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Opinions of Sunday, 10 January 2021

Columnist: Gyasiwa Arhin

Vigilante citizens: The new enforcers of law and order in Ghana

On the 6th and 7th of January, Ghanaians watched in shock and disbelief as members of parliament grabbed ballot boxes, snatched ballots and engaged in all forms of chaotic behaviour in their ‘desire’ to maintain law and order.

What makes this all unbelievable and ridiculous is the people engaging in this behaviour were members of parliament who are supposed to uphold the law. Unfortunately, however, the rhetoric following this event has been a justification of actions from both sides of the house – NPP and NDC.

Both sides claim to have been upholding the law, but their actions have implications on law and society as it reinforces the narrative of the ineffectiveness of the police and their partiality to those with power.

An ordinary Ghanaian would have been arrested immediately but our MPs got to go home with some even changing their clothes and attending the inauguration of the president. Goldstein in his article ‘In our own hands’ suggests that people look at the law not through legislation but through actual practice and what our MPs exhibited shows that it is okay to take the law into your own hands if you want to protect the law.

Stakeholders in Ghana now look at vigilante behaviour from a teleological perspective, what this means is that rather than admitting that such behaviour is a breach of law and is probably caused by the distrust people have with the Police as enforcers of the law (let’s not forget that armed military men were summoned), this behaviour is viewed at legitimate because it had a ‘purpose’ which was to protect the law.

An example can be taken from the actions of Mr. Carlos Ahenkorah, the MP who snatched ballots and how he justified his behaviour. He wrote “I did it for the grassroots who relied on us in power to survive, the president who needs some peace to run the country and the greater NPP party as a whole…”

His apology at the end comes as an afterthought and with a caveat “I tried”. The consequence of this is that he is now seen as a hero by some members of his party because of his actions. The same can be said of Mr. Mubarak Muntaka who is being praised by members of his party as resisting the oppressor’s rule even though he also snatched a ballot box.

For a country like Ghana with a problem of mob violence or ‘justice’ as it’s more often termed, one would think that representatives that have been entrusted power with will lead the way but power has only elevated so-called vigilant acts to the national level thereby validating its use among the ordinary citizens. The people who kept beating and banishing women from their communities claimed they were serving a purpose – they were ridding their communities from witches.

Those citizens who tried stealing ballot boxes or attacked other citizens they thought belonged to an opposing party said they were serving a purpose – protecting their parties’ interests and making votes count. Those citizens who beat and injured alleged thieves said they were serving a purpose – ridding their communities from crime and now our MPs who snatched ballot boxes and ballots claim they were serving a purpose – protecting the constitution and party interest. The irony of this is that so-called vigilantes break the law in their goal to enforce it.

The writer is a PhD Researcher at St Andrews.