Humbling lessons from Ghana
Ghana was once in terrible shape, so terrible
that its citizens deserted their country en
masse. But less than three decades after,
Nigeria, the supposed ‘giant’ of the sub-region,
has a few lessons to learn from that country,
lessons that are humbling enough to draw tears.
Our reporter, KUNLE OWOLABI, visited the country
two weeks ago, spent five days there and reported
that life in Ghana is such a marvellous study in
discipline, orderliness and infrastructural
efficiency that are all in short supply back
home. His report:
Nigeria and Nigerians pride themselves as the
Goliath of Africa. But like the biblical David,
there are smaller countries in West Africa
sub-region that have one or two things to teach
the self-acclaimed African Goliath.
A visit to Ghana will disprove the claims -
except perhaps political - that Nigeria may hold
as regards her giant status. A first-time visitor
to Ghana will notice a pervading atmosphere of
orderliness in all spheres of the nation’s life,
an almost absolute security system, uninterrupted
power supply, free flow of vehicular and human
traffic as well as constant road maintenance.
A work around the capital city of Ghana reveals
so many things to a man coming with the
background or orientation of Lagos and some other
major cities in Nigeria, with the exception of
perhaps, Abuja, Nigeria. One first comes to grasp
with the yearning gulf between the serene and
clean ambiance of Accra, the Ghanaian capital and
the dirty and stifling milieu of Lagos.
Lagos is, without a doubt, the antithesis of
Accra. Unlike the anarchy and chaos that
characterise Lagos life, in Accra, people comport
themselves everywhere you find them - at the bus
stop or motor park, on the road, at work or in
the restaurant. You see people queuing on a
straight line waiting for their turns. If you
attempt to jump a queue, the Ghanaian will look
at you as an alien from Outer Mongolia and you
will beat a retreat without anybody telling you
to do so. Queue is a culture among the people.
Respect for traffic regulation is incredible.
Drivers obey the traffic rule any time of the day
and the traffic flow is superb. No bus or car
driver drives recklessly or jumps the traffic
light when it stops him; no vehicle will drive on
the wrong side of the road. There is no torture
of any kind on the road. And in any case, you
won't find the popular people’s bus (Molue) or
the notorious motorcycles (Okada) on the roads.
An elderly Ghanaian driver told this
correspondent that people are well behaved in
this city and that they respect the law, hence,
they work assiduously within the framework of
what the laws of the land permit.
We arrived Accra around 1am about two weeks ago,
from Nigeria, and the driver waited as the
traffic light flashed red. When we (all
Nigerians) in the vehicle asked him to move on
because there was no oncoming vehicle at the
other side, the driver declined. His response was
a confirmation of the Ghanaian spirit of respect
for the law always.
The driver retorted: "Here, people obey the law,
no matter who you are. And it does not matter
what time of the day. If I jump the traffic light
now, believe me, I will be caught, if not now,
then, the next day. You won't know who is
watching you and who will give your number to the
police. A street onlooker or another taxi driver
will just call the police or a radio station and
promptly, your taxi colour and number will be
broadcast on the air. Soon, the police will
arrest you. And if you are caught, you will be
fined or jailed for six months!"
Apart from the absence of chaos on the roads, the
type of cars used as cab and their conditions are
marvellous to behold. Cars like Opel, Hyundai
Excel, Carina and other Toyota products ply the
capital city, all in the same colour of blue and
light green and in very good conditions. You
could hardly find a car with smoking exhaust
pipe. In Accra, the air you breathe in is pure,
unadulterated, unlike Lagos, where you will be
trapped in traffic and exhale a sizeable dose of
carbon monoxide exuding from the underbelly of
automobile carcass called Molue.
The drivers conduct themselves in the most
dignified ways in Accra. They almost err on the
side of civility. When they make a minor mistake,
they apologise profusely to you.
There was the case of an elderly driver. We were
four in number and so, we told him to take us to
a particular place. As we commenced the journey,
the man suddenly pulled away from the highway. We
taught that was the normal route for a taxi to
take because here is a different terrain
entirely. We wanted to know more. So, we asked
him why he took that side of the highway. Lo and
behold, he was apologising for his mistake. He
turned briefly to us at the back and said,
“Please, I am sorry. I am supposed to tell you
that I want to buy fuel. Sorry for that."
Instead of accepting the elderly man's apology,
we stared at ourselves in utter disbelief. We did
not know what the elderly man did wrong to
necessitate admission of guilt or request for
forgiveness. Where we come from (Lagos of
course), no Molue or Danfo driver will apologise
for pulling out of the road into a petrol
station. Even if they do anything wrong, do they
admit it? Indeed, they have a different
orientation in Ghana.
