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Opinions of Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

AMA in Chinua Achebe’s Scenario

By Manasseh Azure Awuni

A former Nigerian President, Shehu Sagari, once stirred controversy when he said that though he agreed there was corruption in Nigeria, it had not reached an alarming proportion.

Reacting in his 1983 book entitled, “The Trouble with Nigeria,” Chinua Achebe took a strong exception to what the head of state had said. “My Frank and honest opinion is that anybody who can say corruption in Nigeria has not yet become alarming is either a fool, a crook or else does not live in this country,” the literary icon wrote.

As unpalatable as Achebe’s worlds might appear, the same description can go for anybody who thinks indiscipline in Ghana has not yet reached an alarming proportion. Indiscipline poses a fatal threat to both development and survival of our dear republic.
We miss no opportunity to boast of being an oasis of peace on the turbulent, war-ravaged continent of Africa. But every year, indiscipline kills more people in Ghana than what post-election violence in many countries does.
The gory headlines and blood-curdling images of carnage on our roads which greet us in the media everyday are a clear indication that, before this year ends, the death toll on our roads will outnumber the casualties in the bloody post-election civil war in Cote d’Ivoire. In the first five months of the year, 740 people were murdered on our roads, thanks to the lunatics behind the steering wheels who behave as if they’re on a suicide mission. More than 50 people were killed in the first week of June. And the year is still young.
Within the same period our indiscipline in the sanitation sector also killed about 100 people following the cholera outbreak. This happened even before the peak of the rainy season. When that period finally arrives we can only anticipate more cholera outbreaks. We can also be sure to have human beings and property running into millions of Ghana Cedis washed away due to flooding.
I am not a prophet of doom. I agree perfectly with the Holy Bible that “a man (and of course a woman) shall reap what he sows.” We build on water ways and will not allow the few drains to flow either. Anytime clouds form, it is then that people begin to empty their litter bins into the drains. And when the water finally finds its way into our homes, the government is accused of being insensitive to the plight of flood victims.
Our level of indiscipline is becoming peerless. In fact, if we are to go by the primary school definition of culture as “the way of life of a people,” then one would not be a millimetre further from the truth to suggest that indiscipline has become a culture in our society.
This unfortunate reality, with which we are grappling helplessly, is not because there are no laws against such behaviours or there are no people to enforce such laws. We seem to have institutionalized indiscipline and accepted it as part of our national life. Anyone who wants to enforce discipline and ensure that the right thing is done is seen as a deviant. This is what is thwarting all efforts by the Mayor of Accra, Dr. Alfred Okoe Vanderpuije, to inject some sanity into the nation’s capital.
Many right-thinking people watched with delight when Dr. Vanderpuije, declared Accra a Millennium City and backed his words with concrete action. However, like some of his predecessors, he is seen as a deviant because his quest to transform Accra to resemble the 21st century capital of a civilized nation contravenes the status quo.
Despite the stiff opposition however, the Accra Mayor has been able make a mark for which reason we must help him to succeed.
Until his assumption of office as the mayor of Accra, many people did not know that the shift system in public basic schools existed in the nation’s capital. Today, the shift system has been abolished and public basic schools in Accra are enjoying the same number of contact hours like their counterparts in other parts of the country. Through the education endowment fund he initiated, some ultra modern schools are being put up, in addition to rented premises, to house public schools in the metropolis.
The battle against sanitation in Accra is still far from being over but some level of sanity has been restored in areas such as the Kwame Nkrumah Circle and the Central Business District of Accra. At least for some months now, pedestrian lanes and foot bridges do not have traders and their wares spilling over onto the main streets of the nation’s capital.
One noble initiative, which has however met stiff opposition, is the AMA’s policy to rid the national capital city of street hawkers. The streets of Accra are messy, to say the least. Apart from human parts, anything is sold on the streets of the nation’s capital. The confrontations between AMA city guards and some hawkers are not surprising because some hawkers have vowed to resist any attempt to eject them. The excuse is that they have no any other job apart from hawking on the streets of the capital, and the AMA’s directive is putting them out of business.
