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Opinions of Saturday, 24 February 2018

Columnist: John Hamilton

February 24, 1966: Ghana’s Day of Liberation

Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah

I have no doubt in my mind that history will ultimately judge Lt. Gen. Emmanuel KwasiKotoka, Brigadier AkwasiAmankwaaAfrifa, and the others who spearheaded the removal of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah Nkrumah as Ghanaian patriots.

Much as their action opened the floodgates of further military interventions, which most of us today condemn, it cannot be disputed that it was that action which opened up the political space again, and brought notions of democratic development back to the centre of our national deliberations.

The extraordinary, overwhelming popular response to the 1966 coup tells us all we need to know about the positive reaction of the Ghanaian people to it.

No other coup – be it 1972, 1979 or 1981 – has received the widespread, spontaneous and enthusiastic embrace of the Ghanaian people quite like that of the first one of 1966. This is not meant to be a polemical point, just a bare statement of fact.

The Ghanaian people instinctively recognised that there was no other way. Hence, their enthusiasm, because it was Ghana’s Day of Liberation.

It is a matter of some amusement that those, who today are some of the most vociferous champions of Nkrumah’s reputation, were young persons who could not have experienced the events of the time. Kwesi Pratt and Prof. Akosa are both children of CPP parents. Pratt, guardian of the flame, was barely old enough to be a young pioneer at the time of Nkrumah’s overthrow to appreciate the situation then.

In the same way, Prof Akosa, who was not even four years old at the time of Ghana’s independence, could not have too many conscious memories of Nkrumah’s rule, other than those handed down to him from his father, the fearsome DC Akosa, whose autocratic, arbitrary rule of the Sekyere area in Eastern Ashanti, as a District Commissioner, was a notorious byword in the CPP era.

However they came by these memories, they are entitled to them and to their views of Kwame Nkrumah. By the same token, they should recognise that others are equally entitled to their views of Kwame Nkrumah. It is the height of arrogance for anybody to assume that he or she has a monopoly on patriotism.

Acknowledging this would enhance the quality and tone of our public discourse. It would breed more mutual respect between the opposing camps, which would be in the public interest. It appears, despite the passage of time, that the passions generated by the events of the First Republic will not abate.

Hopefully, in the freer atmosphere of the Fourth Republic, the heated exchanges will end up by giving us a more constructive appreciation of the past for the benefit of our nation’s progress.


It is important to state for the records, records which cannot be disputed by anyone that, by the time of the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana had become a one-party state in which the colours of the one party – the Convention People’s Party (CPP) – had become the nation’s colours, replacing the national colours. The creation of the one-party state had been effected through one of the first, if not the first, of the 90% plus “referenda” that came to characterise the results of “referenda” in post-colonial Africa.

By 1966, the multiparty state and the constitution negotiated at Ghana’s independence, just nine years earlier, laid in ruins. The United Party (UP) opposition had been decimated, with its leaders and activists either languishing in prison under the Prevention Detention Act (PDA) or in exile.

Indeed, the UP exiles in Lome, Abidjan and Lagos were the first political refugees of post-colonial Africa. The 69-year-old J B Danquah, Kwame Nkrumah’s great antagonist, the man whose scholarship gave our nation its name of Ghana, had died tragically in the dungeons of Nsawam Prison without the benefit of a trial.

It was he who, with George Grant’s money, was responsible for the establishment of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the first nationalist organisation to agitate for our nation’s independence and freedom, from which Kwame Nkrumah, a member of the legendary Big Six of Ghanaian history, broke away to form the CPP and which gave Nkrumah the platform for his political advancement.

Emmanuel Obetsebi-Lamptey, otherwise known as Liberty Lamptey, another of the Big Six, had suffered the same fate as Danquah, dying in detention without trial, chained to a hospital bed.Danquah and Obetsebi-Lamptey, the most notable victims of the PDA, were not alone.

The coup of 24 February 1966 led to the release of more than 2,000 political detainees, including many long-time detainees with five or six years in prison without trial. The human rights recordsof the various military governments that succeeded Nkrumah’s were no worse than his. At least they had the “excuse” of being unconstitutional governments, ruling by decree. What of our constitutional Kwame Nkrumah?


Judicial independence at the time of his exit existed on paper, not in reality. In 1963, in reaction to the verdict of the Special Court, a panel of the then Supreme Court, he sacked over the radio on the dreaded 1 o’clock news Chief Justice Sir ArkuKorsah, the first Ghanaian Chief Justice, for presiding over the Court that acquitted his erstwhile Ministers and Party officials – TawiahAdamafio, AkoAdjei (a member of the Big Six, the man who made the fateful introduction of Nkrumah to the Working Committee of the UGCC), and Coffie Crabbe - on charges of treason arising from the Kulungungu bomb attempt on Nkrumah’s life.

