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09.07.2005 Feature Article

The Enduring Legacy Of Dr. J. B. Danquah – Part 15

The Enduring Legacy Of Dr. J. B. Danquah – Part 15
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The origins of the 1958 Preventive Detention Act (PDA) revolves around what became known as The Awhaitey Case or The Awhaitey Affair. The latter began with the arrest of Mr. Reginald Reynolds Amponsah, popularly known as R. R. Amponsah, Member of Parliament and General Secretary of the leading opposition United Party – a political progeny of the erstwhile United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) – and his parliamentary colleague, Mr. Modesto Apaloo, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in Parliament in mid-December 1958. The CPP government then hinted that the pair had been implicated in a coup detat which was to have commenced with the assassination of then-Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah, while the latter was boarding a flight to India in the same month. It was further hinted that R. R. Amponsah had been arrested solely for attempting to bribe some soldiers, including Major Benjamin Awhaitey, one of the highest-ranking indigenous officers (in fact, a brigade commandant) of the Ghana Armed Forces (Reap The Whirlwind 239).

Geoffrey Bing further notes that shortly prior to the enactment of the infamous PDA, the Nkrumah government had been compelled to enact what became known as The Avoidance of Discrimination Act, as a result of what the trusted British adviser to the CPP Life-Chairman claims to be the increasing tribalization of party politics. This edict, consequently, “made illegal all tribal, religious and regional parties and thus forced the opposition, which had hitherto consisted of four or five separate elements, to come together in one so-called ‘United Party’[sic]” (Reap The Whirlwind 247).

First of all, the title of The Avoidance of Discrimination Act reeked of what might be aptly termed as “Transferred Political Culture.” For, it goes without saying that the American-educated Ghanaian premier was erroneously equating the various organically constituted Ghanaian ethnic polities with the sort of artificially constructed culture of racism that prevailed in the United States, and which the Ghanaian leader had experienced first-hand as an African and a Black man. The truth, which Geoffrey Bing, dead-set on putting his boss in a far better light than the latter in all probability deserved glaringly ignores, is that rather than seeking to unify the splintered opposition parties, and thereby making the latter stronger and more viable, The Avoidance of Discrimination Act, in reality, sought to summarily proscribe the parliamentary opposition. For to have democratically and altruistically sought to accord the opposition a fighting chance, as it were, against the increasingly Messianic and autocratic Convention People’s Party would have been tantamount to a virtual political suicide on the part of the latter. And, needless to say, it would also not have accorded with practical common sense as the quite Machiavellian Prime Minister Nkrumah perceived it. In sum, by enacting The Avoidance of Discrimination Act, Nkrumah, as aforementioned, was actually attempting to totally and completely banish any semblance of the existence of a viably organized political opposition. Unfortunately for the pioneering Ghanaian premier, however, his quite “tactical” legal initiative registered the exact opposite effect by unifying and galvanizing the political opposition. But, perhaps, it is also significant to point out the wholly expedient and outright hypocritical and opportunistic motive behind Nkrumah’s Avoidance of Discrimination Act, being that the CPP Life-Chairman crowned himself as a pioneering and foremost political divider when he abruptly broke away from the Danquah-led United Gold Coast Convention.

The preceding notwithstanding, by Geoffrey Bing’s own verdict, Mr. R. R. Amponsah was most likely framed up in the alleged attempt by the latter to have Prime Minister Nkrumah assassinated on December 18, 1958, or thereabouts. And Sir Geoffrey Bing ought to know this, having served for four years as President Nkrumah’s attorney-general; and here, it is also significant to add that Bing spearheaded the investigation into the purported assassination and coup attempt. And to the preceding effect, Bing quite magisterially observes: “On the face of it, neither version of Awhaitey’s story – either that contained in his written statement or the rather different version of it as related to Lieut. Amenyah – was likely to be true. Crimes in Ghana are known to have been committed for small sums of money[,] but it was most unlikely [that] anyone of Amponsah or Apaloo’s experience would presume that, for [50 pounds sterling], NCO’s could be recruited overnight to assassinate or arrest Dr. Nkrumah”(Reap The Whirlwind 252).

Even so, Bing firmly believed that R. R. Amponsah was up to something quite sinister and clandestine, although the specific role of Modesto Apaloo in such an intricate scheme was unclear and, at best, appeared to be legally tenuous: “It seemed clear that Amponsah was involved in some clandestine activity or else he would not have spent [One-Hundred and Thirty pounds sterling] on officers’ badges of rank and this purchase had, presumably some connection with Awhaitey….”(Reap The Whirlwind 252-3).

What is interesting, however, is the fact that in the case of Dr. Danquah, no forensic evidence, whatsoever, was drawn upon on the part of the CPP government to hold him suspect or culpable for high treason. In sum, the putative Doyen of Ghanaian Politics was accused of conspiring to overthrow the patently autocratic government of his arch-nemesis based squarely on hearsay. To the preceding effect, Bing notes at length: “In the period immediately preceding Awhaitey’s arrest[,] there had been rumors of an army coup detat and there was even a Special Branch report in regard to it. Its source was a conversation in a foreign Embassy in Accra which had been allegedly overheard by a non-Ghanaian guest who reported it to the police. According to this report, Dr. J. B. Danquah had been heard assuring a diplomat, known not to be particularly friendly to the CPP Government, that everything was planned and that Dr. Nkrumah would be overthrown by Christmas by the Army. In view of the status of the informant[,] the report was taken seriously enough by the Special Branch and General Paley for there to be a thorough investigation made [conducted?] as to whether there was any possibility of the Army planning a coup detat. Nothing whatever had been discovered. Had Awhaitey set up any widespread organization, almost certainly something would have come to light in this investigation” (Reap The Whirlwind 264).

Indeed, what you have in the preceding abstract may be aptly termed as THE MACBETH SYNDROME; in sum, having decisively trounced the veritable heir apparent to the prime ministerialship of Ghana, it appears that the trophy winner found his leadership mantle to be grossly ill-fitting. Consequently, the trophy winner had to launch a massive witch-hunt, via the appropriation of the panoply of Ghana’s national security apparatus, in order to decisively incriminate and promptly eliminate the most politically-threatening thorn in the side of the trophy winner. But that the identity of the so-called non-Ghanaian informant had not been revealed in 1968, two years after the overthrow of the CPP and the year in which Sir Geoffrey Bing published his apologetic book, Reap The Whirlwind, is quite curious; more so, when the concerned diplomatic snitch, or rat, had also been described as one with a high status in the diplomatic corps.

The preceding notwithstanding, what is even more disgusting is the insistence of Geoffrey Bing in seeking to justify the untenably autocratic imposition of the Preventive Detention Act, even when it became glaringly evident that almost none of the especial targets of this edict could be conclusively prosecuted and found guilty in a court of law: “The details of this Special Branch check on possible dissatisfaction in the Army were reported to the Tribunal, though the reason for which the inquiry had been made was withheld[,] since Dr. Danquah was appearing before the Commission as counsel for [R. R.] Amponsah, [Modesto] Apaloo, Dr. Busia and other members of the opposition[,] together with Koi Larbi[,] whose London office had once housed the West African Secretariat. The report itself proved little. The most that could be said with certainty was that it was unlikely that Amponsah and Apaloo would have purchased the accouterment they did unless they believed thay[sic] had some Army link which would enable them to utilize it effectively[,] but that any plot in the Army only involved at the most a few persons”(Bing 264).

The sulfurous author of Reap The Whirlwind also advances a rather logically risible argument, after the fact, in favor of Nkrumah’s draconian imposition of the Preventive Detention Act: “Otherwise[,] the only suspicious circumstance was that early on the morning following Amponsah’s arrest[,] the whole leadership [of the Parliamentary opposition] were [sic] found by the police at 1 a.m. gathered at the house where Amponsah lived. Again, however, there was little suspicion in this on examination. All but Apaloo and Dr. Busia were tenants of the building and they might naturally, as they said, have been awaiting Amponsah’s return, alarmed that something might have happened to him. The fact that subsequently everyone in that room that night was to be appointed by the National Liberation Council to draw up the new Constitution for Ghana, is one of those curious coincidences which surround the Awhaitey affair but are without any established significance”(Bing 266-67).

