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30.03.2005 Feature Article

Gangster's Paradise: The People's Hell

Gangster's Paradise: The People's Hell
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A GNA feature by Samuel Osei-Frempong

Accra, March 30,GNA - Five years ago, a small group of Ghanaian Members of Parliament (MPs) took a stroll in the heart of Lagos, the sprawling Commercial Capital of Nigeria.

This over-crowded city has a lot of things that pleases and displeases the eye so they set out to catch a glimpse.

The group had just returned from Abuja, the Political Capital, where the business is always political amidst plush avenues and government buildings.

It is one of the few cities in Africa built from the scratch. The MPs saw the usual Nigerian merchandize including the "agbadas" and the "ashookes" but they met an unusual spectacle too - a group of gangsters.

The gangsters moved like a whirlwind sweeping through downtown Lagos, ripping and tearing through anything they met in their path. Women trembled with fear as men abandoned their wares and errands for safety.

A young woman, who could hardly utter a word from her trembling tender lips, pleaded with the Ghanaian MPs to take shelter in her shop. She had a small hole in her locked door through, which one could peep to watch these deviants roam the streets with impunity. Some had bottles and drank from them while others smoked substances, which did not resemble cigarettes.

They moved in stages: the young and feeble-looking in front and the big and muscular behind.

Some displayed guns, machetes and small knives while others sang war songs.

The MPs' host had told them that the group was trailing another group, which they accused of humiliating one of their members. When the coast was clear, debris laid in their trail like a tornado, they had swept their path clean of everything and left reminders of horror and mischief.

A young Member of Parliament from Sekondi, who was with the group, expressed surprise and wondered why such a thing could happen anywhere in the World.

Five years later, Papa Owusu Ankoma, the MP, sits in a near Victorian building called the Ministry of The Interior, overseeing law and order in a nation threatened by criminals.

Ghana tasted this phenomenon a few weeks ago in Kumasi when the "Taliban" and "Al Qaeda" groups terrorised the citizens of the nodal city until the Police entered the fray.

They had defied the Police and had gone about town doing what they had known best while the law enforcers were holding a press conference. Many of the gangsters roam the streets during the day and break into homes during the night.

The armed robberies seen, heard or read about did not just come out of the blue.

They are not just a simply loose group of street-roaming law-breakers.

They are a well-structured group of young people bound by loyalty and territoriality and a have a hierarchy.

Literature on this phenomenon describes it as a reflection of social dynamics, such as identity search in the face of urban change. Armed robbers do not come only to steal but to molest, rape, kill and triumph over decency and hard work. Their exploits stuck the confidence of the people.

They claim they have the best attorneys while battered widows roam the streets without sighting a wig and a gown. People talk about their good doctors, who could mend broken limbs at short notice, while queues choke public health facilities. Armed robbery is sadistic as "gangsterism" is madness but Ghanaians shall reap a more serious form of these vices if serious efforts are not made to keep children in school and give hope to the slum dweller. Years of insensitivity, misadministration and economic problems had rendered education, employment and the pursuit of happiness a privilege rather than a right.

The educated and privileged hung their certificates and prizes having only money on their mind and neglecting the plight of the unfortunate. The reasons that make people hate decency and love crime grow bigger and glaring by the day as squatters and hawkers openly threaten law enforcement officers.

A long road divides Nima and Kanda, two residential areas in Accra noted for extreme poverty and extreme affluence.

The poor children from Nima look at the tall walls of Kanda everyday, which were erected to protect the Kanda children from their neighbours. Communities 18,19 and 20 are springing up with middle-class characteristics as Ashaiman, which is a stone throw away, steeps in poverty and want.

Maamobi does not juxtapose Roman Ridge but flows from it thus offering a sad commentary on the socio-economic injustices that plague the country called Ghana.

In the short term, this modest man who is the Minister of The Interior should urge his Policemen on to protect the women, who cuddle their husbands with trembling hands for solace at night. For the men have lost their virility and the will to fight at the sight of invading masked men.

But the long-term solution is to fight social exclusion, send all the children to school and make every Ghanaian part of the "solution" rather than the "problem".

Until that day when Ghanaians would have achieved some form of equality and humaneness, Papa should give them hope before the morning comes, for the night is terrible and harbours dangerous elements. He should not let them turn our world into hell for that would be their paradise.

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