It was meant to maintain order and make our metropolis, our malls and massive markets more civil and modern. However, by their mercenary manners and dubious modus operandi, the men mandated by the Metropolitan authorities to make the measures work, have rather made things matchlessly murkier and life more meaningless for many a motorist, merchant and major patrons of our many mushrooming markets.
The Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) rolled out a very laudable initiative, “Sustainable Smart City” among others to rid the Accra city of chaos, congestion and inordinate buildings and filth by hawkers, traders and other people as one of the means of cleaning up Accra and needed everyone’s effort.
Already existing institutions were enhanced with vehicles and other tools while new reforms such as the Sanitation Metro Guards were instituted to see to the success of the initiative.
Personnel, City Guard (Abayee) and Sanitation Metro Guards (Asamanasaman), mandated to see to the successful realisation of the Assembly’s initiatives, have been rather using their power and mandate to extort money and gifts from people who break the assembly's bye-laws instead of helping to bring them to book. As a result, the nemesis we claim to be fighting, keep staring us in the face all the time.
The City Guards (Abayee) mandated to rid the city of people selling and putting up structures at unauthorised places such as the streets and pedestrian pavements, were on several occasions caught taking money from the very people they are to police to allow shield them to go about their illegal activities.
There were instances where the Abayee would seize goods from hawkers and ask them to meet them at the place where they wrap up their daily activities, usually, opposite Kinbu, for negotiation and payment in order to retrieve their seized goods.
Tiger posing as a hawker selling slippers in a wheelbarrow had his wheelbarrow and goods seized on several occasions. On one of the occasions, the Abayee that seized the Tiger’s goods demanded more than the GHS 5 they often collected from owners of seized goods. The guard eventually took Tiger’s GHS 5 and an extra GHS 10 from another coconut seller and returned their goods to them to go about their activities.
On another occasion, another Abayee, after seizing Tiger’s wheelbarrow and collecting GHS 5 from Tiger, released his goods and allowed him to freely sell in the street with a caution not to get caught by other guards.
There was also an incident where an Abayee seized items from a Nigerian hawker at Tudu claiming that he was selling at an authorised place despite repeated warnings to the hawkers. This Abayee later takes GHS 10 from the Nigerian and another GHS 5 from Tiger, in the presence of some of their leaders after which the seized goods were released.
The negotiation to retrieve seized goods could also involve the affected hawker parting with some of the seized goods to the Abayee.
Those who are unable to pay either in cash or with some of their goods get their items transferred into a much spacious operation vehicles and transported to the AMA office near Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum.
In some situations, Tiger also posed as a customer or relative to some of these hawkers and negotiated with the Abayee on their behalf for payment of between GHS 10 and GHS 40 to be made to the Abayee and the goods of the hawkers released for them to continue their hawking without further interruptions.
On one such occasion, the Abayee, who were undertaking their usual goods-seizing expedition, came upon some hawkers selling at unauthorized places. With the hawkers defying the Abayee, the latter only asked the offending hawkers to choose whether they should seize some of the goods and leave the others.
The Abayee refused the bribes given them not to seize the goods being sold at the unauthorised spots. They would not budge even when Tiger tried to intervene, rather asking him to come over to Kinbu where they send all the seized goods and where wrap up their daily activities.
At Kinbu, they demanded GHS 50 from one of the hawkers who said she could give only GHS 5 because she had made just GHS 10 sales all day from which she also had to take her lorry fare. Tiger then negotiated on behalf of this hawker with one of the leaders of the Abayee group who later demanded GHS 20 to release. Eventually, he accepted GHS 15, withy Tiger topping up the GHS 10 the GHS 5 the lady was offering. The goods were then returned to them to go and sell again.
In a related development, a hawker accosted by another City Guard offered to give the City Guard GHS 5 as he had sold nothing and always gave that particular City Guard money. Although the City Guard confirmed the claims of the hawker that he has been giving him money, the Guard demanded GHS 50 from his “old friend”.
Tiger, posing as a relative of the hawker, decided to add an extra GHS 5 to the hawker's offer it GHS 10, but the City Guard, who had reduced demand to GHS 30, stood his grounds. He asked the hawker to either pay the GHS 30 or go to their office and pay there as he claimed the hawker knows they won't accept the GHS 10 at their office. He later agreed and took the GHS 10 from Tiger upon persistent pleadings.
Another instance, Abayee also took GHS 20 from Tiger to release a hawker's seized goods to her after initially demanding for GHS 30.
A pregnant trader also had her 9 dummies in which he had placed in front of a shop seized by these City Guards who asked her to follow their moving operation vehicle to their parking spot to sort it her issue. The trader however said she could not do so due to her condition. They then asked to go with her brother (Tiger had posed as such), and they later took GHS 20 from her at Kinbu before releasing to her the dummies. Did she go? Or Tiger went?
