Sammi Wiafe writes: Political vigilantism; When trust becomes a scarce commodity

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When President Akufo-Addo on February 21, 2019, delivered his state of the nation address, the majority of us stayed glued to our seats to listen to the President of the Republic.

One thing that hit many including myself was the President’s call for both the NPP and the NDC to sit at one meeting and fashion out ways of ending the phenomenon of vigilantism which in the last couple of years has dominated discussions on our airwaves, homes, eateries and so on.

Well, the NPP and the NDC have controlled the political scene since the inception of the Fourth Republic.

Our lives are divided into NPP and NDC. Our homes, churches and even workplaces are divided over these two parties. Ahead of the 2016 election, a family in the area where I lived was divided over these two parties; whilst the man, the head of the family was NDC, the woman and the two kids were staunch supporters of the NPP.

You can imagine the situation at home when Nana Akufo-Addo and the NPP won the election, well that story will be told another day.

It’s been over two weeks since President Akufo-Addo asked the two parties to meet on this issue.

To quote him, “I want to use the platform of this message to make a sincere, passionate appeal to the leaders of the two main political parties in our country, NPP and NDC, to come together, as soon as possible, preferably next week, to agree on appropriate measures to bring an end to this worrying and unacceptable phenomenon of vigilantism in our body politic.”

He continued, “I have asked the leadership of the NPP to extend an invitation to the leadership of the NDC for such a meeting on vigilantism. The security services of the country will be on standby to assist this meeting.”

The President concluded with this, “if voluntary disbandment by the parties is not feasible, then I will initiate legislation on the matter. Vigorous debate and the exchange of ideas should be the true basis of political dialogue and competition in our country, not the activities of party vigilante groups.’’

How glad and happy people were including myself to hear this from the leader of the land. But

Mr. President over two weeks and some days after this call, it looks like the two parties have adopted the ‘’yen tie obia’’ attitude. Very little has been done on this apart from complaints that without a mediator, no serious result will ensue.

Political party vigilantism did not start only under the Fourth Republic. We are told of their existence even in the 1950s. But it has become more popular under this Republic.

Many people have their own appreciation of political vigilantism, but a basic understanding from the evolution of the characterization can be said to be an instance where organized armed or unarmed men and women are deployed as private armed forces (militia) to protect the electoral prosperity of political parties and their leaders.

In Ghana, there are quite a number of them, some whose name I never heard until I sat to write this.

I have heard of Bamba Boys, Kandahar Boys, Aluta Boys, Nima Boys, Azorka Boys, Invincible Forces, Bolga Bulldogs, Delta Force but not Gbewaa Youth, Zongo Caucus, Veranda Boys, Supreme, Mahama Boys, Basuka Boys, Badariba, Basuka Boys,Bindiriba.

Political party Vigilantes come about when there is no trust for the security agencies. For instance, the formation of the Invincible Force, the most popular vigilante group in Ghana was formed by elements in the NPP because they thought the country’s security agencies, especially the Police, could not offer the NPP the needed protection.

The NPP had accused the NDC of visiting violence on them in a number of by-elections when they were in opposition, notably Chereponi, Talensi, Atiwa and the Akwatia.

According to the party, the Police looked on unconcerned whilst NPP leaders and supporters were beaten to a pulp. This anger led to the formation of the Invincible Force, and its purpose was to provide internal security for the party.

Fast forward, the NDC after losing the 2016 election also formed the Hawks, a group to provide security for the NDC and its leaders.

This bit of history or background gives a better understanding why the two parties endorse the activities of these vigilante groups.

It’s almost as if when in opposition you don’t trust the Police. But when you are in power you do. In opposition, the best bet for protection, to the politicians is vigilante groups. They will go the extra mile to protect you, something the Police, they infer will not do.

The just ended hearings of the Justice Emile Short Commission of Inquiry has made Ghanaians know the kind of Police we have. A service largely controlled by the party in power, as the appointment of the IGP and most top promotions and transfers, are sanctioned by a system favourable to the government.

We all knew this even before the Short Commission was formed, but never knew the magnitude of it until the revelations at the Commission.

A week after the President’s call for the disbandment of vigilantes in Ghana, the National Chairman of the NDC, Samuel Ofosu Ampofo wrote to the President making some demands before the meeting is held

He said, “and as the phenomenon has appeared to take some root in the fabric of our politics, it is only prudent that the call for a disbandment is extended to not only the National Democratic Congress and the New Patriotic Party but all political parties, civil society organisations, representatives of the media, representatives of the military, police and other security agencies, as well as any other relevant stakeholders.”

He continued, “In addition, in view of the often recurrent mistrust and suspicion that characterize such interactions by political parties, and the pain and suffering that vigilantism may have created especially in the recent past, it is of the utmost importance that a mediator with national credibility be appointed to drive the entire process. In that regard, my party, the NDC, propose that the National Peace Council be appointed as the mediator for such a meeting.”

The letter goes on to say that “we also think that the Peace Council will require as collaborators, institutions that may have unimpeachable knowledge and expertise in providing support for such efforts, And in this regard the NDC propose that the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center (KAIPTC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) and the Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG) join the Peace Council to facilitate the process’’.

Why would the National Chairman of the NDC make these demands before a simple meeting with the leaders of the NPP is held? It’s simple! The two parties do not trust each other as he implied in his letter.

Mr. President this meeting will not happen anytime soon. These two political parties only agree and work together when something good is coming their way like ex-gratia, or pay rise among their MPs or when there is free money coming from somewhere. That one, they will meet and report back to you before the deadline.

Trust among the NPP and the NDC is a scarce commodity. With all their money and power, they can never find it.

I have heard the NPP Deputy General Secretary, Nana Obiri Boahene say on Citi FM that the NDC has shown bad faith in this whole process.

For them, the NPP has met to set out modalities for the meeting and only waiting for the NDC to come along. We are told that the National Chairman of the NPP, Freddie Blay had already placed a phone call to his counterpart, Samuel Ofoso Ampofo on the matter

We are also aware that the Functional Executive Committee of the NDC (FEC) has also met to discuss the President’s call. So the question is what are they waiting for? Simple, they don’t trust each other. Not at all! There is no trust.

The benefits the two parties derive from their vigilante groups is overwhelming and doing away with them will not come easily.

The winner-takes-all politics currently practised in Ghana makes it difficult for political parties to trust themselves.

The NPP thinks the NDC is in to do them evil and deny them basic rights and the NDC thinks likewise. I do not have enough ink to deal with the phenomenon of winner-takes-all politics today.

Mr. President, it’s about time you began the process of initiating legislation to end this vigilante canker. The two major political parties do not seem ready to do away with their ‘’darling’’ groups obviously because of the ‘benefits’ they get from them.

President Akufo-Addo has never minced words on this issue of vigilantism. On several occasions, he condemned the actions and inactions of these vigilantes called on the Police to deal with them according to law.

Mr. President the two parties are not willing to heed your call.

They enjoy having these young men and women around them. Please initiate the law NOW!

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