Ekow Nelson and Dr. Michael Gyamerah
August 2010; Updated June 2018
For all the criticism of Nkrumah from much of the Western press and the opposition in Ghana, he did not kill any political opponents; neither did he massacre groups of people opposed to him. Indeed, in his often-cited work, – ‘Ghana without Nkrumah-The Winter of Discontent’ – Irving Markovitz confirms that at the time of Nkrumah’s overthrow, “Ghana was neither a terrorized nor a poverty-stricken country”. Yet Nkrumah’s detractors will have us believe his was the cruellest administration in history, citing in their defence, the controversial Preventive Detention Act (PDA) of 1958. But how did this piece of emergency legislation, not too dissimilar to the wave of anti-terrorist laws adopted by many countries after September 11 2001, come about and was it justified?
We argue in this paper that the PDA was a necessary piece of emergency and security legislation consistent with how democratic nations have historically responded to violent rebellion and which, along with the Avoidance of Discrimination Act, might just have helped Ghana avoid some of murderous conflicts that have afflicted many of its neighbours in Africa.
The politics of division and violence
Between 1954 and 1957, violence, murders and bombings, orchestrated largely by the National Liberation Movement (N.L.M.), attended much of the political life in the Gold Coast. However, as we explain later in this article, the proximate incident that triggered the introduction of preventive detention, first proposed by the late Krobo Edusei – whose sister had been killed by N.L.M. terrorists and whose wife had been the victim of an N.L.M. bomb blasts – was the planned assassination of the Prime Minister by Modesto Apaloo, R.R. Amponsah and an Army Commandant, Captain Awhaitey. The former two, both members of parliament, were arrested in November 1958 for their plot to kidnap and assassinate the Prime Minister and other key cabinet ministers.
Although the passage of such a Bill was mentioned and indeed even discussed and rejected by Nkrumah in cabinet in 1957 , it was only enacted into law in parliament three weeks after the facts of the Amponsah and Apaloo conspiracy became known to the government, and supported by the Special Branch discovery of the “secret oaths” and plans of the “Direct Action Group” of the Ga Shifimo Kpe to cause a complete breakdown of law and order.
Some on the United Party (U.P.) side of this argument trace the origins of the violence of that period to the now infamous incident of 9th October 1955 when a quarrel broke out between C.P.P. and N.L.M. supporters in a house in Ashanti New Town, Kumasi. According to Dennis Austin, the quarrel “led to blows and E.Y. Baffoe was stabbed to death by K.A. Twumasi Ankrah who had recently been reinstated as regional propaganda secretary for the C.P.P.” Twumasi Ankrah was later charged, tried and hanged for this offence but the N.L.M. put it about that he was acting with the imprimatur of the C.P.P. leadership and used this as justification for much of their acts of terror.
The origins of the violence date back, however, to an earlier period in August 1954, when Mr. K.A. Gbedemah then finance minister, introduced the Cocoa Duty and Development funds bill in parliament based on the cabinet’s decision in March that year. While cocoa prices were enjoying a boon on the world market there was recognition by those who took a long-term view that this was unsustainable (as it turned out prices fell from £500 per ton in 1954 to £200 in 1956) and in any case, the farmers needed to be shielded from such fluctuations through a guaranteed farm gate price.
The farmers, who wanted a share of higher world prices for their produce, were unhappy about this and demanded a repeal of the bill. However, what started out as a natural response from an aggrieved section of the country over policy, was hijacked by disgruntled political activists and leaders with a melange of grievances, including those unhappy with Justice Van Lare’s report on the allocation of seats for Ashanti in the Legislative Assembly in the 1954 elections.
There was also dissatisfaction with the Cocoa Purchasing Company accused of using funds to help the C.P.P. during the 1954 elections leading to the establishment of the eponymously named Jibowu Commission after the reputable Nigerian judge who chaired it. In addition, some members of the C.P.P. who failed in their bids to become candidates in the 1954 election and were asked to stand down as independents or face expulsion from the party, became disgruntled and joined the opposition.
This toxic combination of disgruntled rumps, Ashanti representation and genuine farmers’ grievances over the proposed fixed farm gate prices for cocoa gave some the excuse to step up their opposition to the elected government through violence and mayhem that needlessly claimed the lives of many men, women and children.
