Former President John Dramani Mahama in the company of some executives of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and other kingpins of the party attended a thanksgiving service at the Perez Chapel International, Sunday to give thanks to God for successful presidential primaries.
Bishop Charles Agyinasare speaking on vigilantism urged that "the police and the military to be given independent and unambiguous authority to deal ruthlessly with the menace in order to make illegal party armed militias highly unattractive. I support a legislative approach to outlaw such groups and impose heavy penalties on such offenders in our society".
Read his full speech below
H.E. JOHN MAHAMA'S THANKSGIVING SERVICE
Your Excellencies, Honourables, brothers and sisters.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines VIGILANTISM as 'the practice of ordinary people in a place taking unofficial action to prevent crime or to catch and punish people believed to be criminals'.
Ghana’s revered democracy appears threatened by growing inter- and intra-political intolerance. This situation is further threatened by the emergence of sponsored and trained armed groups belonging to the two main political parties, the NPP and the NDC. Ironically, we tend to associate vigilantism with these cruel, barbaric and illegal groups who have proved to be a danger even to their respective parties, as they are to their opponents and to society in general.
While vigilantism often relates to unofficial and often illegal but organized way of preventing crime as noted in the CED definition of the word above, or arresting criminals by way of complementing the efforts of the police or security agencies, what we are witnessing in Ghana, however, are conspiracies to commit political crimes that would give advantage to their respective political parties. It is unrefined, it is cruel, it is illegal and unacceptable; it is inconsistent with Ghana’s civilisation.
This phenomenon began slowly with the beginning of our fourth Republic in 1992 when parties began to protect their ballot boxes with macho-men, it has evolved through different phases of ugliness through to 2009 and reached a climax in 2017, with memories of unwarranted attacks on police officers, judges in the courtroom, locking up of public officers, and then the events of the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election, which is currently under inquiry. Organised armed groups of today can become tomorrow’s rebel groups that seek to spread their violent and extremists ideologies. These groups will become difficult and more expensive to disband, once they are able to gain a foothold and influence in the citizenry. Let’s not forget what is happening in Burkina Faso where the government is struggling to control the activities of such violent extremist groups, which has developed into inter-communal conflicts. Most of these groups started as vigilante groups seeking to protect their interests.
The recent alleged tapes of a very senior opposition party operative, threaten a showdown of unprecedented tango between the two leading political parties as we approach the 2020 general elections, leaving the country in no doubt of impending communal violence if immediate action is not taken. Our fledgling democracy has been taken back several years away from maturity. A sad reflection on our modern-day Ghanaian politician indeed!
The only solution is for the police and the military to be given independent and unambiguous authority to deal ruthlessly with the menace in order to make illegal party armed militias highly unattractive. I support a legislative approach to outlaw such groups and impose heavy penalties on such offenders in our society.
As we pray today thanking God for his grace and favour, let us also commit ourselves to rid our body politic of the nuisance of supposed vigilantes and their obscene brand of vigilantism.
The political polarisation of our society is influencing and causing unnecessary and inaccurate branding of the church, making it difficult for churches to freely engage with politics. This development is very unhealthy as the church ought to be able to freely provide spiritual and moral leadership to society, which includes politics and politicians.
Perez Chapel International has maintained respectable distance with all political parties in the country, whether they are in government or in opposition. We have continued to sustain relationships that reflect the general political persuasions of our congregation.
We uphold our role as a moral society and a conscience to the nation but often times political mischief makers seek to label church leaders in a way that undermines our pursuits.
Tagging Christian clerics with political colours, to a large extent, means gagging them. And being the moral compass of the society, gagging the cleric could well mean shutting down that very important compass, which, in turn, robs the nation of the voices of reason and caution, which are critical in steering the nation to its desired destination in peace and harmony. If the worst befall this country, the Christian cleric just as any ordinary vulnerable person, will not be spared. Therefore, why do people persistently colour the words and deeds of Christian clerics with politics to the point that they can no longer express themselves about the most basic issues of the country and its wellbeing?
Paradoxically, when political parties engage at other religious houses of worship, hardly do you hear whispers of political patronage anywhere in society. It is our prayer that society would be a lot more charitable with the church, for society needs the church and especially the divine dimension it introduces in the affairs of the nation.
The church is closely watching and monitoring all parties that seek to invite the Lord into their affairs so we can enrol in prayer and fasting for divine grace and favour for our beloved country and its citizens.
Upholding the sanctity of our democracy is a duty for all Ghanaians. Politicians must play their part, and so must the church and every citizen. vigilantism cannot and must not be tolerated to upset the rhythm of our peace and democracy. Ghana’s democracy does not need vigilantes and vigilantism!
It is in this light that I welcome H.E. President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s call for the two leading political parties, the NPP and the NDC to begin a common process towards disbanding all party militias or vigilante groups in the country as soon as possible.
I suggest a multi-pronged approach towards this effort;
1. A summit of the leadership of all the political parties, the apex bodies of relevant religious and civil society organisations, the Peace Council, representatives of the security agencies, the judiciary and any other key stakeholders in this matter. The objective should be to deliberate and adopt effective strategies to dismantle, dissolve and prohibit all forms of political thuggery, vigilantism, politically sponsored or affiliated militias, and criminal gangs; a zero-tolerance approach to political violence in all its forms.
2. Constitutional amendments and legislation to unequivocally outlaw, criminalise and severely punish all such activity. Severe sanctions should be prescribed for political parties that sponsor or condone vigilantism or indulge or affiliate with criminal gangs.
3. Empower the police and the military with unambiguous authority to deal ruthlessly with the menace in accordance with the laws, in order to make it unattractive, to eradicate it!
4. There is a need to effectively disarm, demobilise and reintegrate these groups into society to become productive citizens and not a burden.
5. To you my fellow Ghanaians, I want to entreat you not to just listen to those who call on you to pick up arms or mobilise for them. Remember that by doing so, you are only reinforcing the fear of the other camp to also arm themselves and this would definitely put our children and the future of our nation at risk. So be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove. Politicians will come and go, so please think about the future of Ghana and not the few gains of today.
Lastly, the National Executive Council of the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council (GPCC of which I am a member) and its President Rev Prof Frimpong Manso have issued a warning that should the political parties fail to disband these vigilante groups, the Christian community would embark on continual demonstrations throughout the country.