor ballots cast, protect ballot boxes, provide security to their party agents and prevent the polls from being rigged: a duty of the country’s civilian police, but, what do we see?
Most of these so-called vigilantes turn out to take the law into their own hands; often resorting to violence, callously and mercilessly attacking any individual, with or without weapons, deemed to be infringing on their political party’s interests.
These thuggish men often end up inflicting injuries and, in some cases, cause the death or maiming of their victims, as witnessed in the Ayawaso West Wuogon By-elections of January 31, 2019 and the fracas at the Ashanti Regional NDC headquarters in Kumasi, just to name a few.
The sad reality of this ever-growing canker is that, crimes committed by these politically-motivated are often ignored and perpetrators are unpunished, reinforcing a culture of impunity among these groups.
Even in cases where arrests are made, the political ‘powers that be’ ensure that the cases or charges are rendered useless, as in one extreme case, “Delta Force”, a vigilante group affiliated to the ruling NPP party, could disrupt a Court trial and free its truant members.
This is the level of impunity that currently reigns supreme in our dear country Ghana and although several calls have been made by Civil Society Organizations, pressure groups, the media, astute citizens and the general populace to disband these groups, the lack of political will, a solid trust in the police and amongst the major political parties, NPP and NDC, amongst other issues, is making it almost impossible to do this.
What makes the situation more dangerous is the fact that, these thugs, after being used by politicians to do their ‘dirty jobs’, are ignored afterwards, only to be reengaged in the following polls.
This continues the vicious cycle of unemployment, discontent, potential violence at polls and a rising crime rate, a phenomenon, if left unchecked could cost the country its longstanding stability. The disturbing issue of vigilantism is eating into the political fabric of the country so much so that, if care is not taken, the extent of violence recorded could exceed that of Kenya and Nigeria.
Despite the fact that the locust called vigilantism is fast damaging the field of peaceful and a free fair elections, all is not lost yet, as it is only bent but not broken.
The real and effective solution is for the major political parties, that is the NDC and NPP to deliberately dissolve these groups, sanction any member of theirs involved in such activities, disassociate themselves from groups claiming to operate on their behalves and above all, allowing the police to perform its mandate.
They political forces must cease interfering in the affairs of security agencies with respect to arrests and prosecutions of defaulting members of these militia-characteristic organizations.
The media also have a responsibility of ensuring that, the public is informed, through various communication media, to abstain from such activities and refrain from supporting them in any way.
Finally, the bigger responsibility lies on the youth, especially those called ‘macho men’ to refuse juicy or scanty monetary offers which will lead to them being used as pawns by politicians to achieve their selfish interests.