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Opinions of Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Columnist: Al-Hajj

Was nation fair to legon?

University road toll brouhaha…

Euphemistically, it has become a common ‘disease’ amongst Ghanaians not to critically and dispassionately appraise issues before jumping to attach intense emotions to them, only to finally regret their actions or reactions to the same issue in the long run.

Such is the sad fate to have befallen authorities of the University of Ghana, Legon in their attempt to toll the roads they said they sourced loan to construct.

Not only did media sensationalism coupled with twisted commentaries by social commentators shaped the public view that authorities of the nation’s premier university were engaged in an illegality, the impression also created was that the authorities were perpetuating fraud.

Many were made to believe that the tolling introduced by the authorities was alien to the laws of Ghana, without prejudice to the impending law suit on the matter.

Days of uninformed deliberations on our airwaves fuelling attendant agitations, which even forced National Security to demolish the structures intended for the purpose only turned out to prove that the Act establishing the University permits the authorities to do what they did because it is a private property although the university is state-owned.

And, as it is common knowledge worldwide, every private property is automatically, a restricted area not opened to every Tom, Dick and Harry.

But even before this basic fact could be established, public understanding of the issues was that authorities of the university were just interested in milking the already over-burdened motorists and students. Such is the unfortunate conduct of Ghanaians when it comes to reacting to issues of national relevance, from sports, religion, politics, human rights, international relations among others, The Al-Hajj not excluded.

A Nigerian proverb comes in handy; “what an elderly man sees sitting on the floor, a young chap won’t see, even standing on the tallest Iroko tree”.

Indeed, The Al-Hajj was among the many Ghanaians who on the spur of the moment kicked against the tolling of the roads on the university campus, but from all indications, the Prof Ernest Aryitey-led administration of the University of Ghana may after all not been wrong, and may have meant well when they decided to toll roads they had contracted loans to construct.

Ironically, reports are that the University made several appeals to government to construct the roads which never saw improvements in the last 40 years; but due to budgetary constraints government was unable to meet the university’s’ demand.

Contrary to what the media and social communicators fed Ghanaians that the University Heads wanted to enter into a profit making venture by tolling the roads, it has emerged that, even though recouping the investment expended on the road rehabilitation was a factor, the chief reason for such a decision however, was largely, to regulate the influx of traffic on the otherwise quite center of learning.

The tolling, according to authorities was to regulate the number of cars that enter or pass through the University following an earlier research which showed that if nothing was done about the volumes of vehicles entering the campus, not to talk of vehicles belonging to students, staff and university workers now, the situation going forward would be chaotic and problematic to be contained.

With the tolling of the Legon roads, vehicular entry into the hitherto serene facility was expected to be automatically regulated as ‘opportunistic’ motorists who otherwise would have needlessly continue going through the campus change course to avoid payment of tolls.

The decision by the authorities to collect tolls on the Legon roads was also meant to maintain a serene atmosphere on the University campus, conducive to academic work, including teaching and research whiles maintaining students’ and staff’s safety.

Suffice it to mention that, indeed, before the introduction of the botched tolling project, about 16,000 vehicles pass through Legon daily, according to the vice chancellor, Professor Aryitey, however, the few days of operating the toll booths saw this figure drastically reduced to about 8000, thereby reducing the noise pollution and other nauseating effects inherent therein.

Authorities argue that the 16,000 vehicles travelling through Legon campus every day, creating significant noise and congestion at crucial times as well as posing safety and security challenges for members of the university community, especially students; does not augur well for sound academic work.

“If roads in the nation’s premier university are opened to all manner of users including commercial vehicles, it would not be farfetched to hypothesize its dangers and how sordid the phenomenon would look like in the foreseeable future,” a senior official of the university told The Al-Hajj.

The Al-Hajj is not advocating for the tolling of the road; that is a matter for the courts to determine, though the paper believes the Act establishing the University (a private property) allows that.

What this paper seeks to highlight is the spirited manner and the emotions attached to the issue to make the authorities at the premier center of learning look immoral.

But even as government had succeeded in impressing on the University authorities to rescind their decision of tolling the roads within the campus, Legon authorities, wholly convinced of their earlier compelling position to regulate movement of vehicles in and around the university, have devised another perceptive way of doing that.

The authorities have introduced stringent measures which came into force Saturday, 15 March this year, to regulate the movement of cars. Among some of the measures is the introduction of a “2014 UG” sticker for the public desirous of using the road and the closure of access routes at midnight to re-open at 5:00am to “pre-approved” users.

Also as part of the new measures all commercial vehicles (except those belonging to the two transport unions that have registered with the University) may enter and exit the campus only through the University Stadium Road at Okponglo.

An official at the Physical Development and Municipal Services Directorate of the University told The Al-Hajj that the UG stickers are been sold at GHC 400.00 for a year, GHC 250.00 for six months and GHC 150.00 for three months for public users.

It is however, free for lecturers and other staff of the University, but students are required to pay GHC 50 for unlimited years for the UG sticker, and they must provide proof from the office of the Dean of Student Affairs to confirm their status as student of the university.

So in this agonizing public scolding that the university authorities suffered from the public when they actually meant well to sanitize their campus, The Al-Hajj dare ask “WAS THE NATION FAIR TO THE UNIVERSITY? Only time will tell.