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Tue, 02 Apr 2024 Feature Article

Beware The ‘IDES’ Of March

Beware The IDES Of March
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If you have read Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, you may remember that Julius Caesar was warned by a soothsayer to “beware the ‘ides’ of March” . (Ides means the (“middle of”).

Caesar did not heed the prophecy, and was brutally cut down by the swords of enemy assassins’ on the 15th of March.

Luckily, we got our independence from Britain on 6 March 1957 – a mere 9 days before the “ides of March”, true! But it was still NOT the “Ides of March”! However, as we celebrate Independence Day every year, do we pause to wonder at how close that day is to the day fearfully observed by by the Romans as a day of disaster?

Every March since 1957, we have remembered or been told about the euphoria that filled our hearts on that day, especially if we were lucky enough to be alive And were able to take part in the joyous celebrations that marked our great day. As a member of the “Independence Brigade”`myself, I do not regret being trotted out sometimes to share my recollections of the great day.

What those of us who were physically present at the Accra Polo Ground on 6 March 1957 can never forget is the drama of what took place that midnight.

For me, the event was particularly memorable because it was the first time I was, as a Reporter, covering a MAJOR world event. Reporters of all types had arrived in Accra from overseas to witness Britain handing over power to one of its African colonies. And one that had achieved its independence without resorting to armed struggle like, say, Kenya or Cyprus – at that! It was exciting. It was a world first. And there stood I, only 20 years of age, pen in hand, to record what took place for posterity in Ghana. I was walking on air.

I took full advantage of the “PRESS” badge SLUNG around my neck,which enabled me to join the politicians who were crossing the road from the “Parliament House” of the time (King George The Fifth Memorial Hall) to the Polo Ground, near the Accra Community Centre. On the grounds of the Polo field, a special dais had been erected, senior Convention People’s Party (CPP) Ministers had mounted it, to await the sound of the Accra “Post Office Siren”, which had been set to blast out at midnight on the dot. Normally, the siren only blared out at midday. So we were all agog to hear it going at midnight, for the very first time ever.

I noticed that the big men of the CPP were in a very jovial mood. Those who had been imprisoned during the struggle for independence – N.A Welbeck, Krobo Edusei, Kojo Botsio, K.A Gbedemah, Archie Casely-Hayford and Kwame Nkrumah himself - were putting on specially made white caps on which were written the letters ”PG” (meaning “Prison Graduate”).

They were helping one another to put the caps on, laughing all the while; no doubt, in recollection of the exact day and time they were picked up by the police, to be taken to prison for whatever they were alleged to have been Doing, during the struggle for independence.

I was inspired to write a poem about the event which went like this: “Ring for my hungry ears again, Midnight Post Office siren” (I have forgotten the poem now, but I was asked to i read it on Radio Ghana, where a supercilious news reader pointed out to me that “siren” did not rhyme with “again!” He suggested that I should change it. To do my bit for independence, I refused! I was exuding a bravado borne of victorious youthfulness and it pushed me to say "No, you don’t!” to Daniel Jones and his imperious book, “An English Pronouncing Dictionary” which was the broadcaster’s bible. !

As I was saying, at midnight, the siren’s mighty sound rang out: ”HWEEEEEEEEEE!.....Hweeeeee!..... HWEEEEEE!.....

Hweeeeeeeee!”
Now, the siren was normally blown only at noon. But here was it sounding at midnight. The novelty of the happening was greeted with an enormous cheer by the huge crowd at the Polo Ground, which probably comprised everyone in Accra who was hale and hearty and could be there. They yelled back ”YIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”after each blast of the siren.

When the siren fell silent at last, Kwame Nkrumah shouted: “Freedom!” three times to the crowd. This was his usual greeting to crowds that gathered to hear him at political meetings (such as rallies at the “West End Arena” in Accra).

The crowd responded heartily. But he wasn’t satisfied with the strength of their response. He must have reasoned, then, that it was the lack of strength in his own voice that had brought the weakish response.

So Nkrumah turned to the best-known “rabble-rouser” in the “PG” group, Krobo Edusei, and asked him in Twi:”Bepae ma me!” {Come and arouse them for me!}

Now, imagine a young Reporter happening to be within earshot of such a dramatic eventuality!

Of course, Krobo Edusei was only too glad to oblige. And thus was born the drama of the Accra Polo Ground on 6 March 1957, which is viral on the internet these days:

KROBO EDUSEI: CHOOOOOOOOBOI! CROWD: YAAAAAAA EEEEEEEEEEI!” (repeat)

The crowd was electrified. And they electrified Kwame Nkrumah, who yelled: “At long last, the battle has ended! And Ghana, your beloved country, is free forever!”

The response from the crowd, at the sound of those twenty or so words, could have been heard in Cape Coast and even Bawku: “YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

And that was it: from Gold Coast to Ghana. Accomplished.

But now, 67 years later, comes a Caesarean warning, such as could have been uttered in 1957: “Beware the ides of March!”

Ghanaians seem to be now set – relentlessly – on a path of self-assassination.

We are destroying our drinking water,
In search of gold;
We are mercury-poisoning
The water with which we cook!
We are killing our cocoa trees,
By rotting their roots with arsenic;
Babies with neither nose nor eyes
Are being born in our hospitals
And our high political bodies
Are polluted with galamsey bribes.
Chiefs o,
Chairmen o,
Drivers o,
Macho men o,
They all dey inside!
Ghana, beware– beware the ides of March!

Oh beloved Ghana,
Please beware the ides of March!
Your unborn children are crying,
Asking: if YOUR ancestors
Had poisoned the water-bodies,
Would you be here today
To make galamsey your god?
Your ancestors dug up so much gold
That the country itself
Became named
As the “Gold Coast”;
But those ancestors took care
Not to harm any water-bodies;
And YOU drank good water
And grew up —
To become unmindful;
Of your own children’s future!
Of your children’s children’s welfare.

Ao, midnight siren,
Is this what you brought?
Is this what
That Polo Ground “WHEEEEEEEEE!”
Was all about?
No, Ghana, no!
You are letting yourself down!
And – letting Africa down!

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