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Opinions of Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

'The difficult art of thinking nationally'

One of the major privileges of being a writer is the opportunity it gives one to meet and interact with people engaged in all types of activity.

Not all the people one encounters make a deep impression on one, however. Of those who are to be remembered, my favourites are those who say something to me that I can take to guide me and be treasured all of my life.

Example: I once met a renowned mathematician from Nigeria, the late Dr Chike Obi, (See Wikipedia; also Google: Madunagu+Chike+Obi) who “by plain brain work and without the use of modern technological aids such as computers, [gave] scientific proof to a 361-year old mathematical puzzle known as 'Fermat's Last Theorem.'

The Theorem, well known among mathematicians... was enunciated by one of the two leading mathematicians of the first half of the 17th Century, Pierre de Fermat, a Frenchman. . . Two Western researchers had, in 1994, solved the problem, using modern technological aids. But [Chike] Obi... used a method which "looks very much like the way Fermat must have proved his Theorem in the 17th Century." Obi's research, conducted at his Nanna Institute for Scientific Studies based in Onitsha, Anambra State [of Nigeria, was] published in the International Journal {Algebras, Groups and Geometries} Volume 15, Pages 289 to 299 (1998).

I had heard Chike Obi being mentioned in reverential tones by brilliant Nigerian exiles in Ghana in the early 1960s, such as the late Sam Ikoku and the late Chief Olu Adebanjo and was thrilled when I was introduced to him at that famous venue noted for unexpected encounters, the Continental Hotel in Accra (now Golden Tulip). The Continental Hotel terrace, now destroyed, was long and luminous and a person sitting at the very end of it could, with normal eyesight, spot a guest walking towards the residential area. Thus it was that one day, I spotted someone I knew who was walking with Chike Obi and quickly made long strides to greet him.

Only a few minutes after meeting me, Chike Obi said something to me out of the blue which I have never forgotten. He said: “When I look at the state of Africa today, I am driven to the conclusion that we once had the opportunity to create some of the greatest – if not the greatest – kingdoms on earth. But we wasted it. And now, we are being punished by providence for having wasted that opportunity.”

What happened in Lome, Togo, this past weekend; the powder-keg on which Kenya is sitting, following the presidential election held earlier this month; the probably avoidable destruction that took place in Sierra Leone because people were allowed to erect dwellings on a site that could be over-run by a landside: when will Africa's woes end?

Chike Obi was talking to me around 1975. Since then, there have been horrific disasters in Africa, the worst of which, undoubtedly, was the genocide that took place in Rwanda in May 1994. Would anyone have foreseen that who lived in Egypt in 3,000BC? Or Mali, Songhai or Ghana in the Middle Ages? Wasted opportunities = Wanton obloquy. QED.

I have just had another wonderful experience of being told something completely unexpected by another man whom I was – again – only meeting for the first time. We'd been discussing mundane matters relating to today's Ghana when unexpectedly, he pulled a booklet out of his desk drawer and said to me: “Listen to this.”

The passage he read to me was as follows:

QUOTE: “As a people, we have ceased to be a THINKING NATION.
Our fathers, with all their limitations, had occasion to originate ideas
and to contrive in their own order. They sowed incorruptible thought-seeds, and we are reaping a rich harvest today, though, for the most part, we are scarcely conscious of the debt we owe them. Western education or civilization – undiluted, unsifted – has more or less enervated our minds and made them passive and Catholic. Our national life is semi-paralyzed; our mental machinery dislocated, the inevitable consequence being (speaking generally) the resultant production of a Race of men and women who think too little and talk too much. But neither garrulity nor loquacity forms an indispensable element in the constitution of a state or nation.” UNQUOTE

After reading the passage to me, my new friend asked me, “Do you know when that was published?”

“No!” I said.

“It was published in 1911!” he exclaimed.

“WHAAAAAT?” I queried? “1911? It sounds as if it was written yesterday, not ninety-six years ago. It fits our current situation like a glove! I mean, look at how we have waffled over galamsey till nearly all our rivers have been destroyed!”

My friend then gave me the booklet to look at.

Its title is The Gold Coast Nation And National Consciousness.”
And the author? Who wrote about the state of our nation so brilliantly NINETY-SIX YEARS AGO that it reads as if it was only written yesterday?

The writer was The Rev. Samuel Richard Brew Attoh Ahuma (1863-1921) a greatly under-rated man who is often mentioned in the company of, but largely as an adjunct to, such great Ghanaian historical figures as John Mensah Sarbah (1864-1910), J E Casely Hayford (1866-1930), and J W De Graft Johnson (1860-1928) joint-founder of the Aborigines' Rights Protection Society (ARPS) and the first Vice-President of that organisation.

Attoh Ahuma was editor of The Gold Coast Methodist Times when the infamous Lands Bill by which the British colonialists wanted to seize all the lands of the Gold Coast, was mooted. Despite what must inevitably have been the opposition of some of the European missionaries then running the Gold Coast Methodist Church, Attoh Ahuma bravey used the paper to support the popular agitation against the Lands Bill of 1897. He later became editor of The Gold Coast Nation and then, Secretary of the ARPS.

As stated above the passage to which my friend drew my attention is from The God Coast Nation and National Consciousness, originally printed by D Marples & Co., Liverpool in 1911 and republished by Frank Cass and Co. in 1971. The Frank Cass edition [ISBN 0 7146 1742 3] forms part of the company's Africana Modern Library Series, which also includes Ethiopia Unbound and Gold Coast Native Institutions by J E Casey Hayford; West African Leadership by Magnus Sampson, and Letters On The Political Condition of the Gold Coast by James Africanus Beale Horton. (The address of Frank Cass & Co. is 67 Great Russell Street, London W1B 3BT.)

Attoh Ahuma's book is divided into 12 chapters, each of which dispenses a vast amount of wisdom meant to assist in building the new nation he foresaw as growing out of the Gold Coast, in the early 20th Century, including the following: (1)The Gold Coast And National Consciousness; (2) The Difficult Art of Thinking Nationally; (3)WANTED - Help, Not Hindrance; (4) What Are You Going To Do For the Homeland? (5) I Am: I Can (had Barack Obama read this before adopting “YES I CAN” as his campaign slogan?) and (6) I ought: I will.
I shall summarise some of the great ideas of Attoh Ahuma in future articles.