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Opinions of Friday, 12 October 2018

Columnist: Ade Sawyerr

Coming of age in Koforidua! - Ghanass, beacon of the East

Som som som……som cocoa dua! and we made a song out of it to the tune of Yiadom Boakye by Ramblers International – miy? ah?h?ro w?ha,.. minim krom ha as?m, mi p? nmaa na maware

Koforidua was such a beautiful place in the mid-1960 and it is still on my retirement agenda for peace and tranquillity and for the fact that I completely bonded with the town. It also contains that school that nurtured me for only two years of my life, but which had such a profound and lasting influence on my life – Ghana Secondary School, Koforidua.

Koforidua was a stop on the route of the Blue Train as I journeyed from Achimota to Kumasi enroute to Acherensua for my school holidays and I probably would have taught about the place if my father had not decided that Ghanasco, or Ghanass as it is now referred to, under the excellent disciplinarian headmaster DOK Ofori Dankwa, would be the better place to make a man of me.

The headmaster read the note from my father and looked briefly at my transcript and then got another student to show me around the school, the dining hall, the assembly hall, the well stocked library and the school zoo and the science block. After a brief interview he decided that he could fit me somewhere in the science department, I told him that I felt more confident studying arts.

I came back to Accra, rather pleased with myself for the confidence that that he had in me that I could fit in, for the show down with my father. Oh he felt that I should put in a lot more into my studies, the only reason he sends me to school is to go and study, if I did not want to study I could join the many kobolor boys around Lagos Town but I would have to get a job as a messenger somewhere, blah.. blah.. blah.

There was not much preparation, I already had cream shirts from my old school but because the school allowed 6th formers to wear trousers, I had to get a couple of ‘larmi’ ones made. Three weeks later, in mid-October, my mother, who had travelled with me for the interview, insisted on accompanying me for me new start and next stage of my education.

The school was much smaller in size than I had expected and despite the abundance of land it was more compact and yet had the adequate facilities for a good education, a science block, an arts and domestic science block and provided lots of activities for an inquiring mind with a thirst for knowledge.

The Sixth Form Arts students shared the block with the Form Five students but the science students were located in the science block. The number of students in my class was half the size that I was used but I fitted in quite cosily with my mates from different schools – Saint Kamel, Barbe Noire Bitaye, Private Gentleman Kwakye, Tetteh Salasa Nanor, FuManchu Anobah, Tono Oboubi Brown, Billy Bones Abateye, Adjei Beatro, Bobby Darren Akomeah Darteh, Mandoza Shardow, Suharto Bimpong, Amofah the Professor, Acheampong and Ogum whose nicknames I cannot remember. The fresh-faced boy from Accra got lumbered with the name Jenkins because of my protruding ears and the fact of Jenkins Ear in the history books.


We were the only all male class and we had to bond fast – the camaraderie was strong in this testosterone filled class. We were also very competitive supportive of each other and helped each other by forming studying buddies based on the breadth of subjects that we took.

Our headmaster was an inspiration to all of us; he led to staff to make the school into a true beacon of the east, he cared for his sixth form students so much that there were several times that he would appear impromptu into the class to talk to us. There were other times when late at night he would come unannounced into our sixth form box rooms named after dissident breakaway republics – Biafra and Formosa-Taiwan to regale us with stories about his own school days and engage us in discussion. He would come shouting “Wake up, wake up my prefects, wake up and study” – and then the Longfellow quote “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.” He would tell us that it was because of his intellect why the people from Asafo, his village, regarded him highly and we were all capable of achieving that respect.

I had to study whether I liked it or not and I was fortunate that my teachers were not only engaging but demanding too. My study regime extended from just attending every class session to take notes to now making an additional commitment for independent study. I could not just rely on my ‘faulty photographic memory’. I need to devote time for analysis and to make sure that I understood what I read. I acquired a syllabus that showed what I needed to study for each subject and I began to read material ahead of instruction by my teachers.

