Remembering 24th February 1966—The Day Ghana Met Her Nemesis
On February 24th 1966, Ghanaians woke up to a rude shock radio announcement in the early hours of the morning that the government of the President,Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, had been overthrown, and the myth surrounding him had been broken, that the CPP (the only recognised party) was a proscribed party, and that parliament had been dissolved, that the Constitution was suspended to be substituted by military decrees, and all Ministers, District Commissioners, CPP party functionaries and apparatchiks, should report without fail to the nearest police station for their own safety and security.
I was in middle school standard seven and I was the office boy at my school. I went to school and went into the detached office of the headteacher to attend to my daily chores. I could not hold the news of Nkrumah's overthrow lightly, for at 15, I was politically conscious as I understood a lot, and I decided to pray about it. I knelt down in a corner of the office and offered my prayers that the dark clouds should pass over if it was the will of God.
Later in the day, many people in Winneba, as in many other places in Ghana, took to the streets to jubilate and hail the gallant soldiers who had done the dirty job of their masters. Many people still were in disbelief and they decided to be cautious with their outward expression of their inner emotions, as many people for and against the regime, were in utter state of shock, defiance, disbelief, nonchalance, and confusion. Some hard-core CPP functionaries disguised themselves as women and fled to neighbouring villages to go and hide or lie low and watch the unfolding events.
I used to watch the skies a lot from the outside of my house in Winneba. There were no cellphones, and no TVs or tablets then to distract our attention. We used lanterns inside our houses, and our mothers used hurricane lamps outdoors to work on smoking their fish in those mud kilns. Electricity was a luxury in a few elite homes. We found it in the streets as street lights provided by the town and city councils.
'Dumsor' or load-shedding was unknown. All we knew then was that our government under the great Osagyefo was a 'forward ever' and 'backward never' proactive and progressive government of action. There were informants everywhere who would report any fault or any misdeed to the authorities for prompt action. Even though corruption was extant, it was of low relative magnitude. Sometimes, I think that a bit of dictatorship counts very much, depending on the nature of the people, their obedience or their contumacy or obstreperousness, the stage of development in the embryonic stage, among other variables.
Nkrumah would not have achieved what he achieved had he been a soft leader. He was compassionate and believed in John Stuart Mills 'greater good for the greater number possible', or Baumol's optimality, and Pareto optimal economic models. Days before Nkrumah's overthrow, we noticed some unusual star constellation to the east towards Accra. Those were days when few people had electricity so the night skies were brightly-lit with twinkling and sparkling stars.
We began meditating on that strange star configuration, and the elders observed that it was unusual and it could portend something significant. Lo and behold, the 24th February 1966 coup! May be the astrologers and astronomers among us would do their calculations backwards to that date and tell us the star constellation which appeared in the east from Winneba at the time. May be I am superstitious. Of course, most humans are, or else we will not be having many religious faiths.
Nkrumah's enlightened principles culminated in his centralist cum eleemosynary economic policies of income redistribution via free education, subsidised medical care, and the construction of quality secondary schools in all nooks and crannies of Ghana under Ghana Education Trust, which was chaired by my paternal uncle, Nana Sir AyirebiAcquah. Strangely enough, when in 1965 I had passed the Common Entrance Exam with flying colours to enter GSTS in Takoradi, and my father and mother went to Accra to see my uncle but he was not of much help. Well, I ended up taking the line of least resistance to enter teacher training college.
On 24th February, 1966, some people decked themselves with leaves and painted their bodies with white clay, wore red bands and were clad in mourning black clothes, and they improvised placards splashed with the harshest words against Nkrumah. They carried mock coffins and said they were going to bury him before his eventual demise. I wonder on hindsight now whether we were digging ourselves then into our current unmitigated morass and imbroglio of our economic gravitas. Many detractors made unsavoury statements decrying Nkrumah as a dictator, autocrat, among others. People composed profane and obscene songs against Nkrumah, some saying that his girlfriend was one EsiEduwah of Takoradi who allegedly had twisted genitalia.
Cartoonists went to town to shop, showing bizarre cartoons of naked Nkrumah kneeling before the mummified body of a behemoth black lady with outstretched arms, legs astride, who was believed to be Kankan Nyame or fetish to whom Nkrumah prayed daily, with seven white handkerchiefs tied at intervals on both outstretched hands. Many illiterate people craned their necks to look at those faked photos doing the rounds. Propaganda at its apogee!
B.A. Bentum, the OATUU (Organisation of African Trades Unions Union) Secretary-General led a posse of workers to burn heaps and heaps of books on Nkrumah and socialist ideology in front of masses of onlookers in Accra. The Ghanaian public was bombarded daily with lots and lots of propaganda on radio, on the misdeeds of the Nkrumah regime. Nothing good in education, health care, infrastructure development, social emancipation, inter alia was attributed to him and his regime. Today, you the reader, from your experience at the time and accounts of his regime, what do you think? Are we back to square one or progressing under the current dispensation?
