The opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) has posited that there are fundamental conceptual and policy issues with the Vigilantism and Related Offences Bill, 2019 that completely undermines the bill as a response to the crisis of political violence in the country.
The party said the Bill in its current form, misdirected Parliament and the nation by incorrectly characterising the nation’s problems.
A memorandum signed by the Communication Director of the party, Mr Kakra Essamuah and presented to Parliament said “as Professor Henrietta Mensah-Bonsu clarified during the proceedings of the Commission of Enquiry into the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election violence, Ghana does not have a crisis of “vigilantism” Vigilantism occurs when individuals or groups engage in law enforcement and crime prevention without proper legal authority.
That is not the situation that we are confronting in Ghana today.”
The real problem
The problem confronting the nation, the memorandum said, was the proliferation of illegally armed militias who were engaged in violent acts which themselves were criminal such as violent seizure of land and other natural resources, violent interventions in chieftaincy disputes, violent attacks on internal and external political party opponents, attacks on national security installations and personnel, violent attacks on courts of law and violent attacks on journalists that publish material offensive to certain political interests.
The NDC also identified the infiltration by state officials into the country’s formal security apparatus of unsuitable and inadequately trained members of militias based solely on their partisan affiliations and their deployment for partisan purposes as occurred in the attack on and disruption of the Ayawaso West Wuogon By-Election which saw a brutal assault on a Member of Parliament and the shooting and maiming of innocent bystanders.
The position of the party is that the current Bill and its accompanying memorandum do not demonstrate effort on the part of the government to understand the problem.
“As demonstrated, the Bill mischaracterises our issues and will not provide enduring solutions to the problem of unlawful militia. What the public clearly expects of government and the entire political establishment is concrete and coordinated answers to specific questions.
View of the NDC
In the opinion of the NDC, existing legislation deals far more comprehensively and clearly with the problems of political violence the country was confronting than what the Bill contained.
It is, therefore, the submission of the NDC that Section 200 of the Criminal Offences Act addresses concerns about the operations of armed militias more effectively than the Bill does and robs the Bill of any value.
“We also draw attention to Section 255 of the Criminal Offences Act which deals with “Prevention of election by force” and reads: A person who attempts to prevent,obstruct or disturb a public election by a kind of force, violence, or threat or by an act which is a criminal offence punishable under this Act, commits a misdemeanor.The only problem with this provision is that it defines those infractions as misdemeanors whereas the Bill has elevated them to second degree felonies,” the memorandum posited.
According to the NDC, the militias’ problem was a complex socio-political problem and simply characterising it as “vigilantism” and rushing to “anti vigilante” legislation solved nothing.
“It rather almost guarantees new eruptions of political violence in the near future. Rather we must understand the problem fully and respond intelligently and comprehensively,” the NDC contended.
Two imperative steps
As a way forward, the NDC said at least two steps were imperative to make progress and inform any legislative debate.
The first step, it said, was for the government to publish the report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Ayawaso West Wuogon Bye-election violence and that while the terms of reference for the Short Commission were somewhat narrow, the NDC believed that the evidence presented before the commission provided an excellent basis for further interrogation of the issues as would, almost certainly, the reflections of the commission.
Second, the NDC said the government should support the National Peace Council to convene the proposed National Stakeholder Dialogue on Political Violence and Peaceful Social Engagement.
That, it said, “will allow us as a nation to collectively interrogate the problem of political violence in greater breadth and depth than the Short Commission’s narrow terms of reference and structure allowed and arrives at a consensus on how to deal with the menace.