In Lagos, Molue, or Danfo drivers will not stop
for passengers to board or alight from their
vehicles. To move about with public transport in
Lagos is a herculean task. To board a bus, you
will rush; to alight, you will struggle. Nothing
is done peacefully. The orderliness at the public
places in Accra contrasts sharply with the
clustered crowds in Lagos.
Another amazing thing is the construction and
general condition of cleanliness of the roads.
The roads are wide and tidy. There is nowhere to
find refuse along the road. What you see are
dustbins sitting comfortably in about hundred
yards apart at the sidewalks with waste inside
them. Without being told, there is a telling sign
that the waste management in that metropolis
picks the refuse regularly.
The cleanness extends also to the bus stops. At
every bus stop, you find a covered pavillion,
well tendered and painted in different colours.
The sleekness of the pavillions speaks volumes
about the Ghanaian concerns for hygienic
surroundings. In Lagos, it is one of these
scenarios: either some vandals destroy the
pavillion or miscreants remove its parts one by
one or area boys convert it into a residence. A
mad man could take it over as his exclusive
territory or hawkers of wares convert it into a
mini shopping complex. It is none of these in
Accra. The pavillions are strictly used for the
purpose they were built - to protect people
waiting for buses.
There was a particular scene this correspondent
witnessed. A waste disposal vehicle came to pick
refuse from a house. The resident came out and
told the driver that there was no refuse to pick.
The man refused to go. The explanation for his
refusal was astonishing to this correspondent.
Hear the driver: "I’ve not come to that axis for
refuse collection for three days. There is no way
the people in that house would not have generated
refuse within that period. Consequently, I
expected the people to bring out their refuse.
But here is a woman before me saying there is no
refuse. Where did she throw it?"
‘Who will pamper you like this in Lagos?’ Refuse
is thrown everywhere down here. More surprising
is the fact that no one can urinate anyhow in
Accra. You either do it in your house before
going out or you find a public toilet outside, if
you are pressed. To urinate at a public toilet
costs about 2,000 Cedis. To do it illegally
attracts a fine of about 10,000 Cedis or six
They so much uphold the law that everybody is a
law officer. For instance, at the Togo-Ghana
border, many of us wanted to ‘ease’ ourselves at
the bar beach. A motor park tout prevented us
from doing so. "Do not piss there! You want to
pollute this place? Don't you know that people
take care of that place?" He shouted.
For five days that this correspondent stayed in
Accra, electricity did not blink for a second,
let alone going off. The constancy of electricity
is legendary. Accra is a beautiful city to behold
at night. It resembles some of the European
capitals and probably, it won't amount to
exaggeration to say that there is no nightfall in
Accra. Everywhere is well illuminated to the
extent that if a pin drops at night, you will
bend down and pick it.
A security man, who identified himself as Tony,
at a hotel, in a chat with our correspondent,
disclosed that Ghana does not experience power
failure at all, as electricity supply is as
constant as the northern star. When asked if the
hotel has a generator set, he answered in the
affirmative, but added that he could not
recollect when last the generator was switched on.
"I do not know the last time we put on this
generator. I doubt if we have even warmed it this
year. Nobody thinks of generator, because here,
there is no break in power transmission. Power
outage is out of the question. We always have
light. It is unlike in your country, where NEPA
does as it likes."
Sensing that this correspondent looked a bit
offended by his comment on Nigeria, the man
quickly added: "Do not be offended. I am only
saying what I know. I once lived in Nigeria. I
stayed for about four years in Ondo State. I left
in 1996. Then, NEPA used to take light every now
and then. I cannot say of now. But that was the
He was dead right. He only needed a confirmation
that NEPA is even worse now. Ghana, of course,
celebrated one year of uninterrupted power supply
last year! Few people have generators, which they
don't use anyway, Tony said. He added that there
is no shop, where they sell generator around the
town and no one uses stabilizer, because “power
does not fluctuate nor do we experience half
current”. Nobody can guarantee when all these
will happen in Nigeria.
There is high propensity for power interruption
in Nigeria. In some places, the people do not
have electricity for months. Where there is, it
comes and goes like abiku, every blessed minute.
NEPA has notoriety for unstable power supply in
Nigeria, in spite of the billions of naira spent
on it. This constant power failure has earned
NEPA another acronym: Never Expect Power Always!
The thought of Nigeria celebrating a month of
uninterrupted power supply remains, for now, in
the realm of dreams.
