The Ghana Police have been very busy lately. Newspapers are awash with sensational headlines of gun-battles reminiscent of movies from the 1970s. You know the type of movies I'm talking about: cops behind a makeshift barrier exchanging gun-fire with robbers clad in black with stockings pulled over their heads.
Aside from tackling the robbery problem, the Police have (or is that 'has'..I never know whether they are plural or singular) really been putting the "Service" back into their name with night-time barrier check-points in neighbourhoods across Accra. So why is it that when I reach the police barrier very near home each night I cringe and groan? Why is it that I would rather take a long, convoluted very pot-holed route just to avoid the barrier? Well, an encounter at the barrier I had last night may give you a clue. I present to you a chapter from Policemen at the Barrier:
On a cloudy July night our heroine Abena is making her way home. 'Kiss me through the phone' is playing on Atlantis FM and she feels good as she croaks along. Just before getting to the dirt road in front of her house, Abena pulls her creaky engine to a stop at the new police barrier in her 'hood. She is met by a jolly, jovial friendly Ghana police officer who leans into the open passenger seat window.
Police-man: Good-evening my sister, how are you (he asks in the Twi language)
Abena: I'm doing well (she replies in okay-Twi)
Police-man: Yesterday you promised me something so here we are (again in Twi)
Abena: It was not me!!! I did not pass this way yesterday (in not-so-good-Twi)
Police-man: It was not you? Okay, so what do YOU have for me today? (he demands in very plain English)
Our Policeman notices our heroine is speaking bad Twi and also appears to have some sort of accent in English.He mentally adds an additional 15% 'Value Added Tax' to whatever he anticipates from the encounter.
Abena: I'm sorry but I don't have anything (she says in reluctant English)
Police-man: Then when? (he quickly retorts back in plain English)
Abena: Maybe tomorrow...
At this point, our heroine mentally calculates an alternative barrier-free route for the next day. She thinks maybe it would be a good idea to load her car with loaves of bread to hand out to police-officers demanding something. Speaking of policemen and bread, Abena's mind suddenly drifts back to a rainy night in late October 2008 when she was awaken by a house-call from 3 members to the Machete-Wielding Thieves Association of Ghana (MWTAG). The next morning after the 3am visit, despite cuts and injuries from a daring jump over her house wall, Abena finds herself ferrying police officers from the Police headquarters to her house just for them to do their job. At some point, Abena is taken aside by the Police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officer in charge:
CID Man in charge: Do you have some breakfast for my men for coming all the way to take finger-prints? (he asks pointedly)
Abena: Oh I see....(naively turning to her cousin) do we have some bread and Lipton tea for our guests?
CID Man in charge: No, no, no, no, if you give them the money, they can decide on the type of breakfast they want..
Abena: I see...(she says disappointed, saddened and still in pain from her injuries)
After ferrying the officers back to the police head-quarters, Abena forks out GHC2.50 per head + GHC5.00 for the CID man in charge . Breakfast totals GHC15.00. She contemplates how she has been robbed twice: the night before by the MWTAG and now in daylight by the Ghana Police Service. She hobbles back to her vehicle on a big toe split open from the night before. Abena drives off into the clear October day disappointed by Ghanaian law enforcement.
Let me first start by saying I'm really grateful to the police for their new approaches to combatting crime. So my main gripe here is why is it that the police have turned over a new leaf, started new measures but still have the same old attitudes? They still feel the need to have civilians express their gratitude not through formal taxes but through informal levies. Granted police salaries are terrible and the lack of suitable accommodation is extremely worrying but why are the public constantly guilt-tripped into providing gifts to the police just to show our gratitude for them DOING their jobs? Can someone please explain this to me? In the meantime, I'm taking the long way home.