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Mr. R.R Amponsah was no innocent abroad

In his tribute to Mr. Reginald Reynolds Amponsah, former minister in Ghana's Second Republic and general secretary of the opposition United Party in 1958 (A Tribute to the late Reginald Reynolds Amponsah Esq., Ghanaweb, 12th July 2009), Kwame Donkoh Fordwor repeated the old canard that charges of conspiracy to assassinate the Prime Minister of Ghana levelled against Mr. R.R. Amponsah and Mr. M.K. Apaloo were 'false'. He wrote: “In spite of clear evidence that this was a false charge, a Commission appointed by the Government came to the ridiculous conclusion that there had been a conspiracy and that RR and Apaloo were involved in it.” Clear evidence? That Mr. R.R. Amponsah and Mr. Modesto K. Apaloo, former deputy leader of the opposition in the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly in 1954, were innocent?

This cavalier dismissal of what were acts of treason cannot go unchallenged. Even if one accepts that stretching the truth is somewhat permissible in tributes to the dead, historical truth cannot and should not be the casualty. Mr. R.R. Amponsah was not innocent and the charges levelled against him on the eve of the Prime Minister's trip to India on 19th December 1958 were NOT false as Kantinka Donkoh Fordwor will have readers believe. Isn't it amazing that over 50 years after this event, with the wealth of material available to us, the likes of Kwame Donkoh Fordwor continue to peddle the much discredited line of the opposition leader Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia that the allegations against Mr. R.R. Amponsah and Mr. M.K. Apaloo were a “frame-up”?

On 19th December 1958, a recently commissioned officer of the Ghana Army, Lt. Amenyah went to his superior Major Trumper to relay information given him in confidence by one of the most senior Ghanaian officers in the Army and the only one with an independent command and Commandant of Giffard (now Burma) Camp, Major Benjamin Awhaitey. According to Lt. Amenyah, Major Awhaitey told him about a plot to suborn a number of non-commissioned officers (N.C.O) of the Ghana Army to assist in a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister Dr. Kwame Nkrumah on 20th December 1958 as he departed for a state visit to India.

Major Awhaitey told Lt. Amenyah that he was lured out of his home on December 18th 1958 by a driver who said his uncle the Chief of Dodowa wished to see him at a house nearby but was instead taken to see Mr. R.R. Amponsah who showed him replica uniforms of the Ghana Army “with badges of rank to go with them”. He also offered him £G50 to recruit officers as part of a planned assassination attempt on the Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah. Major Awhaitey then said members of the opposition had arranged to meet with him that evening at T-junction near Labadi beach to hear his response to their proposition but he had decided to back-out of the plot and so asked Lt. Amenya to go instead, and inform them that one of the N.C.O.s had already disclosed the plot to the General Officer Commanding (GOC) and they should therefore call it off.

Lt. Amenyah reported this conversation to Major Trumper who called in the Army Chief of Security and the head of the Special Branch. They asked Lt. Amenya to go to the planned meeting place and deliver Major Awhaitey's message to his interlocutors. He obliged and trundled off to the T-Junction where he met Mr. R.R. Amponsah who asked him to go back and find out from Major Awhaitey when they could meet if now was inconvenient. Instead Lt. Amenya reported back to the head of the Special Branch who shortly afterwards moved to arrest Mr. R.R. Amponsah.

When Mr. R.R. Amponsah was asked what he was doing at T-Junction he explained that he had been told by Mr. S.D. Dombo, then deputy leader of the opposition, that Mr. Modesto Apaloo had rung their shared residence in Accra (“Opposition House” – where a number of non-local MPs stayed) and requested meeting there at 7pm but Apaloo categorically denied making any such call or passing on any such message during the hearings of the Commission appointed to investigate these matters.

So let's be clear: (1) there can be no doubt that Mr. R.R. Amponsah had been in communication with Major Awhaitey, Commandant of Giffard Camp otherwise how could the former know he would be at Labadi Beach at the appointed time? (2) Mr. R.R. Amponsah was arrested at the planned meeting place and that is not hearsay but fact! For those who are thinking it could have been entrapment, the independent Commission set up to investigate these matters was quite emphatic that there was no setup and besides, why would one of the highest ranking Ghanaian officers in the Army be part of any such arrangement if he was only going to be court martialed and dismissed?

