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Opinions of Friday, 22 February 2002

Columnist: Ellison, Kofi

Dr. Ebenezer Ako Adjei - An Appreciation

The passing of Dr. Ebenezer Ako Adjei on January 14, 2002, at the most respectable age of 85 years; closes a chapter in the political history of Ghana. Dr. Ako Adjei's departure certainly closes the curtain on what can be adequately described as the Founding Fathers of modern Ghana; the group known as the Big Six who played a pivotal role in a defining moment of our struggle for independence from Britain.

The death of Dr. Ako Adjei also has generated discussion and debate regarding the manner in which our most respected historical figures have been ignored. Because of coup d'etats and political vicissitudes, most of the central figures in our nation's political history have been sidelined. CPP propaganda during Ghana's formative years promoted Kwame Nkrumah at the expense of the other five, who were vilified as saboteurs.

Dr. Ako Adjei is a case in point. It is reported that on the eve of his release from the Nsawam Prison in 1966, where he had been sent by president Dr. Kwame Nkrumah four years earlier, Ako Adjei completely forswore politics, and any participation thereof. This meant that, for the last 35 years of his life, Dr. Ako Adjei was unseen, and unheard, in the national discourse.

Nonetheless, Dr. Ako Adjei's life prior to his imprisonment was anything but hermit-like. Like most of the ambitious Gold Coast young men of his era, he sought university studies abroad; a journey that took him to Lincoln University in the state of Pennsylvania in the United States of America. Lincoln University is part of a cluster of universities in the United States that are referred to as "Historically Black Colleges and Universities" (HBCU). In the era of segregation and Jim Crow laws which forbade blacks to attend ‘white' universities, HBCU became a natural home for African-Americans and Africans. These institutions became the breeding ground of black leaders who would play central roles in their various countries.

It was also a nurturing political atmosphere that the university provided. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria; Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana; and a host of leading African politicians of the era, graduated from Lincoln University.

It was at Lincoln University that Dr. Ako Adjei met the then Kwame Nkrumah, and they struck up a friendship! They co-founded the African Student Association of America and Canada; and a newspaper called the African Interpreter, to explain African issues to American readers.

In the United States, Ako Adjei also became a follower of the fledgling Pan-African Movement which campaigned for an end to colonialism in Africa, among others. In 1945, Dr. Ako Adjei attended the seminal conference of the Pan-African Movement in Manchester, England. It was at this meeting that a forthright call was made for African independence. Among the delegates were Kwame Nkrumah and Joe Appiah from Ghana; and Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya; Dr.Nnamdi Azikiwe, of Nigeria; well as Dr. W.E.B Dubois, and George Padmore.

Thus, by the time he returned to Ghana, Ako Adjei was not only a qualified lawyer, but a veteran of the post-war political agitation among Africans in Britain to end colonialism in Africa.

He could not be expected to remain aloof from the political currents sweeping through the Gold Coast. Dr. Ako Adjei became a founding member of Ghana's (then Gold Coast) first political party called the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), which was inaugurated at Saltpond on August 4, 1947. Among the leaders of the UGCC were: George (Paa) Grant, who funded the party; Dr. J.B. Danquah; Edward Akuffo Addo; E. Obetsebi Lamptey; Kobina Kessie; William Ofori Atta; R.S. Blay, and R.A. Awoonor Williams; and of course, Ako Adjei.
The UGCC's aim was to ensure, ‘that by all legitimate and constitutional means the direction and control of government should pass into the hands of the people and their Chiefs in the shortest possible time"! The UGCC was not the most revolutionary party in the world!!

