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Opinions of Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Columnist: Daniel, Ekow

“They Also Serve Who Only Stand And Wait”

(Remembering A Friend)
Ebow Daniel

He was one of 102 boys who enrolled at Adisadel College in January 1954 to begin their secondary school career. His father had been there three decades earlier. The father’s name shows against 1928 on the “Fisher’s Mathematics Prize Board” which still hangs in Canterbury Hall. Chip off the old block, the son’s name would go on another Honours Board, the “Dyce Sharp English Prize”, against 1958. In a school noted for the vibrancy of its sports programmmes, he was “Victor Ludorum” for 1960. That also shows on another Board in Canterbury Hall.
In the run-up to Independence, the Military Academy at Teshie was the post-secondary institution that was beginning to attract the flower of the country’s youth. The young man from Adisadel also enrolled, to be sponsored for the engineering programme at KNUST, to return to the Field Engineers unit at Teshie. Because of proficiency at his job and easy relations with both officers and men, he might have been expected to go places.
Ghana’s population includes a segment, now in its twilight years, for which nothing seemed to go right. This was the generation that had been taught not to meddle in politics, if they valued their peace of mind. Yet, for heeding advice to mind their own business as public servants, they still fell victim to dislocation engendered by collapse of government after government under heavy artillery. In the process, many had their careers truncated long before they could reach retirement age. So did the young man from Adisadel.
Cape Coast is where the Bond of 1844 was signed; where also efforts at “unsigning” same were more persistent; where the “Aborigines Rights Protection Society” rose to stave off sequestration by the colonial government of native lands. This was the home of Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford, proto Pan Africanist; home also to Kobina Sekyi, British trained barrister, and none more native, satorials to begin with; home also to Kobina Arku Korsah, who in the coming years would become Chief Justice. Attoh Ahuma, clergyman and political activist as well as the majority of the country’s professionals and intellectuals operated from here.
From interaction with waves of European nationals arriving by sea from five hundred years ago, Cape Coast provides a peculiar colouring and flavour to the spoken word. Nowhere do they speak like Cape Coast. Any who comes strutting the streets in a swagger as if his kind has not been seen before invites a special treat: “Saskatchwan!” And more, “Manitoba!” There is more still where those come from, “damskopel!”
In joining the military, the young man from Adisadel, for whom Cape Coast was home, was not about to cast himself as some national liberator; or one to assume any non-traditional role. He suffered for that. First, he lost footing for not showing enthusiasm for the destabilizing interventions that had become fashionable; and then was incarcerated for fear that he might become the rallying point for returning to barracks to be confined soldiers who had overran civilian embankments. Escaping from prison, he became a fugitive, eventually to migrate into exile.
The story of the young man’s trials and tribulations including betrayal by friends as he groped for exit into exile reads like Odysseus; all over. Everybody who heard of how close he came to being captured, not once, concluded that providence was protecting him for something worthwhile. As official histories are hardly ever balanced, here was hope of reading from a “public enemy”, one so designated by officialdom, otherwise why would he be in exile? There was evidence enough in Canterbury Hall of writing skills.
There is also the essay he wrote – “My Ideal School – which showed capacity for imagination and humour, if also mischief. This was a mixed school where there was no desegregation in the classroom or the dormitory. No clothes were worn to bed, not even underwear. However, anyone found in the wrong bed stood dismissed. It was all for training in self control. There were daring details that we thought would earn dismissal for the author himself. Nothing happened. The essay was returned with comment, “childish; otherwise well written”!
In exile, the young man could not contemplate much beyond scraping around for a living. Braving inclement weather to subsist on takings from a mini cab, how long could he even hope to survive? But he had a spirituality that sustained him. It was not for nothing that he was appointed Chapel Prefect at Adisadel for two years. He sang in the choir at Christ’s Church, Cape Coast; Adisadel; and Burma Camp. He could pray with great intensity. Taking Holy Orders would not have surprised any who knew him. In another environment, his kind would be celebrated for their professional integrity. Somehow, in our part of the world, it is the selfless and steadfastly loyal professionals who ever so often come to harm while others not so attractive prosper from generation to generation!
In exile and alone, it was some time before his departure came to notice. Back home, he had started a family which could not be consolidated before he was on the run. It was thus misfortune continued to play him havoc at every turn, though none deserved better; wherefore, even the more resolute in faith begin to wonder, “where is our God”?
John Dutton Ferguson Dennis was called to his maker late May, 2011, in London which had become his temporary home for three decades already. At 73, he may not have attained the slippery heights others would breach peace on earth to reach, but we can agree with Milton: “they also serve who only stand and wait”!
Sleep well, Lt. Col. Ekow Dennis!