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Opinions of Thursday, 27 March 2014

Columnist: Pacas, Idris

Police are punishing passengers inappropriately

Police are the key personnel involved in enforcing law and order. Enforcing law and order entails identifying and fixing ‘wrong’ issues. Fixing wrong issues requires the law enforcers to identify the root causes and then tackle the problem from that point. Attempting to fix any problem leaving the root cause unattended to is the most unprofessional approach to dealing with it. However, such is the norm for dealing with problems in Ghana. Today’s write-up focuses on driver–police transactions on our roads and how police overexploit such transactions.
Many traffic-related offences are committed by drivers, but the passengers onboard the vehicles are made to suffer along them. The question is whether the passengers have the power to prevent the drivers from committing such offences.

To justify my claim of police punishing passengers for offences they never committed or could not even have committed, I described only one of the numerous scenes with police on our roads. On Saturday 22nd March 2014, a long queue of vehicles formed at the Afienya Tollbooth. As usual, some drivers tried avoiding the queue by driving on either the shoulders of the road or on a ‘path’ adjacent to the road, overtaking some of the vehicles and then rejoining the queue just two or three vehicles away from the booth.

I sat in a mini-Urvan bus with registration number GT 782 12; our driver diverged onto the ‘path’; some of the vehicles followed us whilst others drove on the shoulders. Being watchful, the police stopped us just at the point where we were about to rejoin the other vehicles on the main road. We were stopped around 7:31 a.m.
The police ‘claimed’ to demand the drivers to hand in their licences and then come to face the law court. (See Photo. The two policemen shown by arrows 3 and 4 were in charge of taking the licences from the drivers.) As usual, the drivers deliberately refused to comply with the non-biting order. All of us in the affected vehicles came down and waited to see how the matter will be resolved (see photo). Surely, we (the passengers in the said vehicles would have benefited if the vehicles have succeeded in overtaking the several others).
But the first question is, ‘Were we (the passengers) those who asked the drivers to use the wrong routes?’ The second question is, ‘Could we have ordered the drivers to rejoin the main road?’ The answers to both question is most likely NO! Therefore, the police ‘detaining’ us (the passengers) amounted to ‘retroactive’ punishment. For we neither asked the drivers to pass there nor could have asked them not to pass there.

You may ask: how was the matter resolved? The junior police officers who stopped the vehicles went to inform the ‘boss’ (see him in the photo—Arrow 1). I presume he was the boss because his uniform was different and also he was in half shoes! To increase their ‘price’, the boss ordered one of his junior police officers who took some book resembling a receipt book. This junior officer started doodling the numbers of the vehicles and insisted that every driver hand in his licence.

Knowing the background of the average Ghanaian police officer, I stood some 5 metres way with my old camera photographing a typical police–driver transaction on our roads. Many of the passengers who had already alighted from the vehicles moved towards the police to plead for us to go. The police boss roared like a wounded lion: ‘You’ll face the court and we’ll see whether you’ll beg the judge’. (But what was all this meant for? To increase their price!].

Whilst those of us who know Ghanaian police were laughing as the police boss and his subordinates were playing gimmicks to increase their price, some of the female passengers who were rushing to get to their destinations were visibly shaking and begging the police. In the end and as usual, the matter was resolved in a manner I termed ‘corner him’. (See photo again. Our driver is in the long-sleeved shirt—Arrow 2; the other drivers joined him to corner the police boss—Arrow 1).

The complaints of some of the passengers and the roaring of the police successfully increased their ‘price’. For all the offending drivers folded some things resembling what Seth Tekper stands for and handed them over to the police instead of their licences as originally demanded. Because whatever transactions that occur in the ‘corners’ are everyday occurrences, my single greatest concern is the mishandling of our banknotes. The drivers squeeze the notes and hand them over to the police. Apparently, because many of the police officers are always trying to ‘beat’ their colleagues, they further squeeze the money hard and quickly pocket them. This ‘hard’ squeezing by the police alone might be accounting for much of the destruction of our banknotes. (Hon. Seth Tekper should note this.)

What a good day it was for these police! So, the next time you see a driver speeding on the shoulders of road even when police are standing in front, know that the said driver is prepared to buy the police and go. Hmm! IGP, your men are easily bought. We left the tollbooth around 8:24 a.m.

In consequence, the root cause of overspeeding and reckless driving in our cities is chiefly due to the presence of police who test positive to being bought easily and somehow cheaply. After all, in modern times, the most expensive commodity is time; so if an overspeeding driver can buy a police officer at somewhere between GH ¢5 to ¢10 and then overtake 10 other vehicles to get passengers from whom he gets about GH ¢20, it makes sense for him to do so.

Returning to my earlier accusation of the police for punishing passengers ‘retroactively’, I described another encounter with the police on one of my journeys. I boarded a 207 bus from a station in Accra and exactly halfway through the journey, we stopped at a particular police barrier. A policeman at the barrier collected our driver’s licence; he and the driver then moved some 20 metres away from the vehicle and stood there exchanging words for over 30 min. Tempers beginning to fray, the passengers moaned heavily. Being courageously conceived and born as such, I went to the policeman and demanded an explanation. He said that the driver’s licence had expired some 4 months ago.

Hardly believing my ears, I marvelled how the said driver managed to drive all the way from Accra, passing through the numerous police checkpoints, to that place. (Ah! My wondering was needless because at each checkpoint, the ready-to-pick light blue and green banknotes in the licence wallet blinded the police from seeing the date on the licence. Most probably therefore, the driver had run out of notes and hence our ‘detention’.)

After my needless wondering, my second question to the police was, ‘Did we the passengers too do anything wrong?’ The seemingly ignorant police officers, now numbering four, quickly surrounded me. My next question was, ‘Is there a way we could have determined whether the driver’s licence was expired or not before boarding the vehicle? There was an absolute silence. My third question was whether an ordinary passenger such as me could demand seeing the driver’s license before boarding his vehicle? The ignorant police officers became suddenly enlightened and three moved in three different directions leaving one standing with me.

The situation described above and similar ones are what I described as ‘retroactive’ punishment meted out by police to passengers. For the passengers have no way or means of knowing whether drivers are licensed or not? It boils down to the argument in Paragraph 1: why attempt solving a problem leaving the root cause unattended to? Drivers are ‘mandated’ or ought to be mandated to unionize. It is the duty of each station to register and to load only road worthy vehicles and ensure that only qualified and licensed drivers move vehicles from and to the station. That is never the passenger’s duty. My advice to the police is that anytime they are to ‘detain’ passengers and their driver for an offence strictly committed by the driver, the police need to always explain briefly the issue to the passengers.

The truth is that many of the ‘detentions’ are intended to give the police more time to increase their ‘price’. If not the offending driver can immediately be given a note to appear in court the following day; thus allowing him to send the passengers to their destination. Or if the driver and/or his vehicle are not roadworthy, the passengers can be asked to get down and look for another vehicle whilst the driver is immediately sent to the nearest police station.

To those who are interested in seeing orderliness in Ghana, the police need to be targeted. I only need a more powerful camera that can take photos undetected to feed the public with activities of robbing or extracting police. For every week, such reprehensible activities are a commonplace along the route I take to work.
Long live Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana!
Idris Pacas: 020 9101 533