When it came to choosing the Secretary of the party, the leading members proved even less revolutionary!!! As lawyers with fledgling legal practices, none of them wanted to abandon his profession to devote full attention to leading the independence struggle. Nor could the position be served on a part-time basis. The Secretary also served as the national organizer of the party.
To solve the problem, Ako Adjei recommended Kwame Nkrumah whose organizational ability he had witnessed first hand in the USA and London.
After the leadership gave their grudging approval, Ako Adjei sent a letter of invitation to Nkrumah in London to return home and assume the position. Nkrumah did return, and assumed the position of General Secretary in December 1947. It is safe to surmise that without Ako Adjei's input, the independence movement in Ghana would have taken a different turn! History, would again put Ako Adjei among the leadership of Ghana in 1948.
Following the killing of ex-servicemen, who were protesting no-payment of their allowances on February 28, 1948; and the subsequent rioting in Accra, and other towns, the colonial government accused the UGCC of fomenting trouble, and declared a state of emergency. On March 12, the Governor issued Removal Orders and police arrested the entire UGCC leadership. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Dr. Joseph Boakye Danquah, Mr. Edward Akufo Addo, Mr. William Ofori Atta, Mr. E. Obetsebi Lamptey and Mr. Ebenezer Ako Adjei were detained and exiled to the Northern Territories, now the Northern, Upper East, and Upper West Regions.
While the British colonial government sought to silence these leaders, the action provided a mythical status for the venerable men. From then on, they became known as the BIG SIX, because of their vigorous agitation for Ghana's independence and their subsequent imprisonment by the British colonial government.
Of course, Kwame Nkrumah broke away from the UGCC, and formed the Convention People's Party (CPP) on June 12, 1949, with the catchy phrase: "Self Government Now for the Chiefs and people of the Gold Coast". The difference between the UGCC and CPP was apparent from then on. The election of 1951 which was won by the CPP signaled the demise of the UGCC, and its leaders formed competing parties. Ako Adjei however, joined the CPP.
He became the Minister of the Interior in 1957. In 1962, another event thrust Ako Adjei, then the Minister of Foreign Affairs, unto the national limelight, though this time, it was unsavoury.
On August 1, 1962, president Nkrumah was returning from a meeting at Tenkudugu in what is now Burkina Faso with then president Maurice Yameogo of Upper Volta (as Burkina Faso was then called), when a bomb was reportedly thrown at him in Kulungugu, in the Upper Region of Ghana.
Ako Adjei, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, was among those accused of plotting to assassinate the president. As a young boy, I recall reading the newspaper and seeing photos of Ako Adjei, and the accused turned upside down (meaning they were as good as dead!). That was before the verdict was announced!! The other accused were Tawiah Adamafio, the Minister of Information, Cofie Crabbe, the CPP Executive Secretary, Joseph Yaw Manu, and Robert Benjamin Otchere.
Tawiah Adamafio, Cofie Crabbe, and Ako Adjei were acquitted because the evidence against them was rather circumstantial and fraudulent; and pointed more to CPP in-fighting as the basis of their accusation.
This is how a member of the Ghana Parliament, F.E. Techie Menson concluded their guilt in a speech to Parliament on September 6, 1962: "On the journey... to the place of the incident, they (Adamafio, Crabbe, and Ako Adjei), isolated themselves from the Leader, to whom they had clung previously all along as if they were his lovers. They rode in different cars and were hundreds of yards away leaving the President behind". It was said a fetish priest had also accused the three of complicity in the ‘plot' to kill the president.
President Kwame Nkrumah sacked the three judges who had acquitted the three men. Nkrumah then empaneled new judges headed by Justice Sarkodie-Addo, who found the acquitted, guilty; based largely on a fetish's evidence! Ako Adjei and the two others were sentenced to life imprisonment. The prisoners gained their freedom only after the overthrow of president Nkrumah on February 24, 1966.
Apparently, the whole experience, (the false accusation and the prison term) jolted Ako Adjei so much so that, he decided he had had enough of politics. According to reports, his last appearance on the national stage happened on the 40th anniversary of Ghana's independence. Then president Rawlings honoured Dr. Ebenezer Ako Adjei for his "contribution to the struggle for Ghana's independence...." Ako Adjei said at the time, that "Ghana is our country. We have nowhere to go. This is where God has placed us and the earlier we realized this the better for all of us". In my view, these are wise words for the children to live by!!
He was awarded the State Honour of Officer of the Order of the Star of Ghana. But Ako Adjei was indeed a Star of Ghana long before that presidential recognition. In early 1962, his alma mater Lincoln University, awarded him an Honorary Doctorate Degree.
Ako Adjei, as Ghana's Foreign Minister articulated the concept of a "complete political union" for Africa in June 1960 at the meeting of African Foreign Ministers in Addis Ababa; and urged the setting up of Africa Customs Union; Africa Free Trade Zone; and Africa Development Fund. Sadly, he was in prison when the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU) was born in 1963. It is a testament to his ideas that the proposed Africa Union (successor to OAU) in the year 2001, adopted policies similar to those Ako Adjei enunciated in 1960.
Of the other Big Six members, Dr. J.B. Danquah, died in Nkrumah's detention; Obtsebi Lamptey died because he was denied proper medical care while in Nkrumah's detention; William Ofori Atta was imprisoned by Nkrumah, released after the 1966 coup, he served as minister in the Busia government; and became the leader of a political party UNC in 1979; Akuffo Addo was forced to ‘retire'from the Supreme Court in 1963, because he acquitted Ako Adjei and Co, in the post-Nkrumah era, he served as Chief Justice, and became President of the Second Republic. Nkrumah, of course became our first president. He was overthrown in a coup d'etat in 1966, and died in exile in Guinea in 1972.
Dr. Ako Adjei was born on June 17, 1916, and is survived by his wife and four daughters. The president of Ghana, has declared that Dr. Ako Adjei will be given a State Burial. And that is as well. The Big Six have all departed this life. We are on our own from now on!