Presidential convoys and road tragedies

News last weekend of a fatal crash involving the convoy of Mrs Samira Bawumia, wife of our esteemed Vice President brings me to my feet.

One life lost is one too many. The nation has lost Fuseini Mumuni, Samira’s veteran body guard, who sacrificed his dear life for the entire entourage.

When such personalities depart, we are left with the smoldering remains of a burning log. The centerpiece of a household is gone, leaving deprived families and relations to the elements. 

Election years come with such tragedies brought on by busy itineraries of parties, politicians, and electorates.

While conveying condolences to Fuseini’s bereaved family plus the Vice President and his wife, we advise all parties and politicians across board to be mindful of election years and intrinsic hazards.

It may all be blamed  on whoever decided to equate elections with a race. If this is called a ‘race,’ and participants have to ‘run’ for it, do you blame those who do not ‘walk,’ but rush or stampede in an election year.

And if we decide that running for elections amounts to speeding on the highway, why not? The danger in the metaphor needn’t be taken lightly.

That is why it would probably be better to stand, not run, for political positions. That would make the work of Dampare’s police, and the Fire Service easier.

Late 2007, when Ghana was heading towards an election year, a spate of accidents involving political convoys compelled me to pick my pen.

Even while I was laboring in Legon with Cliff Tagoe at the hilltop, I managed to occasionally lift my fountain pen and write for ‘Ghanaian Times,’ where I was Chair of the Management Board.

The order to write a column after several years in retirement, was from my esteemed Managing Director, Nanabanyin Pratt whose directive I obeyed. Listen to my pen in 2007 when President Kufuor’s convoy was involved in a crash. You may consider this as part of my forthcoming write-a-thon.


November 2007

Oh boy oh boy! This is perhaps a year of accidents and presidential ambulances. How else does one explain the spate of accidents involving presidential hopefuls and ‘unhopeful’?  

Such that in their bid to be president, they have decided to faithfully follow every twist of the presidential script. Let JAK the Taller move with his presidential entourage in a speedy convoy, the hopefuls will proceed likewise frantically rehearsing for the high  position; let JAK’s convoy flash hazard lights, the aspirants will follow suit.  

Let a sniffing ‘drunk’ driver speed up from AFGO and crash into JAK’s motorcade at Opeibea House. In reply a charcoal truck from nowhere in Brong Ahafo will dance his way awkwardly into the Alan convoy. In Accra, a drunken saloon car in an attempt to puke, would then decide to bump into Nana Addo leaving a cruel dent on his bumper.  

If the full script had rolled out, all the hopefuls after being pulled from their vehicles by good Samaritans, would perhaps have held their heads in pain and agony to complete the November theatre.

It all looks like he who wants to be president, has to show evidence of pain and head injuries, a veritable sign that they have ever sacrificed for Mother Ghana, and therefore qualify for your votes.

Rewards would then pour forth in thanksgiving services, national prayers, and visits by chiefs and potential delegates.  If we are not lucky that would be another opportunity to boost fundraising for December 22nd.

In the good old days, you had to be a prison graduate after Osagyefo, Gbedemah, etc. to be taken seriously as a politician. Prison and suffering became a metaphor for political leadership.  And if you had not been chased into exile or imprisoned, you would forever remain in the rear seat.

If you wanted to be leader, pray to have been jailed and tortured. That was indeed the role of the Preventive Detention Act. It was an unintended agenda for leadership training.

And that is why in this coming month of CJA demonstration, the police should not succumb to the temptation of arresting demonstrators, and clamping them in jail. That single act may further swell the number of presidential candidates!!

But were the signs not clear that the month November would be ‘accidental?’ It often begins with the traffic build up towards the Tetteh Quarshie interchange, which compels Kweku Ananse taxis to transform into ambulances blaring emergency horns and shoving their way through heavy traffic.

