By Sulemana Braimah
In a space of 10 months – January to October 2018 – dozens of people had been killed and over a 100 others injured by speeding vehicles on a seven-kilometre highway within the Ghanaian capital, Accra. People living within the stretch of the highway say 195 pedestrians had been hit and killed by motorists within the 10-month period. This translates into almost 20 deaths per month on that short stretch of road.
The Ghana police disputes the casualty figures put out by the citizens. The police say in their records there had been 24 deaths and 166 injuries instead. But even if the figures by the police were to be the accurate one, that translates into an average of over two deaths and 16 injuries each month.
The cause of the carnage on the seven-kilometre highway was, in summary, that: literally nothing was in place to improve pedestrian safety on the highway – no road markings for pedestrian crossing, traffic signal lights had been out of use for months and street lights on the highway had been off for months.
Above all, six separate pedestrian foot bridges that were to be constructed at different spots to aid pedestrians to safely cross the multiple-lane highway had all been left undone or abandoned midway into construction.
Citizens living in communities along the highway, especially those living in the densely-populated suburbs of Madina and Adenta, kept complaining and making demands for the authorities to fix the problem. Local media actively campaigned and highlighted the problem on daily basis. The campaigns got government officials to always respond. But the response from officials had been more of complaints to justify why the government could not be blamed for the problem and the carnage.
“Funds are not readily available to pay contractors to fix the problem. The previous government left the economy in a mess, the previous government failed to pay the contractors to complete the project properly, government is working hard to fix the problem soon, plans are far advanced to fix the problem,” officials of the 22-month old Ghanaian government kept complaining while lives were still being lost and limbs being broken on daily basis.
The same government had, meanwhile, had the resources to finance and sustain an expensive executive bureaucratic structure of 110 ministers with quite a number of them manning duplicative ministries, and over 900 presidential staffers.
The back-and-forth complaints between citizens and government continued and so was the killings and maiming on the highway. But all was to come to an end on Thursday November 8 when there was another casualty. At about 4PM local time on this day, a first-year female high school student was hit and killed instantly by a taxi cab. She was the sixth student of the West Africa Secondary School, which is by the highway, to have been killed within the ten-month period.
The death of the student prompted residents along the highway to move beyond complaining and go into action to insist on their right to access public goods and services and the government’s responsibility to deliver those services. In what was clearly a spontaneous action, community members massed up on the highway and completely blocked it. The result was massive vehicular traffic at a rush hour.
The demand of the citizenry was brief: the problems with the road that have caused the casualties must be fixed immediately. Expectedly, the police moved in with loud sirens, well-built men fully dressed and armed with varied riot control weapons. But the anger of the people appeared more powerful and fearful than any of the varied riot control weapons the police could deploy.
After hours of stand-off between the police and the angry citizens, the road was finally cleared but not until the citizens had sent a strong signal of what they could do should the problem not be fixed immediately.
When the citizens finally decided to move beyond words in asserting their fundamental right to access public goods and services, the government was compelled to do same – to act and not complain. The government suddenly ceased complaining about lack of resources and moved into action.
On the same day, November 8, a high level Inter-Ministerial Committee made of the ministries of roads, transport and interior was constituted by the government. On the night of the same day, the inter-ministerial committee issued a statement announcing that work on the highway “is to be done on an accelerated basis with multiple contractors to ensure quick completion.”
The statement, which was jointly signed by the ministers for roads and interior, further announced that:
“Personnel of the Motor Transport and Traffic Department of the Ghana Police Service have been deployed to enforce the relevant road traffic regulations on speeding limits, jaywalking and pedestrian crossing. Traffic signal lights and street lighting would be fixed to improve visibility on the corridor.”
By the next day, November 9, the road traffic signal lights that had been non-functional for months had been fixed. The non-functioning street lights were back on to light-up the highway, and police had been deployed to ensure compliance with traffic regulations.
“Each contractor will tackle one footbridge because time is of the essence now,” the Minister for Roads, Kwasi Amoako-Atta, announced.
But on November 7 – a day before the death of the student and the citizens’ action – the roads minister had said on public radio that he did not have much information on the crisis on the highway. He could not also confirm when he expected the footbridges to be fixed. This was despite months of public agitations and media campaigns about the situation.
Also, senior official at the Ghana Highway Authority, the body in charge of highways, had, on November 5, indicated that the footbridges were actually going to be completed by the end of 2019.
This development certainly affirms the need for citizens to be empowered to always assert their right to access public goods and services while demanding accountability from duty-bearers. If the affected citizens had continued with their complaints, the government would have still been complaining with excuses. Indeed, power belongs to the people!