Furthermore, although Major Awhaitey tried to deny it, there was a long-standing connection between him and members of opposition. Indeed through November and December 1958 Major Awhaitey was seen using a green Wolseley car belonging to Mr. Victor Owusu, Opposition Member of Parliament. On an occasion he ran into another vehicle in Dodowa while driving Victor Owusu's car. Upon hearing that the car had been taken to the Dodowa Police Station, Mr. R.R Amponsah telephoned the Police requesting the release of the vehicle so that he could arrange repair. General Paley the GOC of the Ghana Army reinforced this connection when he confirmed that the car was indeed the one found in front of Awhaitey's house at the time of his arrest.

Major Awhaitey was court martialed for his part in the affair and especially for not reporting the planned assassination attempt to his superiors immediately he became aware of it and instead chose to deal with the conspirators through a fellow officer of the same ethnic origin. Both Mr. Apaloo and Mr. Amponsah were detained under the preventive detention act.

Following Awhaitey's Court Martial in January 1959, the government appointed a Commission of Enquiry to investigate the issues that arose at the tribunal and to examine impartially and in public, the circumstances leading to the detention of both members of parliament. The Commission was headed by Mr Justice Gilbert Granville Sharp, a member of the Court of Appeal and previously Recorder of Kings Lynn (in the East Anglia in the United Kingdom) and later Commissioner of the Crown Court in Manchester. The second member of the Commission was Mr. Maurice Charles a senior magistrate in the West Indies who was one of a handful of judges retained by the National Liberation Council (N.L.C) after the 1966 coup. The third and final member was Sir Nana Tsibu Darku, formerly of the Gold Coast Legislative Council and member of Governor Alan Burns' Executive Council. The impartiality of the Commission was not in doubt. Indeed during parliamentary debates on the Commission's report Mr. J.E. (Joe) Appiah, U.P. member for Atwima-Amansie who led the opposition response said this: “Three members of the community were appointed to this Commission under the chairmanship of an eminent Queen's Counsel and a Justice of Appeal of our own country.”

Not only were the Commission's hearings public, the accused persons were allowed legal counsel with both Dr. J.B. Danquah and Mr. Koi Larbi representing Mr. R. R. Amponsah and Mr. M.K. Apaloo. Evidence was heard in six languages including Ga, Twi, English, Ewe and Adangbe from ninety-seven witnesses. To suggest that such an eminent body and an open and fair process led to ridiculous and false accusations without any substantiation is not only unfair, it is quite frankly dishonest.

Central to the Commission's proceedings and findings were events that occurred earlier in June 1958 which put into sharp focus, the dealings of Mr. R.R. Amponsah and Mr. Modesto Apaloo which up until then, had been the subject of investigation by the intelligence services but unknown to most people in the country. These events showed (a) Mr. R.R. Amponsah's long history of complicity in activities to subvert the elected government of his country only one year after independence (b) the fantastic but naïve web of falsehoods [sic] in which he entangled himself. Both of these undercut Kwame Donkoh Fordwor's rather risible claims that the charges against him were 'false'.

On June 16th 1958, Mr. R.R. Amponsah left Ghana for the United Kingdom ostensibly to seek medical treatment for an injured leg. According to Amponsah, he arrived without an overcoat and as a result contracted cold and was advised by the Moral Rearmament Group that met him, to remain in bed. However, within days of his arrival Mr. Amponsah says he was joined at lunch by a stranger who called himself Mr. John Walker and claimed to hail from a West African French Territory. Although Amponsah made no effort to check his credentials or even which country he came from specifically, he agreed to help this stranger find a shop that sold military accoutrement on the basis that Mr. Walker did not know his way round London. The injured Mr. R.R. Amponsah who had flown to the United Kingdom for special medical treatment for an ailing leg, trudged around London and found just such a shop opposite Charing Cross Hotel on the Strand, Badges & Equipment (Teherene) Ltd. But he went further; he agreed to purchase “240 bronze pips (officer's badges of rank), 24 Sam Browne belts, 45 yellow bamboo canes and 5 bamboo canes all covered with leather, of the total value of £12915s. 6d.” for this stranger he had known for less than a day. Curiously, the stranger apparently refused to make the purchases himself or even accompany Mr. R.R. Amponsah to the shop. It is also a matter of record that Mr. R.R. Amponsah referred to himself as John Walker during his transactions with Badges & Equipment.