The N.L.M., launched in September 1954 under the leadership of the chief linguist of Ashantehene, Baffour Osei Akoto emerged from this disgruntled group and the rump of the routed political opposition threw in their lot with them. The Asanteman Council and Ashantehene lent them their support and the N.L.M. became a rallying nationalist organisation that was not only a critic of the democratically elected government but the leading advocate for Ashanti nationalism.
Reign of terror, violence and threats of secession
In March 1955, R.J. Vile, the Assistant Secretary at the Colonial Office gave one of the first independent assessments of the N.L.M. after his visit to the Gold Coast.
“So little is known about the internal politics of the N.L.M. that it is difficult to know the importance of this core determined people, or the kind of control exercised by the Ashantehene over them. It is, however, clear that they have a fair amount of dynamite at their disposal and presumably can easily obtain fresh supplies by theft from the mines. They contain a number of thugs who are prepared to use knives and arms of precision. Reports were current in Kumasi a fortnight ago that the N.L.M. had been smuggling in rifles and machine-guns, and there were other reports that small bands of people were being trained with the object of sending them to Accra to attack, and possibly murder, Gold Coast Ministers.”
“It is possible that Dr. Nkrumah’s peaceful approach (described in paragraph 10) may lead to the resolution of the differences between the N.L.M. and the C.P.P. on constitutional matters”. Nevertheless, he concluded, ominously, that “it is quite possible that the core of determined young men will take to the forest and engage in guerrilla warfare from there if other methods fail”.
Violence was stepped up and Kumasi became so dangerous that members of the C.P.P. were in fear of their lives. Prominent amongst the N.L.M.’s victims were C.E. Osei, Krobo Edusei’s wife (Mary Akuamoah) and sister; Archie Caseley-Hayford and Kwame Nkrumah whose homes were targets for bombings at various times.
Shops of local C.P.P. leaders like B.E. Dwira of New Tafo were barricaded and the C.P.P. regional office and the local party newspaper, the Sentinel in Kumasi were forced to close down. Kofi Banda was shot by a gunman from the palace of the Chief of Ejisu – a crime for which no one was convicted while Krobo Edusei’s sister was blown up while preparing food for her children at home
Baffour Osei Akoto, leader and founding member of the N.L.M., warned of a possible civil war. The Governor, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke, was pelted with stones when he went to Kumasi to mediate and seek an end to the violence. A U.K. newspaper described the violence as “an unseen stealthy backstreet war being waged on Chicago lines with gunmen in fast cars, rifle, shotguns home-made bombs and broken bottles and knives”.
As Professor L.H. Ofosu-Appiah, a die-hard opponent of Nkrumah and supporter of Dr. Danquah admitted in his book The life and times of Dr. J.B. Danquah (pages 126-127) “…The organizers of the N.L.M. succeeded by the end of 1954 in getting a large following and Ashanti became unsafe for Nkrumah. The early battles between the C.P.P, and the N.L.M in Kumasi led to the murder of opponents, and houses of C.P.P supporters were burned down. Some of those men had to go into exile in Accra. …J.B. welcomed the opportunity of a new movement which he regarded as timely. He explained in a letter to the London Times that the new liberation movement was aimed at bringing sanity to the Gold Coast“.
Fourteen months after the closure of the party’s offices in Kumasi, however, the C.P.P. decided to re-open it and predictably, the occasion was met with violence perpetrated by the N.LM. This time the C.P.P. responded and faced down the N.L.M. squarely. The N.L.M. raided CPP offices in Ashanti and fomented violence indiscriminately and for the first time a group of nationalists in Ashanti decided to break with the consensus on the transitional plans for independence by declaring openly ‘yeate ye ho’
By December 1955, over 850 cases of assault had been reported in Kumasi alone of which less than a third had been brought to the courts.
The aim of much of this orchestrated violence was to make the country ungovernable so that the Colonial Office would have little choice but to intervene and delay progress towards the granting of independence.
Avoiding the Guyana Trap
The C.P.P. was keen to avoid the ‘Guyana trap’ that would reverse gains made since 1951 and its leadership urged restraint. The ‘trap’ derives from the suspension of the first constitution of Guyana in 1953, by the British, after clashes between the two leading political parties that ended up delaying Guyanan independence by nearly a quarter of a century.
To avoid any such disruption to the agreed roadmap for independence, the C.P.P. and Nkrumah remained restrained in the face of violence and provocations by the N.L.M and their agents.
Opposition boycotts and threats of secession
The country was to be put through a protracted debate about federalism which had not been part of any discussion in the Coussey Constitutional proposals or in the most transparent and collective constitutional process of 1954.
Three times, the N.L.M. refused to attend a meeting with the Governor and Nkrumah to discuss their grievances. The government set up a parliamentary select committee to discuss the N.LM.’s grievances – the opposition in the Assembly, led by Mr. S.D. Dombo, walked out and N.L.M. boycotted the hearings of the select committee.
Dr. K.A. Busia travelled to London to see the Minister of State for the Colonies, Alex Lennox-Boyd, and requested that a constitutional expert be dispatched to mediate and yet, the N.L.M. refused to co-operate with Sir Frederick Bourne when he arrived in Ghana. Although Sir Frederick Bourne’s recommendations were not favourable to the C.P.P. by any means, he described the N.L.M.’s demands as “an extreme form of federation” which “would introduce an intolerable handicap to the administration of the country”.
The N.L.M. was invited to the Achimota Conference to discuss Sir Frederick Bourne’s recommendations but it refused to attend and instead insisted on a constituent assembly to draft a new federal constitution.
In the end, Secretary of State for the Colonies decided that the only way to settle the matter was through the will of the people and he felt it necessary to hold one last election in 1956. The N.L.M. happily accepted this challenge hoping that the alliances it had built with the other opposition parties would enable it secure victory at the polls. Even so, after they were roundly defeated in the elections, they would not accept the will of the people.
This is what the eminent scholar of Ghana ’s history, Richard Rathbone, wrote about the opposition’s response to the 1956 elections:
“The election held in July 1956, saw another impressive C.P.P. victory. The party eventually enjoyed an overall majority of forty over the opposition with a small increase in its proportion of total votes cast. The N.L.M., whilst it had attracted votes and won seats in the Ashanti region, had failed to take its campaign` outside its core areas of support. The newly elected opposition appeared unwilling to accept the results of the election which they signified by walking out of the first session of the newly elected Legislative Assembly. The N.L.M., once again resorted to its tried and trusted tactics of boycott, lobbying to London and threatening secession. … The N.L.M. continued to suggest that it would refuse to operate as a loyal opposition…”
The governor’s advisor on external affairs, F E Cumming-Bruce, also made the following observations after the elections:” The Ashanti and Northern leaders, though confronted with the unpalatable surprise of a very large body of support for the C.P.P. in their own regions, must be considering whether or not to resort to violence. …If Nkrumah and his associates were now murdered, a rather puzzling situation would be created but the N.L.M. have shown little skill as conspirators and the C.P.P. leaders will take no chances.”
Post-independence violence and separatism
While preparations for independence were underway, supporters of the Togoland Congress Party were busy setting up military training camps in Alavanyo as part of a plot of violent disturbances with elements of the N.L.M. The police moved in to dismantle the camp and in the ensuing riots three people were killed. Two members of parliament – S. G. Antor and Mr. Kojo Ayeke – were tried, found guilty and sentenced to six years imprisonment but their convictions were quashed on appeal because of a misdirection in the summing of the original trial judge.
After independence, the N.L.M. continued with its violence in Kumasi and there was evidence of arms smuggling across the border from Ivory Coast to western Ashanti. Over 5,000 people originally living in Ashanti had been exiled as result of the N.L.M.’s violence.
In December 1957, long before prevention detention legislation was introduced, the leader of the opposition Dr. K.A Busia was secretly soliciting funds from the United States government to undermine and destabilize the elected government of his own country. According to Mr. Wilson Flake, then the US Ambassador to Ghana (see Foreign Relations, 1955-1957, Volume XVIII, pages 387-388), the leader of the opposition and member of Parliament approached him and requested “25 thousand dollars in the US to purchase vehicles and hire party workers to offset “dangerous indoctrination” being given by C.P.P. agents who have unlimited funds.” Needless to say, Ambassador Flake told the leader of the opposition he would have nothing to do with it but soon afterwards he was recalled and replaced as Ambassador to Ghana.