In the rear seat is often a forty-year old man, sandwiched, eyes popping, head dangling on a shoulder, and virtually dying. Vehicles nervously pull over to save a life.

The taxi must be heading towards 37, everybody believes; except that it eventually speeds past 37, past Ridge Hospital, and heads in a direction where no hospital is known— Makola.

In a matter of minutes, the ‘patient’ resurrects, blinks serially and laughs all the way to makola market to buy a funeral cloth.

The theatre heightens with the real thing. A presidential motorcade speeds up in full flight, weaving its way through a sea of cars, and blares a piercing siren. Panic spreads, drivers quiver, pedestrians tremble, and passengers freeze, peering through side windows  and anxiously checking for the vehicle carrying their leader.

They all gleefully point in one direction, “There he is. It is the dark blue numberless Limo.” Half a dozen vehicles in rapid succession meander across in tow, disorienting the orderly beeline.  

A few stubborn on-lookers frown in disgust; their vehicles tarry, they drag their feet, and refuse to fully pull over in compliance.

One such receives a brutal sidekick from the executive motor escort— he gleefully stood on his motor, rocked from side to side, and brazenly gave a sidekick to the rebellious saloon car, pointing an index finger at him, and turning round occasionally to monitor his compliance.

The scene is more chaotic at roundabouts. The convoy navigates through an unmoving traffic at Circle, covering every inch of space available, until the traffic maze is cleared.

Where necessary, the convoy serially jumps across the concrete median, and moves in the ‘wrong’ direction of the dual carriage. If it is a busy roundabout, presidential convoys may risk head-on collision and move in a clockwise direction against oncoming traffic, making sure all movement freezes in compliance.

Authority however ends when a tipper truck or articulator emerges from a distance. Since the real road master now cometh, the lawless motorcade advisedly slows down and takes temporary cover.  

In the past 15 years, several lives have been lost and serious injuries sustained—- presidential escort riders, executives in the entourage, innocent bystanders, other drivers and passengers have suffered.

His Jerryship’s convoys endured it several times; lives were  lost on the Tema motor way when a hapless tro tro from nowhere crossed the convoy.

Vice Pee, the Zongo Boy Aliu, has suffered it. Uncle Nkensen, the stubborn cat, had a mysterious accident during the days he was ‘misbehaving.’ Ministers and MPs with or without convoys, have been through it, leading to bye elections.  

As for Hilla Lee, he did not endure it while he lived, but suffered it on his demise. As his body was driven through the Northern region towards Gwollu, his home town in Upper West, the convoy crashed, and injuries were sustained by relatives.
For JAK the Taller, this is not the first time in the past 7 years. But to date, he is the only one to have been directly hit as President.

Consequently, vehicles have been smashed, scratched, dented, written off. New orphans and widows have been spawned; and presidents have quickly altered their itineraries to attend funerals, and visit the bereaved. 

The lives of our leaders are precious to us, and every effort must be made to ensure their safety. But drivers of presidential convoys, of ministers, MPs and Big Men need refresher courses in safety, sobriety and humility.

A course in the sociology of power should be fine, for power within our context is an intoxicant, and could promote lawlessness on roads and highways.     

On highways, lawlessness may return in the name of Presidential safety. Motor  Escort Number One moves in the wrong lane, and with a hand wave commands oncoming vehicles to halt. The entire road is ours, they imply.

It zooms past with lightening speed, and waves vehicles off to the shoulder lane, ensuring free passage to the speeding convoy. When one car accidentally brakes to avoid a pregnant goat, the rest screech and swerve, and dive. Many a time they crash, and somersault. In Ghanaian parlance, it somersaulted three times! 

This way, one need not become an assassin, in order to endanger the life of a president; you need not get drunk, before slamming into a presidential convoy.

The President’s convoy in itself becomes an ambulance, automatically carrying the President to an emergency ward. Presidential convoys may simply display fondness for traveling ‘accidentally.’

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