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Opinions of Friday, 27 July 2012

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

An essay on the iron horse and the lion

By George Sydney Abugri

Standing rooted to the middle of a room for three millenniums trying to figure out what the hell it was I came in to pick up, has become a daily source of annoyance but is probably a smaller price to pay in the ageing process than the crinkly mass of grey that keeps capping my skull, Jomo.

One of the other less mundane sources of daily annoyance is the deliberate mixing up of politics with matters of social organization and order. Consider this: Ghana has managed to rise up to the topmost ranks of the list of countries in the world with the worst road accident fatalities.

The statistics have peaked to a point where no effort is insignificant in the national effort to rein in the thirsty demon flooding the roads and highways with huge volumes of human blood by the terrifying hour.

I spent nearly one-and-a-half hours the other time talking to the Executive Director of the National Road Safety Commission Mr. Nobel Appiah, about the ever worsening crisis and was struck by the depth and scope of his knowledge of the economics of road safety management, his great worry about the problem and his passionate commitment to a reduction in the frightening statistics.

The NRSC is apparently busy trying to reach out to the public with road accident prevention messages through public seminars and talks, the screening of feature films on road safety and various programmes of collaboration with drivers unions, road-side communities and public institutions and organizations. Road safety devices are being installed along some road crash-endemic routes.

Everyone with a genuine concern about this very grave national problem is chipping in his bit, but then these strange chaps wearing what appear to be political caps are trying to throw a monkey wrench in the national effort and I suspect it has something to do with votes!

Parliament recently passed the Road Traffic Regulations Legislative Instrument 2012 {LI 2180} in a bid to check the kind of reckless driving responsible for some of the frequent and fatal road crashes.

Among the regulations, is a ban on the use of mobile phones and other hand-held devices while driving and the commercial use of motorbikes {our parents called the first ones the white colonial man brought up to the Savanna, “iron horses”}to ferry commuters around the capital.

Before you can spell Kofi Jack, Nii Laryea ‘The Lion’ Afotey Agbo, who is the Greater Accra Minister and a Member of Parliament, addresses a political rally attended by commercial motorbike riders at the Tema suburb of Ashaiman, and tells them to be very happy and not worry at all:

He vows according to some news reports he has not refuted, to resist the enforcement of the new road safety law! I wonder how he proposes to do that, Jomo. Obstruct the police in the performance of their duties when they arrest Okada riders who defy the ban?

That another member of parliament, Mr. Alfred Agbesi, rallied to the defence of the Regional Minister’s position, has not helped matters one bit.

If you are wondering about The Lion’s beef and mutton, they are these: Commercial motor bike riders will lose their means of livelihood. Besides, the law is discriminatory, since the riding of motorbikes up on the northern Savanna where the bikes remain the main means of transport, has not been banned.

Last but not the least, many of the country’s laws are not being enforced and the law against the commercial transportation of commuters on motorbikes might as well be added to the list of un-enforced laws!

I strongly agree and vehemently disagree with this gentleman on the last score: A legislator’s insistence that new laws he opposes be added to the list of laws that are not being enforced is weird.

The MP’s other observation about many of our laws being trampled underfoot by the minute is however one I agree with, a hundred and fifty-five percent: Someone appears indeed, to have torn our statutes to shreds and thrown the pieces into the Atlantic:

It is illegal to have a private army in this country for example but people have assembled, armed and are paying private armies. That they are called ‘land guards” by the media and the public makes no difference. Those who should outlaw them appear oblivious to the fact of their being illegal private armies.

The other day I read a newspaper report about an army of body-builders who also go by the name “macho men”, attending a public forum and demanding to be given official recognition and allowed to provide security during the coming elections!

I insist that a cobbler should stick to mending shoes and the bush meat man to hunting game. Why the hell would a physician, rather than apply himself diligently to the task of taking care of his patients, insist on designing buildings. Is it that not the specialty of architects?

Do physical exercises that make the muscles and sinews swell and bulge like baobab tree trunks make a bloke a peace officer, Jomo? Is the Electoral Commission not the constitutionally mandated body to conduct elections and the police the ones responsible for ensuring public security during elections?

Anyhow, if the idea of a lawmaker virtually encouraging citizens to break a new law makes you want to eat up your head in sheer exasperation, remember that this is an election year. The day of reckoning is stealthily creeping up on us and The Lion probably sees in the Okada riders, ballot boxes full of precious votes.

In a country where most roads are chocked from dawn to dusk with dense and stagnant streams of motor vehicles, the commercial motorbike drivers have been providing a valuable service to city commuters.

Unfortunately, this usually means riding at great speed and weaving very dangerously into and out of driving lanes, and the numbers of road fatalities involving or caused by the so-called Okada riders have been significant. Sorry, I do not have the statistics at hand.

There is also a security dimension to the issue: Motorbikes are very much in use by street bag snatchers and armed robbers. In different words, the benefits of the use of motorbikes for the commercial transportation of passengers need to be weighed against the comparative dangers, yah? Website: Email: