A Most Sincere Plea To The Inspector-General Of Police

Tue, 16 Nov 2010 Source: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi

Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng

I wish to make this sincere and passionate appeal to the Inspector General of Police to come to the aid of Ghanaians, especially those living in Accra and other traffic hit cities. I had an accident in Accra last Monday; it was predictable and in the circumstances, could have been foretold. It was also preventable if the police in this country could be relied upon to be consistent in helping the people to travel safely on our roads. There are many things Ghanaians expect the police to do; some of them, we understand cannot be done or done satisfactorily because of “constraints” and” logistics”, but simply directing traffic at difficult intersections in Accra and other cities and towns cannot be too difficult a task.

Readers familiar with the Cantonments area in Accra would know about the horrible traffic build-up in front of the Italian Embassy where the road from the Akuffo Addo Circle meets the one that passes in front of the post office from Flagstaff House and Christ the King School. (Note that in some other country it would be easy to describe this spot because the two intersecting roads would have well known names; we don’t do it like that here). And in a more disciplined environment that intersection would be controlled in such a way as to prevent gridlock.

In the United Kingdom and other countries and cities around the world, such intersections are designated as box junctions, and are marked with a criss-cross grid of diagonal painted lines and vehicles may not enter the area so marked unless their exit from the junction is clear of oncoming traffic. In other words, in countries that have such sensible rules, vehicles on the main road from the post the Cantonments office should be prevented from blocking the access to and from the Akuffo Addo Circle.

Some countries such as New Zealand and Russia designate every intersection a “box” so that no vehicle is allowed to block the exits and entrances at any intersection. This is to prevent gridlocks from developing at junctions. The logic behind this rule is so painfully obvious that it beggars belief that our traffic authorities have not tried it here, especially as we do not have the required number of traffic lights to control traffic flow at intersections.

Last Monday, the intersection in question was chock-a-block with all kinds of vehicles jostling for positions and drivers straining to outdo each other in bloody-mindedness; some drivers enjoy blocking the path of drivers who must be allowed to pass. It appears to be part of the invisible Macho Code that the police have allowed to become the only moral behaviour that most commercial drivers in Accra obey. You are seen as a sissy or not masculine enough if you either obey rules or show decency towards other human beings.

At the Italian Embassy intersection there are no rules to obey. It is each one for himself and God for us all, sometimes. Last Monday, there were no rules, and no fear of God. A gridlock was in progress and getting worse. Drivers from all sides simply added their vehicles and in time, no vehicle could move in any direction. In the meantime, the traffic from the Flagstaff House end of the road

It was immediately clear as I drove to the end of a long back tail that it was one of those days when for no reason that the public can surmise there is no police control available. The traffic had developed into three lanes so negotiating through it was like dodging bullets in a tunnel. You had to duck and weave in a manner that Azumah Nelson would have approved, if not enjoyed. Eventually, some kind drivers took pity on us and created just a crack of an opening for the drivers entering the main road to make some progress. Progress, remember, meant going through three lanes,, two of them being illegal. The net effect of this illegality was that vehicles coming from the post office end had to drive under the trees where pedestrians would normally walk. Vehicles entering the main road and turning left would share this improvised under-tree road with those coming from the right. The inevitable collision happened with a vehicle jostling for driving space under the trees.

The story of what happened when we went to Cantonments Police Station must be reserved for another day and another kind of humour, for now, we need to ask whether the IGP and the police administration are aware that several such dangerous intersections are left without any police controls? Is it too much for the police to maintain regular controls at these intersections in such a way that would be consistent, predictable and therefore assuring to the public? Is this too much for a peaceful, tax-paying nation to ask for? Indeed, must we ask for this? Should this not be part of routine police work?

I am asking all these questions because I am honestly confused about what the Ghana Police Service considers to be its work and mandate. In other countries (especially middle income ones), the police would have had a database of all intersections needing traffic controls and put officers there as required, if necessary, around the clock. The public would know which intersections would have police controls and which ones without and they can choose which to use based on their knowledge of police deployment and other safety and traffic-logic issues.

If in Ghana we cannot even take it for granted that the police would be on hand to control traffic at difficult intersections then on what can we rely on the police? The police administration often becomes defensive when simple and relevant questions are raised about police conduct in this country, and this is used to shut up people when they have genuine concerns. What I am writing about is something that worries people up and down the country but there is no avenue for most people to address such concerns. Unfortunately, the media are overly concerned with party politics and are not reflecting these things that matter so much to the lives of ordinary people.

This is why I am making this sincere and heartfelt plea to the IGP, and to let him know that he and his administration can make a difference in the lives of Ghanaians living in towns and cities snarled by traffic. Perhaps, as few as 500 police personnel can change the lives of millions of people for the better by simply controlling traffic at intersections. And another thing: it does not speak well for a police officer detailed to control traffic to be seeing lounging around the edges of the intersection talking on mobile phones, or abandoning the traffic and standing under a tree.

This is a sincere plea, and not meant to cause fear and panic in any sense, shape or form.


Columnist: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi