Feature by Isaac Arkoh
Cape Coast, Nov. 9, GNA - Since the return to democratic rule in 1992, Ghana has positioned itself as a torchbearer in the democratisation process in Africa.
This has been achieved through the peaceful transfer of power from one elected government to the other. Whilst Ghana is making remarkable strides in its democratisation process, vigilantism may erode the credentials the country has so far achieved.
While political party vigilantism may not be new in Ghana’s history, the rate at which, the problem is rising brings in its wake, a lot of concern.
In the last decade, especially in the fourth republic, the activities of party vigilantes have not only impeded development but also undermined the peace and stability of the nation. In addition, those acts are becoming a fertile ground for national crisis and may pose triggers to many clashes across the country.
The vigilante groups, mostly belonging to the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC), usually destroy public properties, including the burning of toll booths, seize public places of convenience, obstruct public officials from carrying out their duties and sometimes cause physical and psychological torture to public appointees among other things.
To help curb the menace, many non-state actors like the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) and other key stakeholders have recognised the danger posed by the activities of the groups as far as the democratic credentials and the development of the country are concerned and have stressed the need to disband them.
Speaking at a roundtable on the menace in Cape Coast, Mr. Albert Kofi Arhin, National Coordinator of CODEO described the activities of vigilante groups as a threat to the nation’s political stability.
He indicated that CODEO had embarked on nationwide public engagement to conduct civic and voter education in the entire 10 regions.
The on-going discussion which is on the theme: “The menace of political party vigilantism and Ghana’s politics”, is also aimed at collating views to be developed into a comprehensive advocacy policy recommendation for stakeholders and relevant institutions to implement.
The participants were from key intuitions including the Electoral Commission (EC), the National Commission on Civic Education (NCCE), the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), security agencies, political parties, the media, and academia.
The participants called on the security agencies and the political parties to urgently disband the illegal groupings before they created an uncontrollable pandemonium in the country.
The discussants further stressed the need for the leadership of all political parties more especially, the NPP and the NDC to own up the groups and work with the law enforcement agencies to disband them.
These efforts would in the long run, broaden and sustain the conversation on the menace and help rid the country’s political space of those who would want to cause fear and panic in the name of politics.
At the end of the two-day deliberations, it was agreed that the Police Service must be insulated from political manipulations and interferences, especially in relation to its recruitments, transfers and promotions.
The government must resources the Police to meet modern standards in policing and to enable the servicemen and women perform professionally.
The personnel would then be able to distinguish between electoral offences and criminal cases to effect arrests and prosecutions to serve as deterrent to others.
Politicians should also come out with realistic campaign messages to manage the high expectations of their grassroots supporters and to institute internal mechanisms to sanction members who engaged in such conducts.
"They say we are poor, illiterates, uncivilized, villagers and yet, they will not leave us alone. They are all over us, trying to get our votes for political power. Sincerely, who steals from the poor? Do rich people covet a poor man’s goods?" A participant lamented.
Government must have a greater purpose that is focused on the alleviation of poverty and the suffering of the masses.
Political parties must ensure that their activities are carried out in the spirit of the 1992 constitution.
Democracy requires that while minority interest and concerns cannot be ignored or trivialised, decisions of the majority have to prevail. We need to tolerate varied opinions to continue enjoying the peace and tranquillity in the country.
Any dissent must be expressed in an orthodox and legitimate way such that democracy would not be undermined.
The government must also endeavour to build strong state institutions such as the NCCE and the Information Service Department to lead in the development of content on patriotism, nationalism, sectionalism and involve the media and civil society to educate and sensitise the public.
That notwithstanding, organised groups’ including civil society, religious bodies and eminent personalities must constantly and dispassionately condemn all acts of criminality.
They must equally name and shame individuals and politicians, who form, fund or patronise the activities of vigilante groups.
The noble act by CODEO and other organisations towards nation building must be sustained with the support of the media to make it a critical topic for public discourse until the problem is totally eradicated.
We must examine the issues that bother on the sufferings of the masses, especially the youth and as peace loving people; it is important to prove to the world that democracy has really evolve in Ghana.
There is need to educate the masses on their rights to become responsible and maintain high integrity to disallow politicians from taking advantage of them.
As a people, we have an obligation to promote the rule of law, free and fair elections and freedom of expression so that people can freely make their choices to stabilise and deepen our democracy.