The nature and role of every government as the sole agent of national security and social regulation has been debated for many decades, with many countries witnessing a significant growth in the employment of private policing. In Africa, countries well noted for the proliferation of private policing are Nigeria, South Africa, Libya, Mali, Niger and Angola among others. Small wonder that some countries have witnessed the easiest transition of private police institutions into armed rebel groups which have created insecurity in those countries over time. Boko Haram and the numerous Sahelian Islamic rebel groups are well documented examples.
Private security provisioning is not new in Ghana, considering the growth of private security industry in recent years. In fact, the industry has become a multi-million cedi industry in Ghana. But growth of the private security industry in no way gives the sector equal power to the Ghana Police Service, which is constitutionally mandated to provide internal security and promote public order and safety. Regrettably, the recent signals sent by the so-called #FixtheCountry movement – that it could use the services of private police – opens a new chapter in the country’s security arrangement.
The laws that legalised the operation of private security in Ghana do not mandate them to wield arms. So, if the #FixtheCountry movement planned to use private armed security, where could those arms becoming from? Are we to believe that #FixtheCountry and its financiers have trained or imported mercenaries to Ghana?
Public Order Act 1994
Section one of the Public Order Act 1994 provides that anyone intent on organising a demonstration shall notify the police of his/her intention not less than five days before the date of the special event. The notification shall be in writing and signed by or on behalf of the organisers of the special event: and shall specify – (a) the place and hour of the special event; (b) the nature of the special event; (c) the time of commencement; (d) the proposed route and destination, if any; and (e) proposed time of closure of the event.
Section two of the Act mandates the Ghana Police to assist in the proper conduct of any special event by directing the routes of such event to prevent obstruction of pedestrian or vehicular traffic; and to disperse crowds at any special event where the police have reasonable grounds to believe a possible breach of peace is likely. Furthermore, Section three of the Act states that where at any special event any damage is caused to any public property, the organisers, or any other persons found to have been responsible for the damage caused shall be liable to pay for the cost of said damage. Also, any person taking part in a special event shall conduct him/herself in manner so as to avoid causing obstruction of traffic, confusion or disorder.
Judging from the posture of #FixtheCountry, the planned demonstration would have been a flagrant violation of the Public Order Act, 1994 (Act 49) and had the potential to breach public order and public safety.
It is curious that they chose June 4, of all days, to stage their so-called demonstration. June 4, 1979 and its brainchild, the 31st December 1981, are some of the darkest moments in the history of Ghana. They signal the day several military men were summarily executed for so-called corruption and abuse of power. Also, businesses belonging to perceived political opponents were confiscated to the state amid imposed curfews that curtailed freedom of movement and association.
Above all, we were told that the June 4, 1979 and 31st December 1981 were to promote probity and accountability and signal an end of corruption. But 43 years of June 4 and 41 years of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) has corruption ended? Before his untimely demise late in 2021, former President Jerry John Rawlings was recorded denouncing greed and corruption among the leadership of his political party – the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Public Service Broadcasting
The Accra Regional Police Command cited Blessed Godsbrain Smart (Captain Smart), Okatakyie Afrifa Mensah, Benjamin Darko and Oliver Barker-Vormawor as authors of a letter they received notifying them of a planned three-day demonstration. In the potentially treasonable letter, #FixtheCountry indicated: “That the armed demonstrators would picket at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) and the Ghana Police Headquarters. That at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) they would demand to speak directly to the nation on GTV and lay out their grievances”.
The group’s decision to occupy Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) and use it to broadcast to the nation is not only symbolic of instability but is also reckless, naïve and dangerous. In 1966, 1978, 1979 and 1981 military coup plotters used GBC to announce their take-overs. The principles of public service broadcasting in no way mandates any pressure group to use GBC to achieve their personal aims, except for public education. So, #FixtheCountry architects planning on using GBC to address the nation amounts to a declaration of war on the country.
The planned “armed demonstration” was meant to feed into a grand destabilisation agenda; to create a sense of insecurity, to brand Ghana as a ‘failing state” and perhaps to compel the armed forces to intervene. Earlier in the year, leader of the group Oliver Barker-Vormawor described the armed forces as a “useless army” – perhaps for failing to stage a military coup as the group wishes. It is this very Oliver Barker-Vormawor that the British High Commissioner in Ghana, Harriet Thompson, is presenting as a victim of police harassment. The IGP, Dr. George Akuffo Dampare, has given an appropriate response to the British diplomat, so I will not belabour the issue.
