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Opinions of Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Columnist: Nana Akyeampong-Ghartey

When will Winneba know peace?

About 200 years ago, exactly on February 6, 1812, Henry Meredith, the Commandant of Winneba Fort was captured by the Effutus and killed in a barbaric way.

What brought this unfortunate incident was that the Effutus were actively involved in surface gold mining in and around Winneba, and this helped them to amass wealth. However, the Effutus had a problem with the Ashantis who were on the verge of attacking Winneba, and to protect their wealth, the Effutus gathered their wealth (gold) and sent it to the colonial administrators, the British, for safekeeping in the fort.

One British Sergeant was in charge of ensuring that the gold was properly kept under lock and key. History has it that one day some natives found that one of a quantity of barrels which were being shipped out of Winneba to England had fallen and broken revealing a great cache of gold in the barrel. This raised the suspicion of the natives that the British folks were secretly shipping their (the natives’) gold to England and therefore demanded accountability of their gold which was in custody of the colonial administration.

The Sergeant who had direct supervision over the gold could not account for the wealth and kept on telling them stories and even claimed that he could not remember whose care he had entrusted the natives’ gold. Not satisfied with the turn of events, the Effutus held the Commandant of the Winneba Fort, Henry Meredith, responsible for not being able to retrieve their gold and captured him.

Commandant Meredith claimed innocence of the whereabouts of the gold but the Effutus would have none of that claim of innocence and made him to walk bareheaded and barefooted several miles in the heat of the sun over a long stretch of dry grass which had been set on fire. He was frequently beaten with his arms stretched horizontally at full length and fastened to a long wooden pole which pressed deep into his throat causing him much pain.

Meredith was tortured to death by the Effutus and this act incurred the anger of British. To avenge Meredith’s death, English forces under the command of Commodore Irby destroyed the Winneba Fort and exerted brutal force on the natives of Winneba and burned down the community in July 1812. This is why Winneba is one of the major colonial coastal towns in Ghana without a fort or castle

Furthermore, the Effutus were required to pay an indemnity of some money (gold) to the colonial masters for the death of Commandant Henry Meredith. Under the guns of the British, the natives of Winneba brought all their gold they had until the large weighing scale being used to weigh the gold broke under its weight.

Over 70 years on after the brutal murder of Commandant Henry Meredith by the natives of Winneba, exactly on February 5, 1885, several Asafo men of Winneba were arrested and executed by the colonial Gold Coast administration and executed in Accra.

What happened? The arrest and execution of the Asafo members followed a series of violent disturbances between the Tuafo and Dentsefo Asafo factions in Winneba. Several members from both sides were arrested and taken to Accra where they were prosecuted on capital charge and condemned to death. Again, history has it that King Ghartey IV petitioned on their behalf for clemency, yet the colonial masters went ahead and executed them.

Interestingly, immediately after the execution of the Asafo members, all the colonial officials who advocated for the execution started dying one after the other starting with the British Queen’s Advocate who prosecuted the offenders, the Chief Justice who sentenced them, the Sheriff who delivered them for execution, the Engineer who fixed the gallows, and Governor W. A. Young who signed the death warrant, and finally, the gaoler, Trant, who conducted the last act of execution.

Oh yes, Winneba has an interesting history, and over 200 years after Commandant Henry Meredith’s murder by the natives of Winneba, the Effutu area has known no peace and has been plagued with protracted and chronic chieftaincy litigation.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a serious chieftaincy dispute reared its ugly head in Winneba and since then Winneba has been sitting on tenterhooks with peace eluding the people of Effutu. Why? When will Winneba know peace?

The never-ending chieftaincy conflict in Winneba has gone through the lower courts up to the Supreme Court of Ghana and the Supreme Court has upheld a perpetual injunction placed by the Central Regional House of Chiefs Judicial Committee chaired by the late Denkyirahene, Boa Amponsem (popularly known as the Boa Amponsem judgement) in the 1970s that apart from the Otuano Royal House no other royal house has the power to nominate, elect, and enstool and destool a chief in Effutu. However, in spite of this injunction, the Ayirebi Acquah V, a self-acclaimed and illegitimate chief known in private life as Essilfie Taylor has led the Ayirebi Acquah family to propagate unnecessary litigation even when they had lost their case before Justice Akoto Bamfo who even found them to have committed contempt of court.

The Ayirebi Acquah family has been changing their name from Akramano to Ayirebi house to Ayirebi Acquah family and then to Anona Tumpa family just to fight the Otuano Royal House in court but they have lost all cases.

Apparently, the perpetually inflamed Winneba chieftaincy litigation can easily be attributed to land grabbing by persons who are not rightful owners of lands that they have illegally claimed. One of such persons is A. C. Acquaah who has illegally claimed the beach land belonging to the Dentsifo in Winneba. Even the land on which the Otoo Memorial Hospital is situated was earmarked for the building of a town hall in Winneba.

It seems Winneba has friends on the surface but deep down the traits of the disturbances, these friends have rather helped in fanning the never-quenching conflict, obviously, to serve their personal interest and it would not be far from right if these so-called friends, politicians and the Central Region House of Chiefs, are partly to be blamed for lack of peace in Winneba.

The beauty of the Aboakyer festival has always been affected negatively by this protracted chieftaincy dispute, depriving the good people of Winneba the atmosphere of fully enjoying this annual traditional celebration.

When will Winneba know peace?

Nobody can deliver peace to Effutu. We the natives of Effutu are the right people who can bring the much cherished peace to our community. We must eschew our personal interests and strive for a well preserved and protected peace. Any individual who is a stumbling block to the peace and part of the never-ending chieftaincy litigation must honourably abdicate and step aside for the good and well-being of Effutu. It is unfortunate that the youth and younger generation of Winneba are not being told the truth of the genesis of the conflict of Effutu so they have been ignorantly dragged into the conflict.

Winneba needs peace.

Note: The writer of this article is a native of Winneba and was present at the palace during the reign of his grandfather, the late King Ghartey V when the chieftaincy dispute started in the late 1960s and early 1970s.