The government has taken a firm decision to disband all political vigilante groups in the country, as they pose a major threat to peace, security and the country’s democracy, the Minister of the Interior, Mr Ambrose Dery, has said.
He said in the coming weeks the police would come up with specific strategies to crack down on such groups.
“If the police are invited to a gathering and they go there and see any other security institution that purports to act there and it is not the police, that security institution will be dealt with,” he told the first sitting of the Justice Emile Short Commission investigating the January 31, 2019 Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election violence in Accra yesterday.
He said any group outside the country’s security services, licensed private security and neighbourhood watchdog groups could not perform the role of security services in any form.
While many hold the view that successive governments had paid lip service to disbanding the groups known for their violent and intimidating activities, Mr Dery said: “The position of the government has been clear and consistent, that vigilantism is illegal and must be stopped. It is not just lip service.”
He also took issue with what he described as the political colouring of crime, stating that crime was crime, irrespective of the perpetrator.
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“When we introduce that concept of political vigilantism, we, by implication, make it nobler than it should sound. An assault is an assault and, as far as I’m concerned, there is no political party that has in its manifesto such organisations as part of its party structure.
They are illegal groups and the fact that they come under any political group is unacceptable,” he said.
Testifying at the commission’s first sitting, the Minister of the Interior said he was not aware that members of the vigilante groups had military training but was quick to add that some retired personnel of some of the security services could be part of those groups.
“One of the reasons we are not joking with it is that Boko Haram started as a vigilante group and we would not want our democracy to be jeopardised,” he said.
Integration of vigilantes
Asked about the possibility of integrating members of the groups into the security services after the groups had been disbanded, he said while unemployment made people vulnerable to be used for illegal activities, the ministry had no such plan.
Earlier, he had told the commission that the police did not deploy the masked men who were involved in the violence at the residence of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) parliamentary candidate for the by-election, Mr Delali Kwasi Brempong.
He said none of the policemen deployed, along with officials of the Ghana Immigration Service (GIS), wore a mask.
Asked about the difference between the mandate of the police and that of National Security, he said his understanding was that National Security dealt with intelligence, while the police concentrated on policing.
Questioned if he knew which officer was in charge of operations on the day, he said while he was in charge of internal security, he did not interfere in the operational work of the Police Service, which was in the hands of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP).
Not police vehicle
On whether the vehicles used by the masked men belonged to the police, he said they were not for the police.
A member of the commission, Prof. Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu, said calling the illegal activities of the groups political vigilantism was to give them a noble name and dignify their acts.
“We call bribes by fond names and stop seeing them as bad.
We call these things political vigilantism and we don’t appreciate how bad they are.
It is plain ‘warlordism’. They are militias and not political vigilantes.
“If we don’t take the matter in hand and confront them as such and we take the position that when they commit an offence they will be dealt with it, I’m afraid you would have bred a dragon that you cannot control when things come to a head,” she said.
Prof. Mensa-Bonsu said if the police strategy did not confront the issue as militia and ‘warlodism’ but rather civil disobedience, then the planned strategy would fail.
When the National Security Minister, Mr Albert Kan-Dapaah, took his turn before the commission, he said National Security ordered the operation at Ayawaso West Wuogon but that it was not related to the by-election.
Giving further details, he said the operation was in response to intelligence suggesting that there was ammunition being held at the residence of the NDC candidate.
He said the team could not retrieve the weapons the intelligence had suggested because of the situation on the ground, with the gate to the place he described as a warehouse and the operational headquarters being locked.
He said it was possible for the police not to know about the operation because the SWAT team sent to the operation was made of 25 policemen attached to National Security, as well as 35 civilian operatives.
On the vehicles used by the masked security men, he said although the vehicles had the name of the police on them, they were with National Security and used by that institution.
No explanation for masks
When the Minister of State at the Ministry of National Security appeared before the commission, he said he could not explain why the masked security officers wore masks but stated that the commander of the team could offer an explanation.