And rather curiously and interestingly, Bing woefully fails to relate to his readers the terror-charged climate of abject insecurity and mutual suspicion created by the government of Nkrumah’s CPP. Instead, the British colonial expatriate and trusted adviser of the Ghanaian premier, rather cavalierly, blames the opposition United Party constabulary for logically adopting unorthodox means, including a possible assassination of the Prime Minister, as a fairly legitimate means of self-defense: “The remaining United Party leaders [in the wake of Busia’s flight abroad] attacked in the National Assembly the good faith of the majority of the Commission [that investigated the so-called Awhaitey affair]. It might be said that this was legitimate to the extent that, of course, it could be argued that Mr. Justice Granville Sharp’s great experience in legal matters led him to a fairer conclusion than that reached by his colleagues. No such argument could dispose of the unanimous findings against Amponsah and Apaloo. Faced with this straight choice, the United Party refused to accept the Commission’s unanimous conclusions or in any way to disown Amponsah and Apaloo’s action. The Awhaitey matter created in the minds[sic] of the Government the impression, never to be eradicated, that the United Party, as a party, would condone, and perhaps actively support, any illegal means of overthrowing the Government. Thus preventive detention, which when established was only to be used in an emergency, now began, more and more, to be regarded as the sheet anchor of stability and the old reluctance to use it largely disappeared”(Reap The Whirlwind 267-8).

It is also quite interesting to read Geoffrey Bing lamenting that no reputable legal and scholarly journal throughout the world would consent to reviewing The Granville Sharp Commission Report on the so-called Awhaitey affair. Perhaps like the erudite and more democratically minded Ghanaian opposition, the global judicial and academic community aptly regarded the Granville Sharp Report for what it really and patently was: sheer hogwash. Of course, Bing is too fanatically imperious about his cause to fully appreciate the preceding fact: “Despite the fact that even the paper-backed edition of the Tribunal Proceedings weighed over four pounds [to speak much less of the prohibitive cost of production], they were sent individually by airmail to every jurist throughout the world who was known to have criticized the use of preventive detention in Ghana[,] or to have expressed concern about Ghana’s denial of civil liberties. So far as I know, the only reply received was from a Japanese member of the International Commission of Jurists who wrote to congratulate the Government Printer on his choice of type and on his method of printing. It made the Proceedings, he said, a pleasure to read[;] but he gave no indication of the conclusions to which reading them had led him…. The British and American press[,] which had been so critical of events in Ghana[,] scarcely referred to the Commission’s findings, though all the usual steps to call their attention to salient passages of the Proceedings had been taken. A special analysis for the press was made and the issue to the public in Ghana and elsewhere of the Tribunal’s report were [had been?] delayed two weeks or so to provide serious journals with advance review copies so that they could make an objective study of it prior to the official publication date. None did”(Reap The Whirlwind 268-9).

Indeed, the very origins of the enactment of the so-called Preventive Detention Act (the equivalent of the post-September 11, 2001 United States Patriot Act), reeks of the outright parodic, vacuous and ludicrous, if also largely because the measure was initially broached by the least educated – or judicially enlightened – cabinet member of the Nkrumah government, and thus its apparently spiteful application. Secondly, the Ghanaian version of the PDA appears to have been enacted in blind imitation of one that had been implemented by another former British colony, under a set of historical circumstances likely to have been very different from that of Ghana. Bing recalls: “As a result of this type of controversy [i.e. regarding the political climate of intolerance under the CPP regime] the actual facts of Ghana’s Preventive Detention Act have tended to be overlooked. It was first suggested in the National Assembly by Krobo Edusei, acting without any Cabinet authority for doing so, in December 1957[,] as a result of his being shown a copy of Indian legislation then being enacted in that country. Krobo Edusei [a tenth-grade graduate, and a leading member of the so-called Verandah Boys posse of Nkrumah hangers-on], in fact, threatened to introduce a measure based on the Indian Act when Parliament resumed in February, but he was overruled in the Cabinet and at that time[;] it seemed [that] the Government had definitely decided against it. It was not until after the discovery that Amponsah was purchasing military accoutrement and that the Ga Shifimo Kpee had set up a secret organization, that the proposal was revived and a somewhat restricted version of the Indian Act was enacted in July 1958. As I have mentioned previously, it was then intended as a precaution only. Certainly at the time[,] there was no intention that it would be used against leading figures in the opposition. For example, although the facts of Amponsah’s purchase of accoutrement were known when the Bill was passed[,] there was no suggestion at the time of using it against him on this account”(Reap The Whirlwind 270-1).