There were days thereafter we heard rumours upon rumours that Nkrumah was marshalling forces to invade Ghana from Guinea, where he had sought political asylum after the coup which found him trapped midway between his final destination, Ho Chin Min City in North Vietnam, and Accra in Ghana. He and his large entourage were caught with the sad news of his overthrow in Peking(Beijing), China. Tanzania's Julius MwalimuNyerere, Mali's Modibo Keita, and Gamel Abdul Nasser of Egypt had all offered him political asylum but he finally decided to go to Guinea in West Africa.
One day, some soldiers arrived at the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute (KNII) with some huge bulldozers.They tied iron cords to the head statue of Nkrumah which was mounted at the end of a huge concrete sword measuring about 70 feet. The bulldozer pulled hard, and the concrete structure and the statue of Nkrumah's head came crashing down on the concrete pavement below, scattering in all directions at what is now known as Liberation Square at the North Campus of University of Education, Winneba..
The wanton destruction of the relic of history reminded one of KwekuAnanse story whereby Kweku collected all the wisdom and intelligence of the world and monopolised it. He finally decided to take his hoard in a gourd and go and store it securely on top of the tallest tree. As he ascended the tree, the gourd containing the wisdom of mankind suddenly broke loose and it came crashing down, whereon the wisdom scattered in all directions. Hence, today wisdom or intelligence is not the exclusive preserve of any race or family or tribe or nation. It is normally distributed among all mankind.
The pillage by the soldiers also reminded one of the sack of the ancient library of Alexandria or the sack of Rome by the descending hordes of Barbarians.
It was at the time Nkrumah was overthrown that we discovered the Winneba guys who held high positions in the army such as Colonel Yarboi, Lt Colonel Dontoh, formerly of the Recce Squadron based in Ho, and later of the Loyalty Garment Group of Companies. One day, Lt Col Dontoh paid a courtesy call to us at his alma mater, the Winneba Methodist Middle Boys School, which had had illustrious alumni such as General NunooMensah, Dr Alex QuaisonSackey, K.K. Taylor, E.N. Abbam (Quantity Surveyor-General), Dr Don Arthur, among others. He wore his full military uniform with insignia and regalia, and he had come with armoured Saracens or small armoured cars and some huge tanks mounted with some hideous looking big guns.
He called at Robertsville, a prominent elite home in Winneba. Lt Col Dontoh and Dr K. A. Busia were all said to have been mentored by our then Omanhene or paramount chief, Nana Ghartey V, who was a Methodist reverend minister till the time he was enstooled. Many rumours made the rounds that the coup which occurred in the wee hours of that fateful day, had led to massive slaughter of many loyal soldiers and undercover agents in the Presidential Guard at Flagstaff House, the official residence of Nkrumah. Some lucky ones among them disguised themselves and fled the country.
It was time for the opposition members in exile to come home. Prominent among them was Dr Kofi AbrefaBusia, who had been a fugive at Oxford University in the U.K, and at other points, he had lived in the Netherlands. KomlaAgbeliGbedemah, that erudite and talented organiser, and one time staunchNkrumah stalwart, and astute and shrewd Finance Minister, also came home under the military junta headed by retired Lt General C.K. Ankrah. He had fled into exile in the USA, after having been allegedly accused of having stashed away 10 million pounds.
The coup plotters were led by Lt Colonel Emmanuel AkwasiKotoka, IGPJ.W.K. Harley, Police Commissioner A.K. Deku, Lt Gen. Ocran, Lt. Col AkwasiAmankwa Africa, the latter having excelled in his military studies, and having at one time received honours from Nkrumah. In the heat of the coup, Nkrumah despatched his Foreign Minister, Alex QuaisonSackey, to go and represent him at an OAU meeting in Addis Ababa, but lo and behold, QuaisonSackey made a detour and instead landed at Accra Airport where there was a heavy military presence awaiting him.
He was hurriedly bundled and whisked away from the aircraft by gun-toting soldiers and led to a hurriedly convened press conference where he denounced Nkrumah and said that on arriving in London, he changed his mind to go to Accra instead of Addis Ababa when he thought of his wife and children's welfare in Ghana.
An attempted counter-coup was staged by one Lt Arthur and Lt. Opoku in April 1967, but it was quelled and it culminated in the untimely death of Lt General E.K. Kotoka, the architect of the February 24th, 1966 coup d'etat, which was believed to have been orchestrated by a condominium and syndication of some powerful western powers.
Observers believe that the stupendous economic and developmental achievements chalked by Nkrumah, and the sterling patriotic zeal he exhibited in the cause of Ghana and Africa during his tenure has not been matched by any of our subsequent Ghanaian leaders, past or present. When we were young, we were told, 'Nkrumah never dies, and Nkrumah is our messiah'. Perhaps, that is true metaphorically.
Was Nkrumah a victim of the Cold War? 24th February 1966 evokes mixed feelings among Ghanaians. Was it a day of shame, or the day of blame of Nkrumah's ultra-leftist tendencies? History is the impartial judge of all human actions. May the souls of all departed souls, opposition and pro-government, rest in eternal peace! We look forward to a united and prosperous Ghana, whether NPP or CPP or NDC. Long live Ghana and the Nation of Ghana.
Kwesi Atta Sakyi
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