The ordinary road users feel safe on just two occasions on the numerous killer roads that exist in Ghana. The first occasion is when the President or the Vice-President is scheduled to use those roads for an official trip.
And the other is when police recruits are being taken through an academic demonstration on the roads for marks before their graduation.
A case in point is the Upper East Region. In this part of the country, it is needless to notify the public of an impending visit of the president by announcing it on the radio.
It is also unnecessary to decorate streetlight poles standing along highways with the governing party’s flags and propaganda posters to herald the coming of the Jubilee House to town.
The masses can tell on their own that Mr President is on his way, or that the Vice-President is soon to arrive, just when they see long-broken traffic lights suddenly being fixed everywhere.
And whenever the masses wake up to the unusual sights of police officers directing traffic in the region, they ask one another, “Who has come to town?”
Before the demise of the immediate-past Regional Chief Imam, Alhaji Sheik Tahir Saeed, in 2022, the main road that leads to his residence from Rev. Eastwood Anaba’s church headquarters in the region’s capital, Bolgatanga, was riddled with ‘pot-wells’ that evolved from long-ignored potholes.
But because it was anticipated that the Jubilee House would join in a major prayer gathering that had been programmed for the late cleric at his residence, the “killer cesspits” on the road were filled at a do-or-die speed before the prayer-offering ceremony was due.
The “ultramodern traffic lights” President Akufo-Addo commissioned in front of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) station in Bolgatanga just two months before the 2020 general elections fell into disrepair long ago. The authorities who should act without delay have seen it.
But the current status of the facility is going to remain the least of their worries until the Jubilee House drafts another itinerary that requires using that intersection to the Builsaland, Navrongo or Paga to renew its ‘marriage vows’ with the divided electorate.
Even the majority of the only 12 sets of traffic lights that exist in the region are not reliable. Some of them intermittently behave like trafficators or hazard lights― showing only the amber (yellow) lights to road users on and off for months. Some of the traffic lights concoct terrible chaos because they are obviously not properly configured. At present, only four of the 12 sets of traffic lights in the region are functioning.
It is a traffic taboo for traffic lights to direct road users heading through intersecting paths to pass at the same time. But the traffic lights at the SSNIT House Junction in the capital break this taboo with impunity thanks to the obvious error of the configurators.
The traffic lights have been preset to give road users moving East (towards the Black Star Hotel), West (towards Tanzui) and South (towards Tamale) the green light simultaneously! Meanwhile, there are no white lane markings showing road users at the intersection where to correctly position themselves.
For many months, the traffic lights at the same SSNIT House Junction did not function. They only worked as trafficators and hazard lights for that months-long period. They were fixed recently only after an ambulance crushed two children at the junction on their way to school in June, this year. One of the children died instantly. I honestly have no details as to whether the other child survived or not.
There are some extremely busy road junctions in the region capital without any traffic lights. You also would not find any police officer directing traffic at those intersections. Examples are the joints many casually refer to as Abole Junction, STC Junction, High Court Junction, Maclean Dam Junction and Fire Service Junction in the capital.
But I personally call these joints ‘Miracle Junction’, ‘You-are-on-your-own Intersection’, ‘Free-for-All Crossroads’ or ‘Nearer-my-God-to-Thee Link’. I call them so because it takes nothing beyond a rare miracle to escape being dispatched to God prematurely or maimed in auto-crashes at those spots. Parents are being killed in front of their children at those junctions while taking their kids to school. And several children are being maimed and killed there, too.
But before the Commander-in-Chief or the Next-in-Rank arrives in the region, engineers are seen dripping with sweat as they move from place to place under instructions from above to raise long-broken traffic lights from the dead!
When the Jubilee House comes to Town
When the Jubilee House comes to town, the police suddenly become visible. They are not visible to enforce law and order. They only resurface to temporarily restore law and order from a recycle bin where almost a complete set of traffic rules and regulations has been unduly dumped and kept for a very long time.
So long as the Presidency is in the region, the state agencies in charge of public road safety remain around and awake to their duties. That is the only period the underprivileged road users feel the law is not just around but also awake to protect them.
In other words, the ordinary road users in the region do not have the right to safety because the system has a preference for The VIPs of the State and prejudice toward The Nobodies of the Nation. The common citizens only have the privilege of safety. And that privilege is always short-lived as it is only linked to the time the President and the Vice-President are enjoying their rights to safety on the unsafe roads.
The ‘Snoring’ Minister of State
The role of every Regional Minister as the Chairperson of the Regional Coordinating Council, per the Local Government Act, 1993 (Act 462), is to “harmonise, coordinate and monitor national-level policies and programmes”.
I drew the Regional Minister’s attention in 2021 to a number of reasons road-traffic crashes were a serious threat to the people he was being paid to protect. I told him (among other things) that some signposts had been planted practically in the bellies of some roads and that those signposts were blocking the views of road users at some junctions, causing calamities. He did not do anything about that concern.
Subsequently, a road-traffic crash claimed another life around one of such junctions along Akanyene Street (informally called Regional Library Road) in Bolgatanga weeks after I had raised that concern. That is just one among too many tragic instances.
He took office on 15th March, 2021. It is evident he has not done (and might not do) anything about that piece of information he received in 2021 regarding the safety of the ordinary people on the roads in his region. Those killer signposts are still at the same spots in June, 2022. Road-traffic crashes killed at least 86 people in the region in 2021, according to the National Road Safety Authority (NRSA).
The logbook of the Motor Traffic and Transport Directorate (MTTD) contains 214 crashes involving 329 vehicles recorded in the region during that year. And 86 people were killed while 272 people were injured on the road in the year he assumed office.
The latest injuries may mean that we will see more physically disabled voters struggling to join queues at the 2024 general elections to cast their votes for or against the same selfish powers under whose watch they became disabled.
The Region’s Biggest Nightmare
There are three major evils the region is confronted with today.
❖ Armed robbery attack.
❖ Armed conflict.
❖ And road traffic crashes.
Road traffic crashes are the region’s biggest nightmare at the moment. It is killing more people than any of the other evils is doing. Conflicts claimed 9 lives in the region in 2021, according to state sources. The Upper East Regional Police Headquarters says the region recorded 127 armed robbery cases during the same year, with only one person (a nurse) killed.
But road-traffic crashes alone took 86 lives within the same period. And just between January and March, 2022, 10 people died and 44 road users got injured in 38 road-traffic crashes recorded in the region.
According to the secretariat of the Ghana Federation of Disability Organisations (GFDO) in the region, road-traffic crashes are mutilating road users so fast and so wide that the GFDO regional office says it is now running out of membership forms. Authorities at the Upper East Regional Hospital say the road-traffic crash is the most regular cause of all emergency cases at the facility.
The Presidency can show a keen interest in commissioning traffic lights in an election year. But when the traffic lights are down and the Presidency is being criticised for not showing any interest again in getting them fixed after the election year has passed, the government’s communications squad sprints to the Presidency’s defence at a cheetah’s speed.
If the President was not too busy, and did not feel too big, to commission traffic lights before the 2020 elections, why is he too busy, and why does he feel too big, now to answer questions as the traffic lights badly need fixing for the same voters and their children?