Stakeholders at a public forum on the Vigilantism Bill have called for efforts to be made to nib the threat of vigilantism in the bud to ensure peace before, during and after the 2020 general election.
The forum cautioned the nation not to live under the illusion that there had been peace in previous elections, stressing that vigilantism was gradually becoming a canker in the nation’s political environment.
Citing the recent vigilante events that marred the Ayawaso West Wuogon Parliamentary Bye-election, and others in the Talensi, Chereponi, Atiwa, Akwatia and Amenfi West constituencies in the recent past, as well as the terrorist threats in neighbouring Burkina Faso, the forum called for all hands on deck to prevent the problem from growing wider.
The forum, organised by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, held at the Parliament House, was to solicit stakeholders’ view on the Vigilantism and Related Offences Bill, 2019, for which the House was recalled during the vacation for an emergency sitting, but which consideration was deferred for further consultations.
The stakeholders’ conference comes ahead of the resumption of the House, next Tuesday, June 28, 2019.
The object of the Bill is to disband political party vigilante groups and proscribe acts of vigilantism in the country.
Vigilantism has been defined as the act of taking the law into one’s own hands and attempting to enact justice according to one’s own understanding of right and wrong.
It is seen as action taken by a voluntary association of persons who organise themselves for the purpose of protecting a common interest such as liberty, property, or personal security.
It is also “action taken by an individual or group to protest existing law; action taken by an individual or group to enforce a higher law than that enacted by society’s designated law-making institutions; private enforcement of legal norms in the absence of an established, reliable, and effective law enforcement body.”
Political vigilantism has gained currency in Ghana in recent times, especially in the wake of political activities before, during and after elections and has become a security threat, for which President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, last February, made a declaration to end that phenomenon.
Ms Gloria Akufo, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, on April 11, 2019 laid before Parliament the Bill, expected to be treated under Certificate of Urgency to deal with political party vigilantism and its notoriety in Ghana.
Prof. Aaron Michael Oquaye, the Speaker of Parliament, referred it to the Committee on Constitutional Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to determine whether it was of urgent nature or not, but the Committee reported that the Bill, despite its urgent nature, still had to go through consultations for more thorough work on it.
At a stakeholders’ engagement, speakers from Academia, Civil Society Groups, the National Peace Council, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the National Commission on Civic Education (NCCE), political parties, and media, among others, made their cases for strong and concerted efforts to deal with the growing canker of vigilantism.
Ms Josephine Nkrumah, the Chairperson of the NCCE, said the recent terrorist attacks in neigbouring Burkina Fast was a strong signal to deal with vigilantism, since vigilantism got support from terrorism.
She said political parties that sponsored or engaged in vigilantism should be banned from taking part in elections.
Ms Nkrumah identified growing youth unemployment as a cause of vigilantism, adding that body building groups have become sources for recruiting political vigilantes.
She called on the national security apparatus to effectively check the influx of small and light weapons into the county, with call for funds for the Commission to carry out its civic education activities as donor funding was not forthcoming in recent times.
Security analyst Dr Vladmir Antwi-Danso argued that vigilantism was supported by the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, but had become a bad phenomenon as a result of using it for violence and criminality.
“Vigilantism per se is not a bad thing and the Constitution allows vigilantism. In 1979 the late President Liman asked all of us to form vigilantes in our small areas to help in governance. But it has taken a very wrong turn that is why we are all in hysteria. It is this hysteria that has made the President to ask for the disbandment of vigilantism,” he said.
He said Act 29 of the Criminal Code of 1960 had enough laws to deal with any act of lawlessness, and emphasised the need to strengthen and enforce laws to deal with all manner of persons who acted against them.
“Do we really need a bill or can we rather beef up the lower side of those laws so that we are able to tackle the criminality?
“Because I think that the Criminal Code is so comprehensive that all these things can be subsumed under it. It is the lack of institutional capacity or will that is making vigilantism thrive.”
“Can we make institutionalism work in Ghana? Institutionalism and constitutionalism are the platforms upon which good governance thrive…”
Mr Alex Sebgefia, a former Minister of Health, representing the National Democratic Congress, called on the Government to release the report on the findings of the Emile Short Commission that probed the Ayawaso West Wuogon Bye-elections.
Mr Sammi Awuku, National Organiser of the New Patriotic Party, congratulated President Nana Akufo-Addo for his role in the fight against vigilantism.
Speakers from other groups asked for non-political interference in dealing with political thugs and hooligans.