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Opinions of Friday, 13 October 2017

Columnist: Kwesi Biney

May 9, June 3, and October 7

Aerial view of the aftermath of the Atomic Junction gas explosion that claimed the lives of 7 people Aerial view of the aftermath of the Atomic Junction gas explosion that claimed the lives of 7 people

Surely, the above dates are the birthdays of many people the world over, both old and young. Memorable dates, however, are not limited to the birthdays of individuals. In fact, birthdays are known to those the days matter to. If they decide to make them known to the world, others may hear. If like me, they decide to keep quiet over them and perhaps sip their mahogany bitters in the dark corner of their bedrooms or in the dark alleys of Daavi Avenue, no one gets to know that. There are still those who do not know their dates of birth let alone attempt to celebrate them.

However, there are other dates which are globally celebrated to signify the achievements that had added to the progress of humanity. Others are still reminders of horrible occurrences of the world and they are meant to caution us never to allow such incidences to occur again. Every nation has days for individuals or groups of individuals that it celebrates in remembrance of their contribution towards the building of their respective countries. Paramount amongst them, particularly in the third world nations, are the days we freed ourselves from the shackles of colonialism and unchained ourselves from foreign domination.

Unfortunately for us as Ghanaians, we seem to be adding to our sorrowful days than our happy moments. I believe many very terrible things have happened in our lives decades back which generated grief and drew tears down the cheeks of our compatriots. Perhaps, because we did not have that vibrant media as we have today, not many citizens of this country got to know about them. Even if they did, the pictorial evidence given today of events might not have brought them so close to the scene of the occurrences so as to elicit the needed sympathies and empathies.

Over the past few years, this country has gone through many avoidable cases of disasters which have taken precious lives and had a toll on property running into millions of cedis. Most of these cases are liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) related explosions. These disasters have had their toll on the people of Accra, Kumasi and Sekondi-Takoradi in particular. Kumasi, a few years back had a gas explosion in the center of the city which took a few lives and destroyed a lot of property and brought economic activities of some individuals to a halt.

Just last May, an explosion hit my beloved Takoradi injuring scores of people and damaging businesses of varied sizes.

The three most resonating disasters this country has recorded and remains a reminder on the minds of almost all of us are the May 9, 2001 stadium disaster, the June 3, 2014 Nkrumah Circle disaster, and just last week, what will likely be known as the October 7, Atomic Junction disaster. I believe about 200 precious lives were lost to these disasters. Don’t let us talk about the property and businesses lost to these disasters.

These year has seen a lot of disasters the world over, in fact as I write, the United States of America is confronted with the ravaging destruction of fires in the State of California when it has not completely dealt with the devastating effects of the hurricanes and the floods it experienced across parts of that country including Florida. Parts of the Republic of South Africa is flooded and homes, schools, hospitals and other critical social services are at the mercy of the heavy rains. Human tragedy is at play in many of such cases.

On the side note, one thing became clear watching the floods in the USA and South Africa and those that occur in Ghana, I told myself that the black man is indeed capable of mismanaging his own affairs. In fact, the black man is not just capable but very excellent, indeed next to none in mismanaging his own affairs. While in the USA and South Africa the flowing water looked neat and clean, that of Ghana, no matter where the floods occur, it’s so dirty and carried rubbish and debris.

Back to the disasters, I have had the occasion to write in this column and lamented that while other disasters in some jurisdictions are natural, I dare repeat that almost all the disasters in our homeland Ghana are man- made. We have become so lawless and lost every sense of discipline that whatever we do is meant to satisfy our individual interest rather than the collective interest of the nation. Additionally, our democratic experiences have also given birth to what I will describe as group blackmail of authority.

The May 9 2001 Stadium disaster which took so many lives happened when soccer fans decided to be rowdy after a titanic duel between the nation’s two major soccer rivals at the Accra Sports Stadium. It was a mid- week encounter. The Police mishandled the situation and threw tear gas into the crowd in the stands when avenues for them to escape were very limited. In the melee and attempts by the crowd to run and get out of the stadium, stampede ensued. When the smoke settled, over a hundred lives had been lost. The state was in shock and vowed that ‘never again’.

About 14 years after, a major disaster hit the nation when the Nkrumah Circle fire at a Petrol Filling Station also devoured about 150 people in an inferno that was man-made and not the act of nature. The nation mourned and grieved over preventable cause of the ‘massacre’. As usual committees were set up to investigate, nothing came out of it, nobody lost a job for not doing what he or she has been paid to do nor was anybody prosecuted for not doing what he or she was supposed to do.

Just last week, another human disaster has occurred as a result of human actions and not natural causes. Once again, lives were lost, others seriously burnt and deformed and property destroyed. Causes, somebody is in business, did not care about the safety of the people, those who have the responsibility to ensure that safety measures were put in place perhaps slept, those who even allowed the siting of the facility at the place did not ‘think far’. The nation is mourning, relations are moaning in addition.

When government takes an action which is not in the interest of a group of people but in the collective interest of the majority, there is the threat of voting against the government during the next elections even when it is evidently clear that the group is wrong. Ghanaians have become laws unto themselves and would want to have their ways no matter the cost to the public.

For whatever reason, officialdom seems to have acquiesced to the dictates of wrongdoers and seem helpless as such blatant display of impunity is meted out to us on a daily basis. In fact not only have institutions clothed with the powers to deal with social deviants and breakers of the law failed to enforce the rules and regulations governing any kind of human activities in this country, politicians have contributed in no small measure to this lawlessness and impunity of the citizenry.

Now the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) is in trouble, it has to look for money to support the physically affected, the displaced and those who lost their homes. I am repeating my plea one more time. Can we change the National Disaster Management Organization, NADMO to National Disaster Prevention and Management Authority (NADPMA) with the powers to pull down structures sited at places that can cause disasters of any form to the nation? Can we also make NADPMA part of the Special Planning Committee of the Assemblies that sit and issue permits for structural developments within the Assemblies?

Since NADPMA would be called upon to come to the aid of victims of flood and other such disasters, the Authority will insist on the right things being done to prevent or reduce such man-made disasters in this country. The disasters are too many and we do not seem to care about the lives of our people. The President says it must end, it must be action.

Daavi, three tots to wipe off my grief.

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