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Opinions of Sunday, 25 October 2009

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

Ghana May Burn One Day Unless Prez Mills Walks His Talk

There is this joke about the mate of commercial vehicle who picked two passengers, a police officer and a fire officer, at a bus stop. As soon as the minibus sped off, he shouted, “One front!”

The language of trotro mates is unique and in this case, the fire officer did not need to be reminded that he was the “one” who had to pay, not the police officer. Once a police officer was in front, the driver was assured that police other officers who had mounted road blocks and were collecting their “road duty allowance” from as if it was their constitutional right, would not demand anything from that particular vehicle. But no sooner had the mate taken the fire officer’s fare than the minibus caught fire. Then everybody began to shout, “Fire officer, do something!” The fire officer jumped out, spat and folded his arms. “Where were you when the mate said one front?” he asked them.

Officials of the Ghana National Fire Service are treated as though their services are not important to this nation. They are ill resourced and instead of appreciating their plight and working to address them, these officials are often attacked unjustifiably when they fail to perform like “their colleagues in other countries do.”

Within a week, Ghana has been very interesting. The Black Satellites returned from Egypt with the ultimate prize and we went into the streets (some naked) to celebrate. Then the joy gave way to the bashing of Prophet TB Joshua who had done nothing wrong. Prophets can foresee the future, whether it is bleak or bright. So the Prophet may be hundred percent correct if he says he saw the victory. Even Kwaku Bonsam and his colleagues might have seen it too. But the glory goes to God because if a prophet prophesies, and God says no, it will never happen. But we loved to argue and politicize every issue under the sun so we spent a lot of precious time arguing.

Just as prophet TB Joshua’s bashing reached a climax our attention had to be diverted again. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs caught fire. It brought back “fond” memories of September 11. Then it was the fire fighters who had to take it this time. Our media practitioners should have known better but they subjected the haplessly helpless fire fighters to another a barrage of criticism, accusing them of not being professional enough.

But the fire fighters are not to blame, are they?

Looking at the raging flames, not even a fortified participant in the fire festival of my brothers up north would attempt to risk his life. It is fool hardiness to confront the flame with such small fire extinguishers. It is like trying to catch a witch without even paracetamol to protect yourself against sorcery.

Politicians hardly take the blame but President Mills spoke the truth like an angel when he visited the scene of the fire. The President said the fire officers should not be blamed. They are ill-equipped and all Ghanaians should appreciate that. Listen to him.

“Another issue that has come out is the lack of preparedness of our fire service,” the President observed. “When I say preparedness, I’m not putting the blame on them. It is quite clear that we need to empower them. We need to give them the right kind of equipment, (applause) because those of you who were here yesterday must have seen what effort they made. But there was not much that they could do because of the handicap they faced. So as a matter of urgency, we are going to equip the fire service to be able to deal with incidents of this nature,” he concluded amid applause from elated fire officers.

But President Mills must act beyond the talk.

The foreign ministry’s fire accident is just a warning to us all. Worse things can happen. Climb the top floor of the Calvary Congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana at Chorkor and look at how chocked that settlement is. You can walk from one roof to the other for about a kilometer without having to overstretch your legs, let alone jumping. The same applies to Nima, James Town, and all the slum-like residential areas in the city. The settlements are so congested that not even a bicycle can pass in-between the houses comfortably. If such settlements should catch fire, no vehicle can go there. The fire fighters would have to be kilometers away with their equipment.

It is not enough for the President to acknowledge the truth that the GNFS is handicapped. He must walk his talk, else, we will one day wake up to a more disastrous inferno than the mock fire accident we have just witnessed.

By Manasseh Azure Awuni []

The writer is the SRC President of the Ghana Institute of Journalism. Read more of his works on