“The vigilantes have become local mercenaries who sell their services and use their expertise in difference circles. It is not only politics.
“They (vigilantes) have a powerful network around them made up of politicians, chiefs and influential people in society, so that when they commit crime, they activate this network to get them out of trouble,” he told the Daily Graphic.
He, therefore, urged the police to take immediate action to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of the violence that characterised the Talensi by-election won by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) candidate, Mr B.T. Baba.
“If we are able to deal with the culture of impunity, we will be nipping in the bud the canker at the right time because if you get to a particular level, it will be difficult to get the weapons back and change mindsets and the lack of trust in the police that are necessary for cohesion, peace and stability,” he said.
Mr Sowatey, who was reacting to a statement from the Ghana Police Service that it would set up a special investigative task force to investigate the membership and activities of political party vigilante groups in the country, said it was understandable that at the first instance the police did not arrest the perpetrators of the crime in Talensi, probably in order not to worsen the security situation on the ground.
“When it comes to security, there are long and short-term measures. Sometimes, the short-term measures may be attractive but will be counterproductive in the long term.
“The police were in Talensi and seized some weapons. Maybe the commander on the ground thought arresting those with the guns might lead to more violence because the terrain was unknown.
“Now that it is over, it is very important that the police arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of the violence and also find out where the guns came from,” he said.
Name and shame
He said apart from prosecuting the perpetrators, naming and shaming the vigilantes was another way of dealing with the situation, especially when some political leaders openly associated themselves with the vigilantes.
“When you see a bird dancing by the roadside, the drama is in the bush. If we want this to stop, we need to deal with the root,” he said.
Ghana’s by-elections have become associated with violence. For instance, the Chereponi and the Atiwa by-elections in 2009 and 2010, respectively, were marred by violence and intimidation from the NDC and NPP camps.
Police to investigate
A statement signed by the Director-General of the Public Affairs Department of the Ghana Police Service, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCOP) Rev. David Nenyi Ampah-Bennin, and issued in Accra yesterday said the decision to set up the task force was necessitated by the violence that characterised the Talensi by-election on July 7, 2015.
“We have identified such groups as the Azorka Boys, the Bamba Boys, the Invincible Forces and the Bolga Bull Dogs as the main political vigilante groups in these acts of lawlessness,” it said.
Parties react — NDC
Speaking to the Daily Graphic, a Deputy General Secretary of the NDC, Mr Koku Anyidoho, said the party did not have any political vigilante group.
“Azorka is the chairman of the NDC in the Northern Region and he has the right to move to any constituency in Ghana. If he moves around with an entourage, that does not make it a party vigilante group,” he said.
He said the police could go ahead and investigate or disband any group, but emphasised that the NDC did not have such a group.
But the National Organiser of the NPP, Mr John Boadu, said the party would not disband its security group.
He told Joy News that the absence of evenness on the part of the police in dealing with issues of political violence made it imperative for the NPP to keep its security forces.
He chronicled many instances when the police and other security forces had looked on while NPP officials were attacked by hooligans he said were supporters of the NDC.
Mr Boadu cited the Chereponi and the Akwatia by-elections where he said NPP officials were manhandled by youth groups of the NDC, insisting that it was in the interest of the NPP to keep its internal security forces to protect party members.
Police on individual rights
While recognising the constitutional rights of individuals to form and belong to associations, as provided for in Article 21 (1) of the 1992 Constitution, the police statement said it was unlawful for political parties, groups, organisations or individuals to “encourage the formation of vigilante groups and other associations that assume the character of a security organisation, unless that person, group or organisation has been granted a licence for that purpose under Police Service (Private Security Organisation) Regulation, 1992 (LI 1571)”.
It said the police took serious exception to the activities of political vigilante and condemned such groups in no uncertain terms.
It said the police put in place the necessary security/law enforcement measures in the Talensi constituency and its environs to ensure the peaceful conduct of the election in compliance with the constitutional mandate of maintaining law and order and protecting lives and property.
It said the police put sufficient security arrangements in place at the polling stations, coalition centres, all party offices, important state institutions and all vital installations, as well as mounted snap checks at strategic locations within the constituency and all highways leading to the constituency, while their intelligence teams were also firmly on the ground.
“Generally, these policing strategies and measures worked perfectly, with isolated incidents of violence which we condemn in no uncertain terms. Indeed, at various snap checks points a number of offensive weapons, including cudgels, machetes, daggers, guns and ammunition were seized from a number of individuals,” it said.
The statement said all those who were in possession of offensive weapons were properly identified for purposes of further investigations and possible prosecution.
“They were thereafter allowed to participate in the process and exercise their franchise, where applicable, after we had established that they posed no further security threats,” it said.
It assured the public that the police were advanced in their investigations into the conduct of those individuals and all the isolated incidents of violence that occurred during the election.
The statement said on completion of the investigations, “we shall forward all the dockets to the Attorney-General’s Office for requisite action”.