A divided house
Perhaps following the public backlash, Captain Smart – one of the architects of #FixtheCountry – denied knowledge of any letter notifying the Ghana Police Service of a planned armed demonstration on June 4. Responding to the public backlash, Captain Smart claimed he never signed such a letter and challenged the police to arrest and deal with whoever was behind it. “Yes, we want the right things to be done, things are not right in this country; but I don’t support violence, and not in any way would I want to have a blade in my hand to demonstrate. We did the first demonstration without even a stick… whoever wrote that letter is sick,” he stated.
“…and then if I am a convener and you want to write a letter on behalf of all the conveners, courtesy demands that at least let me know the content of the letter you are sending on our behalf,” Smart added. But Captain Smart is proving to be a man of two faces. Earlier in 2022 he trumpeted his support for a military coup on various media platforms. There is little difference between justifying a coup and picketing at GBC to address the nation for very flimsy reasons.
It has also emerged that Captain Smart was privy to contents of the very treasonable letter that members of the #FixtheCountry movement sent to the police. A purported WhatsApp screenshot between one of the protest leaders, Oliver Barker-Vormawor, and Captain Smart revealed that he had foreknowledge of the potentially treasonable letter. The screenshot of the message circulating on social media indicates that Barker-Vormawor, who wrote the letter on behalf of his colleagues, sent a soft copy of the letter to Captain Smart on WhatsApp… with the letter saved as ‘Notice to the police’.
Barker-Vormawor wrote, “Captain, this is the notice to the police”. Captain Smart replied, “Great”. Oliver Barker-Vormawor followed up with a need for amendment: “Hold on, I have decided to add more things to make it ‘scarier’.” Then Captain Smart replied, “Ok boss”.
On Wednesday June 2, conveners of the #FixtheCountry movement apologised to the public for planning to embark on an armed demonstration on June 4. In a press statement, the conveners admitted that their approach to addressing their concerns – such as ‘policing brutality’ and other crowd control tactics – was flawed. “We unreservedly apologise to the public, especially our supporters. We wish to reiterate that #Fixthecountry is a movement committed to peaceful democratic accountability,” the conveners wrote. “We also recommit to continue fighting for victims of police brutality, who we intend to keep at the centre of our work,” they added.
From scratch, their reasons for planning to embark on the demonstration were shrouded in secrecy and are simply not adding up. If indeed they planned to demonstrate against the Agyapa deal and cessation of the Achimota Forest Reserve among others, could they not have done that without picketing at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation and Ghana Police Headquarters?
Curiously, one of their demands is to ensure that the country’s security is not tampered with. The question is, with what authority and means were they to ensure that Ghana’s security is not tampered with? Who made them a counter-security force in Ghana?
Worryingly, the movement said it could not trust the Ghana Police Service to oversee their demonstration on June 4, without harming them. One of the architects of the plot, Okatakyie Afrifa, noted that in the past unarmed demonstrators had been shot by police and nothing was done about it.
Truly, since 1992 the police have had skirmishes with demonstrators resulting in some deaths and injuries. But in all these cases the police were purported to be acting within the law, though the method of their operation deservedly attracted a public backlash. Short of any justifiable reason, the group’s demands indicated that they planned to disrupt security arrangements of the country and subvert the current constitutional order by playing victim to police brutality.
However, at no point did any pressure group demand the creation of a private police force. Clearly, the posture of #FixtheCountry feeds into the leaked agenda of Ofosu Ampofo – that his party would antagonise the police as part of plans to create insecurity in Ghana. We need to be reminded that the threat of #FixtheCountry to embark on an armed demonstration comes on the heels of earlier warning by national security for Ghanaians to be security-conscious.
For this reason, though #FixtheCountry has called off its demonstration, the police and National Security apparatus should never let down their guard. It appears that #FixtheCountry has a mission to accomplish ahead of the 2024 elections. We need to be reminded that policing is one of the essential public services funded by the taxpayer; so, we cannot substitute such a public good for a private interest good – no matter the shortcomings of Ghana Police Service. Let me repeat that Ghana is not a failed state, for which reason the security agencies must ensure that the country does not descend into the dark days of June 4, 1979 and 31st December 1981. Ghanaians must collectively uphold the constitutional arrangement of regime change, nothing more.