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Opinions of Thursday, 23 April 2015

Columnist: Sarfo, Samuel Adjei

Prof. Justice Kludze’s Take on Nkrumah’s Dictatorship. Part Five

The National Union of Ghana Students (N.U.G.S.).

Even before Nkrumah formally declared Ghana a One-Party State, the opposition had all but ceased to exist. Perhaps the only group of people who risked uttering dissenting voices consisted of the students. The National Union of Ghana Students (N.U.G.S.) in those days played a valiant role which is today being denied in certain quarters. In a deliberate attempt to distort our history, there have been erroneous assertions that the National Union of Ghana Students was first formed in 1966, that is after the overthrow of Nkrumah. That would hide the ugly fact that the N.U.G.S. and its members were persecuted by the Nkrumah regime until the fall of Nkrumah. I was a member and leader of the National Union of Ghana Students (N.U.G.S.) in the days of Nkrumah. That was before 1966.

At that time Nkrumah wanted the National Union of Ghana Students (N.U.G.S.) to become a part of the youth wing of the Convention People’s Party. Together with the Young Pioneers, we would be propagating the ideologies of the Convention People’s Party and of Nkrumah. That was the pattern in the then Soviet Union where the Student Council of the U.S.S.R. was a part of the COMSOMOL, the youth wing of the Communist Party. The students rejected this proposal because they did not like N.U.G.S. to be aligned or allied with a political party or ideology. We insisted on an independent student organisation. When this became apparent to him, Nkrumah initially decided to do the honourable thing by founding the Convention People’s Party’s own student organisation, known as the National Association of Socialist Student Organisations, with the acronym of NASSO. In spite of the generosity of the Government and the C.P.P., the NASSO could not attract student support. Consequently they resorted to subterfuge. Students were paid to spy on their fellow students in their Halls of residence as in their classrooms. Student leaders were spied upon, intimidated and harassed. They spied also on lecturers both in and outside the lecture rooms. The leadership of the National Union of Ghana Students (N.U.G.S.) was undaunted by these officially sanctioned methods of harassment and intimidation.
In the end, the leaders of the National Union of Ghana Students (N.U.G.S.) were arrested and detained without trial. I was the National President of the National Union of Ghana Students (N.U.G.S.) in 1963. We were arrested in 1964. All these are documented. I have heretofore generally refrained from discussing my own role and my bitter experiences of those days. However, I am compelled to speak on this matter now because in 2006, as appeared in both the Daily Graphic and the Ghanaian Times of 23rd March, 2006, one Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa purporting to be in the leadership of the then National Union of Ghana Students (N.U.G.S.), cut a birthday cake in supposed celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the National Union of Ghana Students (N.U.G.S.). Present at the ceremony was Mr. K.B. Asante. I wrote to the said Mr. Okudzeto Ablakwa drawing his attention, but there was no reply. I wrote to the Editors of both the Daily Graphic and the Ghanaian Times to check their archives and correct the error but they also have not responded. I know Mr. K.B. Asante for whom I had some respect. He was in government in Nkrumah’s time and knew that there was a National Union of Ghana Students (N.U.G.S.) at the time prior to 1966.He must also be aware that leaders of the N.U.G.S. had been dragged out from their classrooms into detention by Kwame Nkrumah. I have drawn his attention to his error of judgment in lending credibility to the fake celebration of the deliberately ascribed 1966 as the date of the foundation of the National Union of Ghana Students (N.U.G.S.). Upon his appointment as Deputy Minister of Information in the N.D.C. Government of President Mills, Mr. Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa has officially repeated the falsity. The Government itself has not made any effort to support the Deputy Minister in this fabrication. This monstrous falsehood could not be supported by the Government probably because President Mills was our mate at the Faculty of Law at Legon when these events occurred and, being a gentleman, he could not have contradicted them.
The truth is that I was the National President of the National Union of Ghana Students for the years 1962-1963. That was not a phantom organisation. It was a real one. I took over the office of National President from one Mr. P.D. Vanderpuije of the University of Science and Technology. Mr. F.Y.I. Fiagbe of the University of Science and Technology later succeeded me as President. Those who are interested in pursuing the historical truth will discover that the National Union of Ghana Students existed as far back as the early 1950s. The National Union of Ghana Students was in existence before I entered Legon in 1959 and it was a member of the International Student Conference, headquartered in Leiden in the Netherlands. Under my Presidency, it also joined the International Union of Students with headquarters in Prague.
It is difficult to believe that Mr. S.O Ablakwa could be unaware that, for my leadership of the National Union of Ghana Students, I was dragged from the classroom at Legon, arrested and detained by President Kwame Nkrumah without trial under the notorious Preventive Detention Act. Some of my colleagues, including Mr. Fiagbe (who succeeded me as President) and the late Mr. Antwi (my General Secretary, and later a Circuit Court Judge), Mr. Easmon and Mr. Kodwo Carr, were also imprisoned without trial. All these happened in 1964. To imply that there was no National Union of Ghana Students before 1966, is not only a distortion of history but a denial of the heroic role played and the sacrifices made by individual students and students generally in the history of this country.
We did hold a Congress of the National Union of Ghana Students (N.U.G.S.) in 1964 before our arrest and imprisonment. At that Congress, we passed resolutions condemning the dismissal of the Judges and against repression and incipient dictatorship in the country. In 1965 we were not allowed by the Government to meet. In 1966, after the fall of Kwame Nkrumah, we resumed our Congress. To ensure continuity, I flew in from London, where I had become a post-graduate student, to attend the N.U.G.S. Congress in December, 1966, at the Commonwealth Hall, University of Ghana, Legon.
The respect which the National Union of Ghana Students enjoys today is traceable to the struggles of those who were leaders and members before the 1966 coup d’etat, which liberated the student movement. We paid dearly for freedom for Ghanaians and for respectability for the National Union of Ghana Students to continue to exist in the face of a repressive One-Party State. We endeavoured to build and sustain a vibrant National Union of Ghana Students, notwithstanding the grave odds. We had hoped that future generations of students would know (and maybe appreciate) the historical antecedents of the National Union of Ghana Students. Perhaps that is a forlorn hope! However, I believe that I am not expecting too much from the future leaders of this country.
I have dwelt on the case of the National Union of Ghana Students because it is illustrative of the efforts to deliberatively distort, re-write or obliterate the salient facts of the history of Ghana. Perhaps it is believed that, by proclaiming that the National Union of Ghana Students was not founded until after the fall of Nkrumah in 1966, it may not be known that Kwame Nkrumah arrested, imprisoned and molested students, spied on students and suppressed academic freedom. These are ugly facts, perhaps politically unpalatable to segments of the political divide, but they cannot and must not be denied or suppressed, as many of these facts are documented.

