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23.08.2018 Feature Article

Vigilantes Or Hoodlums

Vigilantes Or Hoodlums
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“You know, before a place can really be developed or be a viable place to do business you have to establish first law and order.” - Roderigo Duterte– Philippine President

SO, THUGS (hooligans, gangsters, racketeers) or whatever euphemistic taxonomic nomenclature they give themselves, stormed into Tamale Teaching Hospital to boot out the CEO, Dr. David Zaamwunya Akolbilla! His crime: awarding contracts to 7 companies he owns; being “ in bed” with the procurement officer for the trafficking of contracts; issuing death threats to hard-working staff, including one Asana, a member on the Regional NPP Communications Team. And you get people to justify this?

No, as Paul harangued the Galatians (Galatians 3:1-5). “O, ye foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you…?” This imprudent, impudent, ill-bred act (a deliberate diction for alternatives like: bestial, barbaric, animalistic, uncultured, unrefined, savage). The fact that the attackers were well-dressed, carried no weapons (missiles) and got the CEO out without roughing him up just gives cold comfort. An earlier CEO sent to the same hospital had been booted out under similar circumstances. So we ask, what is happening, and what does this do to the image of the party, given the declaration that it was done by supporters of the party in power? And did the attackers expect to be applauded or be treated with soft gloves? Let us hope they are not NPP people, for the NPP extols democracy (dommo people) rule of law, pietism and claims to eschew violence, rowdyism and blood-thirstyism (all the —isms).

Ghana has chosen the path to smooth democracy and we cherish the right to human dignity, and various personal freedoms as enshrined in Article 21 of the 1992 Constitution. We cannot fashion out our historical path after those of the “failed states.” Don't remind us of Talensi, Atiwa, Chereponi, Akwatia and Suhum – Kraboa – Coaltar. Kandahar Boys, Nima Boys, Bolga Bulldogs, Azorka Boys, NATO Force, various fan clubs (ungrammatically written: fun clubs) may have their roles to play if they want to be grouped under 'vigilantes'.

'Vigilantism' has a long history – with positive and negative implications: In the 5th century BC, Athenian Greece had the vigilante group that ensured that their 'democracy' demos (people) kratos (power) worked. The tasks of these 'rod bearers' were to maintain order and demeanour at meetings; to ensure hygienic environment; to do surveillance at markets; to supervise construction; to protect foreigners; and to prevent accidents. They were monitored and regulated by the Athenian Supreme Court, 'The Areopagus'. In ancient Rome, the 'Vigiles Urbani', the night watchmen tasked to fight fires, keep a lookout for escaping slaves and check burglary, were formed around 20 BC under Emperor Augustus.

Folkloric hero, Robin Hood, epitomised 'vigilantism' in the U.K., stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. In the United States, citizens volunteered to join the 'Frontier' groups in the 19th century AD especially under Thomas Jefferson, to defend their boundaries, it was “a tale of conquest but also one of survival.” Law enforcement in the U.K. depended on first voluntarism and second conscription, till Sir Robert Peel as Home Secretary pushed through the metropolitan Police Act of 1829 to organize the full-time, professional and centrally-organised police force for the Greater London Area. They existed alongside the military force.

Policing in Ghana was organized by the traditional rulers with messengers to carry out executive and judicial functions in their local communities. Captain George Maclean recruited 129 men to patrol the trade routes between Ashanti Kingdom and the coast, to protect colonial merchants and officials around the castles. The Gold Coast Constabulary was established in 1876 with Hausa men. All this while, there were local groups which ensured the enforcement of laws, usually called 'Asafo' companies and 'Abrafoo' (executioners). The Golden Stool, for example, was kept from being taken away by the British by a batch of men. You may call them 'Werempem'.

In the pre-independence times in Ghana, there existed the CPP's vigilante group called the 'Action Troopers'; this was counter-balanced by the NLM's 'Action Groupers'. Armed with bottles, cudgels and knives, these groups inflicted untold hardships on the people on either side. These 'Verandah Boys' were later formed into the Builders' Brigade and later, the Workers' Brigade. The Revolutionary Era of the Rawlings's Regime 1979 and 1981 to 1992 saw the proliferation of various vigilante groups, paramilitary organs: the People's Defence Committees (PDC); the Militia, Civil Defence Organisation (CDO); Workers' Defence Committees (WDC) re-organised into Committee for the Defence of the Revolution, with the collective mandate to defend the Revolution. They had their own courts as stated by Amnesty International in 1986, which “…meted out justice according to no established legal procedures.” Their victims were the perceived offenders: landlords who took higher rents than the prescribed ones, 'kalabule' traders who sold 'essential commodities' above the controlled prices; but they also checked smuggling, and ensured serenity and public order in their communities. In 2008, the Azorka Boys and other vigilante groups took over sub-governmental agencies from the handlers who were perceived to be NPP sympathizers. Then, the tables turned in 2016, and what would one expect?

At a round-table discussion organized by the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) in Bolga and Takoradi in 2017, a number of Resolutions were adopted, which included that: The government should provide the youth with employment; the government should create more job avenues for the youth; Political parties should review the Parties' Codes of Conduct to regulate the activities of their members. Vigilantes can, therefore, be seen as a 'necessary evil'. The Vigilantes formed for the purpose of ensuring that no one snatched the ballot boxes helped to secure the smooth political balance in the 2016 election that saw the NPP winning – that is through positive vigilantism.

People should, however, not hold the NPP to ransom by insisting on hooliganism to demonstrate their peeve against denial of their 'rewards' for a good job done. Why should people vent their spleen on innocent public servants who chose the humdrum public service and not seek the delectable political office. Let public servants have their peace of mind – to go about their business. If anybody is aggrieved about their activities, they can resort to the right procedures for complaints.

We may call for a ban of the vigilante groups, that is, legally; but can they be banned physically? The potentate may need a trusted person to be very close to him: to serve, and protect him, not a regular Security man, like police Constable, Seth Ametewee who shot at Dr. Kwame Nkrumah at the Flagstaff House on January 2nd 1964.

President Nana Akufo-Addo and Chairman Blay are veritable lawyers; they understand the complexities of running an effective government; they are as well party-men – they can be relied on to strike a clean balance between giving support for the vigilantes associated with their party or renouncing them.

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AfricanusOwusu – Ansah

Africanus Owusu - Ansah
Africanus Owusu - Ansah, © 2018

The author has 134 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: AfricanusOwusuAnsah

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