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Opinions of Thursday, 18 July 2019

Columnist: Brig-Gen (Rtd) Joseph Odei

The indiscipline on our roads

The recent arrest of motorists, who flaunted traffic regulations with impunity by the Police, has been applauded by many Ghanaians and their wish is that it remains a permanent feature of the Police functions.

Yes, it is an acknowledged fact that this is a normal function of the Police but for some time and reasons best known to them, indiscipline on our roads, has been allowed to degenerate into anarchy and has become an accepted conduct or norm of motorists.

Indiscipline is one of the many evils holding back the progress of our development, destroying everything we believe in as a nation and the hope we have for the future.

To instill discipline in our society is a daunting task considering the current state of affairs and what the Police have started is only the tip of the iceberg but it is highly commendable because as Lao-tzu (Chinese philosopher) stated “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

The exercise has brought to the fore the nauseating characteristics of some people in authority who use their positions and connections to terrorize police personnel who are performing their legitimate duty.

Imagine an MP arrested for a traffic offense saying the nation’s interest is paramount and some concessions should be given to go execute the national assignment – by breaking driving rules?. Of course if many MPs who should know better continue to behave the way he did, their conduct will obviously be of a national interest.

Whilst commending the Police, some aspects of the operations, especially harassment and unnecessary detention of offenders are worth commenting on. To buttress these points let me briefly go over the story of a friend who was arrested with other motorists on 26thJune, 2019 on the Spintex road.

He in particular was arrested at about 6.15am and kept waiting in his car until 11am when all the culprits were driven in a convoy or let’s say with one police officer sitting in front of each car to the East Legon Police Station.

At the Station, the processes of preparing them for Court took about an hour and after their vehicles and ignition keys had been taken away from them they were informed to find their way to the Court which most did with either taxis or Uber.

At the Court, my friend’s case was called for hearing at about 4.30pm and having pleaded guilty, judgement was given immediately. The fine was paid at about 5.30pm and that approximately took eleven hours to complete the exercise in respect of one offender. This was a situation where my friend pleaded guilty but for those who did not plead guilty or could not immediately pay the fine the time spent was much more.

The point is that if eleven hours has been spent in handling one case, how many hours would be required to deal with many of the motorists arrested on that day, which I am reliably informed totaled about sixty.

With the number of pending cases, would the Police have enough personnel to continue the exercise the next day? Besides the harassment, the time wasted should not be opined as a justification of the offence committed because if that is done the offender would have been punished twice.

There are people who may argue that the offenders brought this upon themselves and therefore the time wasted is not important. To me, time wasted is important because it will slow down the Police action and affect productivity whichever way one looks at it.

The sad part of it is that most of the people arrested like my friend were Government workers and I bet my last pesewa that knowing the system we run in this country, none of the Government employees caught in the web would suffer any penalties for not working on that day.

It is common knowledge that some of the people would even go further to obtain ‘excuse duty’ to stay away from work for having been traumatized.

So at the end of it all, the efforts of the Police to inject discipline into the conduct of motorists would rather cost the Government more than the fines the Police have collected so far. Besides, the unnecessary delays, the Police personnel engage the offending motorists in lengthy arguments, which I consider not very necessary.

Arguments could weaken the stance of the Police Officer who made the arrest and consequently could lead to corruption. With the Police’s corruption image, a better way to manage offenders is necessary to convince the public of their commitment and seriousness. To my mind once the Police makes the arrest, it is only the law Courts that can determine whether an offence was committed or otherwise.

In many developed countries, the Police simply hands over to the offender a chit for him to make payment to the appropriate authorities or go to a Court at a date, for all intents and purposes, offers the offender enough notice to comply with the directives. The offenders are not criminals and must be accorded some respect as done in developed countries.

Whilst condemning the offenders, it is important to look at some of the factors that contribute to the indiscipline of motorists, the remedial of some of them will help other law- abiding citizens to obey the law.

Basically the state of the roads especially “pot holes” are to blame notwithstanding the fact that there are motorists who will break the law no matter the condition of the road. Another factor is that the design of some roads tends to encourage some motorists to break the law out of frustration.

For example, the by- pass constructed for motorists to exit the motorway from Accra to Community 18 near the Abattoir is one example. For motorists exiting the motorway from Accra the facility created is excellent but, for motorists joining the motorway from Community 18, the problem is very frustrating because motorists have to drive all the way to the Tema end of the motorway before making a U- turn, a distance of approximately seven kilometers.

This situation has compelled some motorists to break the law by joining the motorway through unapproved routes and some of these crossings have resulted in major accidents with its attendant loss of life and property.

No matter the reasons, the design of the by-pass did not take into consideration the interest of motorists who would like to join the motorway from Community 18. There is the need to construct an over-head crossing to ease the frustrations of motorists from Community 18 who wish to join the motorway to Accra.

It is a fact that it is not every motorist who would like to break the law, some would break the law no matter the conditions created especially our ‘trotro’ and taxi drivers and of course some private car drivers as well.

What is important is to ensure that situations are not necessarily created for people to break the law. To ensure that the laws are enforced, the Police needs to demonstrate to the public their seriousness and commitment to duty but sadly inadequate personnel has been used as a justification for the inefficiency.

Unfortunately, not many Ghanaians are convinced considering the large number of Police personnel detailed on the highways to check Vehicle Insurance, Road Worthiness Certificates, Drivers’ Licence etc, and one can conclude that the priority is not right.

As already highlighted, the success of such operations demand good planning, training, ‘DOS AND DONTS’ and resources especially personnel and equipment. The provision of modern equipment such as drones, cameras, communication gadgets, motor bikes and vehicles will reduce the number of Police personnel required to make the operation more successful.

The use of cameras strategically placed and the use of drones would enable the Police cover large areas with fewer personnel and make their presence felt in many areas. The knowledge of handling VIPs, who consider themselves above the law, must be imparted to the Police personnel detailed for such duties.

In developed countries people of high standing in society who are caught breaking the law are severely dealt with unlike the situation in Ghana where a mere question of ‘do you know who I am’ sends a shudder down the spines of the Police and render them impotent in enforcing the laws.

It is my hope that this exercise will be sustained to maintain sanity on our roads and should not be seen as a nine day wonder.