Here is how the Commissioners described Mr. Amponsah's rather fantastic account of these events:
“Mr. R.R. Amponsah is a hard-headed person and man of able intelligence. As a Member of Parliament and the General Secretary of the United Party he occupied a position of responsibility. At the time when he was visiting London as he says for medical advice, he was suffering from a severe injury to his leg and using a stick to aid him in walking. It is strange that such a person in such a situation should, on a casual acquaintance with a complete stranger about whose country he made no enquiry beyond that it was in French territory, undertake for him at his request the gratuitous task of searching a number of shops in London for a quantity of military accoutrement of the character here in question, as to the reasons for wishing to possess which he made no enquiry and going at all times during his search for the acquisition of the material unaccompanied by Mr. John Walker who, according to Mr. Amponsah, refused to accompany him even for the purposes of completing the transaction with Badges & Equipment or for the purpose of deciding the kind of hackle which he wished to be supplied him.”

The Commissioners concluded rhetorically that “Mr. Amponsah could not have supposed that Mr. John Walker was a theatrical producer of impresario”.

To be fair, according to Mr. Amponsah, Mr. John Walker promised him a commission of £20 for purchases over £100. Strangely, however, Mr. Amponsah unilaterally volunteered to accept a lower commission of £10 and instead asked for a loan of £40 because he said he was in financial dire straits. He promised to pay back the loan when he returned to Ghana. The Commissioners wondered why he did not ask for a loan of £30 in addition to his original commission of £20 but voluntarily gave up £10 and instead borrowed £40. This conundrum, however, is easily explained by the subsequent transaction by Post with Badges & Equipment Ltd.

After putting down a deposit for the goods, the ailing Mr. Amponsah said he travelled to Paris to see a faith healer who took him up the Eifel tower and then to Stuggart in Germany during his two weeks in the United Kingdom in June 1958. However when he was asked for his French visa as evidence for these travels he said his passport was lost. He returned a few days later, paid for the goods and took them away.

During the transaction, Mr. Amponsah asked about hackles – a feather plume worn on headgear of officers to distinguish them from other ranks in the army – and promised to get back to Badges & Equipment Ltd about these at a later date. On 2nd July 1958, a day after he returned to Ghana, a telegram was sent to Badges & Equipment Ltd from a John Walker in Lome ordering hackles worth, wait for it: £40 – the exact amount of the loan Mr. Amponsah said he had borrowed from John Walker after he voluntarily dropped his commission by £10. Unlike the first transaction which was paid for in cash, the additional order of the hackles was settled with a cheque drawn on an account operated by Mr. Amponsah. So it is clear the 'cock and bull' stories about the loan and reduced commission were only designed to obfuscate – though rather clumsily.

The telegram for the second order directed that the hackles be sent by mail to John c/o Mr. Firmin Abalo who turned out to be a Member of Parliament of the Chamber of Deputies in Togoland and General Secretary of the Juvento Youth Organisation whose President was one Ben Apaloo, uncle of Mr. M. K. Apaloo, himself Chairman of the Ghana Branch of the same organization. The hackles duly arrived in Lome and Mr. Firmin Abalo handed them to John Mensah Anthony who passed them on to his maternal half-brother Mr. M.K.Apaloo in Accra. However, they were different from those worn by officers in the West African Frontier Force and so they were returned with another letter from the so-called John Walker, this time with a different address at United Africa Company, requesting they be changed. John Mensah Anthony took delivery of the replacement on 14th December 2008 which M.K. Apaloo promised to collect on 20th December, 1958, the day of the Prime Minister's trip to India.

