Vice President of IMANI Africa and private legal practitioner, Kofi Bentil

The Senior Vice President of IMANI Africa, Kofi Bentil, says citizen action is key in ensuring the survival of a democracy.

According to him, the recent rise in civil society action against certain government policies such as the Agyapa deal, the E-levy, the declassification of the Achimota Forest, among others is a welcome opportunity to remind the government of the hierarchy of authority in Ghana.

“So if you, for instance, read the constitution of Ghana it starts by saying ‘In the name of the almighty God, we the people’ it starts by saying ‘we the people’ and it goes down and say that we have the right to form the government that will guarantee for us the rights and liberties we require, and the formation of the government will come down to appointing a president and all those other things.

“That hierarchy is extremely important. What it tells you is that the President is not the preeminent, so I often put it this way, that the office of the citizen is more important than the office of the President. It is the citizen that sets up a government to do for the citizen what is good for them so that they can live an adequate life,” he said on JoyNews’ PM Express.

He explained that it is, therefore, the duty of the citizenry to hold elected officials and all those in government to account using all constitutionally available means.

He noted that the failure of citizens to act when there is the need to may lead to a military takeover – a situation which will erode all of Ghana’s democratic achievements since 1992.

“Now when you have a situation where the people appointed to be in government for the benefit of citizens are not governing for the benefit of citizens it is proper that the citizens now rise up to either nudge them gently into proper line or scream or stare them down and shove them into the right light. You must appreciate that there is an alternative to that and we have in this country suffered that alternative.

“The alternative is this, when you don’t have an active citizenry which has the room to nudge either gently like we do on radio and tv or to shove them using demonstrations or other things, you will have a military takeover or people invading with the force of arms overthrowing the government and everything goes down,” he said.

He thus called on the general public and particularly the coalition of civil society organisations to work at maintaining the momentum to keep government accountable to the people and ensuring that the office of the people retains its preeminent position in Ghana’s political realm.

“So what we must appreciate is that this is by design and what we need to do is to work at making it more constructive and more effective.

“Right now in the UK they have gotten rid of their prime minister and they’re going through the processes to find a new prime minister, and there’s no violence involved. In Ghana we do it every four years – maybe if we develop this better it may be possible at a certain point because in the constitution there are powers for the removal of a president, that we will fine-tune our democracy to the point where we can actually remove a president mid-term,” he said.