Interestingly, the fact that the PDA was primarily a political gimmick aimed at arbitrarily running the legitimate Parliamentary opposition to the CPP aground, is eloquently, albeit unwittingly, explained by the edict’s most vociferous British, expatriate advocate. On the preceding score, Geoffrey Bing wistfully observes: “The Act which was drafted and redrafted several times, in the end[,] provided for detention up to five years. The detained had to be served with written details of the grounds of his detention within five days of it taking place, and was given an opportunity to appeal against them[,] but the appeal was to the [patently and veritably cynical] Cabinet and the machinery did not work well in practice. A detainee could also always bring his case before the courts by way of habeas corpus proceedings, and a number of such actions were taken but the courts held that they could not examine the merits of a detention and this remedy was thus of little practical value”(Bing 271). Of course, in the above, what Bing adamantly refuses to let on to the well-meaning reader is the fact that under the CPP tenure, the courts were virtually supplicant to the Cabinet and The Party. And, indeed, it is for the latter reason that one finds it unbearably hard to hear Bing vehemently hold brief for the CPP government as a model of continental African democracy. And as we shall shortly witness, during both times that Dr. Danquah was incarcerated under the PDA, the detainee was not promptly furnished with details regarding the grounds for his incarceration. Indeed, so egregious were the workings of the PDA, at least insofar as it was applied to the Doyen of Ghanaian Politics, that our tragic hero was to pen tens of petitions to the preceding effect, and through various executive channels, to no avail. In sum, our unequivocal contention here is that Bing is patronizing to the damnable extent of being outright blasphemous. Even so, the former expatriate attorney-general is astute enough to exculpate himself from the egregious CPP dictatorship by simply feigning ignorance in regard to critical executive goings-on: “The Attorney General’s Office was only concerned with the administration of the Act, in that we advised whether, on the face of it, it appeared to us that the evidence put up by the Minister of the Interior was strong enough to warrant detention, and that what was alleged came within the provisions of the Act. Our views were annexed to the Cabinet paper proposing the particular detention or detentions and only very rarely would I, or anyone from my office, attend at the Cabinet when a particular case was being discussed. Sometimes the Government proceeded with the proposal in the Cabinet[,] despite our doubts[;] in other cases[,] our views were accepted and the order was not made. In all cases, the Cabinet was the final arbiter”(Reap The Whirlwind 271). Needless to say, Bing’s attempt at mitigating the circumstances surrounding the imprisonment and death of Dr. Danquah is nothing short of the outright preposterous. For instance, while Dr. Danquah died on the Condemned Cell Block (now euphemistically called the Special Block) at Nsawam’s Medium Security Prison, notorious for the maltreatment of political prisoners, Geoffrey Bing cites his own brief and incidental detention at Accra’s Ussher Fort Prison as a vindication of the CPP government’s noble treatment of Dr. Danquah. First of all, at the time of Bing’s arrest and detention, the CPP government had just been overthrown, thus there was a totally new dispensation and climate in most Ghanaian prisons; of course, this is not to discount the fact that some members of the old regime might have been meted a vintage taste of their former penal code. Secondly, Bing fails to appreciate the fact that being White, British and an expatriate necessarily placed the former CPP attorney-general among a privileged class that not even Dr. Danquah, a bona fide Ghanaian of Black-African extraction was summarily denied, the latter’s phenomenal accomplishments notwithstanding. And, indeed, it is for the foregoing reasons why the rather exuberant, if also largely flippant, author of Reap The Whirlwind could cavalierly register the following crude observation: “So far as Dr. J. B. Danquah, who died in prison, was concerned, no prison official with whom I spoke at Ussher Fort [and here, the reader may aptly recall that Dr. Danquah was incarcerated at the Nsawam Medium Security Prison], suggested that he had been treated other than well and after the coup, if it had been otherwise[,] there was no reason why these officers should not have said so. Nevertheless[,] without citing any evidence in support[,] Dr. Fritz Schatten, apparently an accepted Federal German expert on Africa, has alleged that many detainees ‘were tortured to death,’ ‘in concentration camps,’ ‘as happened to the Grand Old Man of Ghanaian Nationalism[,] J. B. Danquah”(Reap The Whirlwind 273).

