Feature Article of Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Columnist: Blukoo-Allotey, Johnny

At War With Accra’s Billboards!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article titled “AMA Remove this Looming Danger at Flower Pot Now!” I spoke about the awkward “silo-like” bill board at the Flower Pot roundabout and called for its immediate dismantling. It was published on Ghanaweb, Joyfomonline, Peacefmonline and in the Daily Dispatch. Since several of Accra’s billboards were toppled over in a little storm on Saturday, May 19, there have been calls for AMA and the AAG to relook the specifications for constructing billboards with a view to improving them. Two other articles, one by Kofi Thompson titled “Ghana’s Outdoor Advertising Hoardings” and Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng’s “Spintex Monument to Profit before People” addressed the Flower Pot billboard and examined the issue of inappropriately mounted and poor quality billboards in Accra. The ponderous Flower Pot billboard is still there.

The AAG in response to the hue over the damage caused by fallen billboards said it would meet on Tuesday May 22 to address the issue. All well and good if sustainable quality control measures emanate from this meeting. But will anything positive ensue? I doubt it.
Why I’m I sceptical?

Two years ago, in May 2010, I wrote an article with the above title. It was posted on Ghanaweb and Myjoyonline. I emailed and gave copies to many major actors in the advertising industry and AMA. Nothing happened. Just like our effeminate resolve every year to ensure floods do not re-occur in Accra, once this rainy season ends, AAG and its members will return to their old, unregulated, shortcut methods of billboard construction.

Below is an abridged (for relevance) version of what I wrote two years ago.
Were I to carry out my weak resolve to write an article a week, the Accra Metropolitan Authority (AMA), through its actions and inactions would undeservedly merit my justifiably angry attention. It simply appears that AMA cannot manage Accra into the future.

To the matter of billboards and signboards must I devote my wrath. Is AMA in a time warp with the “this is how we’ve been doing it” mentality? What are the prescribed heights, width, distance from roads, foundation depth and other engineering requirements and finishes that bill and signboards must conform to in Accra? I’ve skirted this issue on occasion in previous articles. Today it is my main meal. Allow me to use examples to illustrate the point. Spintex Road users will appreciate them.

At the First Catering Junction, the top of East Airport School’s sign is the same height and only about 6 inches from the power cables that supply power to our neighbourhood. Were a gale to keel the sign over, the consequences will be dire. All along the road, 4-5 storey high billboards, built to no laid-down standards jostle with streetlight poles, overhead electricity and telephone lines for space. At the aforementioned junction is the colossus which features Richoco and Tom-Tom either side. Its 6ft. concrete base supports an 8ft. mast atop of which is a 30ft high billboard. At 45 ft high, it is visible for miles. How these goliaths ensure increased sales of products advertised thereon, I am yet to fathom. Across the road from Action Church are two of the biggest. One of them, owned by DPP is host to Vlisco fabric and Geisha soap adverts. Towering above the street lights by about 30ft., it is about 80ft tall. Close to it is another dinosaur, home to a Nokia phone and MTN’s ubiquitous, tired 2010 advert. But, hands down winner in the “most offensive” category must be the one at the bus-stop behind the Accra Mall facing Spintex Rd. which advertises Samsung’s Tv’s. Its lower arm encroaches 3ft into the pedestrian waiting area of the bus stop and is barely 5’8” high! You should see pedestrians ducking it. I won’t discuss the danger it poses to pedestrians and the fact that if you are silly enough to smash your face against those metal beams, this being Ghana, you have no remedy against either the billboard owners or the AMA. Who authorised its erection?

During the rainy season several of these billboards come crashing down. They lie across the road and impede traffic for hours. Does the AAG ensure that its members comply with the minimum standards they must have set themselves? Do they sanction erring members? Who supervises why, when, how and where these billboards are placed? This is Accra, our capital. If we can’t insist on doing it right we cannot insist that the Suhum District Assembly for example, keeps any standards.

Can’t we realize that there are guidelines regarding height and width, positioning, quality of materials, lighting allowed etc. on sign and billboards depending on whether they are in city centres or on the shoulders of motorways etc. Is the contest about size rather than quality? A glorification of size over sense was never more manifest.

Must we have 5 storey billboards in the middle of our pavements? On the road I’m embarrassed to call “Osu Oxford St.”, not because I’m fighting any “neo-colonial, imperialist tag” but because our high-brow shopping street is filthy, smelly and unworthy of that name, these behemoths straddle the pavements. Pedestrians have to duck to avoid them. Oxford St. W1., London is home to 548 shops. It has the largest density of shops per square foot of any road in the world. Thousands of shoppers and tourists stroll along its pavements everyday. It is served by 4 underground train stations which disembowel hundreds of people onto the road every few minutes. It is the archetype of capitalist behaviour and endeavour, key to which is advertising. There are no billboards of the type we have so needlessly and foolishly embraced. The shops, banks, pubs, restaurants and hotels diplay their names on their buildings. Period! Were all these shops to erect billboards on Oxford St. W.1, what would happen? Chaos would ensue. Thankfully this is not the case. That this is not the case is not by luck but by careful planning, enforcement and review of rules. There is free flow of traffic on Oxford St. London’s sidewalks. On our Cantonments Road aka “Oxford St.”, the pavements are choked not only with billboards but also with goods of every description for sale. Eye Mobo!

On the High Street, Accra, the concrete base of GCB’s moderate height billboard juts 3ft unto the pavement. It obstructs pedestrians and should be removed. AMA’s offices are 200meters away.

But there is always something to smile about. Action Church’s blockbuster sign screams “War Cry” and features a lion squaring off with an unfazed Nick Duncan Williams, the Visioner. The other one which proclaims “2010 The Year of Divine Intervention” has a lightning strike, a gavel and a raunchy, rosy-cheeked Caucasian female priest as its main highlights. Very movie-like, but set on the manicured lawns in front of Action Chapel, they seem to my untrained, non-technical, once keen but now rapidly failing eyes, the right quality, height, width and distance from the road that our billboards must aspire to.
Bigger does not necessarily mean better...

Johnny Blukoo-Allotey,
Accra, Ghana.