Sorry, my dear readers. The above heading is a stolen one from an article I wrote in The Mirror way back in 1993, some 20 years back when there was a fire outbreak at the Makola market in Accra. Those were the days when Fire Fighting Brigades had been formed throughout the country to fight bush fires. A lot of energy went into the efforts to fight bush fires which had become very rampant in many of our communities, particularly the farming areas. The state newspapers had their pages filled daily with stories of Fire Fighting Brigades fighting one form of bush fire or the other. It never occurred to us that we should train people to deal with Market Fires.
I had suggested in that article that we could train our market women to use ?appatre?, that is smoked tilapia and cassava or corn dough to fight Market fires since those trained in fighting Bush Fires used leaves and branches of trees to fight those fires at the time. This piece is meant to indicate that fire outbreaks in our societies are not of recent occurrence. I remember again in 1972, I had gone to the farm with my grandmother who decided that she would burn her slashed piece of land in preparation for planting as the rains were expected.
Unfortunately for the old lady, the fire ?strayed? onto another person?s cleared farm which was not properly dried enough to be burnt and if my grandmother was to allow the not too dry farm to burn, she was going to spend money to ensure its proper preparation for the owner. The two of us had to ensure that the boundaries were demarcated in a manner that will make it difficult for the fire from our land straying onto the other person?s farm. In fact, this should have been done before setting fire onto our land. It was a difficult task, but we did it.
The rage of fire on our markets has become a recurring thing since the past 10 years. I remember when I was at the Ahanta West District Assembly, a similar scenario of fire outbreaks in certain markets throughout the country occurred. My administration quickly met the leadership of the market and asked them to put out all forms of fires in the market by 4:00p.m each day before they left for home. I ensured that the Community Police of the NYEP monitored and enforced the order in the overall interest of the market women themselves. Agona Nkwanta market, which is one of the biggest markets in the Western Region, never experienced any market fires under me, and I have not heard of any fires since I left.
It is true that fire outbreaks in our markets have become too many for our comfort as a nation, particularly when it involves the economic activities of the vast majority of our women in commerce. In a country where job opportunities for the lower and middle rungs of the labour ladder virtually do not exist, our people find legitimate means of livelihood which accounts for the huge number of people in commerce of varied nature. In this case, any damage to the people in this sector of the economy is a huge damage to the livelihood of a sizeable section of the populace. As a nation, we have a responsibility to ensure that this segment of our economic activity is also protected as much as we protect the multi-national companies and other such industrial concerns.
I was amazed however, when the President of the Republic said that he suspects sabotage in the recent fire outbreaks in the various markets. Sadly, officials of the National Fire Service re-echoed the President?s suspicion to perhaps cover up their own inability to deal with cases of fire outbreaks. In the first place who does the President think is sabotaging the country by setting fires into market places? What are the objectives of the saboteurs? When did these sabotage through fire outbreaks in this country begin; is it just under John Mahama as the President or under previous presidents as well?
The intensity of the fire outbreaks today and the collateral damage it inflicts on the economy is as a result of the intensity of the indiscipline among the very people who ply their trade in those places as well as the huge number of people clamouring for none-existent spaces within the choked spaces. Just take a cursory look into any wooden structure in any market in the country and count the number of electrical gadgets being used in that structure. Go further to see the source of power into the structure and the type of wires used in generating that power into the structure and there will not be any doubt at all that the fire outbreaks by and large are caused by the occupants of the markets themselves.
If I were the President, the first target of these unfortunate occurrences would be my own employees, that is, the staff of the Electricity Corporation of Ghana. Is the staff not part of the illegal electricity connections in many places like the markets? If they are not, how do the users of power illegally get access to meters? If they are unmetered, do the staff of ECG not see members of the public using their power without paying? So Mr. President the saboteurs you are complaining of are your own workers.
The second leg of the saboteurs, Mr. President, is those in whose hands we have entrusted our resources to plan this country and help develop it in a manner that will make us live like civilized people. What innovations have governments brought into the existing markets in this country to prevent the lawlessness by way of illegal structures being added to the outmoded structures in very crowded spaces in those markets? The Metropolitan and District Assemblies have not done anything to expand or renovate the existing markets in the face of increasing people engaged in selling and buying on a daily basis in the same choking spaces of old because they do not have alternate legitimate means of livelihood.
Human traffic alone in the markets has its own health hazards but we do not even talk about them. The absence of sanitary facilities, the filthy environments and the mosquito breeding grounds in the market places have become part of our selling and buying activities, as a people. It is a matter of ?buy one item, take a few mosquito bites free?. Mr. President, are these also sabotages? As for the National Fire Service people, they are supporting the position of the President to protect their own inefficiencies. In other jurisdictions, even when arsonists succeed in setting fires anywhere, the efficiency of the Fire Authorities will ensure that the overall object of the arsonist is not achieved. The NFS should not hide under sabotage to cover up their incompetence.
The local authorities also have a responsibility of ensuring orderly operations of commercial activities in our markets particularly taking a very close look at the activities of food sellers in our markets. The staff of the Metropolitan and District Assemblies are only interested in collecting monies, most of which do not get to the treasury anyway, and ignore other illegalities which have the potential to destroy the markets. They are aware of the activities that go on through the use of fire and yet they do nothing to ensure the safety of the market from fire.
Well, it is very obvious that the President is incapable of identifying the numerous causes of the fire outbreaks let alone find solutions to them. Under such circumstances, the easy way out for him is to look out for some non-existent saboteurs. This is the leadership we have as a people. However, all is not lost yet particularly in this era of Amicuses or Amicae. Let us find Amicus for the NFS to help them do their work very well, Amicus for the Metropolitan and District Assemblies in managing their markets, an Amicus for ECG to monitor the use of electricity in the markets by illegal connectors, and finally an Amicus for the President to critically assess problems, identify the causes and help find solutions to them rather than attributing his own failures as a President to saboteurs he cannot identify as the leader of this country with all the security apparatus within his reach.
This is Amicus bunkum.
By Kwesi Biney