By Maxwell Ofori .
The long awaited bill, which seeks to curb issues associated with party vigilantism in the country, has finally landed in Parliament. Yesterday, the Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Ms Gloria Akuffo, laid the bill before the August House, with the sole objective of disbanding political party vigilante groups. It is prescribing a minimum of five years jail term for offenders.
“Failure to comply with the requirements of the notice is an offence under the bill, punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than five years, and not more than fifteen years,” the Minister told the members of Parliament (MPs).
Titled “Vigilantism and Related Offences Bill, 2019,” it has become necessary following recent elections held under the Fourth Republic, which were characterised by violence.
Though several incidences had occurred in by-elections especially, the last straw that broke the camel’s back was the Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency by-election, held on January 31, this year.
Following public outcry, the President set up a three-member committee of inquiry, chaired by Justice Emile Short, to look into the issue and submit a report with recommendations, something the committee has already done.
Delivering his third address on the state of the nation earlier in the year, President Akufo-Addo called on leaders of the two main political parties – the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) – which are known to be affiliated to these groups, to meet to disband them.
He gave a caveat that if voluntary disbandment was not feasible, he would move to issuing legislation in that regard.
The President, who gave a week’s ultimatum from the day he appeared in Parliament, observed unwillingness on the part of the affected political parties to meet and thrash out the issue.
The National Democratic Congress (NDC) has, on several occasions, written to the President, setting some conditions before they would avail themselves for any meeting. The conditions included, but not limited to, inviting an international body to be present at the meeting.
After an exchange of letters with the opposition party, the President instructed the Attorney General to prepare and send the bill to Parliament. Clause 2 of the bill provides for the disbandment of political party vigilante groups.
It states: “A leader of a political party vigilante group is required to inform the Minister [for Justice], by notice in writing, of the formal disbandment of the political party vigilante group within one month of [the] coming into force of the Bill. The notice is required to include the date of formal disbandment and the names of the past and present members of the disbanded political party vigilante group.”
Again, clause 3 prohibits the formation, organisation, operation or promotion of the formation, organisation, operation or activities of a political party vigilante group. It also prohibits the membership and participation in the activities of a political party vigilante group with an offensive weapon.
Penalty to the above clause, as stated in the bill, is a term of imprisonment of not less than ten years, and not more than twenty-five years.
In clause 4, aiding and abetting activities of political vigilante group may lead one to a term of imprisonment of not less than five years, and not more than fifteen years. A person is also prohibited from funding these groups.
In accordance with Parliamentary procedures, the bill was referred to the Constitutional and Legal Committee for assessment and report, and then the other processes would follow.
Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s “office respectfully requests approval for the attached Vigilantism and Related Offences Bill, 2019 to be laid and considered in Parliament, under a certificate of urgency in view of the current Parliamentary calendar.” This means the bill may skip some processes to enable the House pass it in time.