Indeed, had Geoffrey Bing had the requisite humility and moral courage to have questioned Mr. John William Kofi (JWK) Harlley, Inspector-General of Police at the time of Dr. Danquah’s death, he would have learned of the grisly details of prison culture under the CPP regime, particularly how President Nkrumah, almost overnight, converted himself into a Neo-Nazi-type nutritionist hell-bent on wreaking lethal vengeance on his political opponents and arch-rivals. For instance, during the sitting of the Asafu-Adjaye Commission of Enquiry into the Death of Dr. Danquah at the Nsawam Prison, the Commission’s chairman asked Mr. Harlley, a former close Nkrumah associate who had recently been named Vice-Chairman of the National Liberation Council (NLC) junta, whether the IGP was aware of the reason why Dr. Danquah had been summarily arrested and indefinitely detained. And this was the spine-chilling answer received in turn: “No, I didn’t know. On 2nd July 1962, there was a presentation of [the] Lenin Peace Prize to the ex-President, and I accompanied him (ex-President) to the State House for the function. I was very much surprised to see Dr. Danquah advanced and shook [sic] hands warmly with the ex-President. When we returned to the Flagstaff House, however, the ex-President angrily asked whether I saw Dr. Danquah shake hands with him, and I said yes. He then went on to say that Dr. Danquah looked stronger than he [i.e. President Nkrumah?] was. Wondering why Dr. Danquah who had been released from custody just a couple of days before should be so strong, the ex-President said that the prison officials had been feeding detainees on eggs and bacon. Afterwards[,] the ex-President summoned me, my predecessor, Mr. Madjitey, the then-Minister of the Interior, Mr. Kwaku Boateng, the then-Director of Prisons and his Deputy, Mr. Moses and the late Abban, to the Flagstaff House, and he angrily repeated what he had said earlier on, that Dr. Danquah and the other detainees were being fed on sumptuous food, and that henceforth the detainees should be [sic] fed on garri[cassava farina], salt and water only”(see Dr. J. B. Danquah: Detention And Death In Nsawam Prison. Accra-Tema: Ministry of Information, 1967: 52-57).

In sum, like the incurably conspiratorial and ever-scheming King MacBeth, of medieval Scotland, President Nkrumah had officially invited Dr. Danquah to an honorary ceremony for the former without actually having intended the latter to attend. Was it, perhaps, because President Nkrumah felt too insuperably diffident in the presence of Dr. Danquah to receive the coveted Lenin Prize? The answer, indeed, may lie somewhere in-between. And this is why when the ever-smiling wraith of the Doyen of Ghanaian Politics appeared smugly with characteristic aplomb and took the treasonous liberty of warmly shaking the sweaty, jittery and scrawny hand of the butt-naked King MacBeth, Lord Banquo had to be immutably committed to death. *Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of ten volumes of poetry and prose, including AMA SEFA: Unrequited Love (2004) and THE NEW SCAPEGOATS: Colored-On-Black Racism (2005), all of which are available at, and Barnes &

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