Two teachers stood out for me. My literature teacher My Djannie, strict disciplinarian, no-nonsense guy who also doubled as the senior housemaster. He taught me English Literature, 9 books over 2 years, drama, novel and poetry. He helped us to appreciate that poetry was a higher from of prose and that drama was really what it was; more than just reading to understand but thinking through how the text could be performed. Though the backdrop context was foreign to us, Mr Djannie tried to bring all to life for us and get our imagination to run wild in analysing fiction.

Mr Amexo who took me for the Synoptic Gospels and Acts of the Apostles as well as the first 5 books of Moses and the beginning of the Kingdom impressed upon me that my belief in God would aid my understanding and analysis of the texts and my writing of the many essays. I agreed and joined the Christian Union movement but did not last because I became of bit of a show off.

I plodded along in my understanding of Economics my third subject, but I proposed for the setting up of a school shop, I headed the team that run it as a project with the blessing of Mr Aleh the Bursar and the headmaster. I could shop weekly at the GNTC in Koforidua and sell the essential commodities to students in a kiosk by the arts and domestic science building. It aided my understanding of economics and probably provided the basis of my decision to become a student of entrepreneurship.

DOK was to a large extent happy with my progress even though his wife and Mrs Essah who both knew my father very well were not at all impressed about my bell bottom trousers, my dark Ben Hur that I pretended to be prescription glasses and my outlandish hair styles. They constantly objected to my attempts to grow a beard.

Responsibility was thrust on me by the second term. Mr Dankwa decided that the Upper Six class, that had lost close a term because of strike action the previous year, needed to concentrate on their studies so that they could attain good grades in the exams so he made the lower six students prefects and I ended up as the entertainment Prefect who doubled as the Chapel Prefect. Being chapel prefect made me more familiar with the Bible texts and entertainment prefect gave me access to the assembly hall where I could study beyond lights out.

I was also the sports captain in the house because I was probably the most vocal cheerleader. I was not good at football, but at least I managed to be the hockey goalkeeper when the person most suited for it pulled out and I also volunteered to represent my house shot putt, a bit of a joke considering my stature at the time. But I trained hard for it.

And it was not only in sports, I also assumed responsibility for the School Newsletter that I initiated, a biweekly compilation of news around the country and world mostly culled from Time Magazine, NewsWeek, Ebony, Readers Digest and the Daily Graphic and Ghanaian Times. I went on to edit the School Magazine that gave me time to visit the printers in Accra and to negotiate to rent films from the cinema houses at Globe and Opera for the school.

These were the activities that kept me occupied to help give me a grounded excellent education at Ghanasco as we called it.

The was no wall around the school which was very liberating, and it took me a rather long time to realise that going to the school next door to buy waakye though frowned on because of the many waakye leaves that would then litter the school and which the headmaster made it a point to gather into his file at assembly was not exactly illegal. This meant that some of us were bolder enough to foray into town to sample ‘omo tuo’ on Saturday mornings or even go further afield to city centre without an exeat. As I became bolder and bolder I realised that I could easily chat up the young girls though not very successful at that. My pulling power never quite reached the level of having young the young girls in the school cook for me thought I am sure that there were several that fancied me, I was still so green and innocent to know what to make of their interest.

By the time I got to upper six, my responsibilities had increased on the school scene, I was doing better with my studies, more confident around the school and I picked up all of the bad habits that go with popularity. I went drinking at Oloquaye the best palmwine in the whole of Ghana, went on trips to Nkurakan for more palmwine and may have unknowingly sampled some ‘kusie’ soup in the guise of bushmeat that tasted delicious because I was too drunk to know otherwise.

But all this guy-guy stuff and being cocky did get me into trouble. As house sports captain, I lodged a protest with the sports master about an incident on the school field. I left the field before the complaint could be resolved; I had other duties to get the Assembly Hall ready for a debate that evening, and I managed to rustle up some FormOne boys to go and complete this task. The complaint degenerated into a near riot at the dining hall with yams flying all over the place at the time that I was still helping to get the hall ready.

