Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

"We No Go Sit Down"

Ebo Quansah

Ghanaians are by nature a group of jovial human species. They have overcome extreme hardship incomparable to anything anywhere at the moment by relying on wise-cracks and prangs.

But any notion of a joke they might have on Flight Lieutenant Rawlings coup speech that "Ghanaians are prepared to walk 10 miles," has certainly given way to the stark reality that the military junta was in no mood to compromise their position for basic necessities of life.

With crude oil supply to the Tema Oil Refinery drastically cut as a result of Ghana's traditional suppliers' refusal to grant any more credit facilities to this debt ridden nation, transportation, on which the wheels of every economy moves, has virtually ground to a halt.

Long petrol queues have taken most cars off the road, and Accra, the nation's capital and nerve centre of Ghana's economy is without cars. At the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, which was usually jammed, one could count the number of cars on the fingertips. At first, the malaise was with petrol users but of late, diesel has also been affected.

Drivers and car owners spend weeks in petrol queues and with stealing at its peak despite the curfew, many car owners have lost a lot.

In some cases, cars are without any of their four tyres by day break in spite of all night patrol by soldiers, policemen, defence committee members and the newly initiated militia men. Private cars are given three gallons per week if they are lucky to reach the service station after days of queuing. Even then, if you do not possess a petrol rationing coupon, you will not be served.

Like any scarcity, adventure seekers are cashing in with huge returns. Any car owner who wants to circumvent the cumbersome procedure must be prepared to pay the cost.

A gallon of petrol, which officially sells at 25 is offered for between 300 to 400 cedis in Accra and 400 to 600 cedis in Kumasi. As for the Northern parts of the country made up of Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions, petrol is so scarce that to come by fuel is almost an impossibility.


The PNDC reacted by publishing a law that referred all petrol offences to the Public Tribunals. Long jail terms were handed to culprits but when the situation worsened, the military junta introduced the death penalty. These offences include diversion of petrol, selling of fuel above the control price and failure on the part of petrol attendants to serve when there is petrol.

One phenomenon the long petrol queues has introduced is a new role for men in uniform. Soldiers and policemen have struck gold at petrol dumps where they assist people to jump the queue for a fee. The PNDC issued a warning to the military to abandon the new role after persistent public complaint, but their continued presence at these places does not suggest they have heeded to the call.

Meanwhile, the ordinary man groans under the effect of the shortage. Walking is the order of the day. In Accra, workers walk from as far as Medina and Odorkor, a distance of over five miles to and from the offices at the Ministries.

The early days of the long queues recorded many absentees to the extent that the government had to issue a stern warning.

The Secretary for Information, Miss. Joyce Aryee who is fast talking on the mantle of spokesman for the regime, issued a statement in which absenteeism was classified as one of the acts that amounted to sabotaging. the nation.

Inter-town travels are down to the barest minimum and the struggle for the only means available-articulated trucks is so fierce that many people return to their homes with bruises to nurse.

The articulators have earned a new name in Ghanaian parlance "We no go sit down......." Since there are no seats, passengers cling to railings above like bats and that is where its name derives. People entering are supposed to have given an unwritten undertaking that they will not sit down. Ghanaians and their jokes...........!

The journey to Kumasi, a distance of 161 miles, by articulator cost 900 cedis, but if a passenger is unable to climb into the truck, there is a helper whose bill is 20 cedis per passenger. If one is lucky to come by a Neoplan bus, the fare is between 600 and 700 cedis for the route when the government's approved fare is 100 cadis.

The petrol shortage has hit the fish market. In August, the traditional herring season produced a bumper harvest. At markets in Accra, one could buy big size herring at 10 for 10 cedis. At Cape Coast and other coastal towns, there were even stories of fish being dumped into the sea because of abundant catch.

Suddenly, the fish vanished from the market. Reason? Fishermen could not obtain petrol to run their outboard motors and enable them to go fishing. Appeals upon appeals were directed at the government.

Radio announcements continued blaring out specified petrol dumps where fishermen could obtain petrol. But the stark reality is that the petrol is not just there.

Then stories kept coming in on radio and newspapers of fishermen allegedly selling their petrol allocation at cut-throat prices to motorists. The press and radio made heroes out of PDC members arresting this and that fisherman for petrol offences. The situation, meanwhile, persisted.

As usual, the clue on petrol rationing was given in a language that left a sour taste. It was in a form of press release issued by the Secretary for information, Miss. Aryee.

The statement informed Ghanaians that the oil refinery at Tema had closed down temporarily for repairs. During the period, petrol was likely to be scarce. Meanwhile, the government had placed orders for crude oil so that when the repairs were over, normal supply from the refinery would resume.

It was the later addition that gave the PNDC away. If the refinery was undergoing repairs what was the relevance about the crude oil import; many questioning minds quizzed.

What the government failed to realise was that Ghanaians have their own way of getting valid information. Long before the Secretary's announcement, the rumour mills were busy churning out information about the complete dry-out of crude oil at the refinery. The Government's statement only succeeded in widening the government's credibility gap.

Meanwhile what mattered to most people was the introduction of that new parlance "we no go sit down......"

Travellers queue for hours in the scorching sun for buses which never arrive. The lucky few struggle to board haulage trucks (right) which charge ridiculously high fares.

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