Parliament, then fully under his thumb, proceeded by legislation to set aside the verdict of the Court and a new trial ordered. The new trial was conducted by Korsah’s successor as Chief Justice, Mr Justice Sarkodie-Addo, with a jury made up of graduates of the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute, who predictably returned a verdict of guilty. The retried accused persons were sentenced to death, which Nkrumah, in his ‘magnanimity’, commuted to life imprisonment.

Another consequence of the verdict of this famous trial was Nkrumah’s decision to remove the constitutional restriction on the President’s power to dismiss judges so that he could do so at his pleasure. The 90% plus ‘Yes’ votes declared in the 1964 referendum achieved this for him.

He exercised the power to remove respected, well-known legal personalities from the Judiciary, including Supreme Court judge Edward Akufo-Addo, another member of the Big Six, the future Chief Justice and President of the Second Republic, who was the third member of the Court that acquitted TawiahAdamafio and the others, to replace them with pro-CPP judges of questionable legal ability.

We can see, then, that judicial independence and the rule of law were matters of little moment for the Osagyefo. But then he was a ‘revolutionary’ for whom the rule of law was an expensive nicety that had no place in the “African Revolution”.

The referendum was preceded, in the culture of the ruling CPP, by a loud and aggressive campaign, mounted by the State and Party media with the notorious Accra Evening News in the lead, against the Judiciary. It was a reactionary institution, staffed by “bourgeois” lawyers, who were agents of “neo-colonialism” with strong affinities to the “reactionary” UP.

A purge of their ranks was needed to ensure that the “people” got a judiciary that was alive to its responsibilities to promote the “African Revolution”. Vicious insults, egregious abuse, character assassinations – these were the staple fare of CPP propaganda.

The all-conquering Osagyefo, who, according to legend, was adored in perpetuity by the Ghanaian and African masses, was unable for the last ten years of his rule to organise a general election to test the popularity of his party.

The 1956 Parliament, elected at the instigation of the British Colonial Secretary, Alex Lennox-Boyd, had a strong CPP majority. It was this Parliament that ushered us into freedom and received in 1957 the Scroll of Independence from the hands of the representative of the British monarch to signal the beginning of our modern nationhood.

In 1960, this Parliament constituted itself into a Constituent Assemblyto promulgate the 1960 First Republican Constitution which gave Nkrumah unlimited power, including the power to make laws. This was the Constitution into which Kwame Nkrumah’s name was written. After promulgating the Constitution, the Constituent Assembly extended the life of the Parliament, i.e. itself, by another term of five years.

By the expiry of its extended term in 1965, the nation had become a one-party state by virtue of the 1964 referendum. It was then felt that elections in these changed circumstances were no longer necessary. Kwame Nkrumah proceeded to sit as Chairman of the Central Committee of the One Party to share parliamentary seats among his followers.

There were many anomalies in this tragic exercise, which would otherwise have been laughable but for its seriousness, which, for example, led to a CPP stalwart, KwesiGhapson, an Nzema, being given Danquah’s old seat in Kyebi without a single vote being cast in his favour. This was Nkrumaist democracy at its best.


Pluralism and diversity in the media by 1966 were things of the distant past. Not only had the PDA done its ruthless best to suppress all dissent, the Ghanaian media, which, during the period of the independence struggle in the 1950s, was as vibrant as it is today, had settled into the dull monotony of heaping greater and greater praise on his Messianic Dedication, one of the many appellations that the extraordinary cult of personality surrounding Kwame Nkrumah threw up.

As his failure to manage the Ghanaian economy became more and glaring, the more strident and expressive were the paeans of praise. Fortunately for us, none of his successors has had the craving for adulation, praise and self-glorification that drove Nkrumah. Like many of the great tyrants of history, he found nothing wrong in putting up effigies, monuments and statues to his own glory.

Like the fate that befell many of them, it was no surprise that, when his opponents replaced him in power, those effigies, monuments and statues were pulled down. Ancient Roman history is replete with such examples. This is why it is always better for posterity to make the judgment on monuments and statues. They are invariably more permanent and avoid the hubris of power. Self-glorification tends to leave a sour taste in the mouth of observers.


One of the saddest aspects of Nkrumah’s poor governance practices in Ghana was their replication in a majority of the newly independent nation states of post-colonial Africa. Because of his justifiable prestige as the first black African leader, it was relatively easy for the new leaders to subscribe to the specious, spurious arguments he had articulated in Ghana to justify authoritarian, personal rule.

