By Manasseh Azure Awuni
The front page story of the Monday January 10, 2011, edition of the Daily Graphic was scary. At least, 6000 able-bodied men, women and children were killed in road accidents between 2007 and 2010. About 40,000 others were injured in the road accidents within the period, with some becoming disabled for the rest of their lives, according to the report.
For outsiders, this may come as a shock but for many Ghanaians, especially those who travel often on our high ways, it is not a surprise that so many people are killed or maimed, not in armed conflicts but in road accidents. The story about terrorists and suicide bombing may seem alien to the Ghanaian society, but sometimes the behaviour of some of motorists makes one think they’re on a suicide mission.
2011 has started on another terrible note with regards to motor accidents in the country. For forty-three (43) people to be killed in one week is enough to declare a state of emergency on our roads.
2011 is still very young but if things are allowed to continue they have started, we can only expect the worse. It will not come at a surprise if within these days a number of prayer sessions, including national ones, are organised as a solution to the motor accidents. In as much as one cannot entirely play down the efficacy of such prayers, it is about time we confronted the stark realities of the problems and stop blaming evil forces for problems we are responsible for.
Our backwardness and inability to find solution to some basic problems confronting us as a nation is sometimes due the tendency to assign such problems to the devil and some spiritual forces when common sense is the way out. If God really wanted us to depend on him for everything, he might have concealed sand or perhaps pure water in our skulls, and not brains. Evidence abounds that anytime authorities rise up against such carnages on our roads, the spate of road accidents reduce. The vigorous activity of the police and other road safety campaigners during the recent yuletide is an example how concerted effort and actions have always produced the needed results. The carnages only resurface when we go to sleep thinking all is well.
If both drivers and passengers were a little bit responsible, the gruesome murders on our roads could be reduced to the barest minimum. But most of the time the passengers are accomplices. Any vociferous passenger who warns a careless driver that he’s carrying the lives of people and must be cautious is likely to be reminded by a fellow passenger that their lives are in the hands of God and not the driver, a mortal man. Another passenger will also remind the one complaining that the vehicle is not their bedroom so the driver must speed, even if it is beyond the acceptable limit.
In situations where the passengers are unanimous in condemning a driver for over-speeding, some drivers adopt a snail-pace attitude just to show the passengers where the real power lies. For this reason, many passengers are helpless when it comes to recklessness on the roads.
The onus therefore lies on the police, who are supposed to enforce the laws to check the seemingly institutionalised lawlessness on our roads. Unfortunately, however, that is not the case. Corruption among the Motor Traffic and Transport Unit (MTTU) of the Ghana Police service is no longer a perception. Indeed some police officers have the immoral courage to refer to the One Ghana Cedi they take from drivers as their “Road Duty Allowance” and they enforce it as though it were their constitutional mandate.
Many have expressed optimism that the new commander of the MTTU, ACP Angwubutoge Awuni, will bring a breath of discipline and sanity into the MTTU. ACP Awuni’s exploits in Ghana Police Service are well documented and he has excelled in various difficult capacities within the police service. Today, Nima is a law-abiding community and that’s one of ACP Awuni’s legacies. His current position, however, presents him with the real challenge of proving his worth. Heading the MTTU, which is the face of the Ghana Police Service, is a tall and thorny hurdle ACP Awuni must scale. Various commentaries and articles in the Daily Graphic and other newspapers since his appointment amply testify to the fact that the people expect nothing less than a well-reformed, disciplined and credible MTTU leading the crusade against all forms of lawlessness on the roads and safety for road users.
Our wise elders say if mother crab is crawling, it is impossible to teach baby crab how to walk. If the new MTTU Commander can win the war against indiscipline on the roads, then that war must start with his men in uniform. For now Many drivers know that dropping GH?1 in the itchy palms of a uniformed officer and screaming “Aban!” is enough to get away with driving without a license and other punishable motor traffic offences. In the past the police seemed to justify their corrupt practices with the excuse that they were paid killer salaries and the only way they could survive with their families was to take their “road duty allowance.” But now the “fat salaries” of police are easily cited by public sector workers yet to enjoy the controversy-laden Single Spine Salary Structure to drum home their agitations for high salaries. But the end to the degrading begging and extortion are nowhere in sight by the men and women of the MTTU.
Apart from the highways, police officers also “tax” vehicles in the city of Accra, sometimes by other units other than the MTTU. The Mamprobi-Dansoman Last Stop road is not one of the traffic-conscripted routes of Accra, but every evening, commuters on that road grapple with the nightmare of artificial traffic, between Mamprobi Bamboi and Agege. The police and military patrol team usually block the road as early as 7:30 pm and extort money from passenger vehicles. The police do the collection and when a driver does not comply he’s stopped by the soldiers. If ACP Awuni and his top officials at the MTTU can make any meaningful impact, then the battle must first be directed at these miscreants in uniforms.
The police also need to be well-equipped to deal with the carnage on our roads. A driver in whose car I sat once drove carelessly at the Kanda traffic light near the Tackie Tawiah overpass thought he was free until the police officer at the scene caught up with us near Accra Girls High School. The driver would have got away with it if the police officer had not got the means to come after us. This makes the provision of logistics to the police an essential part of winning the war against recklessness and carnage on our roads. We cannot pretend to be oblivious of the fact that the MTTU is under resourced in terms of both logistics and personnel. The MTTU certainly needs equipment such as breathalyzers to check drunk driving, speed guns to check over-speeding, height gauges to control overloading, especially by articulated trucks among others. The already inadequate police personnel should not be expected to go out there empty handed and do what we expect them to.
ACP Awuni’s battle will definitely not be only against “flesh and blood” as the Holy Bible puts it. Any commander of the MTTU who wants to succeed must take a tough stance against politically backed indiscipline and criminality in the transport industry. Somewhere last year Daily Graphic’s, Northern Regional correspondent Mr. Salifu Nurideen Mohammed, wrote an article in which he blamed indiscipline and impunity in the region on forces within political establishments, who impeded the work of the police. Recently some youth of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) were reported to have subjected some police officers to brutalities in Tamale when the officers went to enforce motor traffic regulations. The opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) has given the police an ultimatum to arrest and prosecute those involved.
Speaking on the alarming spate of carnage on our roads on Joy FM, the General Superintendant of the Assemblies of God Church, Rev. Dr. Frimpong Manso, said the fight against indiscipline and fatalities on our roads would be far from over until people in authority stopped intervening on behalf of offenders. He said practice where superior police officers called their junior ranks on duty to let go motorists whose offences were detrimental to their passengers and other road users was a major setback to fighting the mess on our roads. And it is understandable who pressures the senior police officers.
Travelling has now become a nightmare and anyone who prays for travelling mercies must as well pray for the forgiveness of sin after boarding a vehicle. Anything, they often say, can happen one may have to force one’s creator prematurely. But for how long must we allow things to happen the way they are happening? For how long shall we keep silent while recalcitrant drivers behind the steering wheels drive us to our graves? For how long should we allow our daily death tolls on our roads to compete with nations that carry out suicide bombings? ACP Angwubutoge Awuni has a tough task of transforming the MTTU, but the real duty of curtailing the avoidable carnage on our roads is for you and me. We are all potential victims
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