The Mirror (Ghana) of Saturday, August 7, 2007 edition carried my letter to the editor entitled: “Deal with alcohol-related accidents.”
Incidentally, the same issue carried another letter from compatriot, James Annan, who wrote from Kumasi and titled his letter, “Ban unworthy commercial vehicles.’
This is what I wrote in my letter:
“Hardly a day passes without reports of gruesome vehicular accidents on our roads claiming lives, maiming limbs and leaving families and the nation disconsolate.
My own observation is that most of these accidents happen over the weekends. The reasons also seem to be clear cut. Most of the ones I have witnessed are alcohol-related. To wit: people journeyed to their hometowns and villages to partake in one do or the other. They get carried away and get seriously drunk on variety of easily-available and cheap liquor. Of course, inebriated brains are not going to observe the injunction of not driving when drunk. The results are that we have people with enough ethanol in their system to power a Jumbo Jet getting behind wheel to ferry themselves and loved (sic) ones. Of course, these drunks think of any highway as a race course and consider any challenge as an affront to their demented macho dignity. These champion drivers will now and then crash with the resulting calamities.
What is baffling is why the police authorities have not decided to take advantage of these recalcitrant drivers to enforce the laws; make some good money for themselves and save lives.
Since we all know that our people love to party, and it is a given that many of us like to get seriously drunk on weekends, the police should rise to the occasion by making the errant among us pay. We can borrow a leaf from the Dutch Police.
Very practical people, the Dutch government did not see reason why they should continue to subsidise the police when there are enough felons around to be taxed. The result was a very efficient police to be found around every corner with breath analyzers and receipt books. The taxes are huge enough to sober up the most hardened felon.
It looks like our police take Sundays off and are mostly off the roads after sundown. This is not very clever. Let them sit up and try to rigorously pursue this idea for three to six months and see whether or not there will be changes on our driving habits.”
Exactly ten days after my letter was published, the newspapers headlines were full of stories of two horrific accidents that occurred near Sege and near Ada in the Greater Accra Region.
“HORROR! 19 killed,” was the headline of the Daily Guide (August 17, 2010). “BLOODY MONDAY – 23 Perish in 2 gory accidents” was how the Daily Graphic bannered the stories.
Twenty three innocent compatriots lost their precious lives in the ghastly mishaps in which alcohol and fatigue were believed to have played their roles. The Daily Graphic reported that the more horrific of the accidents had a Mass Transit Bus (MTB) ramming into a stationary lorry parked at the shoulder of the road killing 19 people! The bus was ferrying passengers who had gone to participate at a village festival.
The Transport Minister, Mike Hammah, was reported to have visited the site together with many top guns from several of the institutions that were supposed to guarantee that we travel safely on our roads. One of these was the National Road Safety Commission.
According to the sector Minister, the spate of accidents in the country cost US$16.5 million annually, and is also partly responsible for retarding the nation’s development agenda.
Have we not heard all these before?
Of course, like the sanctimonious hypocrites that we are, we will lament loudly even if only for a few days. And, of course, we would go back to our daily lives, so soon forgetting the latest nasty mayhem. The blood-soaked images will soon fade away; no one will remember the mangled bodies. Prime lives wickedly cut short would soon become a thing of the past. Our officials will puff and they will fume; but nothing will come out of it.
Ah, there are more pressing issues to be tackled. Our politicians are already busy doing what they do best – making lotta of noises without making any sense at all. Elections are still more than two years away, yet our ear-drums are being bombarded with rancorous noises of those who make it their profession to politrick.
Lamentably, in years gone by, idealistic men and women, motivated by a desire to make a positive difference in the lives of their fellow beings, go into politics.
The Yoruba word for politician is ‘Oselu.’ It means literally: ‘A town planner/organizer.’ It was a very positive appellation which in those days must be earned with honest sweat.
Today, our political landscape is littered with every sort of ragamuffins who are out only to make easy money.
Today, politics has become another money-making venture. We now have a new class of entrepreneurs – why not call them politreneurs. These are unprincipled men and women who join politics to pursue selfish agendas. It is not for them to strive to improve their community. No, they want all the goodies of life and believe that politics offer perhaps the only avenue for them to grab all the grabables. Four years of ‘service’ will earn them enough ex-gratia (what should we be grateful for?)
The Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah ruled this country for nine years, he left not even a single room to his name. No matter what his detractors say, no one can accuse him of personal corruption. He was out to make a difference and he did make a difference. Today, a District Chief Executive only has the ambition to build a big mansion within two years.
Sadly for us, we have not evolve a system whereby our leaders can be grown organically. Our institutions are far too weak and far to corrupt to create unselfish and patriotic leaders. The weak institutions are the bane of the society and they are what is causing all the troubles for us.
What is baffling, at least to yours truly, is our capacity for self-deception. We hate to tell ourselves home truth. We all believe in playing the hypocrites. I do not know if this stem from the unwillingness to give offense or from splain cowardice.
If truth be told, our institutions are far too gone for the cosmetic surgeries we are applying on them. Instead of a radical overhaul, we are busy trying to prop up institutions with shaky foundations. Our elders say that the house built with spittle will be fell by dew. Instead of radically re-writing our constitution, we are calling for amendments. We not only operate an alien system that makes little or no sense to the majority of our people, we also pretend not to know that they are not working for us. Our political\electoral system has become so obscene that many of our folks are thoroughly disillusioned. And the sec-Gen of the ruling party was recently sufficiently miffed to take a giant swipe at the judiciary.
I fully sympathise with the NDC scribe. How could a judicial system that could sentence poor Kofi to ten years for stealing fingers of plantain be expected to be taken seriously when it can free treasury looters on what it termed TECHNICALITY?
Let’s take the carnage on our roads as symptomatic of institutional failure. Vehicular accidents happen for two reasons – mechanical failure or human error.
Even a dumb, blind and deaf could see that there are vehicles plying our roads that have long passed their prime. In many other countries, many of the mechanical contraptions that ferry cargo and human across our country will only be found in museums.
Yet they are there. We all see them and those who we pay to ensure that such monstrosities are confined to the junkyards also see them. Our police have checkpoints strewn across the length and breadth of the country. Officers (male and female) manned these checkpoints; they see the antediluvians vehicles breaking our laws and they do absolutely nothing about it.
Sorry, of course, they do something – they collect their bribes (illegal, unreceipted tolls) smiles and wave the law-breakers off.
Which child born in Ghana today do not know that our police are corrupt beyond redemption? Yet, like the great pretenders that we all are, we look the other way – see no evil, hear no evil.
Police officers who are total disgrace to the uniforms they wear will turn up on our tubes to pontificate about fighting corruption and we all listen to them. They are the pillars of society. They are solid men and women who are leaders of their communities and elders of their churches.
And what happen when our policemen deign to arrest a driver? In broad daylight we see officered men and women haggling with arrested felons over what to pay as bribes. The police officer is more interested in how much he can squeeze from a driver than in ensuring that the laws are obeyed. And we all pretend not to notice.
If our police force is corrupt beyond redemption, our judicial system is on a different league entirely. That the law is no respecter of anybody is a fiction maintain only in Civics classes. You and I know that the moneyed class easily gets away with crimes for which ordinary mortals will suffer greatly. No one who has attended any of our courts will not be saddened by what passes for justice in our dear land.
I have argued elsewhere that the institutions we inherited from the colonisers need modifications to suit our peculiar traditions and environment. The system of justice we operate makes sense only to lawyers and the judges who serve there. Even the most educated among us will be truly mortified by our judicial system where cases are left pending for decades on end.
In the letter to the Mirror I advocated our borrowing ideas from the Dutch who very practically ask the police to earn their own keep. We can go further.
In my letter I did not write about the various steps the Dutch police have taken to bring sanity to their roads. One of these is a constant patrol of the highways not only to ensure free flow of traffic but also to ensure that broken down vehicles are promptly towed away before they cause accidents like what happened with the MTB. Of course, the heavy bill is promptly dispatched to the vehicle owner. This ensure that: 1 – people think twice before bringing unhealthy vehicles onto the roads and 2, that broken down vehicles do not cause traffic hold-up or accidents.
We can set up Fast Track Traffic courts whose sole remit is to try, what else, traffic offenses. The Motor Transport Unit (MTU) of the Ghana Police Force should be strengthened with officers empowered to summarily summon offending drivers. Justice at these courts should be speedy and the fines should be hefty enough to make drivers think twice before committing traffic offence.
Of course, all these measures require a well –maintained national identification database. How do we do this in a country where streets are not named and houses are not numbered?