Let’s not just disband vigilantes it should be backed by law - DCOP Sarpong
The Accra Regional Police Commander has said the call on political parties to disband their vigilante groups will not be sufficient to deal with the phenomenon of political vigilantism.
Rather, DCOP Patrick Adusei Sarpong suggested that the call should be backed by legislation that could be enforced.
He said recent experiences, including last Monday’s shooting in Kumasi in the Ashanti Region involving members of a group linked to the National Democratic Congress (NDC), proved that it was not enough to ask the parties to disband such groups.
Responding to questions posed by the Justice Short Commission at its sitting in Accra yesterday, DCOP Sarpong said he did not think the call to disband the groups was enough.
“I don’t think the call alone is enough, unless there is a will to disband. If the will is not there, then we have to outlaw the groups. In that case, legislation will be the solution,” he said.
Earlier, led in evidence by Mr Eric Osei-Mensah, counsel for the commission, DCOP Sarpong had told the commission that politicians formed those groups to protect themselves.
Asked if he was aware that opposition parties tended to form those groups because it was their belief that the police served at the whims and caprices of the government, he nodded in affirmation.
He explained that it was the reason politicians trusted the police when they were in government “but when they are out of government they don’t”.
“When they are in government, they have a certain influence over the police.
When out of government, they don’t have it and, therefore, become afraid and apprehensive that the power they used when they were in power would be used against them.
They are afraid of their own shadows,” he said.
Removing political influence
Asked what could be done to remove the political influence, he said, in his personal opinion as an individual and not as a police officer, “politicians should do politics and allow security men to do their security work”.
“I don’t know how possible or feasible it will be, but if politicians take themselves off security and allow security men to do their work without any form of hindrance, then, with time, it can be sustained,” he said.
Mr Sarpong also told the commission that he saw bullet holes on the walls of the school building at the polling station at Bawaleshie where violence was recorded.
Responding to questions from a member of the commission, Mr Patrick Acheampong, he said he counted about seven or eight holes when he responded to a call from police radio and the East Legon Police Commander, DSP George Asare, about the shooting and violence at the La-Bawaleshie area.
Mr Sarpong, who is the eighth witness to testify before the commission, said he also saw another bullet hole on a container near the house of the NDC parliamentary candidate, Mr Delali Kwasi Bimpong.
It was the second time a witness appearing before the committee had said there were signs of shooting outside the house of the parliamentary candidate.
The first person was the East Legon Police Commander.
On the operational details, he said on the day in question, the Accra Regional Police Command deployed a combined team of 769 police and Immigration personnel.
He, however, denied claims that the East Legon Police Commander was sidelined, insisting that he had sent the Legon Commander a WhatsApp message around 9 p.m., inviting him to report to the Accra Region Headquarters to lead a patrol team during the election, but Mr Asare did not respond to the message.
Asked whether the police knew about the intelligence the NDC claimed to have received about the possibility of a group disrupting the elections the day before, Mr Asare said it was not reported to the police.
On the question of whether or not security was provided for the candidates in the by-election, given the history of violence during by-elections in Ghana, the Accra Regional Commander said such a provision was not made because adequate preparation had been made to protect all voters, including the candidates when they came out to vote.
He, however, said it could be considered for the future.
Below are excerpts of yesterday’s sitting
Commissioner Justice Short (CJS): Is there collaboration between you and the National Security SWAT team?
DCOP Sarpong: No, Mr Chairman.
CJS: Don’t you think it would have been prudent for you to be informed about this operation?
DCOP Sarpong: Mr Chairman, even the exercise that they were going to do, if they had handed it over to the regional command, we could have done it. But we didn’t know anything about the exercise until we heard of what was happening.
CJS: In effect, what you are saying is that there is no collaboration between National Security and the Regional Command.
DCOP Sarpong: Not at all.
CJS: Is that helpful for security in this country?
DCOP Sarpong: I don’t think so, Mr Chairman.
CJS: What about the IGP? To your knowledge, would he be aware of operations of the National Security SWAT?
DCOP Sarpong: He may be aware because he attends National Security meetings. I don’t know if it was discussed there. The Accra Regional Commander doesn’t attend National Security meetings.
Commissioner Prof. Mensah Bonsu (CMB): As a seasoned police officer, will you advise that the SWAT team at the National Security be adequately led by an ASP or DSP, without adequate supervision from a senior hierarchy of the Ghana Police Service?
DCOP Sarpong: I will suggest that a senior person is assigned to be in charge of them if there is still the need to retain them there.
CMB: Do you think being led at that level by an ASP or a recently promoted DSP is adequate? DCOP Sarpong: I think it is not.
CMB: And these people take their instructions from a Colonel, I understand, who has no training in internal security. Do you think this arrangement ought to remain?
DCOP Sarpong: I don’t know about that, but I think the police taking instructions from a military man about police matters is not…
CMB: You talked about the IGP making it clear to the political parties that they should disband their groups. Will they do so or there is need for legislation?
DCOP Sarpong: I don’t think the call alone will do. From what we heard on radio about what happened in Kumasi last Monday, I don’t think the call alone is enough, unless there is a will to disband. If the will is not there, then we have to outlaw the groups. In that case, legislation will be the solution.
Joy News editor, Mr Evans Mensah, also appeared before the commission to give testimony on how he and other journalists from the Multimedia Group covered the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election.
Mr Mensah, who was accompanied by his counsel, Mr Sampson Lardi Anyenini, also gave the commission some recommendations on how to handle so-called vigilante groups and how the Ghana Police Service and other security agencies could better play their roles in ensuring the safety of Ghanaians, especially during elections.
He also pledged to make available to the commission video and audio recordings of the shooting incident and national security brutalities that were perpetrated on January 31, 2019.