Feature: Good-Bye To Law and Order

When Mr Stanley Nii Adjiri-Blankson came to office as the Metropolitan Chief Executive in 2004, he was full of vigour and bubbled with enthusiasm to tackle Accra�s twin problems of congestion and lawlessness. True to his word, Nii Adjiri-Blankson embarked on a massive decongesting exercise unprecedented in the history of the national capital. Suddenly, residents of Accra woke up to realise that motorists could drive through the city centre and do business without spending long hours in traffic jams. Shop owners also heaved a heavy sigh of relief when they saw that, for once, the pavements in front of their shops were without the hawkers who had virtually brought their businesses to near collapse. Under normal circumstances, this was a development that should have been cherished, supported and made permanent. Then came the presidential edict � the exercise must be halted and redesigned to give it a human face. What started as a welcome exercise praised by all, except the pavement and street hawkers who had turned every available space in the central business district into a huge shopping mall, turned into a nightmare and deflated the ego of the then city mayor. The reason was that there was going to be a by-election at Odododiodoo, the constituency in which the Makola Market and its environs are situated. The National Democratic Congress (NDC), which was then in opposition, put its propaganda machinery into top gear and whipped up public sentiment against the decongesting exercise. That was how the government made a hasty retreat and made Nii Adjiri-Blankson to look isolated and embarrassed just trying to do what he had been appointed to do � bring law and order into the business activities in Accra. Incidentally, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) lost the by-election which was won by Mr Jonathan Nii Tackie Kommey of the NDC and with that an opportunity to bring sanity onto the streets of Accra was lost. Elsewhere, Nii Adjiri-Blankson should have resigned, having been so humiliated by his own government. But he did what we all do here � remained in office and became a laughing stock of pavement traders who had no respect for the law. His further attempts at decongestion were feeble and made no impact on the city landscape. The traders even refused to move to the new market built for them at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle because, to them, the place was not suitable for business. Today, upon reflection, Nii Adjiri-Blankson may be smiling because he is not alone. What happened to him in 2004 has happened to Mr Alfred Vanderpuije, his successor. One of the promises Mr Vanderpuije made even before he was elected into office as the Accra Metropolitan Chief Executive was to bring Accra to international standards. He made a pledge to rid Accra of unauthorised structures and clear the city�s roads, especially the Central Business District, of hawkers within 100 days of his appointment. His first attempt was subdued by the Greater Accra Minister, Nii Armah Ashietey, who publicly condemned the move and said it did not have the backing of the regional administration. The regional minister�s declaration did not only undermine the authority of the Accra MCE but also exposed a weakness in the government, whose principal officers seemed to be operating along parallel lines. Mr Vanderpuije is a determined person so he went into overdrive last week and cleared Makola of pavement traders and led a demolition squad to Kaneshie, Osu and other places to clear them of unauthorised structures. Instead of praise, his efforts were met with scorn and condemnation from members of his own government. The complaints and lamentations of the displaced traders were expected because they had lost ground, but not the harsh words from government officials, including Nii Afotey-Agbo, the Minister of State at the Presidency. The last straw came when the President was reported to have halted the exercise. There have since been denials of such an order with conflicting explanations from Presidential Spokesperson Mr Mahama Ayariga and Nii Afotey Agbo, both operating from the Castle, yet contradicting each other. Mr Vanderpuije will surely feel betrayed, but the most serious thing is that we have in a way given official blessings to lawlessness in Accra for political expediency. What it means is that any attempt to enforce the city�s bye-laws will encounter resistance from the oddest of places � the Presidency. City authorities are still battling with Sodom and Gomorra, Abuja, Agege, Ecomog and other slums in the city. They are still trying to solve the problems created by the location of illegal structures on drains, public lands and other places which manifest during heavy rains. Many projects like the Korle Lagoon Reclamation Project have suffered as a result of illegal structures and activities of squatters. Unfortunately, our brand of politics does not allow our governments to confront these problems head-on and solve them once and for all. Our politicians, it is becoming clearer by the day, have played prominent roles in the lawlessness that has overtaken Accra. It seems the allure of office has blinded them to the importance of orderliness, which is lacking on the streets of Accra and other towns in the country. Nii Adjiri-Blankson had his bitter experience in 2004; Mr Vanderpuije�s ordeal has just begun. The earlier we appreciate the fact that a market is a market, while a street remains a street, the better. To allow the former to take over the latter is tantamount to lawlessness and that is where we are today. What is called the Tetteh-Quarshie Interchange is gradually turning into a giant marketplace as we watch impotently. Tomorrow, any attempt to restore sanity there will be met with resistance from human rights activists and politicians whose only interest is to win votes and not necessarily to make this country a better place than they came to meet it. We may have satisfied a few traders today, but in effect we have endorsed lawlessness in the capital.