The traffic was at its peak. The traffic lights at the intersection were not functioning. What was new?
That area of Accra was on schedule for a blackout. There was absolute anarchy on the road and all of one’s attention was fastened on steering safely through the anarchic situation where everybody wanted to go but nobody was ready to give way.
Suddenly, I heard a bang on my bumper, then a slight push. I looked into my rear mirror and it was a commercial motorbike with a passenger at the back. Weaving through the tiny spaces in between the chaos, the motor rider had hit me. By the time I could say “Jack”; he had woven his way through and vanished into thin air, leaving me with an unbudgeted expense. But that is only a tip of some of the agonies motorists face in the city of Accra with these commercial motorbikes popularly known as Okada.
I am writing yet again on the menace of commercial motorbikes and stressing the fact that the practice is a retrogression in our country’s development. In my first article on this topic dated 9th February 2011, and even before the law banning commercial motorbikes was passed by Parliament, I argued why the operation of commercial motorbikes this time in our country’s development is not forward looking. In the said article, I explained that we did not need Okada to speed up the movement of people around the city of Accra for example. If anything, Okada operations are rather adding to the chaos on our roads.
What we badly need in the city of Accra are many more parallel or dual carriage roads as well as the construction of a few more overpasses. Once we have the roads to accommodate the endless traffic situation, the next thing to help with the movement of people would be a reliable public transportation system that would move people from point A to point B within the shortest possible time. Our country has come too far and now, as a promising middle income country, to go back and endorse the operations of Okada would be nothing but to encourage impunity, lawlessness and chaos on our already burdened roads.
This beautiful country is unfortunately besotted with indiscipline where people do what they like as if we do not have any laws in place. We have the laws all right and we have the law enforcers. But yes, as President Barack Obama once observed, we do not seem to have the strong institutions to help us deal with some of the challenges that our country faces especially in the area of indiscipline.
Anywhere else, Okada operators would have folded up once Parliament came out to outlaw their operation. But no, the impunity has raged on. Despite the Traffic Regulation, 2012 (Legislative Instrument 2180) banning commercial motorbike operations we have seen an increase of Okada operators in Accra. The dangers they pose to motorists and pedestrians are every day scenes. They are a law unto themselves, riding through red traffic lights and on pedestrian pavements and in opposite directions to on-coming traffic. Not that they do not hear. They do. On Election Day last December when the police issued the warning that they would arrest any motorbikes seen on the streets, they obeyed to the letter. So why would they go against the laws of the land which says that their operations are illegal.
Thankfully, we seem to be getting somewhere now. A couple of weeks ago, at a programme of the West African Security Services Association (WASSA) organised by the Motor Traffic and Transport Unit (MTTU) of the Ghana Police Service, the Minister of Transport, Mrs Dzifa Attivor, is said to have urged the police to enforce the law banning the use of motorbikes for commercial purposes. What did we see, barely days later? The MTTU went out and arrested over seventy commercial motorbike riders and pillions in the course of a special exercise they performed. Out of the number arrested, 26 were processed for court, out of which 20 were fined between GHC600 and HGC 1,000.
While one would like to commend the Minister of Transport for urging the police on to action, the Commander of the MTTU, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr Angwubutoge Awuni and his officers at the MTTU also need to be applauded for moving that swiftly to make some arrests. One admits that having relaxed about the enforcement of the law to date, the work of the MTTU is going to be a difficult one. The good thing however is that not only do they have the law to stand on, they have the backing of a higher authority to stop Okada now. They cannot afford to disappoint.
ACP Awuni himself has confirmed the negative presence of Okada when he admitted to the Daily Graphic last week that, “Okada operation is being used for criminal activities, accidents are occurring and lives are being lost every day”. The police should do us some good by helping to discourage the business of commercial motorbikes.
In enacting the law, Parliament must have debated the pros and cons of Okada operation in our country. The fact that commercial motorbikes have become the means of transportation for some people because they are faster and cheaper should not be used in the argument for Okada to stay. Ghana is progressing and Okada must not be encouraged to take us back.
There is always the “but” side of every law. At the end of the day, the good as well as the safety and health of the majority should be paramount. We therefore urge the MTTU not to give in to any pressure from any quarters. Instead, they should stand on the law and use it to stamp their authority on lawlessness on our roads. Ghana would be a better place without the impunities we see displayed by these Okadas.