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Opinions of Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Columnist: Frank Owusu-Asamoah

J B Danquah, a victim of political polarization

His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has asserted that it will be wholly appropriate and not at all far-fetched to describe Joseph Boakye Danquah as the founder of the University of Ghana.

This comment was made at the launch of an endowment fund to form part of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the University of Ghana.

This has led to speculations that this move is part of a grand scheme by the President to rename the University of Ghana to Joseph Boakye Danquah (JBD) University. Are there any issues of intellectual dishonesty on the part of the President?

Is he trying to skew the historical facts of the University of Ghana? Or indeed JBD played a special role in the foundation of the University of Ghana. Even if JBD didn’t play a role in the founding of the premiere University of Ghana, is he worthy of note for the School to be named after him?

In the history of Ghana, institutions have been named after hardworking Ghanaians as an acknowledgement of their contribution towards the struggle for independence or their contribution to the development of the Nation.

In this vein Government in times past and present have had some notable institutions being named after some prominent citizens of our Motherland.

Some of these institutions in the country are the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology named after Dr. Kwame Nkrumah the first President of Ghana, the George Grant University of Mines and Technology, which was recently named after George Alfred Paa Grant, the founder of the United Gold Coast Convention which was the first Political Party to be formed in Ghana.

Wa Polytechnic is also to be named after Dr. Hilla Liman, the President of the third Republic of Ghana; University of Professional Studies will also soon be renamed Opoku Ampomah University of Professional Studies after Opoku Ampomah the founder of the school formally referred to as the Institute of Professional Studies, and currently the Omanhene of Amoafo-Bekwai in the Ashanti region.

In contemporary Ghana, most of these renaming were done with less tension and perhaps no iota of opposition from anybody or persons in the country.

However there have been hot debates over the decision to rename the premier University of Ghana after JBD. This idea has been faced with stiff and repulsive aggression from the main opposition party, the NDC. The question is, why this difference in posture when the other renaming suggestions and ceremonies received less attention?

JBD was a member of the famous Big Six, a Pan Africanist, a Statesman and an astute Lawyer. He is in fact credited with the origin of the name Ghana modeled after the old Ghana Empire. He was the first West African to obtain the Doctor of Philosophy degree from a British University. He was given the accolade “The Doyen of Gold Coast Politics” by the Watson Commission.

The Cambridge dictionary defines 'Doyen' as "the oldest, most experienced, and often most respected person of all the people involved in a particular type of work."

This is a man who canvassed and convinced the Ashanti and the Northern Territories to join the then Gold Coast. On his contribution towards the establishment of University of Ghana, JBD took an unrelenting stance against the idea to have one University sited only in Nigeria for the West Africa sub region. He persevered in his campaign against this decision until the Colonial administration decided to establish an institution of higher education in the Gold Coast in 1948.

He also played a fund raising role in his capacity as a legislator to help secure a seed fund of £897,000 capital from Cocoa farmers for the establishment of the University of Ghana.

Why the aggressive posture of some citizens, academicians and think tanks against this idea to rename the University after JBD? This is spearheaded by the main opposition party, the NDC. Do they have a case? Their reason for kicking vehemently against this idea is quite interesting, are they worried by the assertion that JBD is a founder as indicated by the President or even by his contribution to the development of the Nation? Aside being the founder, whether true or not, is that the only grounds on which he is or not qualified to be honoured by the naming of the school after him.

Juxtaposing it on some prominent names like Kotoka, Hilla Liman, Aliu Mahama, George Alfred Grant etc. These are individuals whose names have been immortalized as a result of their contribution to the general development of the country and not necessary because they played a specific role in the establishment of the institutions they were named after.

