Hate him or love him, former President J.J. Rawlings was his usual self last Saturday when he told celebrants at this year’s Asafotufiam Festival at Ada in the Greater Accra Region that he would jail at least three persons per week for sanitation offences if he was the Mayor of Accra.
His profound declaration was not going to be a one-day wonder. He added that he would continue to jail people until Accra becomes a clean city again.
Unfortunately, wishes are not horses and former President Rawlings is past that stage and would never become a Mayor of Accra to be able to help us with this beautiful picture we are all wishing for – a beautiful clean Accra.
The former President definitely spoke the minds of many of us who have consistently lamented the filth and chaotic nature of our capital city. And he was right. Until and unless a radical approach to punish people who flout sanitation laws, the filth and chaos that have engulfed us and giving our city a bad name and our inhabitants headaches, would never go away.
Lawlessness taken over
For any rational human being, it beats understanding as to why right-thinking persons would litter their surroundings indiscriminately and openly defecate or urinate in a public space. And even more puzzling is why there are laws to keep offenders in check and yet, lawlessness has taken over and we are all suffering one way or the other even when we have city officers in place headed by a Mayor.
Together, the city authorities and the law enforcers have over the years, failed us. In other places, the cleanliness and orderliness of a city or town sits with the local authorities. Maybe, it is time that the Ministry of Local Government began to name and shame the least performing and the dirtiest local assemblies.
Unfortunately, in our beloved country, the reverse is true. Individuals, dutifully pay their rates and taxes to local authorities as well as bills to service providers, yet, they have to see to providing and maintaining their own access roads, constructing their own drains, searching for garbage collectors, providing their own street lights and virtually doing the work of city authorities and other service providers paid to do exactly that.
We can only talk about a clean, orderly city when a tall list of “must happens” do indeed happen and properly and efficiently supervised and maintained. At the moment, our capital city is choked with vehicular traffic and unauthorised structures when we have had a whole city planners outfit from time immemorial.
Accra is simply choked. And yes, for every growing city or town, there is always the painful problem of vehicular and human traffic. But in most places, the situation is managed to reduce the stress for users. In our case, lawlessness has taken the best part and adding to our woes because people are taking advantage of the void.
If people were being jailed every week, would the ugly impunities continue? When the N1 Highway was first opened, it took me just 23 minutes to drive from Dansoman to the Accra Mall. Today, it takes me 55 minutes and sometimes more to do the same journey. What has changed? Lawlessness from drivers, roadside sellers and pedestrians bent on crossing a highway where people are carelessly doing 80 to 100 kilometres per hour behind the steering wheel. The shine has gone out of the beautiful highway that we saw in the early stages.
Beautiful laws only good on paper
We are looking on helplessly while our city is being run down with filth, noise pollution, unauthorised structures, street hawking and selling, unlit streets, unproductive traffic congestions, Okada nuisance, gaping potholes on our roads and many more woes that boil down to enforcement of the laws and strict punishment for offenders.
Ghana has beautiful laws but enforcement is the biggest thorn in our flesh and as President Rawlings said in Ada, if we were punishing offenders severely, others would stop to think before they dump their rubbish in the drains, for example.
It is all well and good for the Inspector General of Police to say that the police force was committed to enforcing law and order and would deal ruthlessly with any citizen who flouts the law. But Mr. IGP, the peace of citizens also mean that we are protected from the nuisance of others, especially where the law is very specific on such nuisance.
Street hawking and selling on pavements go on every day in Accra Central especially opposite and around the Central Police Station and the Motor Traffic Division, all in central business district. Yet, it is one of the most painful places to go and do business. There is careless driving by commercial drivers, there is intense street hawking and pavement selling which when combined, characterises the perennial traffic build up in the area right from the Farisco traffic lights up to GCB Liberty Avenue branch and Universal Merchant Bank on the other side.
The irony of the eyesore is that despite the proximity of the Central Police Station and the Motor Traffic Division, there are police traffic wardens permanently at the main intersection in the area. It is always painful to sit in that endless traffic and watch police officers there supervising acute lawlessness from drivers, pedestrians and street sellers. Can we ever have a clean and tidy city with this kind of posturing where under the eyes of law enforcers, lawlessness and impunities are allowed to flourish?
The same kind of posturing exists in some of our ceremonial streets/roads including the road leading from Golden Tulip Hotel to the Kotoka International Airport and beyond. Street selling contributes to littering and on that stretch which is only a few minutes from the Airport police station, active begging and street hawking are rife. It is sad to watch flower beds created to beautify the city get destroyed by these hawkers and pedestrians.
If we want a clean and beautiful capital city why are we allowing the unlawful commercial motor riders popularly known as Okada on our roads. They are not only eye sores, they are also causing havoc in the city. A clean and beautiful city also means that communities live in peace insulated from noise polluters in whatever form. We have a law addressing that.
We need our laws to work with stricter punishments until Accra is restored to the beautiful city we long for. And apart from the prescription of jailing frequently and consistently, nothing stops us from sending offenders to the mortuaries to clean and tidy up. If law offenders would not respect the living, perhaps the dead would humble them to do what is right.
…with Vicky Wireko-Andoh (firstname.lastname@example.org)