Some social commentators have condemned the AMA’s decision to ban hawking on the streets of Accra, citing weird reasons to support their claims. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) also criticized the AMA for not giving the exercise “a human face”. According to the TUC, an alternative should have been found to resettle the street hawkers before the implementation of the policy.
It is, however, important that the TUC and other groups and individuals who condemn the AMA over the ban on street hawking analyse the situation critically before embarking on the populist advocacy. Unlike organized traders, these hawkers are everywhere in the capital. They line up the Kaneshie-Kasoa road; trade on the Kinbu-Adentan road; and from Circle through Teshie to Nungua, they compete with vehicular traffic. Is it feasible for hawkers in Kasoa to relocate to Adenta should a hawkers’ market be built there? Or those in Teshie to move to Achimota? The AMA has not banned hawking. What the AMA is against is hawking on the streets of the nation’s capital. And this should not raise hackles.
It is also not true that hawkers are on the street because there are no markets. There is a big yam market at Agbogbloshie, but that has not stopped the Graphic Road and other major streetss in the capital from being turned into yam markets.
Have we for once thought about how expatriates from America, Europe and Asia perceive us? Do we care about what they think of our lawless attitudes? There is no civilized country in this 21st Century where acceptable for traders to compete with vehicles in the streets.
The AMA’s decision is in the interest of both the hawkers and people who patronise their wares. Most of the hawkers deal in inferior, expired or imitated goods, exposing buyers to various degrees of health risks. Recently it was reported that bottled water sold by hawkers in Accra is actually not bottled water. They pour sachet water into used water bottles and sell to unsuspecting travelers and commuters. Anybody who patronises items on the street is a potential target in one way or the other.
Another reason street hawkers must not be entertained is that they compound the sanitation problem in the nation’s capital. Those who patronize these items in moving vehicles in turn throw the waste materials onto the streets, worsening the sanitation situation.
The decision to rid the streets of the national capital of hawkers is also in the hawkers’ own interest. There have been many instances when speeding vehicles have run into hawkers, often resulting in deaths and injuries. The health hazards involved in inhaling toxic gases from moving vehicles, and the long hours of baking in the blistering sun can also not be overlooked.
For this reason, the best we can do as a nation is to support the AMA’s initiative and replicate it nationwide. The argument that street hawkers do that to earn a living does not hold water. Should we legalise armed robbery just because armed robbers do that to earn a living?
If the AMA’s battle against lawlessness can be won, then people in authority, especially government officials ought to help. Narrating a typical scenario to back his claim, Chinua Achebe in his book, ‘The Trouble with Nigeria” argues that the war against indiscipline can only be won, when those in authority do not interfere.
“At the Abagana-Otuocha junction my slow and perilous progress was finally finished, by the look of things, for the year. We had descended into a pandemonium,” Achebe writes.
“But a miracle happened after more than two hours. A band of koboko-wielding policemen arrived on the scene from nowhere and went furiously to work on the drivers who had left their traffic lanes. For the first time in my life, I found myself loudly cheering the savage administration of corporal punishment as I saw the road clearing with miraculous speed towards my place of confinement. And then something extraordinary happened before my eyes. A mobile policeman raised his whip and then lowered it, transferred it quickly to his left hand and saluted.”
Guess what! The occupant of the vehicle whose driver he was about to whip was a judge. The AMA fits perfectly in this scenario.
In our situation, Alfred Okoe Vanderpuije (the koboko-wielding policeman) may not only be treading on the wounded toes of equally undisciplined ‘big men’ in our society; his disciplinary measures might also be seen as politically incorrect by the forces that be.
The result?
The AMA’s tempo has visibly dropped, and as suddenly as it rose. The street hawkers are back. Emboldened! The pavements and foot bridges are beginning to get choked again. One can only suspect that an invisible hand is at work.
The reason?
2012 is near!
But the question is: for how long can we endure this mess?


Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni/www.maxighana.com, Email: azureachebe2@yahoo.com The writer is a freelance journalist based in Accra, Ghana. To read more of his articles, visit www.maxighana.com