Life beyond the footbridges

BY: Rodney Potpourri
Residents of Adenta in a peace walk along the highway
Residents of Adenta in a peace walk along the highway

Until July this year when I moved out of Oyibi on the Dodowa road, travelling on the Madina-Adenta road stretch was a familiar, daily routine.

I did, on several occasions, walk across the road at Zongo junction, where a ‘tro-tro’ station has sprung up right under the noses of policemen, and where hawkers literally spill unto the streets.

Useful links Ghana Politics | Ghana Celebrity News | News in Ghana

It was a hair-raising, time-consuming experience waiting to cross as cars sped by, and did involve a fair amount of calculation of whether an approaching car was sufficiently far away to make crossing safe.

I always heaved a palpable sigh of relief whenever I made it to the other side, and thankfully did not witness any accident in the 18 months or so that I used that road.

It is completely understandable why people rose in anger and in the manner they did when a fatal accident involving a Form One student of the West Africa Senior High School occurred
just the other day.


Ghana News Headlines

For today's latest Ghana news, visit Graphic Online headlines page Ghana news headlines.

I understand this is the 25th fatality on that stretch this year alone.

Clearly this is an unacceptable loss of precious human life.

Even the preventable loss of a single life is simply not good enough. One cannot begin to imagine the anguish that the families of those who perished in such a gory manner have experienced and continue to experience.

For current Ghana news | Ghana Business News | News in Ghana

It was of course fairly predictable that the fear and anger that had gripped the local residents as the fatalities mounted would one day bubble over, as it clearly did the other day.

It is a national disgrace that for so many years, the uncompleted concrete footbridges have stood forlornly and jutted out uselessly towards the heavens.

Fix it!

Of course, notwithstanding what happened or did not happen in the past, the current government owns the problem and has a duty to fix it.

That is the essence of governance, and I completely understand why many citizens are screaming “just fix the damn footbridges!!” After all, the major mantra ahead of the 2016 election was that change was needed because of the incompetence of the then government.

I believed then, and do believe now that it was the right call and was justified.

Every government inherits the mess of its predecessors and has a duty to fix them.

And these included the footbridges.

It was gratifying to learn that work would begin on them this week.

But it does stick in the craw when certain political elements seek cheap thrills and political points by joining in that chorus and rendering it ugly, as if the situation had nothing to do with them in the first place.

To point this simple fact out to those screaming political elements, whilst working hard to resolve the situation, is not tantamount to explaining away, defending or justifying anything.

To suggest that government supporters should go hide in a dark corner and keep mum whilst these political elements occupy centre stage and blame this government for the mess is in my view rather unreasonable.

I may have a big head, and would take it in my stride if others teased or insulted me over it.

But when a man whose head is bigger than mine joins in, then I think I am entitled to ask him “Oh really?” and perhaps buy him a mirror for Christmas.

But our conversation as a nation cannot and must not end with the fixing of the footbridges.

We must begin to have an honest, deep and meaningful conversation about road safety whilst we all push for things such as footbridges, working traffic lights and the like.

Statistics

In 2017, 2,076 people died through road traffic accidents, whilst 336 people perished in the same way within the first two months of this year in 2,095 road crashes, according to the National Road Safety Campaign.

The causes are multi-faceted, according to the NRSC, but speeding was identified as a major cause.

Other factors accounting for the carnage on our roads include poorly maintained street lights, poor road design, faulty vehicles and drivers who are not properly licensed, among others.

Footbridges are useless if people choose not to use them for whatever reason and prefer to cross busy highways at street level, or if they are colonised as preaching points, begging points or mini-markets.

Speed limits are useless if they are not rigorously enforced. The police on our streets are mere window dressing if they prefer to take bribes and wave vehicles along regardless.

Indiscipline and chaos reign if people know they can get a licence without going through due process, or that they will hardly see the inside of a courtroom no matter their traffic offences.

If street lights are not working at night when they are supposed to, or traffic lights break down, it is a recipe for chaos and carnage.

Sensitisation

This means that the government, through its agents, including the National Road Safety Campaign, the Ghana Police Service, and the Drivers and Vehicle Licensing Authority, must all come together and bring the full coercive powers of the State to bear on recalcitrant drivers and pedestrians.

At the same time, it must provide intensive public education and ensure that our roads are maintained and safe for use. We have every possible law we need sitting beautifully in our statute books and gathering dust.

All that is missing is the will to enforce the law.

Perhaps the law needs a little sprucing up to introduce stiffer punishments for breaches of the traffic laws both by drivers and pedestrians.

Of course, change is difficult, and it is likely that a certain level or resentment will build up when the law begins to bite.

Inevitably, drivers in particular will grumble if for instance they are being hit by stiff fines, and may even threaten not to vote for the government at the next election.

Our big men and women will seek to wriggle out of fines et al through their contacts high up in officialdom.

When traders and religious entrepreneurs are cleared from footbridges, they are likely to wail in front of the TV cameras that their daily bread is being removed from their mouths, and political opportunists will jump on the bandwagon to demand a human face to the exercise.

When faulty rickety tro-tro vehicles are ordered off the streets and impounded, the connected owners will try to secure the release of those vehicles and they will find their way back unto the streets, dodgy brake pads et al.

But if we value human life, and if we are serious about ending the carnage on our roads, then we cannot continue with the status quo.

Collectively we must be resolute if we care about the lives of our fellow citizens. Our highways are not Formula One race tracks and drivers must not be allowed to think they are.

The word ‘discipline’ must find its way back into the national lexicon, and the State must lead in the drive to restore sanity on our roads.

By Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)