It was all so familiar. Driving through the slow motion of the morning commute, just a few metres past the Spanner Junction traffic lights, I saw a parked Nissan Urvan at the side of the road. The driver was pleading his case, the mate had a remorseful look on his face, and the passengers were fuming. Soon, they would gang up on the mate and demand coins to be able to complete their journey. And then, to make the scene complete, there was one policeman and the same traffic assistant who had once stopped a trotro that I was in. I shook my head in sympathy. No way would that driver be able to wriggle free of the firm grip of the law.
Still, I’ve seen many a driver get off the hook just by presenting his driver’s license or insurance papers.
One Saturday morning, not long after I hopped into the trotro at Bridge, a policeman in uniform flagged us down. He got into the front seat and we continued on our way, with only “Alhaji & Alhaji” droning in the background.
Five few minutes, the policeman with a stern expression looked down, and then up at the driver. “M’adamfo, why are you driving with chale wote?” The driver looked submissively at his slippers. There was no excuse. The policeman continued, “You know it’s my duty to stop you if I …”
“One front,” the mate interrupted. Taking his eyes completely off the road, the driver shot his mate a sharp loaded look. The mate quickly got the message. “Sorry oo…,” the mate sulked. Too late. The policeman boomed out, “Why shouldn’t I pay? Am I not a passenger?” I was taken aback. This was the first time I’d seen a policeman paying a fare. Whether it was inexperience or sheer bravado, the mate looked very content with himself collecting the money.
Upon hitting the Emmanuel Eye Centre road, the driver couldn’t wait to start weaving around unserious trotros and private cars that had no business being on the road. He called out over his shoulder, “Akwasi, can I come?” Before Akwasi could stick out his head, the policeman demanded, “Why should he look for you? What are your mirrors there for?” Words failed him completely. The policeman actually wanted an answer. Awkward. Now I couldn’t wait to get out of there myself before we were all arrested for breathing. I was glad to be rid of them at 37.
The truth is, very few trotros would actually pass a random test at a police stop. Most Friday evenings a few years ago, I noticed that the police would set up barriers around the Salvation Army Church in Mamprobi. Mostly, drivers would reach for their insurance booklets and confidently jump out of the trotro. This would only take a minute. I never heard what the problem was, but the driver would hand the document over, and they would take a short walk to the side. After a brief inspection of only-God-knows-what – and an optional handshake – the driver would trot back in.
The ones the police seem to dislike the most are those who give the impression that they know the law. For instance, I’m told you should never mention a 24-hour window to present your driver’s license when you’re asked for it.
Once, a friend was accused of running a red light. He spent the whole day at one of Accra’s police stations pleading his innocence. It was a futile exercise. In the end, they let him go, but not until he had wasted the whole day there. Somehow, I feel I never got the full story of what really happened between those four walls.
Likewise, a rather sleek taxi I boarded was stopped close to Tema Station. Our offence? Allegedly jumping a red light. The driver would’ve rained curses on his own head if that would clear his good name of what he called false accusations. I was no good as a witness here, as I had been dozing. The constable jumped into the backseat and began to give directions as to where we should go. The driver went on insisting the light was amber, and since they spoke Ga, I understood next to nothing. Before long, the charges were dropped. All it took was an examination of all relevant documentation (beside the Courts of all places), and all was forgiven. We might as well have sang “Auld Lang Syne” and hugged like long lost clansmen.
The Ghana Police Service. We see them hard at work, one hand in the air and the other motioning the car to the side of the road. They keep us safe from dangerous road users and ensure the law is upheld to the letter. Or do they?