If building a city is about planning, Ghanaians
know well how to plan. Go round the residential
arrears and see how houses are built with
required set back separating them from the roads
for future development. The set back is wide
enough to be sold as a plot for shopping complex
in Lagos. Then, peep into the drainages within
the city, you will see that water flows freely,
unhindered by either pure water sachets or waste
deposits. Look at the power pylon. They stand
tall and erect, untouched by termites or hit by a
trailer. Cables are well connected and
uncluttered. Electric wires run separately from
the telephone cables, all neatly stretched for
easy access for repair purposes in case there is
The roads? Neatly constructed. Searching for
potholes on the Accra roads is like embarking on
a needle in haystack search. It appears as if
somebody sweeps the roads at intervals.
Conspicuously missing on Accra roads are the
typical Lagos scenes of flooded roads; muddy and
untarred roads; pothole infested roads; roads
half blocked by tankers or buses; roads almost
barricaded by mountains of refuse and drainages
blocked by heaps of pure water sachets.
Security system in Ghana is almost absolute.
Although, you will not see a stern-looking
policeman or gun-totting mobile policeman
extorting money from motorists, yet, one feels
the presence of the security men around.
Throughout this correspondent's stay in Accra, he
did not see a policeman on the road, so he could
not describe the type or colour of the uniform of
the Ghanaian police. At every checkpoint, you see
an inscription like this: Checkpoint: Security
that never sleeps (italics mine).
A Nigerian, Usman Ali from Zaria, who has lived
in Ghana for eight years, had told three of us in
the afternoon of that day that in Accra, your
property is secure. He said although there are
robbers everywhere, even in Jerusalem and Mecca,
the preponderance is what is different.
"Nightlife is enjoyable in Accra. You are free to
go anywhere, anytime. And it is safe here. You
find robbers everywhere. In the Holy lands, Mecca
and Jerusalem, robbers are there. So, they are
here, but robbery hardly occurs. If you respect
yourself, people will respect you here. Nobody
oppresses anyone. People go on their own,
compared to the situation in Nigeria. Let me tell
you this, you can leave your car open with the
engine running and the car key on the ignition,
and nothing will happen to your car”, Usman told
He said we could go about in the city at any time
of the day, without fear of being attacked of
molested by anybody. The three of us (visiting
Nigerians) exchanged glances. Knowing what
operates where we came from, all the same, we
decided to give Usman's postulation a trial.
Around 2am. (3 a. m. Nigerian time), we came out
of the hotel. We did not stay for long before a
taxi came. We flagged it down and told the driver
to take us to a place called Osu (somebody had
already told us that they don't sleep in that
part of the city). He told us Osu is best known
as small London.
Without fright or worry, the taxi agreed to take
us at a negotiable price. We quickly jumped into
the car and the driver zoomed off. Accra is fun
for those who relish carousing at night. People
move about like it is in the daytime. Whatever it
is you want, you get it for what obtains in Allen
Avenue, Empire and Ayilara in Ojuelegba and a few
other Red Light zones in Lagos, they are in
abundance in Osu or if you like, small London. If
you are a jonny just come (jjc), and you
ignorantly cross the Marginot line, you may be
sandwiched by the …. hmmmm! Night is as safe as
the daytime in Ghana. Nobody thought of armed
robbers or the social miscreants (area boys) that
It was very hard for us to believe. But that
night, the taxi driver did exactly what Usman
told us. We had told him to stop us because we
wanted to feel the pulse of the night. We went
into some shops, bought some commodities and
peeped into a few dimly lit inns to see what went
on in the semi darkness. When we came back, the
car was humming slowly with the key dangling on
the ignition. The driver was nowhere to be found
and it was easy for anyone to escape with the
car, but the driver was probably so confident of
the security that never sleeps!
When he came back, he was full of apologies for
keeping us waiting, not for us keeping him
waiting. That is Accra, Ghana for you. Drivers in
Lagos don't have the patience or decorum to
stomach that kind of “nonsense.”
Ghanaians are very patient and pleasant people.
They operate with an air of confidence and
calmness and are not given to haste and hurry. In
fact, one will be surprised at their hospitality
and honesty. One evening, this correspondent with
some colleagues went to a supermarket. One of us
bought some items and paid. We, however, left the
supermarket without taking the items. We had gone
a few metres away from the place, when we
discovered this. So, we retraced our steps back.
Half way, we met the young lady manning the shop.
She was looking for us. We asked her what would
have happened to the items if we did not come
back for them. Her answer: "I know your face. I
saw where you came out. I will keep your things
for you. Whenever you come back, I will hand them
over to you."