What I did not and could not know was that the Assistant Headmaster had been looking for me as the main instigator of the riots; he had discussed my attitude on the field with a member of the board of governors who had observed me leading the Form One boys away from the sports field. When I finally arrived at the dinning hall with the Form one boys I did not really know what had gone on before because calm had been restored only to be confronted by the Assistant Headmaster with this assertion that I had caused a riot. I just got cocky with him and played to the gallery with him with a fierce rebuttal of his suggestion

The Sunday was unusually quiet, though I must have got some strange stares from some of my fellow prefects and housemates. And then the Monday it all erupted into the open. I was called before the Sanhedrin with Mr Djannie as the chief prosecutor and judge, denied any witnesses. I was cleared of the original charge of fomenting a riot but guilty of the more serious charge of insubordination especially in the presence of Form One boys. I apologised and was asked to go and wait outside the office. I started thinking through what I was going to tell my father, the shame and agony of a suspension and what would happen to my studies.

When I was called back the verdict was rather harsh. Summarily dismissal no right of appeal. Suddenly I was no longer the man I thought I was as tears streamed down my face as I went back to our room. I really wept as I packed by stuff planning to go straight to Accra to give my grandmother some cock and bull about having been sent home because I was not too well. But as fate would have it my father who was the regional inspector of schools had already been informed by another member of the board of directors and sent his driver straight to the school to pick me up.

I was more composed by the time I got home and the showdown that I expected did not happen. The full conversation was brief. “Get back to your studies and make sure that you pass your exams coming up in December because you are not going back to that school again”. So I toiled through the nights and days for the month before the holiday started, went to Accra and took my exams.

My friends took up my case and asked for a review and my sentence was commuted. My father did not want me to go back because of the shame but he relented when he realised that I may not have another opportunity to sit for my A levels in June, so he agreed. I had to apologise to the whole school and sign a bond of good behaviour. I had in my corner Mr Debrah, a member of the board of governors and Mr Okraku Birokorang who was with the education ministry to vouch for my good behaviour. My wings had been finally clipped and I went back to my good innocent self – study and study always became my watch word.

But I was young and did go back to some of my bad ways, after all the Konforidua of our time was known as “Koforidua Flowers, Nsa Nmaa! I learnt a lot of about the culture of the town, realised that Koforidua was actually a mixed bag of tribes, the Asante settlers that gave us New Juaben with Effiduase, Asokore, Oyoko, Suchen etc, the Kwahu and the Krobo who dominated the market and there was both an Ewe content in the centre of town and a largish Yoruba population in the town. The Akyems and the Akwapims the original owners of the land were had a greater presence. I had to learn some ‘gbogbaa’ Twi and fast though because of the large number of students from Accra Ga was the lingua franca of the school at the time.

I was still in my chasing after the young ladies mode and still going out to get smashed, had an excellent social life and then one more incident that totally humiliated me. I went drinking again with friends –plain palms till I got a little bit drunk and some suggested that maybe I should try a bit of Odoka. Just got a bit sick but really not too much trouble and we headed for the school through Effiduase, crossed the railway line alright but as I go to the school there was one of young school teachers who obviously saw that I was legless. Poor guy, as he stopped to question me, the vomit that I had been trying to hold back all came down on his shoes. What was he to do except call some junior boys to assist me back to my room, I was too incoherent to hold a conversation with him and he was generous enough not to mete out a punishment that would have ended my term in the school. There was a certain stench around me and I must have wondered where it was all coming from till the boys started laughing at me, there were flies decidedly following me. The effort to vomit had cause me to strain my other orifices. Well they got their punishment by cleaning up my mess and washing up my clothes.

The moral of the story is that when you have an opportunity to go to a good school like I did, you take advantage and study hard and you enjoy life to a minimum because the excesses could easily result in big trouble.

Ghanass was good to me, it game me confidence, it taught me the power of knowledge it led me on the path of independence with the immense opportunities that it provided me and teachers who found a way of motivating me. As the school celebrates its 75th year anniversary I wish all the school well, it is truly a beacon of the East.

And finally, yes, I am glad that it did make a man of me – In 1966 when I went in there I was a mere innocent boy of 15 but I came out a man of 17 ready for full independence and university.

Ade Sawyerr

Croydon 2018