The City of Freetown woke up to the Operation WID a few months ago, much to the joy of many commuters. According to SLRTA, in conjunction with the Freetown City Council and other partners, “Operation WID” was meant to rid the central area of Freetown and its environs of “clutter”. The message was meant to hit every corner of the country. By suggestion, it was in response to the abject lawlessness that seems to pervade the length and breadth of this country. One of the chief concerns among residents of the city was the menace caused by the “Okadas”. No one can deny the immense job that the “Okada” is doing up and down the country. They ply un passable roads, take you from A to B in no time; make the school runs easier and faster; all at affordable prices.
Nevertheless, it is the reckless abandon, with which they give their services that has become a torn in the flesh. The average “Okada” rider does not behave as part of the road users, nor show much regard for human life. That is the general opinion of many commuters, who are forced, as a result of the dire transportation system to use them with gritted teeth. As a pillion passenger on an “Okada”, you always wonder whether you will arrive in peace or in pieces.
As part of “Operation WID”, abandoned and illegally parked vehicles on main streets have become another major concern. Watching from where I am standing, it has had some instant successes, as many streets have been cleared to allow the free flow of traffic. It took me less than 10 minutes from Eastern Police to Up Gun Turntable the other day. A few months ago, this was unthinkable, and any suggestion then, that this was possible would have required some attention from the men in white coats, or an examination from the neck upwards.
It might all look well and good. It is one thing to clear the roads of illegal traffic, but it is another to maintain the momentum. Although many residents and commuters applauded the program, there was a considerable percentage that did not have faith in the longevity of it. Many have pointed to similarly lofty ideas and projects in the past; like the Saturday cleaning that fizzled out after sometime. Some people still have those memories.The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time
It is now 3 months down the line, and all fears and skepticisms have come to pass. When Operation “WID” was launched at State House, together with all its trimmings of pomp and pageantry, you would have been forgiven to think that “Salone means bizness”. Conventional wisdom has it that the petty traders at Sani Abacha Street played an immense role in the political life blood of the APC, during the recently concluded general elections. Some even contend that the phrase “4 for 4” was coined by these darling buds of May. So when Abacha Street took centre stage in the cleanup operations, the message was loud and clear for all to see and hear; that “no one was above the law. Hmmm my foot. Little did we know, that what started as a root and branch operation was going to wither and shrivel to death. In case you don’t know, Abacha Street is back; live and kicking like we knew it. What this proved is that “illegality will never solve the problem of political lawlessness”.
What seems to catch the eye of the foreign citizen is the largely demarcated “Zebra Crossings” that have been painted along most roads in the city. The last time I checked, these crossings are meant to allow for pedestrians to cross the streets; especially in built up but semi -pedestrian areas. Zebra crossings are by implication, traffic calmer. The question is, how many drivers, especially taxi drivers know about Zebra Crossings? It is a common sight to see drivers whizz past these crossings without any regard for waiting pedestrians. Let us be honest, most drivers don’t have a clue about the Highway Code relating to these crossings.
There are some drivers though, who are inclined to think that zebra crossing are part of the decorations for the independence anniversary celebrations. As for those who are familiar with such traffic signs, you are always faced with the dilemma; as to whether to observe or not observe the sign. Any attempt to follow the rules and regulations at these crossings, runs the risk of causing a pile up. This is because, one idiot is sure to disregard the rule and keep driving; even at the pedestrians’ peril.
However, it is not all doom and gloom for “Operation WID”. If you put your ears to the ground, a little bird might just tell you that the clamping department is doing well. The streets are free of illegally parked vehicles and traffic is on free flow again. The parking fines are promptly paid, vehicles are immediately towed away upon breach of traffic regulations and as long as you are clamped, there is no room for negotiations. All fines are paid directly into the public coffers, receipts are issued and the parking attendants are very vigilant. You be the judge of that.
While many would gladly hail Operation WID as a success, others see it as a megaphone exercise, aimed at demonstrating a semblance of restoring law and order. Let us be realistic about this. How can we succeed in such ventures, when the areas affected are clogged with vested interests? During the inception of Operation WID, the police and traffic wardens in Makeni impounded more than 400 Okadas for various reasons; ranging from unlicensed bikes, lack of proper or correct number plate, and right down to riding without helmets. The sigh of relief from commuters and members of the public was palpable. Just when you thought that the law enforcement department deserved a pat on the back, they received a slap on the face; after an MP reportedly ordered the release of the bikes. So in one fell swoop, a whole “agenda for change” was undermined; leaving the police demoralized to carry out their duties, and earn the riders some monopoly to bragging rights. Now we know why some cynics never had any confidence in the operation in the first place. It is now up to the authorities to prove them wrong
Instead of taking the sword to the heart of lawlessness, headline grabbers like “man fined Le 400,000 for smoking in his car”. Many smokers will disagree with me, but smoking is an anti-social behavior. It is anti social to smoke in the midst of non smokers. In the strictest sense, it could be considered a criminal act to smoke among non smokers; because you are willfully endangering innocent lives by doing so. You are trampling on the rights of others; “to freely breathe the unadulterated God given air. The law does not require brilliance, just common sense and relatively clean fingernails. But he law becomes an ass when others are criminalized for “smoking in their own car”; alone. If you ask the law enforcement officer, he/she will tell you that the smoke in the car could affect visibility and cause distraction. So what happens to those having a drink, eating a fruit, eating a cake while driving? The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” (JFK) Talk about Human Rights.
Don’t forget to turn the lights out when you leave the room