I laughed inwardly. Why? I was once told that at
a popular market in Lagos, there are some people
employed by the shop owners to watch you at close
range while you buy what you want to buy.
Subsequently, they follow you as you elbow your
way out of the market. They will suddenly swoop
on you and dispossess you of what you bought.
Pronto, the article returns to the shop and the
particular shelf from where you bought it,
waiting to be purchased by another person.
If you have a slight headache, you'll wish to go
to a chemist shop to buy drugs. But you will be
surprised that in Accra, you cannot pick a drug
off the counter. The first thing the pharmacist
asks you when you go is: "Where is the
prescription?" Unless a doctor prescribes a
particular drug for you, it is very hard to get
into a chemist and buy it. Another outstanding
thing about chemist shops in Accra is, you could
hardly find one without air conditioners. The
reason for this, one attendant said, is to keep
the temperature of the drugs constant for safe
consumption. Drugs are hawked publicly inside
Molue or at the bus stops with impunity in Lagos.
So orderly is life in Ghana that some Nigerians
have relocated to the place, while others go
there for holidays. For instance, Chief Dele
Momodu, the publisher of Ovation Magazine is
there. So also is the highlife maestro, Orlando
Julius, with his wife. Momodu now publishes
Ovation in Ghana instead of London.
About two weeks ago, some Nigerians, under the
name of Forum of Nigerian Professionals (FNP),
gathered together to celebrate the sixth year of
democracy in Nigeria. Senate Minority Leader,
Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi, was invited to deliver
a lecture on the topic: “Democracy and
development in Africa: the Nigerian experience
The forum was an avenue for stock taking after
six years. Afikuyomi lamented that Nigeria's
story is a paradox of a sort: richly endowed, yet
its citizens wallow in abject poverty; giant in
appearance but more or less, living the life of a
He painted the picture this way: "Ours is,
indeed, a paradox because we pride ourselves as
the giant of Africa. Yet, 45 years after
independence, we are unable to generate
sufficient electricity for our people. This has
hampered growth and development in all sectors
and it has crumbled social life. How can a
country even begin to develop without such a
basic and vital ingredient as electricity supply?"
Afikuyomi's experience in Accra, however, drew
different words for Ghana. Making reference to
the celebrated novel, The Beautiful Ones Are Not
Yet Born, by the Ghanaian novelist, Ayi Kwei
Armah, he said the novel is an expose of the
promises and faults of governance under the
leadership of illustrious Kwame Nkrumah, the
first president of the independent Ghana. He,
nevertheless, observed that if the cerebral
novelist were to write another novel about
contemporary Ghana, he would probably entitle it,
The Beautiful Ones Have Now been Born.
The lawmaker explained his reason for saying
this: "For we are all witnesses to the rapid
progress made by Ghana over the last decade on
the political, social and economic fronts. Accra,
for instance, in its architectural symmetry,
soothing serenity and consummate orderliness,
symbolises a country that has internalised those
values of discipline and organisation that are
sine qua non for national development."
In his contribution, Momodu decried the
deplorable and dilapidating conditions of
infrastructural facilities in Nigeria, saying
this does not provide a favourable atmosphere for
business. He wondered when Nigeria would wake up
from its slumber and develop into a giant that it
For Mr. Michael Ajayi, the Chairman of FNP, Ghana
is harnessing the opportunities offered by
democracy and Nigeria ought to be doing this if
not more than that. He turned to the journalists
that came from Nigeria and said: "Since you
arrived, have you taken time to go round the city
and see how things are? You have a lot to teach
Nigerians about Ghana; how clean the environment
is; how orderly the traffic is; how stable the
electricity is. Here, vehicles wait for traffic
lights and pedestrians. Discipline is the key to
all these. That is what is missing in Nigeria."
The simplicity of Ghana's democracy reflects on
the manner its leaders carry themselves about.
One needs to see the Ghanaian President, John
Kuffour, going about freely without the plethora
of entourage and long, winding convoy of security
men. Kuffor's residence is not far from the
people he rules. In fact, he lives among the
people. There is an access road in front of his
residence. People walk up and down the street
where the president lives without molestation.
There is a thoroughfare.
One night, three of us went past Kuffor's
residence around 2 a. m. Only a soldier was seen
sitting some yards from the entrance gate to the
president's house. There was no "Military Zone,
Keep off" written anywhere. The fence of the
building is a little above the waist in height.
One can easily peep into the compound.
Undeniably, life is simple, easy and beautiful in Ghana!
Sunday Punch, June 12, 2005