Speakers at a stakeholders’ forum on the Vigilantism and Related Offences Bill 2019 in Accra have called for a constitutional reform to change the mode of appointing the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and heads of other security services.
That, they said, was necessary to strengthen the heads of security services and insulate them from political intrusion and patronage.
The speakers argued that it was only when the IGP and other security heads were clothed with the independence of tenure that they could arrest and prosecute members of political vigilante groups and uproot the vigilantism menace from the country's body politics.
A member of the Civic Forum Initiative, Dr Angela Dwamena-Aboagye, the Director and Dean of Academic Affairs of the Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Dr Vladimir Antwi-Danso, and the Chairperson of the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), Mrs Josephine Nkrumah, were sharing perspectives on the bill.
On April 11, 2019, the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Ms Gloria Akuffo, laid the bill in Parliament seeking to outlaw political vigilantism in the country.
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The Vigilantism and Related Offences Bill 2019 applies to a person who participates in the activities of a vigilante group that is associated, related, connected or affiliated to a political party; a person who acts as a land guard and a person who engages in other acts of vigilantism. It also seeks to disband political party vigilante groups within one month of its passage into law.
It spells out prison terms for persons convicted of vigilante activities ranging from five to 15 years.
The Bill was laid under a certificate of urgency in accordance with Parliament's Standing Order 119, and the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, which deliberated on the bill, unanimously agreed that it was of urgent nature. The committee, however, recommended that further consultation was needed with stakeholders to make it more comprehensive.
The forum was organised by the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to seek the inputs of political parties Civil Society organisations (CSOs), religious groups, the academia and other groups into he Vigilantism and Related Offences Bill, 2019.
Civil society organisations
Dr Dwamena-Aboagye, who presented a joint memorandum by the Civic Forum Initiative and the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), said as long as police officers and other security officers would be holding on to political actors for their promotions and transfers, "the incentive to go against the political actors even if it is illegal and not proper will not be there."
She called for a review of the Ghana Police Service Regulations 2012 as well as the work of the Transfer Board.
Dr Dwamena-Aboagye called for the curtailment of the recruitment of vigilante into the security agencies, saying that "For as long as there is the belief that vigilantes will be absorbed into the security agencies, it creates a demand and supply problem."
She again urged political parties to revise their constitutions to ban vigilantism.
Dr Antwi-Danso said the lack of institutional mechanisms made vigilantism to thrive in the country and posed a threat to national peace and security.
He said the bill was good but the status quo would remain if the IGP did not have the independence to deal with vigilantes without any political consideration.
For her part, Mrs Nkrumah said from NCCEs engagements, the call had been for the security agencies to be absorbed from the control of political leaders.
She said such independence would allow the security services to deal with acts of vigilantism without fear or favour.
The National Organiser of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Mr Sammy Awuku, said the NPP supported the character and spirit of the Bill.
He said the party had come to the table with open arms to deal with the acts of vigilantism in the country.
The Director of International Relations of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Mr Alex Segbefia, said there were enough legislations to deal with acts of vigilantism in the country and, therefore, stated that the bill in itself was premature.
He suggested that before the bill was passed into law, there was the need to make the findings of the Emile Short Commission on vigilantism public.
The acting General Secretary of the Convention People's Party (CPP), Mr James Kwabena Bomfe, said vigilantes associated themselves with political parties to avoid prosecution.
He, therefore, suggested that the criminal behaviour of vigilantes should be dealt without any political consideration.