My dream on ending vigilantism

Invisible Forces 1 File photo

Sun, 17 Mar 2019 Source: Ebo Quansah

I have had a dream. In fact, I have dreamed on a number of occasions on one specific issue.

Let me own up here that I do not have the mental fortitude of Martin Luther King, the famous American Civil Rights campaigner, who touched a nation’s heart with his dream of a multi-racial society in America at a time the Negro was not recognised as a full human being. Martin Luther King led several marches to ensure that the black race was recognised as an equal partner in nation-building.

I have also had a dream. About two weeks ago, I dreamed that I was playing with friends, including long-time associates, Mr. Kwesi Pratt of Pan African Television fame and deceased Abdul Karim Issah, a classmate of ours at the Ghana Institute of Journalism Class of ‘74. In the dream, we were arguing among ourselves at a village that turned out to be a large town. We looked relatively younger than our ages at the moment.

I am still not sure about what I did specifically, but I turned away from the group and started running away. I ran into a large cocoa farm. Before I could say Jack, I was surrounded by people carrying all sorts of arms and machetes and roaming about on the farm.

Somehow, I got up from my sleep before any harm could visit me in my sleep. I have had such dreams on a few occasions recently. A friend believes it is a spiritual attack that has been revealed to me.

My inclination is to hold that talk on vigilantism of late, which is manifesting itself to me in my dreams. I am not comfortable at all about the issue of vigilantism rearing its ugly head in our national politics.

We in Ghana pride ourselves with inheriting a peaceful nation, but from my experience, only a thin line divides the peace of the moment from a momentous anarchy. And that should inform nationals of this country to appreciate peace-building as a political concept. I have heard and read a lot about the consequences of the civil wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire.

I had visited all these communities before these wars broke out. And I tell you, if anybody had predicted that these communities were to explode the way they did, nobody would have believed that soothsayer.

These were very contented societies, with people more interested in enjoying the good times than thinking of taking to arms. When Prince Johnson, Charles Taylor and other militia heads began arming vigilantes to provide security services to the leadership of the various political clientele, it marked the preparation for war.

The assassination of former President Samuel Kanyon Doe, under the very nose of Lt. General Arnold Quainooo, the Ghanaian Commander of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) Peace Keeping Force at the time, opened the Pandora Box in Liberia.

It was to fund the Liberian civil strife that resulted in the spill-over in Sierra Leone, where the protagonist went in search of diamonds.

For me, I can only hope and pray that I could use this column as part of my role as a self-appointed peace ambassador. War is never a pleasant experience. That is why we should all weigh our public utterances carefully. Gamesmanship has never diffused tension, instead, it adds to confusion, which is the mother of all conflicts.

I am a very disappointed Ghanaian today. I am disappointed because of the stance by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) never to co-operate with the decision to hold meaningful discussions among the two leading political parties in this country, whose leaders are the worst offenders in the art of perpetrating vigilantism.

When my attention was drawn to the exposé by ace investigative journalist Manasseh Azure Awuni, seeking to inform the general public about the dangers of a so-called militia group taking shape at the Osu Castle, I was naturally alarmed. On a closer look at the exposé on television, I thought it did not do justice to the issue on the floor.

Beyond a line-up of the so-called militia members, could there not have been other activities of the group, like training and the general behaviour of those constituting the militia? I must confess that the government’s response, delivered by Minister of Information Kojo Oppong Nkrumah did not impress me either.

Could the Minister not have taken the media round the former seat of government to ascertain for themselves who constituted the so-called De-Eye Group? As citizens of this country, we have a right to be told how the group came to occupy the Castle, for instance.

Are we being told that anybody could use the former seat of government to do whatever he or she likes, with officialdom turning a blind eye to it?

I know that the National Democratic Congress Minority in Parliament jumped the gun by calling for the immediate resignation of the President of the Republic, even when members of the NDC, as a party, do not even know what was really taking place at the state heritage site.

I am not impressed by the Minority’s call, given the contents of a certain audio recording allegedly capturing the voice of the newly-elected Chairman of the party, calling for the throwing of mud at the Akufo-Addo administration as a means of lowering its esteem before the eyes of the good people of Ghana.

As it is, the so-called Castle exposé has added to the confusion of society over the decision to disband or not to disband party vigilantes. For me, the problem does not end with the banning of these groups. I believe the problem would not go away with the disbandment.

If anything at all, disbanding these groups without finding alternate jobs for these group of people who, invariably, have not benefitted from any training to make them useful on the job market, would worsen the problem. Without jobs and armed with the skills of handling firearms means that these unfortunate members of these militias would have to fend for themselves.

I am not predicting anything, but I am inclined to believe that they would have to fall on their ability to use the gun to enable them exist. And that could translate into armed robbery, extortion, kidnapping, and many other dangerous covert operations.

I am suggesting here that the talks on disbandment of these militias should take on board the decision to re-train them for a decent living. And that might even be more exacting than the decision to rid this society of vigilantes.

I am ill at ease with the way the discussion on disbandment is taking along party lines. It looks like the very idea is being prosecuted according to which political divide one belongs to without proper education of the mass of the people on the nuances of getting rid of the militia in national politics.

Yesterday, one private newspaper led its front page with a pronouncement by a prominent member of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), who told an Accra television station that the party had to think of arming itself through the vigilante system, when the Supreme Court, led by Mr. Justice William Atuguba in the chair, ruled in favour of then ruling National Democratic Congress in the election dispute of 2012.

Mr. Carlos Ahenkorah, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, said: “We are not saying that we do not have vigilantes. All we are saying is that they are not part of our party structure.

The NDC-style of winning elections at the polling grounds made us start this process to help us have tight security on the election grounds for fairness, as Justice Atuguba advised…”

He told the station that vigilantes had been of tremendous help in party organisation and, therefore, they could not disown these vigilantes, an opinion shared by Mr. Joseph Yammin, one-time Deputy Minister of Sports in the NDC regime.

Yammin has ominously threatened that the NDC might not disband its vigilantes unless there was an international arbiter. It is difficult to understand the role of an international arbiter in this issue, but it tells how difficult the assignment to disband would be.

One thing I know is that vigilantism has never been far from our national politics. When the Convention People’s Party (CPP) and the United Party (UP) fought for the backing of Ghanaians as the country prepared for independence, most disputes were settled by militias attacking each other, particularly in the Ashanti Region. The Action Troopers of the National Liberation Movement (NLM) were up in arms against the Verandah Boys of the Convention People’s Party.

When Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings sat at the Castle at the head of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), he conceived of the idea of ‘democratising violence’ by teaching ordinary civilians to use firearms. Most cadres were armed to the teeth. As the former Air Force pilot converted from a militia head to become the first Head of State of the Fourth Republic, he regularly kept a sizeable military presence at the Castle.

These soldiers had the history of terrorising civilians. There were instances when the military garrison arrested civilians and kept them in make-shift guardrooms at the Castle. The Chronicle published stories of mal-treatment of these civilian victims with military brutality at lunch and dinner times when soup was poured on the floor for the victims of these military atrocities to lick.

We have had a very rough ride in our national politics, it is time smoothen the rough edges as we consolidate more than two and a half decades of practicing democracy. My dream is for this nation to rid itself of vigilantism and the unnecessary visit of violence on poor defenceless citizens.

I shall return!

Written by: Ebo Quansah

Columnist: Ebo Quansah
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