Mr Kofi Bentum Quantson A former National Security Coordinator, Mr Kofi Bentum Quantson, has underscored the need for security agencies and the government to take steps to control threats of violence in the run-up to the December general election before they degenerate into crisis.
According to him, it was important to realise from a security standpoint that currently the state of national cohesion was not enviable hence the need for an urgent proactive action.
The former security chief was speaking at a workshop organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), to consolidate multiparty democracy to ensure free and peaceful elections in December in a presentation entitled: “An audit of election-related violence and its threat to democracy: The Way Forward.”
The workshop also sensitised the security services to their responsibilities during the electioneering period. It was aimed at educating the participants on the various electoral laws and codes to ensure that the citizenry and the security services were fully aware of the range of election-related offences and what constituted public disorder.
The former security capo observed that a little excursion into 2008 would “educate us that most of the negative factors that nearly pushed the nation into doom have persisted since December, 2008.”
“Actually, some have assumed even more dangerous proportions. It should be recalled that in the run-up to 2008, the nation did not experience the level of the senseless violence currently associated with voter registration.”
He said taking into consideration factors including the persistent acrimonious relationship between the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC), aggravated by the crude intrusion of tribal politics, the continued stubborn phenomenon of media recklessness and the wild provocative inflammatory utterances of politicians, the law enforcement and oversight institutions would have to make serious efforts to ensure free, fair and violent-free elections in December.
Casting his mind back again to 2008, he said, “I do not recall anybody pulling a gun and no streets were paraded by instigated youth bearing offensive weapons itching to confront not only their political opponents, but the law itself; and no chief beat a gong-gong to warn people of northern extraction not to register in his jurisdiction. All these and worse are happening today.”
The fierce quest for power has created uncertainty and unrest in some parts of the country as it braces itself for the 2012 elections with the biometric registration in progress.
In less than a month, several cases of violence and misunderstanding have been recorded over who qualifies to register where and who does not.
Challenges concerning the registration process has been many — reports of alleged registration of minors, the prevention of people from registering; political parties allegedly bussing supporters to different polling centres ostensibly to register; the use of machomen to intimidate members of opposing parties from registering and accusations against the police for failing to handle registration malpractices and other offences.
These are all aberrations of the electoral process whose outcome analysts have predicted could lead the nation into confusion, acrimony and bloodshed.
At the heart of the confusion characterising the process had been the definition of ordinarily resident which determines where a person can register.
With the registration process being overshadowed by reported cases of pockets of violence, many have expressed great concern about the role of the security services.
In that regard, Mr Quantson noted that election violence, like all other aspects of conflicts, did not pop suddenly.
Rather, it had a gestation period and time in which the developing circumstances erupted into violence.
“It is, therefore, the duty of the security enforcement system to develop the intelligence capacity to monitor emerging trends in order to prepare strategies and tactics to be embarked upon to frustrate or manage the threats.”
He recalled that in 2008, the security red lights began early enough but the issues were played down either due to incompetent appreciation of the security implications or an arrogant disregard for warning.
Painting a rather gloomy picture of politics in Ghana, he stated that “the country is divided regrettably. Society is polarised, unfortunately. Our politics has increasingly become negative and, therefore, unproductive.”
He did not end there. He observed that over the years, “our approach to national issues has been riddled with, and undermined by blind political fanaticism and cheap chauvinism.”
“The pursuit of ‘stomach politics’ has dark culture of sycophancy and opportunism. Decency, integrity and honesty are drying up. Some of us would say anything; support anything so long as that will reap us personal dividends. It really would not matter how ridiculous, how bizarre and how senseless that position is. The national interest has been brutalised by these negative tendencies,” he said.
The police service also received it share of the verbal lashes. Mr Quantson observed that it was no secret that as a result of the highly politicised hierarchy of the police, “the institution found itself impotent or unable or unwilling to enforce the law.”
The success or otherwise of the 2012 elections, he stated, would depend predominantly on how comprehensive and effective security is provided.
He said all other factors could be handled one way or the other but security breaches could inflict damages beyond repair.
He had a panacea for the security agencies which included a comprehensive understanding of the political environment to enable them to formulate appropriate policies based on the early warning system, fuelled by the principle of anticipation, avoidance or containment with efficient intelligence capability as the basis.
The Deputy Director of Operations of the Ghana Police Service, ACP Paul Awini, promised that individuals who breached the law would be apprehended and expeditiously prosecuted irrespective of their political affiliation to serve as a deterrent to others.
Many at the workshop including Professor Justice A.K.P Kludze, a former Supreme Court judge, who chaired the occasion, held the view that the violence and intimidation that had characterised the registration process in some parts of the country had to be dealt with decisively by the police to serve as a deterrent to others.
“The security services must rise to their responsibilities to the nation and discharge their functions and duties without bias, and without partiality to any group or sector of the nation. You occupy a very important position in our society and in our political and legal structures.”
Earlier in his welcome address, Brigadier-General Francis Agyemfra, a visiting fellow of the IEA, expressed fear about how various media houses had “allied themselves to one party or the other, and through sensationalism, downright absolute lies, concoctions, intrigues and intemperate language, are creating a state of intolerance and polarisation of the country.”
With the tons of accusations dropped at their doorsteps, Mr Johnson Asiedu-Nketiah, the General Secretary of the NDC, and Mr Peter Mac Manu, a former National Chairman of the NPP, agreed that there was the need to create a post-election structure where challenges that characterised elections in the country could be examined and dealt with before another election year.