Kwabena Amikaketo sat in his favourite chair on his balcony, viewing the setting sun which was making way for the shadows to grow longer and soon cover his part of the world like a dark blanket.
That evening his mind was still in full pensive mood, lamenting on some issues that reflected from promises made in the National Democratic Congress (NDC) manifesto, and attacks on the New Patriotic Party (NPP) by the opposition party.
The former President recently came out with a promise that if he and his party get elected to form the government, he would legalize okada services. Implementing other means of employment for the youth is, of course, a laudable idea. Legalising what had once been illegal will not be the first time in this country.
Kwabena Amikaketo remembered that during the seventies when he was a student, the illegal bureau de change, black market, was a booming underworld business. Foreign hard currencies were so difficult to acquire in the banks, and even there, sometimes, whenever one needed to do some international transactions through the banks, local currencies may not be accepted. One would be asked to bring the foreign hard currency or no transaction. So a desperate businessman would have to go to Cow Lane or any place where he can trade his cedis for a foreign currency and buy the amount he needed and take it to the bank.
Kwabena Amikaketo remembered the many occasions when the armed forces and other security personnel would invade such areas in a swoop to arrest the black-market operators. The Central Bank had come out several times to warn that the black market was collapsing the economy. On this, Kwabena disagreed for just two reasons, firstly, was that the exchange rates at the black markets reflected the true rates under the state of the economy as against the fixed bank rates, and secondly, why were the foreign currencies found only on the black markets and not in the banks, to the extent that whenever the banks need foreign currency they “went” to the black market? The economy had already collapsed, hence, the sprouting up of black markets all across the country.
Kwabena Amikaketo remembered that Rawlings, during his Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) regime, after several times invading black markets and confiscating monies, legalised the business when he introduced forex bureaux in Ghana. Yet, the black market continued, and has continued to be in business to this date. Did the then government think thoroughly through before introducing the forex bureaux?
Kwabena Amikaketo’s mind switched again on this issue of okada. So the government of John Mahama believes the best way to empower the youth with employment is to put them out there on the streets criss-crossing around on two wheels. By the way, why was the okada business banned in the first place, and who banned them? In 2012, the use of motorbikes for commercial transport (okada) in the country was outlawed under Regulation 128 (1,2,3,4) of the Road Traffic Regulations, 2012, which states: “The licensing authority shall not register a motorcycle to carry a fare-paying passenger.”
Kwabena Amikaketo reflected upon motorcycle activities in the country, especially in the urban areas. Before the turn of the century, the number of motorbike riders started surging up at an alarming rate. With this came petty theft, as riders could snatch bags from unsuspecting pedestrians. Coupled with that was outright disregard for traffic regulations, as the riders could dare the traffic lights and ride through the red without any regard to motorists who have the right of way. Before the first years of the century, motorbike accidents and fatalities shot up. The chances of dying from a motorcycle crash were now over ten times higher than from a car crash. For sixteen years, between 2000 and 2016, okada fatalities rose from 2.7% to 21%. In the first ten months of 2019, 589 deaths were recorded from motorcycle accidents.
Kwabena Amikaketo remembered a certain Dr. Frederick Kwateng, Head of the Accident, Emergency and Orthopaedic Department at the Korle Teaching Hospital, making a call on the to either implement policies to regulate the use of motorbikes, especially for commercial purposes, or place a complete ban on their operations to save lives.
Apart from the mounting fatalities, motorcycle crime is also on the ascendency and sooner Ghana will start encountering traffic robberies, where bikers will start smashing into vehicles caught up in heavy slow traffic, and making away with the belongings of the people in them.
Kwabena looked at the advantages of the okada business as well. In heavy traffic, it is the quickest mean to go to and fro to attend to businesses or meetings on time. Places where okada is most needed are in the rough and tough terrain of the countryside. It could be an ambulance to convey the sick, or even the pregnant woman, from a remote area where cars cannot ply to the nearest health centre.
