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Citizen vs Police – Why are you looking at me like that?

Mon, 29 Jun 2009 Source: Owusu-Mbire, Kojo

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Yesterday (June 25, 2009) while I was driving home, I saw the other side of the Ghana Police – the behaviour of a police officer on duty at the Trasacco Valley Junction in Accra confirmed my belief that the new Inspector-General of Police has a huge task on his hands.

Firstly, this writer has written extensively on the (mis)behaviour of the Ghana Police Service towards ordinary citizens – in one of such pieces, I concluded that ‘if you are looking for trouble, just go to the police station’.

After close of work yesterday, I had to meet somebody in Tema. The meeting lasted for just about an hour and I set out for home.

There were a few roadblocks between the Tetteh Quarshie Roundabout and my home. I passed two of them without witnessing any unusual scene. Then I got to the temporary police barrier at the Trasacco Valley Junction.

When I approached the barrier, I noticed that the police officer on duty (at exactly 20.50 hours GMT) had stopped a private vehicle – and after a few exchanges between the officer and the driver, the police officer took some money from the driver through the window.

The police officer (feeling guilty) looked up his shoulder and realised that he might probably have courted trouble for himself. He saw me looking directly at him – and looking at my posture and the car I drove I noticed he thought I might be somebody who could get him into trouble.

Then sensing danger, the officer decided that the best form of defending his appalling ‘beggar bowl’ behaviour was to attack. I drove closer to the barrier while peeping directly at the beggar of a police officer – because I wanted to break the ‘law on looking into a police officer’s face’. He then said something and because the windows were tightly closed, I did not hear him.

Then he banged on the booth – of course, there is no law on the statute books that says a police officer should bang my booth especially where there is no suspicion of any law being infringed. The officer came closer to my window, knocked on it and said ‘roll down’. I obliged his impudence – because all that while, I was looking out on his insignia to get his service number.

In an intimidating but guilty tone the officer then quizzed, ‘why are you looking at me like that?’ I did not say anything but kept looking straight into his face. Then he asked where my insurance was – and I deliberately asked him, ‘which insurance?’ He went on, how many types of insurance do you have? I was doing all that back and forth so that I could get his name and service number correctly, although I had taken note of the time the incidence was taking place.

He then instructed me after I had given him a copy of my motor insurance certificate that I should pull forward and pack well – of course, I went and packed well. He thought I was going to get down and redeem my portion of the ‘susu’ to him. I sat in the car and after five minutes, the disgraceful police officer gave my insurance to his subordinate to be given me and I drove off.

Well, this is just one of the few things that happen on our roads daily – the police don’t check anything and in case they check anything on your vehicle, it’s just because you have refused to pay them bribes.

While I was going through that ordeal, there were a couple more cars (unmarked cars) which drove by and the master ‘susu collector’ who was given police duties that night just asked them to pack. And the intimidated Ghanaian driver who is asked by a police officer to pack well knows that the man wants a few notes bearing the portraits of the ‘Big Six’. Therefore, I realised that although the vehicles were unmarked, after a few exchanges, nothing was checked and the drivers drove on.

Readers, the East Legon neighbourhood is one of the most crime-prone areas in the entire Accra. Because there is that wrong notion that anybody who stays in that area is very rich – and the East Legon Police themselves have also stated time without number that they record at least five theft cases in the area daily. Initially the theft cases were mainly night occurrences – but the tide is changing since the armed robbers and petty thieves have realised that the police have no creative plans for stopping them in their tracks.

The police mount at least five barriers just between Tetteh Quarshie Roundabout and Trasacco Valley from 20.00 hours GMT and at about 23.00 hours GMT they pack their improvised barriers and go to sleep. And because the thieves know when the police are out from the streets (and mind you the police always mount the roadblocks on the major roads) they begin operating after 12 midnight.

The other day, there was another roadblock right at the American House area in East Legon. When I got to the barrier, I realised that there had been a Toyota Land Cruiser vehicle, which had been following me all the way from Tetteh Quarshie Roundabout.

When we got to the police barrier, I noticed that the Toyota vehicle quickly stopped, reversed, turned and sped off – he might have been carrying something in that car. However, the police did nothing – they could do absolutely nothing because they did not have even a motorbike.

I have been asking myself what policing strategy says that roadblocks or checkpoints should only be erected in the night – but this is Africa, where everything is simply topsy-turvy!

Just pray that the rains don’t start because if they do, you aren’t going to find any police man on duty out there. And when it rains a previous night, the police are always likely to get on the streets very late. A typical example is what has been happening for the past few weeks at the Standards Board head office end of the Legon road.

Sometimes, even at 8.00 am, the police would not have come to remove the barricades to allow free flow of traffic from the Emmanuel Eye Clinic area – so drivers from that area would have to make a detour at the Okpongblo Junction before joining the main road.

It is also a fact, that many of the traffic lights in Accra do not work – many times some of them are constantly blinking amber and at certain intersections, the red and green turn on at the same time.

Therefore, it only makes sense that if the traffic lights are malfunctioning, the Motor Traffic and Transport Unit should be on hand to direct an orderly movement. However, when the lights are not working, you would hardly see any police officer directing the traffic – unless of course the President is expected to pass that area.

Ironically, when the traffic lights are functioning properly, then the police are all over the place misdirecting the traffic flow. If you doubt what I am saying here, just take a close look at the chaos they always create at the Airport Intersection – those traffic lights work better but the police are always there confusing road users!

Well, maybe, some of these behaviours of the police are derived from native Ghanaian policing wisdom so they have become normal. However, I want to ask whether it makes sense that the police mount roadblocks in crime-prone areas only at night?

Does it also make sense that when traffic lights are working, then the police would rather be misdirecting the traffic? Again, who told the Ghanaian police that the armed robbers and drug lords are so daft that they would only carry their goods through the major roads?

Maybe, because the politicians have also not woken up to the reality that if there is not enough hydro energy to power traffic lights on the streets, there is something called solar power, which can be tapped and used to power every traffic light in Accra, so the police have also refused to think.

I am always shocked why those jokers in the Ghanaian Parliament would not sponsor a bill that seeks to legislate the use of solar power alone for traffic lights throughout our cities – after all, how much would it cost them?

Hey, this is ‘Ghana where everything is Basaa’ – because common sense is in limited supply!

Source: Kojo Owusu-Mbire Email: owusumbire@gmail.com

Columnist: Owusu-Mbire, Kojo