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Opinions of Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Columnist: Jonny Buntuguh

Vigilantism, politics and selfishness

President Akufo-Addo has pledged to end political violence by some party youth in the country President Akufo-Addo has pledged to end political violence by some party youth in the country

It was very reassuring to hear the President's pledge to put an end to the spate of criminal vigilantism, hooliganism and lawlessness that has bedeviled the nation.

He is reported to have told the National House of Chiefs at a meeting in Kumasi that, criminal vigilantism has no party colours, so he is determined to bring an end to it.

This is well and good, but to quote the popular cliché, "it is better said than done." On the day he made that pronouncement, a young man, claiming to be the head of a hitherto unheard of group called Ashanti Vigilante Group issued a threat that if the beleaguered High Commissioner to South Africa, H.E. George Ayisi Boateng was sacked or forced to resign, he would lead his group of 600 members to quit the NPP.

With the negativity associated with the term vigilante, it is surprising that any group of people will refer to themselves as vigilantes.

In my view, there is no difference between the NPP and NDC with respect to vigilantism. However, NPP is currently in government and the spotlight must be on it.

It has been suggested that to stop vigilantism, groups claiming to belong to political parties should be disbanded by the parties. This is a laudable idea, but whether it is practicable is another matter.

The vigilante groups may not be the creations of the parties, but rather the handiwork of a few eccentric members seeking to exploit the political situation for their selfish ends. In most cases, these vigilantes are mere troubleshooters, who have no locus in their parties.

There is no evidence, for example, that the so-called Azorka Boys, who were effectively used by NDC operatives to intimidate political opponents during elections are legitimate organs of the party. Has anyone bothered to find out where they are today? They were only known when the NDC was in power.

The Invincible Forces and Delta Forces are now the most talked about vigilante groups because their party is in power. The Delta Forces were practically unheard of until the NPP came to power, while the Invincible Forces were only said to be operating at the party head office.

So how do you disband such groups? The best course of action is to consider them as criminal elements and treat them as such. If they break the law, they should be punished as such and not because they belong to a youth group or a political party.

That is where I agree with the President that crime has no party colours. And that is why, in my view, the cases involving the persons who manhandled the Ashanti Regional Security Coordinator and those who created disorder in the court were not properly handled.

A precedent has been set and we wait to see if the courts will have the moral courage to harshly punish future offenders, now that the President has pledged to clamp down on vigilantism.

In my opinion, there is a problem with our politicking in Ghana and that is why vigilantism is festering. Ours is politics of survival and not service. Those who seek political office do so, not because they want to serve their people, but rather as a means of livelihood.

Even those occupying executive positions in the parties have their ulterior motives. Who can blame them? Most people will do the same thing if they get the opportunity.

That is why our politicians find it difficult to resign on principle. People might point to the resignation of the former transport minister in the NDC government over the bus-branding saga as an exception. You don't need to consult a soothsayer to know she was made to jump or be pushed.

That explains why H.E.George Ayisi Boateng would not resign when pressure mounted on him to do so. I can well imagine that he had already drawn a budget on his projected income during his tour of duty in South Africa. Then he suddenly realizes that his loose tongue was about to cost him all his lofty plans.

Note that, he initially swore thunder and brimstone that he had done nothing wrong, but when there was a public outcry for him to resign or be sacked, he decided to do the most sensible thing by issuing that letter of apology. For such an elderly person, he certainly lost face, when he recanted. Who can blame him?

That is how our politics of survival operates. I was one of those demanding his resignation, but I no longer think so. His political future has already been greatly impaired, if not ruined over this episode. Realistically speaking, was what he said really strange? Perhaps, what was strange was the fact that he was caught.

Politicians all think and behave alike and it is possible that other people have made similar pronouncements, but they were not caught. And let's not use this episode to conclude that he is corrupt since it could well have been only empty talk to impress the students.

Talking of corruption, the opposition is refusing to let the case involving A Plus and the Deputy Chiefs of Staff go away. I have heard them refer to it as evidence of corruption in government. What was exactly the corruption in this case? What I heard and read about was that A Plus put out on social media that the two deputies were corrupt and stupid.

Based on this, the CID was tasked to investigate. Even before the investigation commenced, A Plus was heard on air saying that he did not say that the two had received a bribe and that corruption was not limited to bribery, which may be true. So if it was not bribery, what was the nature of the corruption?

The CID later exonerated the two gentlemen of wrongdoing, but we did not hear the last of it.

To the opposition, the report of the CID did not make enough news; the news was rather a phone conversation between A Plus and the Deputy CID commander after the release of the report.

The officer allegedly said that their investigations confirmed A Plus's allegations and that she felt sorry for the President because he was unaware of the true state of affairs in the country. She allegedly went on to say that she wished she had the chance to meet the president personally to advise him.

What is the locus of A Plus, by the way, that a mere social media article by him should elicit such a reaction? Or is it because he claimed to have contributed to the victory of the president in the last elections? To me, it is another example of how some young men in his party are displaying power they don't possess.

In my view, he is nothing but an opportunist who was denied certain privileges and was trying to get back at his perceived saboteurs. Come to think of it, he said he was going to give up a contract he had earned to convey petroleum products, but later said he would not do so. Such unprincipled people are those who are making the news.

Now, the Deputy Commander of the CID has borne the opprobrium of the opposition for saying that she wished she had the opportunity to meet the President, according to the tape that was played on air.

It appears the actual problem is her name. I am told she is called Tiwaah Addo Dankwa. Her name gives the jitters to some people because the President is also Addo Dankwa. But it is only a name.

I hope, one of these days, anyone carrying the name Nana, including our revered chiefs, will not be in trouble over the name or title. The uproar about her appointment or promotion is needless. For heaven's sake, the woman was the deputy to the CID Director General (DG), so she would automatically act in his absence. That was not a promotion.

Newspaper editors now seem to know better than the Police administration! Is it true she has now been promoted to her next higher rank? And why not? Because her name is Addo Dankwa? or because of the tape? If she was really related to the president, would she be seeking to curry favour from A Plus by saying she wished she could meet the president?

This brings me to former President John Mahama's "Animal Farm" analogy after their unity walk in Cape Coast. He may have had a point in saying that the current government's administration reminds him of the book "Animal Farm.

However, in the end, he likened those in government to pigs, when he said that, "now the pigs are enjoying, while they say some Ghanaians are more Ghanaian than others". In my view, members of the NPP are right in saying that he was referring to them as pigs.

Perhaps the former president did not imply that, but he came across to have said so. That reminds me of a statement made by Gabby Okyere Darko referring to then-President Atta Mills as a puddle, which created a lot of furore in NDC circles.

What Gabby implied was that president Mills was so malleable that he was being remote-controlled by outside forces. However, some NDC members of high academic standing, some with doctorate degrees in the English language, said he was describing President Mills as a dog. Things have come full circle, haven't they?

Talking about language, our politicians must know that, as Ghanaians, our culture dictates that we address elderly people or persons in authority with some decorum.

I could not believe my ears when I heard a member of the NDC describe the Vice President in certain uncomplimentary terms; terms I cannot even repeat here. While in government, this young man was fond of heaping outright insults on Nana Addo. Now out of government and having lost his parliamentary seat, he appears to have even gone overboard in describing people in authority.

What example is he setting for his children? But it is not all one-sided. The following day, I heard a young man, described as a communication member of the NPP heaping insults on former president John Mahama.

Again I cannot repeat the insults because they were so disgusting. You would not believe that, he was referring to someone, who until a few months ago, was the Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces.

Those are just two examples of the moral decay in our body politic. We can play politics without insults. That is why I admired the candour of the Minority Chief Whip, who is reported to have admitted that politicians will lie and try to question the credibility of their political opponents to defeat them.

However, they should be able to do that without insults. The opposition keeps referring to Dr Bawumia's description of President Mahama in the run-up to the 2016 elections as incompetent was an insult.

To me, it was not an insult; he was simply saying that the then president was incompetent, so he should be voted out. I am yet to hear a politician praising his opponent during campaigns; it will be an admission that the opponent is better than himself.

It is true that our politics in Ghana is politics of survival. Parliamentarians and ministers of state fight to be where they are because that is what will earn them huge incomes and opportunities to live big. Call these the spoils of war.

Some people lose their lives in their effort to win political power because there is no war without casualties. Most of these honourable rode on the toils of foot soldiers to be where they are today. Some of the foot soldiers managed to find themselves jobs as drivers and bodyguards of the honourable.

Some also managed to snatch toilets and lorry stations from those who were manning them previously. However, there are still more youths out there, with limited or no education, who must also eat. The devil finds work for idle hands. That is the cause of vigilantism. It is easy to say that the problem can be solved by giving them jobs because the jobs are simply not there.

But should they be allowed to hold us all to ransom? The President vigilantism has no party colours, but will his MPs and ministers say the same thing when their continued stay in office may depend on vigilantes? Man must eat! It is easier said than done, indeed!

One body which will play a crucial role, if the President's vision to clamp down on vigilantism is to succeed, is the judiciary.

The judiciary must be truly independent and impartial in adjudicating all matters of vigilantism that come before it, whether for or against the government. Even more significantly, the security agencies must be truly professional.

In 2008, as Barak Obama was giving his victory speech, a helicopter belonging to national security was hovering overhead. He had just become the president-elect of the USA and therefore the responsibility of state security.

Here in Ghana, as President-elect Prof Atta Mills was giving his victory speech after the last votes were declared in Tain Constituency, I was very happy to see a group of police dispatch riders immediately take positions outside his Kuku Hill office.

That was until an insider hinted me that those dispatch riders had been shortlisted as the preferred escorts if candidate Mills won the elections.

I am tempted to believe the one who gave me the hint, because in 2016, when Nana Addo was declared the winner of the presidential poll, I did not see any dispatch riders outside his house, as it happened in January 2009. It should be standard practice, not at the whims and caprices of anyone.

The few policemen present, when Nana Addo was giving his victory speech, were apparently those already assigned to him. I expected to see a policeman take a position behind him, if, for nothing at all, as a formality or for the sake of protocol. All I saw were two scruffily-attired young men, no doubt, foot soldiers, "guarding" him.

I am not insinuating that the Police administration was partial; I am simply highlighting what would have been appropriate. As a general rule, the security agencies must be seen to be professional and impartial, irrespective of who wins political power. That is the only way the fight against vigilantism can be won. Is anyone listening?