The Commission unanimously concluded “[t]hat Mr. Amponsah was in fact the “John Walker” who in London purchased the military accoutrement”. If John Walker did not exist, who paid for the purchases of military accoutrement? Mr. R.R. Amponsah!; initially with cash from cheques drawn on an “Osei-Bonsu Overseas Study Account” setup on behalf of his nephew in 1953, to facilitate his studies in United Kingdom. However, Mr. Amponsah operated that account and was the only person who could draw cheques on it. On other occasions it was de facto, the unofficial - some will say secret - overseas account for the opposition with evidence of cheques having been made out to Dr. Busia, William Ofori-Atta and Howard Chance & Co., the firm of solicitors retained in October 1956 to assist the opposition 'matemeho' in partition negotiations and indeed submitted a brief to the Colonial Office, on behalf of the parties they represented, calling for the appointment of a Partition Commission.

The Commissioners concluded that the military accoutrement were paid for with moneys Mr. Amponsah had withdrawn from the Osei-Bonsu Overseas Study Account - earlier Mr. Amponsah admitted that although he had opened his own account in Earls Court in 1957, he never visited the Bank and did not operate that account. According to Badges & Equipment whose employee flew to Accra to testify before the Commission, Mr. Amponsah paid for the purchases with £5 notes and on the back of the cheque drawn on the Osei-Bonsu Overseas Study account on 21st June, 1958, the teller had written £140 x “v” and “10” suggesting he was given £140 in £5 notes and a £10 note. Indeed, the separate order of the hackles (placed by Mr. John Walker in Lome) was paid for by a cheque drawn on the same account on the back of which the following had been written: “Bonsu Overseas Study a/c., R.R. Amponsah, P.O.Box 221, Kumasi, Ghana.

The significance of the purchase of military accoutrement may not be immediately obvious to the casual observer but as head of the Special Branch admitted under cross-examination, although “none of the characteristics of a coup d'etat … was apparent in the circumstance being investigated” - there were no obvious plans to take over broadcasting or communication facilities for example - he “instanced the event in Burma [where Major Awhaitey served from 1943-1946] in 1946 when a group of Opposition Party members dressed themselves in military uniforms, stole an Army truck and went into the Cabinet Room and massacred Members of the Cabinet.” According to Major Davies, then Chief of Ghana Army Security the assassination of Members of the Burmese Cabinet in 1946 was undertaken by “five or six people dressed in jungle uniforms with 14th Army flashes who rode in a private jeep with false number plates, and who were armed with Sten guns which they had obtained on a false voucher from the Burma Police”. Remember too that in Major Awhaitey's original discussion Lt. Amenya, he mentioned being shown replica uniforms “with badges of rank” by Mr. R.R. Amponsah.

Although the Commission were largely unanimous in their conclusions, they differed in two critical areas namely: the complicity or otherwise of the accused in the plot to arrest or assassinate the Prime Minister as he departed for India; and whether or not a conspiracy existed between Mr. Amponsah and Mr. Apaloo. The latter is rather curious given that in their unanimous report, all the Commissioners concluded that Mr. Amponsah and Mr Apaloo were “engaged in the purchase of West African Frontier Force officers' hackles and that Apaloo knew of the materials which Mr. Amponsah purchased in London”. Overall, they concluded unanimously “[t]hat Mr. Amponsah and Mr. Apaloo since June 1958, were engaged in a conspiracy to carry out at some future date in Ghana an act for unlawful purpose, revolutionary in character.”

A majority of the Commission went further and concluded “[t]hat Awhaitey, Mr. Amponsah, Mr. Apaloo and Mr. John Mensah Anthony were engaged in a conspiracy to assassinate the Prime Minister, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and carry out a coup d'etat”. Justice Sharp, however, argued that although Amponsah and Apaloo had been part of a conspiracy they had withdrawn from it when they suspected the police had knowledge of their plans. His position was based on the fact that contents of a police 'Secret Report' on the activities of Mr. Amponsah and Mr. Apaloo, became known to them on 11th Novermber 1958, shortly after it had been shown to senior officers of the Army and Police and to certain members of the government. This report was the result of secret investigations by the intelligence services into activities of underground subversive movements and Mr. Amponsah's purchase of military accoutrement which started as far back as July 1958. A suspicious employee at Badges & Equipment had reported Mr. Amponsah's transactions which reached the Ghana Police in July 1958 and this formed part of the secret investigations. The so-called 'Secret Report' was shown to senior officers of Major and above and there were suspicions that Mr. Apaloo and Mr. Amponsah had been made aware of it by their contacts in the military.