Detainees under the Preventive Detention Act were subjected to the most cruel and inhumane treatments. They were worse than common criminals. After all, the common criminals were not perceived as scheming to wrestle political power from Kwame Nkrumah, the self-styled “Osagyefo.”
Apart from official orders, the prison and security officers were afraid of the consequences to them if any detainee were to escape. Therefore, they kept the detainees under the most stringent conditions. In most cases, they were not allowed time outside their cells and they were not allowed to mix with convict prisoners. The rations were poor, and Nkrumah later ordered that they should even be worse.
Most detainees were denied medical attention. They were expected to die from whatever malady afflicted them in detention without trial. If one died, it was good riddance for the Osagyefo. Therefore, with time, the Ghanaian doctors were replaced with Soviet communist and Cuban doctors, and doctors who had worked for Adolf Hitler at Jewish Concentration Camps. These foreign doctors received specific orders on the treatment of the detainees under the Preventive Detention Act. As would be expected for persons held without trial in such horrendous conditions, many died of both illness and neglect. Many suffered irreversible damage to their health before their release after the 1966 coup d’etat. As for Kwame Nkrumah, he could not understand what it meant to release a prisoner, even a prisoner held without trial, on compassionate or health grounds. Even when Dr. J.B. Danquah was on the verge of death in his condemned prisoner’s cell, Nkrumah rejected all appeals to him personally to spare the life of the old man.
I have myself been a victim of detention by Kwame Nkrumah. However, it is not my intention to recount my own experiences here. That is a personal matter and I am not speaking to that today.
It is indeed nauseating and repulsive to conscience to relate the cruel and inhumane conditions under which detainees imprisoned without trial were held in prisons in Nkrumah’s Independent Ghana. There are many credible accounts of sadism and cruelty under Kwame Nkrumah. However, I would refer only to the documented case of Dr. J.B. Danquah. According to Mr. J.W.K. Harlley, the then Head of the Special Branch of the Ghana Police Service, after Dr. Danquah’s release from the first detention in 1962, there was a function at which Nkrumah saw Dr. Danquah by chance. Kwame Nkrumah expressed his disgust to the senior Police Officer that Dr. Danquah looked too well. He expected Dr. Danquah to look and be emaciated. Nkrumah interpreted Dr. Danquah’s relatively decent appearance to mean that the prison officers had been too kind to him. Nkrumah, therefore, gave orders for the conditions of detention under the Preventive Detention Act to be made harsher than before. To this end, Nkrumah convened a hasty meeting at the Flagstaff House, which was attended by Mr. Harlley; Mr. E. R.T. Madjitey, who was the Head of the Police Service (known then as the Commissioner of Police); Minister of the Interior, Mr. Kwaku Boateng; Mr. Moses, the Director of Prisons; and Mr. Abban, the Deputy Director of Prisons. Instructions were then given that all detainees under the Preventive Detention Act were to be fed only on garri, salt and water. A Confidential letter, numbered SCR.950/1 and dated 8th August, 1962, from the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior to the Director of Prisons, stated:

