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Opinions of Friday, 15 May 2009

Columnist: Adofo, Rockson

Could we blame the Ghana Police for the Numerous Lorry Accidents?

The observance of "Road safety" policies should be the concern and the priority of all; be you a pedestrian, a lorry passenger, a driver, a driver's mate, or a professional paid to enforce their adherence.

Lorry accidents do occur for various reasons among which are,

* Abrupt mechanical faults eg, engine, break, gearbox breakdowns; tyres bursting while vehicle is in motion

* Human error eg. Over-speeding, dangerous overtaking, driver exhaustion - overworking themselves; drunken drivers at the wheels, intimidating driving attitudes by some wicked drivers

* Inadequate training on road and traffic signs and lack of respect for such training even when given

* Inexperienced drivers or driver-mates at the steering wheels

* Uncaring attitudes of drivers - not having respect or value for human lives hence, behaving irresponsibly while at the They uncaringly chat on their Mobile phones when driving etc.

* Nonchalant attitudes of passengers who care less about the deplorable and dangerous attitudes of drivers on the roads and many more.

* Car/Lorry/Vehicle owners not monitoring their employed drivers through secret investigations on their attitudes while at work during the day, from time to time.

I will still opt for blaming the Ghana police for the numerously scary and fatal lorry accidents taking place on Ghana roads on almost daily basis, although, I have enumerated some of the major causes above. They are not performing their duties to expectation as one would expect of paid professionals. As professional policemen and women, they are employed to prevent crime, protect life and protect property. This is the basic 3Ps (three Ps - PPP) job for which they are paid. Are they up and doing as is required of them? To the best of my intentions and knowledge as experienced on the ground while in Ghana recently, the answer is a woeful NO!

The narration of about two deplorable instances out of many will help buttress my contention for taking the police force to task. It is a shame anyway. Travelling on Ghana roads, all that one sees is unnecessary numerous police barriers mounted anyhow and anywhere, as befits the criminal intent of those manning them. What are these many countrywide-mounted police barriers for, one may ask? They use the police vehicles to even mount up mobile barriers to flag down vehicles. In a nutshell, the main purpose of such barriers is to extort money from unsuspecting drivers to illegally enrich themselves. I witnessed several instances as a lorry passenger where the police simply stopped the vehicle only for the driver to get down bribing them. They don't even attempt to conduct any checks on the road worthiness of the vehicle, nor inspect the driver for documentations of some sort, nor pop around to have a glance at the passengers. The driver simply gets off his arse from the driver's seat, hops down, flips a one Cedi note in his driver's licence and passes it over to the police officer. The officer removes the money; hands back the driver's licence and wave the vehicle on. Can they smoke out criminals on buses or in cars, or drivers with expired licence or those completely without, by such unprofessional attitude?

One day I was travelling from Kumawu to Kumasi when the passenger Urvan bus I was on decided to make a U-turn at Bodomase to collect more passengers. On our way back, the police had parked their car in an obscure but dangerous corner, a blind spot to many motorists. It is a curved section on the road situated between Nkwanta and the Otuo Acheampong International School. Their intention was, and is, to catch the motorists unawares but for what? Only to collect their daily usual bribery toll of one or two Ghana Cedis but usually one, per vehicle. On this said day, I saw the police officer openly retrieve one Cedi flipped inside the driver's licence when it was passed over to him. He then handed back the licence and off, the bus drove on. The Urvan bus in less than no time laid bare its serious deficiencies. Just less than five miles drive from where the police had exacted money from the driver, at "Yaw Asoadwa Nkwanta"; the vehicle got one of its front tyres, to be more specific, the right hand-side one completely deflated. My worry was not about the deflation of the tyre. It was all about the fact that the tyre was in serious problem passing any roadworthy test. The base of the groove or thread pattern was not clearly visible. The tread depth had fallen below the legal minimum tread depth for car and similar tyres in the UK and Europe which is 1.6mm throughout a continuous band comprising the central three quarters of the breadth of tread and round the entire other circumference of the tyre. It had a potential of causing a lethal accident through the bursting of the tyre more than just the incidence of deflation it suffered. In short, the tyre had completely worn out yet, still in use. It could hardly hold its grips on the ground. Secondly, it had no jack to enable the driver swap over tyres. We were left stranded in the middle of nowhere for about twenty minutes until another Urvan bus came passing by. That driver offered our driver his jack before the defective tyre could be removed and replaced with the spare tyre. Our vehicle was without any emergency accessories as is required by law. Can the mechanical defects of a vehicle coupled with the absence of emergency accessories not aggravate accidents? Is it not the duty of the police to check these rather than the bribes they are happily collecting shamelessly on daily basis? If the spontaneous deflation of the tyre had got us into accident, should the police not be blamed? They are on the roads to check such vehicle defects but not to collect bribes. Bribes don't correct in anyway the mechanical faults on a vehicle especially, the detrimental impact of faulty tyres on passenger safety.

I was again in a taxi from Asokore-Nyanfa to Asante Effiduase on one sunny afternoon and read what happened. Just at the outskirts of the village towards Asokore, the taxi driver sighted a blue 207 Benz bus at a distance. It had engaged mounting what appears to be a mini hill with a bit of a slope. He said, on quote, "....... (Name mentioned) is coming. Let me park aside until he passes as he is dangerous enough not to hesitate to drive head-on into your car". A lady passenger who knows him very well added in accusation of the Benz driver, "....... (name mentioned), Kwahufo awudifo", purporting to add weight to how wicked the driver is. The taxi driver retorted, "What has his bad intimidating driving attitude got to do with the entire Kwahu people or tribe?" The woman replied, "Nipa baako na oko di fa, na ye fre ne nkrofo nyinaa nfantefo", simply translated as, only one person committed an act of crime by eating a food called "fa", hence all his tribesmen were tarnished and then called Nfantefo. Meaning, when one person out of a group commits a crime, the entirety of his kindred suffers the attendant retribution. I asked the accusers if they had made him aware of his bad driving attitude. They said, "Who is not scared to confront him on his driving attitude? Everyone in the area is afraid to do so". I then asked, "Have you tipped the police about his attitude?" Then again they said," he has bought the police over. The police will mention whoever does that to him and the person will be in awful lot of trouble thereupon". My story ends with the distrust the people concerned in this case have for the police. Who gets the blame if ever this guy gets someone's car or lorry into serious accident costing the lives of innocent passengers? It should be the police to blame for letting themselves be bought over with bribe.

I witnessed several instances where the police were accepting bribes from the drivers without bordering to inspect anything regarding the driver's conformity to roadworthiness act, if any exists in Ghana, which of course, it does. My suggestions for rectifying such police anomalies which do compromise road safety, and how best to curtail the lorry accidents if not to avoid them entirely, will be discussed in Part II under the same heading. My intended action on those situations will also be narrated. Take good care of yourselves. Your awareness of road safety should never be compromised.

Rockson Adofo, London