There was also an instance where a coconut seller who had had two of his coconuts consumed without been paid by the Abayeewho also asked the seller to “pay something” to avoid having his coconut being seized. The beleaguered seller told Tiger that the Abayee guys usually took money from him on Saturdays and on that particular day they took GHS 10 and two coconuts from him. He explained that he doesn't resist , as by doing so, he's allowed to go about his work with no disturbances from the Abayee. According to him, they sometimes take the money when he's going home and mentions one Asafoatse as the main culprit. He also said he sometimes don't give them the money especially when he's not sold much of the coconut.
There was also an instance where an Abayee furiously threatens to beat the hawker for throwing away a ticket they gave to him as a daily routine in the business center which he, the Abayee, sees to be disrespect. Another Abayee explained to Tiger that every hawker or trader needs to get a ticket everyday and license to sell in the streets. This was after a hawker was asked to pay for his ticket fee for the whole week by the Abayee and that of his license as he always dodges when they meet him and ask him to produce his ticket and license. The hawker then pays them GHS 5 as they requested and he also paid for the so-called license but nothing was given to him but rather released his seized goods to him to continue selling in the street.
Also a perfume hawker had his goods and warned by the Abayee who detained him they would go with his goods if he doesn't give him, the Abayee, the requested money before they decide to leave. The hawker fearing for his goods gives the Abayee a GHS 10 sale he's made the whole day and was asked to leave before the Abayee operation vehicle arrives.
Again an Abayee was filmed demanding and taking GHS 2 after some time of pleading and convincing from some cassava sellers on the street who claim another Abayee called Red had already come to take money from them and asked them to stay and sell there as the Abayee won't be working that day. He takes them.
Hawkers Encouraged To Sell On Streets And Pavements By Abayee
The statement that by the PRO of the AMA, Nii Ankrah, that said the AMA’s “Sustainable Smart City” initiative was to enhance free movement at the Central Business District (CBD), and free the city from the chaos, congestions and inordinate buildings might have been misunderstood by the City Guards deployed for the course.
This is because City Guards, mandated to ensure that the streets, pedestrian pavements and any unauthorised place for marketing are cleared for easy passage of vehicles and humans as well as enhance cleanliness in the city, rather aided them to sell on the streets as in their presence, hawkers display their goods for sale in the streets, on pedestrian pavements and unauthorised place with no prohibition from the City Guards.
They, the City Guards, even sometimes help the hawkers display their goods on the pavement, helps them sell the wares, sits and chats with them when they are supposed to clear them from the place and helps them pack their goods in the evening for money and gifts as some of them, the City Guards, claim they hate harassing the hawkers, hence, whatever they ask grow them must be given for their, the hawkers, freedom.
This sometimes results in argument among the City Guards as some of them don’t approve of this practice by their colleagues.
In some instances, the leaders of the City Guards even ordered the hawkers to just clear a pile of rubbish so they can go on selling in the streets and on the pavement while goods of other hawkers in the streets and on pavements are being seized some few meters away.
At Kantamanto, an Abayee has been mandated to collect GHS 10 from each street trader/hawker every Saturday as their contribution to be given to Nat, the leader of the Abayee group at the place to prevent their goods from being seized or they the hawkers been harassed.
A hawker was also filmed taking money contributions from fellow hawkers under the authority of one of the Abayee leaders at the place (Kinbu) to be given to the Abayee and their leaders to prevent their goods been seized and harassments according to the hawkers. Hawkers further discuss who does the authorization for the collection of the money and the fact that there's always chaos after collection of the money as all the top men wants to be given the money.
One of the Abayee later came to take GHS 2 from Tiger as her contribution while a hawker, who the Abayee took GHS 5 from her child rained insults on her child because she asked the child to give the Abayee only GHS 2 as their money contribution. The hawker then asked the child to go for a change from the Abayeewhich the other hawkers advised against as they said it would make the Abayee hate the child and harass her all the time.
Hawkers Quarrel Among Themselves Over Money Contribution For The Abayee
Hawkers and traders, in order to freely sell in the streets and on the unauthorised pavements contribute between GHS 2 and GHS 10 daily to the leaders of the various Abayee groups to prevent being harassed or their goods seized by the Abayee.
These money contributions on various occasions results in quarrels between hawkers as some hawkers refuse to subscribe to such contribution which infuriate those who do explaining that they cannot pay the Abayee for others to enjoy the freedom while they all are money from the place.
Other times too, the Abayee leaders quarrel among themselves over the sharing of the money extorted from the hawkers.
Abuse of Hawkers and Destruction of their Goods by Abayee
The PRO of the AMA, Mr Gilbert Nii Ankrah, said in the statement made in February 2019 that the Assembly, in its agenda of transforming and developing the city through the “Sustainable Smart City” project, would ensure that the city is free from the chaos, congestions and inordinate buildings. He explained that this objective would be achieved via a decongestion exercise to be undertaken with a human face to reduce the incidence of altercation with the city guards, which sometimes leads to the destruction of traders’ goods.
Contrary to this, Abayee guys were filmed seizing and destroying properties of hawkers in their quest to clear them off the street amidst threats to resisting hawkers. There were instances where the Abayee had a nasty clash with a shop owneras the Abayee tried to stop the shop owner from opening his shop on a day set aside for cleaning, with the shop owner also claiming the cleaning was over.
Some Abayee guys physically harass and threaten hawkers for not heeding to their call, often leading to clashes with street hawkers who think they were not fairly dealt with. The Abayeetake money from some hawkers in return for favours during their operations while they seize the goods of others who fail to dish out the money, sometimes, manhandling them physically. At a point some hawkers, who had had enough of the harassment, hooted at the Abayee and even declared war should the Abayee touch them physically.
Abayee Stealing and Forcibly Taking Items from Hawkers
There was also an instance where a hawker wept like a child after an Abayee stole his goods in the course of seizing goods from illegal hawkers around TUDU. The plight of the hawker eventually touched the heart of other Abayees around who consoled him and assured him of their help to get the items back, which they did.
Another Abayee was also filmed trying to forcibly take some footwear from a hawker who resisted stoutly. The Abayee then threatened to deal with him next time.
There is also the issue of bias in the decongestion operations of the Abayee as they seize goods of some hawkers and leave that of others even though they'll be at the same place and time especially where some hawkers are known to be customers who always either contribute money for them or pay them in kind.
Taking Money for Wrongful Parking
An Abayee was also filmed taking money from a Lebanese accosted for parking at the wrong place and freed him with the Lebanese throwing tantrums and threatening to kill the Abayeefor wrongfully taking money from him. The Abayee had threatened that the car would be towed to the office for formal charges to be brought against the owner, forcing the Lebanese to part with the GH 100 demanded. As the car owner dished out the money, Nat burst out laughing with glee.
Statement by the AMA on the Street and Pavement Hawking and the Abayee Activities
The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), Mr Gilbert Nii Ankrah, in February 2019 said in an interview in Accra that the AMA, has embarked on a transformational development agenda dubbed “Sustainable Smart City” that would ensure that the city is free from the chaos, congestions and inordinate buildings.
The PRO, who assured hawkers and traders in the business center that the project which would involve decongestion exercise to free movement at the business center Business as part of the smart city project would be undertaken with a human face to reduce the incidence of altercation with the city guards, which sometimes leads to the destruction of trader's goods.
“The AMA Chief Executive believes that the informal sector contributes a lot to the economy and for him to clear them without proper planned activities, will deprive them one way or the other of their livelihood.”
“Traders in the first place have invaded an unauthorized zone for their economic activities, and in the process, depriving lawful usage of the facilities and infringing on the rights of pedestrians to use the pavements.
“So, in most of these areas, we have re-demarcated zones for trading along the pavements. The whole process of moving traders off the pavement is to make way for pedestrians to use it, as they have been forced to compete for space with vehicles on the roads.” he added.
Mr Gilbert Ankrah further stated that the AMA currently has a Pedestrian Action Plan, all geared towards road safety, because “when you deprive pedestrians of the pavements, then they are forced to come back on the streets with its associated risks”.
“We must, therefore, create a safe environment for all to operate; the traders must move back to the markets and other demarcated areas for trading. Unlawful behaviours must be checked. Lawlessness in our cities must end.”
“Accra has been planned to accommodate both traders and consumers, if you need foodstuffs, its better you go to most of the major markets, if you need spare parts you go to Abossey Okai, if you need electrical products, go to Opera.
“So let's move away from the old paradigm that people won't come to buy from us if we move to the market. There are specialised markets, consumers hop from market to another or shop to shop to purchase.”
He pointed out that going by the road traffic regulation, it was an offence to put anything on the pavement to impede the free movement of pedestrians.
Mr Ankrah however assured the public that the current decongestion exercise under the Sustainability Plan would ensure that city guards are available to assist pedestrians, traders, and customers move through the transition period of the exercise.
He said under the sustainability plan, the AMA would approach the decongestion exercise through a multi-sectorial collaboration, “we are going to see to it that everybody comes on board to ensure that this exercise is effective.”
“It is a call to all institutions to come on board. We need all stakeholders to play their roles as we also play our part in promoting inter-operability. See full film on at 8pm tonight.