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Opinion | Apr 17, 2018

S....O....S....! O Ghana Police!

S....O....S....! O Ghana Police!

ON Sunday 15 April 2018, there were two separate road accidents in the Northern Region.

In one accident, two so-called “luxury” buses/coaches collided head-on, tearing each other to pieces. If you see the pictures of the accidents, you will ask: How can fellow humans, paying good money to set out on visits somewhere, end up in gory accidents like this?

Of course, can only infer the reasons for such accidents from what we know of the conditions on our roads. These include over-speeding by drivers; bad maintenance of vehicles; terrible road surfaces; inadequate or absent road-signs; and a trustworthy (and incorruptible) patrolling of the highways by the police.

It is because the other factors exist that reliable patrolling on our roads by the police is so essential. If drivers would only observe the speed limits; if road surfaces were generally good so that drivers would not need to zigzag their way, trying to avoid potholes, or heaped-up gravel, or unattended vehicles; if road-signs existed and gave vivid warnings of hazards ahead – the police could let the world take care of itself.

But there are so many lapses in our road safety practices that the police must count as our Life-saver of Last Resort. That's why I am sending this “S.O.S” [Save Our Souls!] message to them. There is always grave danger for humans when an S.O.S message is sent to the police. This S.O.S is being sent on behalf of the entire population of Ghana. You see, travelling does not limit its invitations to any sector of the populace.

We all have to respond when travel beckons. But in the Ghana of today, travelling has become so hazardous because an extra source of danger has been added to the usually listed ones, and this is that: THE ELEMENTARY CONDITIONS FOR ROAD SAFETY HAVE MOSTLY BEEN ERODED BY BAD ROAD CONSTRUCTION PRACTICES.

The Government's road construction mechanism is the first to blame. Political and economic considerations take the place of good, objective technically acceptableplanning when many of our roads are constructed. The budget allocated to a particular area for roads may not be adequate but because the authorities wish to be poplar in the area, they insist on extending the budgetary allocation to do the impossible.

But doing this is like playing the oware game, or draughts, or cards, with yourself (often termed as playing the particular game “with Ananse”) and then – cheating! When you do that, you are warned by a proverb that “If you cheat Ananse, you cheat your own self”.

Yes – road accidents don't distinguish ordinary people from decision-makers, such as Ministers and Members of Parliament; Municipal and District Chief Executives; Managing Directors of Government engineering departments; or road contractors themselves. Yes – a road accident can happen to anyone of these classes of people too,without discrimination.

So, the road engineer who allows himself to be pressurised into shortening a road by creating a dangerous curve to avoid constructing half a mile extra of road that would have made the road much straighter; the politician who forces technical personnel to abandon professional good practice and cut corners; the road constructor who accepts a contract, knowing that the budgeted sum for the work is not adequate for both the work and the “ten percent” cut that he would have to pay to the

people who “kindly” gave the contract to his company and not to other bidders – they all unknowingly set themselvesup potentially to be killed by their own creation, namely, a road that's not fit for purpose.

These are some of the underlying causes of the reason why the police are often the only people who can save the populace from death or serious injury on our roads. Unfortunately for the police, they are put in the position of the hospital doctor to whom a sick person is sent at the last minute, after unorthodox methods – such as prayers by false prophets or weird, magical concoctions brewed by unskilled fetish priests – have taken the patient right up to the very door of death.

Yes, dear police bosses: we do know that the country is suffering from the effects of corruption in many areas of its life. And that some of your own colleagues are also steeped in corruption. But in an EMERGENCY SITUATION, we dare not stop to ask questions. We ACT! I bet that's part of the elementary rules they teach you during your training, which is otherwise quite rigorous, especially when it comes to physical fitness and such things? Well, the psychologicalelement is also important, please!

We now face an EMERGENCY – there are needless deaths on the roads for all the reasons I have listed above. What do you DO about it? What CAN you do about it?

As good professionals, you must evolve a PLAN to try and save the lives of the people of our nation that have been entrusted to you. It is, of course, not fair that you should be landed with a baby that has been produced in circumstances not of your own making. I am sorry but that consideration cannot be allowed to feature in this equation. For we are in an EMERGENCY, as I keep reminding you!

Please, your plan must be very clever, because I am aware that you simply do not have the RESOURCES to carry out the sort of detailed, proficient and professional plan that your training and experience might suggest to you. It must envisage: (1) set up Rapid Road Monitoring Units for selected highways known to be accident-prone. Each Unit should be in unmarked cars. One would carry an Observation Unit whose members are in mufti, and the other, an Arresting Unit of uniformed officers.

(2) The Observation Unit should disperse its personnel along the highway (with its vehicle hidden). As each approaches, the driver's behaviour is monitored: does he exceed the speed limit? Does the vehicle look overloaded? Does the vehicle appear stable on the road? Does it exhibit signs of tyre-wear, or a deficient braking mechanism? Does the driver appear attentive or does he appear drunk?

  1. Let your road experts train members of these Units to recognise vehicles that have the potential of being involved in accidents. A simple mobile phone call from them can then alert a second Unit to the fact that an approaching vehicle may constitute a danger to road safety.

    (4) The second Unit then stops the vehicle and makes a thorough inspection of it. Care should be taken to ensure that the members of the second Unit are cannot take bribes – by making camera-wear obligatory!

Lastly, the police must always recommend the seizure of the driving licences of offenders who endanger the lives of the public.

Such exercises must occur on as many roads as possible, with the Units moving so fast from highway to highway that drivers will be unable to predict where their movements. Very soon, drivers will acquire the habit of thinking, “Suppose the police are there round the next corner”?

When that habit permeates the driving population, we would have won!!

Cameron Duodu
Cameron Duodu, © 2018

Martin Cameron Duodu is a United Kingdom-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor and broadcaster. After publishing a novel, The Gab Boys, in 1967, Duodu went on to a career as a journalist and editorialist.

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