Justice Sharp's dissenting minority opinion rested in part on his belief that “Mr. Amponsah and Mr. Apaloo had as soon as they knew that the Badges & Equipment transaction had been disclosed to the Police abandoned any idea of associating further with anything connected with that transaction and had no intention of involving themselves further in any such exploit”. Not only was this speculative, it was rather incredulous given the web of falsehoods spun by Mr Amponsah and had been exposed in the unanimous report Justice Sharp was a signatory to and from which he did not demur.

On November 17th 1958, a signed note from M.K. Apaloo was found in a pair of sandals he had taken to Ussher Fort as a present to Dzenkle Dzewu who had been detained as part of a previous conspiracy. The note read:
“Watch out!
“Secret Information says Enoch Mensah and a few others have been planted amongst you as spies. Be discreet about this information”

Mr. Apaloo's secret note to Dzenkle Dzewu was, on the face of it at least, an admission that he was involved in or aware of something sinister and was alarmed that the group might have been infiltrated given what he had been told about what was in the 'Secret Report'.

The 'Secret Report' also showed the extent of Mr. Amponsah's and Mr. Apaloo's involvement with the Ga Shifomo Kpee (a Ga nationalist group) and especially its more radical violent wing called the “Tokyo Joes” with whom they had met on several occasions. According to a police report, at one of their meetings held in the dark Mr. Amponsah introduced a 'stranger' believed to be Mr. Apaloo who told this violent group that that they had exhausted all constitutional possibilities and had little option but to resort to unconstitutional methods in their opposition to Nkrumah's government . The 'stranger' ruled out open rioting and suggested that the most effective approach would be to kidnap and assassinate prominent members of the Government including the Prime Minister, Hon. Kofi Baako the Minister for Information and Broadcasting and Hon. Krobo Edusei who at the time was the Minister for Transport. These are serious charges which no one should dismiss casually. After all, similar charges were not, at the time, made against Victor Owusu, Mr. Joe Appiah, J.A. Braimah, B.F Kusi or indeed many other members of the opposition. To dismiss them outright as 'false' and 'ridiculous' is quite outrageous. Subsequent assassination attempts on the Prime Minister and bomb outrages in the 1960s prove in hindsight, that these police reports were indeed credible.

Let's be clear: at the time of the plots to kidnap and assassinate prominent members of the Government no single political opponent of Nkrumah or C.P.P. had been arrested or detained. Ghana was NOT at the time a one-party state (in fact Her Majesty the Queen remained Head of State) and preventive detention had not been introduced. Mr. S. G. Antor, Mr. Kojo Ayeke R.R and Mr. Amponsah had been hauled before the courts but were not detained without trial and all three were acquitted, if not immediately subsequently, on a technicality. Indeed the preventive detention bill was published and introduced into Parliament three weeks after the police and intelligence services learnt about the Apaloo and Amponsah conspiracy and only became law in August 1958, more than one month after Mr, Amponsah had purchased replica uniforms in London as part of his assassination plans.

Why, after one year of independence, were these men keen to rid the country of members of their own elected government? It amazes me that those who claim the rights of members of the party they support are being abused by being invited for questioning at by the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) today, are not outraged by the utterly senseless attempts to destabilise Ghana's embryonic democracy in 1958. Those who wanted and plotted to assassinate their political opponents only because they felt they had an inalienable right to govern cannot be given a free ride and be held up as national heroes.
In the opposition response to the debate on Granville Sharp Commission report, Mr. Joe Appiah described Mr. Amponsah as “a person who was anxious to risk being imprisoned with all the laboriousness involved.” Some will say he deliberately courted martyrdom but he was no innocent abroad. He knew he was engaged in a treasonable act and yet persisted and did so knowing what the consequences would be. To suggest that the charges against him were false and the conclusions of the Commission ridiculous, against the background of what is presented here and actually took place, is simply dishonest and totally indefensible.

Credit: Ekow Nelson
London
[Email: kwawnelson@yahoo.co.uk

Disclaimer: "The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article." © Ekow Nelson.