Following the conferment of an Honorary Doctorate Degree on former President Jerry John Rawlings by the University for Development Studies (UDS) on Saturday the 12th of October, 2013. A group calling itself, the Progressive Democrats Front issued a statement on the 18th of October, 2013 calling on the University Council of the UDS to be bold and rename the institution after the erstwhile President, citing his singular act of having to donate an amount of $50,000.00 for the establishment of the institution. This amount of money was the prize awarded him by the Directors of U.S. based World Hunger Project.

In 2015 Princeton students challenged the name of the University’s Woodrow Wilson School on the basis of Wilson’s views on race and his support for racial segregation in his role as President of Princeton and President of the United States of America. This is a good ground for making a decision as to who is named after what. The best way to argue therefore over the University of Ghana- JBD renaming rumpus is, is he a national hero enough to warrant such an honouring? Not because he is an uncle to the current President, as being trumpeted by some opposition members of Parliament! This will inform proper decision making going forward.

As a nation we have been divided by Politics, though not as repugnant as the earlier days of Ghana. However this is affecting our ability to honour our National heroes. A Nation that does not honour its heroes is not worth dying for. Politics has played into every fiber of decision making in Ghana as CPP is for Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, NPP is for Danquah-Busia tradition, PNC is for Dr. Hilla Liman and NDC is for Jerry John Rawlings. This is the core of the opposition's aversion to the idea to rename the premier University in Ghana after JBD, who is from the Danquah-Busia tradition or in popular parlance, an NPP hero.

In a sharp twist however, the then Minister for Labour and Employment, Honorable Haruna Iddrisu in 2016, made a strong case to rename the University for Development Studies (UDS) after the former President and the founder of the opposition NDC, Jerry John Rawlings, re-echoing the earlier call by the Progressive Democrats Front, and appendage of the opposition NDC.

Why is the case of Legon-JBD renaming suggestion being treated with such aversion by citizens and mostly the Opposition? Is it because of the prestige attached to Legon as the Nation’s Premier University? How different is Legon from KNUST, UMAT, UPSA, Accra Sports Stadium, Kumasi Sports Stadium, Tamale Sports Stadium, Kotoka International Airport etc.? Is it the alumni population or the reputation of the school on the international scene etc.? What has made Legon a different story? Our illiterate parents think the English word of a University is Legon, perhaps this should inform us how big and different the renaming of the University is. Established in 1948, it is the oldest and largest with a population of nearly 40,000 students. Its Motto is Integri Procedamus and simply called Legon. It has John Dramani Mahama, John Evans Atta Mills, His Excellency the current President, Prof.

Aaron Mike Oquaye, Ebenezer Sekyi Hughes, Georgina Theodora Woode, Komla Dumor, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, Kofi Awoonor, Joyce Aryee, Rev Sam Korankye Ankrah, Paa Kwesi Amissah Arthur, Peter Ala Adjetey, George Kingsley Arthur and Anas Aremyaw Anas as its prominent alumnus. These are basically the crème de la crèmeof the Ghanaian population of living and blessed memory. I believe all these factors have played into the media and wide attention that the University of Ghana’s renaming has received. What are the views of these people on this subject?

Going forward, debates on who qualifies as a National hero, regardless of the political affiliation of the individual must be settled through the laid down procedures vested in the University Council of the affected institution, or the formation of a National committee to come out with clear guidelines on such exercises. Issues of renaming Universities have led to violence on the campuses of certain Universities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kenya.

The agony of the late Theodosia Okoh in her old age amid the fury of the general public in an attempt by the former Accra mayor to take her name off the National Hockey pitch is still fresh in our memories.

Does Ghana want to repeat same? There is the need to set up a committee to look into international best practices of renaming anything in the country so that going forward we would be guided by these principles. International best practices in renaming schools can be looked at; the Yale University CEPR report is a document worth taking a look at.

The renaming of an institution requires caution and sensitivity, to the campus, to its students, staff and even citizens in the country. This is the way to go in immortalizing JBD by naming the Premier University of Ghana after him.

Frank Owusu-Asamoah

Prosper Kwame Nartey