Today, we don’t have many drainage systems with free flowing water in Ghana. Virtually every gutter in the country is choked to the brim.
But as recent as 1981, when I was just a little boy, we had gutters with free flowing water and we used to enjoy them in our own way as kids.
There used to be one such big gutter running from Ringway Estates, where the white people lived then, through the back of the State House, otherwise known as Job 600, through the township of Osu, all the way to the back of the Christenburg Castle into the sea.
As kids of Osu, we used to own various corridors of that big gutter for our own purpose. The portion close to us was the one behind the Job 600. We used to call the place Libey, a nickname for Liberia. There was a reason for the name; I will tell you later.
There were two things we used to do in our respective corridors of the gutter: we used to make little boats out of a piece of wood and the cover of a big pen, and we raced with our boats in the fairly clear running water in the gutter. It was a big gutter, so while our little boats raced, we also ran along side the boats inside the gutter until they got to the finish line. I can only imagine how much germs and harm substances we packed into our bodies from that experience.
That was the fun part. The other thing we used to do in that big gutter was to squat at the edge of it and do our business whenever we felt like it. And the free flowing water just carried it away so you would hardly see faecal matter in the gutter at any point, unless you are down stream and someone does their business upstream. This was why we called the place Libey (Liberia). In those days, Liberians used to go to our homes and carried the toilet away. So we nicknamed the gutter Libey because it was our made-shift place of convenience.
Why 1981 is important is because that was the second time I witnessed a coup in Ghana and that was the one that was most real to me. The first was in 1979, I was two years younger and I did not have much understanding. I can’t even recollect the events of that year. But on June 4, 1981, there was a forced curfew because of a military coup.
There were gunshots everywhere and everyone had to rush into their homes because we were told the military will shoot you down on sight. Just when we had rushed into our rooms, I felt nature’s call. I was a boy so I had to go, or else I will do it on myself and it will be uncomfortable for everyone.
Because we were kids then, my mother asked my senior brother to excort me to Libey. It was about 200 meters away from our house. We went. I finished my thing and while we were on our way back, we saw a military vehicle loaded with soldiers wielding guns coming from behind us.
We were the only ones on the road. We started running as fast as we could, and the vehicle kept coming our way. We managed to enter our gateless house and the next thing we heard was a gunshot. Then something landed right behind my heel, but we ignored it and we entered the room as fast as we could. The military vehicle passed by our house and sped off.
After many hours of silence, with intermittent gunshots, we could finally come out of our room. Straight away, we went to the spot where the “thing” landed behind my foot and found what we though was a bullet.
That was how close the coup came to us. We saw it, we felt it. It was not palatable. The excesses that followed is public record. The National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) records are there for all to read about people’s experiences in various coups in Ghana, particularly the Rawlings coups.
Why am I writing this?
We are fortunate to have had prior notice of the current partial lockdown to enable us contain the COVID-19 pandemic. We were given at least 48 hours to get ready for the lockdown. The curfew we experienced in 1981 was not announced. We never got time to prepare for it. It was instant.
Even with the benefit of a prior notice and the opportunity to go out within our communities for food, water, healthcare and toilet – and various categories of essential workers being allowed to cross barriers and perform their duties, we are still complaining of stress and psychological whatever from isolation. Some even dare to go out even though they are not in the exempted categories.
Secondly, in this COVID-19 lockdown, the police has made it very clear that their enforcement of the lockdown is purely humanitarian and not combative. Not in 1981. Any and everyone found out and about during the curfew was treated like an enemy of the state. People were brutalized without mercy and some even lost their lives.
During that period, military men became demi gods and criminals. They were the law unto themselves. They went where they wanted, when they wanted and took what they wanted. Even after lockdown, the excesses continued. It became so entrenched that even some civilians would facilitate military brutality against other civilians.
This is an election year. We still don’t know if the election will come on or not. But if it does, we must let our experiences from the current lockdown teach us a lesson that those greedy politicians showing signs of visiting mayhem on this country if they lose the election, are actually threatening to lead us into a stricter lockdown with more dire consequences.
That kind of lockdown will be unannounced, would have no grace period, no exemptions, not partial and definitely not humanitarian. And the trouble makers would usually run and hide while the innocent Ghanaian bear the brunt of their selfishness.
Don’t let us ever think for one minute, that politicians who use young people as vigilantes to foment trouble during the election are going to ultimately deliver anything good to us. As they cry war and threaten a combatant approach to the elections, their ultimate interest is not you and I, but their own pockets and how they will sort out their families and cronies.
COVID-19 is devastating, but also good in a sense, because it is a wake up call. For those young people who have not witnessed a lockdown or curfew before, this lockdown is a struggle for them. But for those of us who have seen some before, we know this one is a luxury. Let’s not make the mistake of following greedy politicians to fulfill their insatiable crave for power and wealth at all cost, including a forced lockdown for all of us.
From the kind of public reaction we are seeing in this partial lockdown, I can tell that this generation of Ghanaians are not prepared for a total, nationwide and forced lockdown, enforced in a combatant way. We will not have the benefit of the availability of food, water, electricity, tax reliefs, telecom services and all the luxuries we are asking for – like free data, tax holidays, temporary suspension of loan deductions and all that stuff.
As you ponder over what could possibly happen in a complete lockdown, remember that what we have now is a luxury compared to what could have happened. Make the best of it – stay home, be safe and determine to avoid a worse form of lockdown at all costs.