Okada transport can be very useful in such areas, and banning them outright could create more problems for the rural folks especially. And the NDC did not think about these before banning commercial motorcycle businesses in 2012.
However, fully endorsing okada and repealing Road Traffic Regulation 128 could create lots of problems if certain steps are not taken.
Firstly, Kwabena Amikaketo said to himself, the opposition NDC must be able to tell Ghanaians why it implemented that law which banned the okada business, as by just telling Ghanaians that when it forms the government, it would repeal that law is not convincing enough. We need to know what has changed.
Any good government will weigh the situation and find out whether repealing a law will create more advantage than maintaining that law. A good and reliable government formed by the NPP repealed the Criminal Libel law, and for good reasons. One could just not use the law to punish the just and reward the unjust, as a renowned judge, Justice Bampoe-Addo, said the truth is not necessary when it comes to criminal libel. Meaning there are cases in court that the truth, if it is on your side, can have you punished, while the unjust person would be freed, and maybe even rewarded with damages.
Kwabena Amikaketo debated in his mind what should be tackled first before the law on the okada business can be repealed. First, there will be the need to redesign all major roads to allow for bike lanes. It is true that there are such motorbike lanes in Tamale, however, the bikers just refuse to use them.
In the capital, Accra, as in almost every other place, pavements meant for the pedestrians have been turned into mini markets, where everybody can place a kiosk, set up a table, spread a mat, and exhibit wares for sale. These pavements must be cleared for the pedestrians who, at the moment, have to compete with vehicles for space on the road. With the pedestrians safely on the pavements, there could be enough space to create bike lanes.
The next, which is perhaps one of the most important, is the strict observance of road traffic regulations by all bikers, and, of course, all road users as well. Ways must be adopted to apprehend any lawless biker before he or she moves a hundred metres from the crime scene. CCTV cameras must be set on all roads, whether busy or quiet, to capture any traffic offender.
Also, methods adopted for the registration of vehicles must be upgraded so that by picking the registration number of the motorbike, for example, all details, including house address of the owner, will be revealed. It must be mandatory that any change made to personal data must be made known to the authority, so that the change can be effected in the national database. This can easily help to trace anyone involved in motorbike robbery and traffic offense.
The CCTV cameras must be placed in such a way that they can trace the routes the offender will pass in an attempt to escape. Having said this, Kwabena, thought it will make the job of tracing and capturing such offenders easier, if stations are situated across the cities and towns, where special police officers will sit and view the CCTV screens, and be able to inform their colleagues on the ground where the offenders are heading to.
Kwabena Amikaketo sighed and thought deeply that the opposition party had not put in much thought into this campaign promise. It is easier to say that okada business will be legalised, but if one does not consider the problems that must be resolved first, then the whole nation will be thrown into chaos, disorder and lawlessness. More money will be spent in correcting faults than used in repairing and constructing roads, especially where the problems which led to the banning by law of okada business have not been resolved, but rather escalated.
The Police Motor Traffic and Transport Department (MTTD) is unable to insist on motorbikers respecting all traffic regulations, with one officer stating on television that it was more dangerous chasing after bikers who violate the traffic regulations, than allowing them to go away freely.
In all this, the fatality rates are skyrocketing with motorbike-related crimes also rising. Surely, the NDC could not be serious about this legalising of okada, if it has not addressed the problems associated with this. The opposition party needs to explain about why it banned okada, and if the problems still persist, how it can resolve them before lifting the ban.
Can the NPP resolve the problems and effectively legalise the commercial motorcycle business? That party is capable of making the impossible possible, and this looks like… Just then Kwabena’s sweet daughter, Echele, came to call him for dinner.
Father and daughter walked indoors, with Kwabena promising to remember to think of the NPP in this commercial motorcycle business (okada).
Hon Daniel Dugan
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The Chronicle’s editorial stance
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