“I am directed by the Minister to inform you that with immediate effect, all Detainees should be placed on the same prison diet as convict prisoners. The supply of eggs, milk, etc., to certain detainees on the orders of the Prison Medical Officer should cease forthwith. This cancels all previous instructions regarding the diet of detainees.”

At the same time, the Prison Medical Officers were replaced with foreign doctors. For instance, Dr. Schumann, a Nazi Concentration Camp doctor who had been accused of murdering over 20,000 Jews, was among the foreign doctors thereafter supervising the health of prisoners in detention in Ghana’s prisons.
Another meeting was held on 29th August, 1962, after Nkrumah’s henchmen, including Messrs. Tawia Adamafio, Ako Adjei and H.H. Cofie-Crabbe, were detained on suspicion of complicity in the Kulungugu bomb attack on the President. It was reiterated that the detainees were to be fed on only garri and water. Therefore, another letter was written to the Director of Prisons on 24th September, 1962, to re-affirm the order to feed the detainees on only garri and water. As this was not explicit, the Director of Prisons wrote a confidential letter to the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior for clarification and confirmation. That letter of 28th September, 1962, said:

“On the 24th September, 1962, the Deputy Director of Prisons and I were ushered before Osagyefo the President by the Minister and the outcome were three decisions, namely, that the Detainees should be served with only Garri and Water, discipline should be exercised more firmly, and the Visiting Committees abolished. But your letter No. SCR. 1581 dated 25th September, 1962, confirmed only the case of the Visiting Committees. I should be grateful if you will confirm that the decision regarding the ration should be suspended.”

The order on the ration, that is to give only garri and water to the detainees, was confirmed. This would not apply to common criminals like armed robbers, thieves and rapists, because they posed no direct political threat to the “Osagyefo.”
The reason for the abolition of the Prison Visiting Committees is obvious. It was to ensure that the inhuman conditions of imprisonment of detainees would remain unknown to Ghanaians and the world.
Some of those entrusted with the imprisonment of Dr. Danquah without trial, and who were under instructions to torture him, have spoken about his ill-treatment at the Nsawam Prison. According to the Prison Commission which enquired into the treatment of detainees, Dr. Danquah was “lodged in the Condemned Section (Special Block) in cell No. 9.The cell is approximately 9 feet by 6 in area…The cell contained no bed or other furniture other than a chamber pot.”
There was an order that for the first several months of detention, the detainees in the Condemned Cells like Dr Danquah “were not allowed to stand up in their cells, having to lie down or sit on the floor.” They said:
“The life of Dr. Danquah in the cells was regulated as that of a condemned prisoner awaiting execution. Indeed, in some respects, his treatment was more rigid and circumscribed.”
The full report of the Prison Commission is available. Extracts from the Report should be read in our educational institutions, so that those who advocate the return to Nkrumah’s days can explain the findings to Ghanaians. This is important because the truth about Dr. J.B. Danquah has been suppressed for too long. Those who loudly paint the rosy picture of the Nkrumaist Paradise were either unborn, or were children and wards of corrupt Convention People’s Party officials. Some of them, including children of corrupt District Commissioners, were indeed studying abroad under scholarships they did not deserve while these atrocities were being meted out to Ghanaians.

Reproduced by Dr. Samuel Adjei Sarfo, Attorney and Counselor at Law