New nations required“emergency measures of a totalitarian kind” to secure their independence; “African communalism” meant that “African socialism” provided the natural ideological context for Africa’s “development”; multi-party democracy was alien to African culture and only heightened ethnic, tribal sentiments and allegiances, posing a risk to the integrity of the new states; “bourgeois rights”, i.e., civil liberties – freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of conscience, the right to personal freedom, etc, -- were expensive luxuries that new nations struggling to win the war against poverty could not afford.

Such nations required a single-minded focus on their “development” under the direction of an all-knowing, all-powerful “heroic” figure, who was beyond criticism and accountability. These were some of the misguided outpourings of the Nkrumaist media in newly independent Ghana.

The upshot was the plethora of one-party authoritarian states with life presidents that proliferated across Africa in the first three decades of the independence era. As we now know, chronic instability, economic backwardness and persistent impoverishment of the African people were the direct consequences of the applications of these false concepts in Africa’s early development.


It should not be taken that the writer of this article sees nothing good in the political career of Kwame Nkrumah. Like many of the great figures of history, Nkrumah’s career straddled several different phases. For this writer, the Nkrumah of the late forties and fifties was undoubtedly a political figure of the first rank. Charismatic, dynamic, with exceptional organisational abilities, Nkrumah, when he supplanted Danquah as the leader of the nationalist movement, led the movement with great panache and flair in a situation of multiparty competition.

He also brought to Ghanaian nationalism the Pan-African dimension with which his name will always be associated. His period as the leader of Government in the 1950s saw a radical expansion of our social and physical infrastructure, with special emphasis on the critical impulse he gave to mass education. He was in that period the authentic voice of the African awakening. It was for these and for the fact that he was our first leader that he should be commemorated by a “Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day”. It is the tyrant of the 1960s that is a distasteful figure for this writer.

The writer is and was not alone in this. At the time of the exit of the great avowed Pan-Africanist, all of Ghana’s borders – western, northern, eastern, i.e. Ivory Coast, Upper Volta and Togo, respectively – were closed to Ghanaians. Only the southern ‘border’ on the sea was open. Even there, a Ghanaian needed an exit permit to reach it.

There have been certain consistent features of our post-1966 constitutional order which tell us that, indeed, the Nkrumah era cannot have been the golden age that Nkrumah fanatics would have us believe. Firstly, all the Constitutions of the Second, Third and the current Fourth Republic have been unanimous on one basic matter.

The emphasis on personal rule that characterised the First Republican Constitution and governance in the First Republic has been overridden by a commitment to a system of limited government, in which the separation of powers has been expressly and carefully defined to prevent the kind of concentration of power in one person’s hands which we experienced to our cost in the First Republic. Secondly, each of the Constitutions has sought by specific provisions to reinforce the general commitment to limited government.

Thus, each of the Constitutions has forcefully prohibited the exercise of power by Parliament to pass law establishing a one-party state. Again, preventive detention legislation has been expressly outlawed by each of the Constitutions.

Again, each of the Constitutions has conferred express power on the Supreme Court to strike down legislation that is unconstitutional or which infringes the letter or spirit of the Constitution. This was one of the issues in the celebrated case of Re Akoto, when the Supreme Court rejected Danquah’s submission as to the unconstitutionality of the PDA.

Fundamental human rights have been expressly defined and protected by each of the Constitutions, with the Judiciary being given the responsibility to enforce fundamental rights.

In a rebuke to what happened when Parliament in 1964 nullified the decision of the first TawiahAdamafio trial, Parliament has been expressly prohibited from altering decisions of the Courts and, by the same token, retroactive legislation is prohibited by the Constitution.

Instead of the President having the power to sack judges at will, which Nkrumah exercised in 1964 to purge the Judiciary of judges that he found “politically incorrect”, complex provisions have been put in each of the Constitutions to govern the process for the removal of judges of the Superior Court of Judicature in order to bolster the independence of the Judiciary.

Again, unlike the situation in 1958 that made it possible for Nkrumah single-handedly to advance £10 million of Ghana’s money to the aid of Guinea in a spirit of Pan-African solidarity, constitutional development in our country has since insisted that only with the approval of Parliament can such acts be undertaken. Carpet crossing, one of the means which facilitated CPP domination, has now been prohibited.

A Member of Parliament who wants to cross carpet is required to resign and seek the mandate of his constituents to do so.

Finally, in order not to repeat the horror of a life presidency, term limits have been placed on holders of the nation’s highest office, the Presidency. If things were so wonderful in Nkrumah’s time, why have so many events of his era been so expressly stigmatised since his overthrow?

- John Hamilton, Cape Coast North constituency