In the meantime, a group of young men in Accra led by Attoh Quarshie formed the GaAdangbe Shifimo Kpee, ostensibly to defend the interests of Gas. However, this organisation soon took on a violent character particularly through its revolutionary wing called the ‘Tokyo Joes’ of unemployed school leavers, with criminal elements thrown in. They too sympathized with the N.L.M. whose leadership was in attendance at their formal launch in Accra on 7th July 1957.
Members of the Ga Adangbe Shifimo Kpee circulated forged cabinet papers purporting to show the government was deliberately acting against the interests of the people from the North, the Volta region and Accra in an attempt to fan tribal hatred and disturbances. The Intelligence Services reported discussions of assassination attempts and plans to kidnap senior cabinet ministers at their meetings which members of the opposition N.L.M. attended.
In response the C.P.P. supporters in Accra also setup a rival group, the Ga EkomefeemoKpee, and the two inevitably clashed notably in a demonstration outside Parliament on 20th August 1957 at which 40 people we seriously injured.
In response to these and other disturbances and events, the C.P.P. government took a number of landmark decisions to preserve the security of the state, all of which were subject to extensive debates in parliament and voting
- Alhaji Amadu Baba the Zerikin Zongo and Alhaji Othman Larden Lalemi key leaders of the Moslem Association Party who helped the N.L.M. orchestrate violence in Ashanti were deported in line with colonial precedent of sending such unsavoury characters back to their countries of origin. Both men were shown by Justice Sarkodee Addo’s Commission (investigating the Kumasi State Council and the Asanteman Council) to have been deeply mired in N.L.M’s violence in Ashanti region and in recruiting non-Ghanaians to carry out acts of terrorism.
- The government set up commissions of inquiry headed by senior judges into affairs of the Abuakwa State Council, Kumasi State Council and the Asanteman Council and they found that in many cases public money had been illegally diverted to fund the violent activities of N.L.M.’s Action Groupers.
- To quell the outbreak of violence and disorder along tribal lines, the government introduced the Avoidance of Discrimination Act to prohibit the establishment of political parties based solely on ethnic, racial or religious grounds. The Act’s immediate impact was to trigger the merger of the N.L.M., Northern People Party (N.P.P.), Togoland Congress and Ga Adangbe Shifimo Kpee into a single opposition party, the United Party (UP).
Burmese-style plot to overthrow and assassinate Nkrumah
The big game changer was the plot to assassinate the Prime Minister was on the eve of his state visit to India in December 1958.
The police were tipped-off by staff at Badges & Equipment, a London shop dealing in the sale of military accoutrement, that a man who styled himself as ‘John Walker’, had purchased replica officer uniforms, badges of rank and belts of the type used by the Ghana Army. It was established that the afore-mentioned ‘John Walker’ was Mr. R.R. Amponsah general secretary of the United Party who ordered the replica military accoutrement to be shipped to Lome and delivered through relatives of another opposition member, Mr. Modesto K Apollo, former deputy opposition leader of the Legislative Assembly.
The order of replica Ghana army uniforms, badges of rank and Sam Brown belts by senior members of the opposition immediately reminded the government and the security services of what happened to the Burmese government in 1946. Members of the opposition to the government of Burma dressed in replica uniform of the Burmese army, commandeered an army vehicle, stormed the cabinet room and murdered 14 cabinet ministers. It later transpired that the opposition had attempted to recruit the Ghanaian commandant at Giffard (now Burma) Camp, Major Benjamin Ahwaitey and other NCOs in the army to engage in a similar plot.
A quasi-judicial Commission set up by the government and chaired by a reputable English judge, Mr. Justice Granville Sharp found unanimously that both Apaloo and Amponsah had “engaged in a conspiracy to carry out at some future date in Ghana an act for unlawful purpose, revolutionary in character.” Majority of the Commission held that that “Major Benjamin Awhaitey, Mr. R.R. Amponsah, Mr. Modesto Apaloo and Mr. John Mensah Anthony (half-brother of Apaloo), were engaged in a conspiracy to assassinate the Prime Minister, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, and to carry out a coup d’etat”.
The long-standing and broad basis of the connection between Awhaitey and the opposition came out clearly during the Court Martial of Major Awhaitey. For example, according to Geoffrey Bing (in his book “Reap The Whirlwind”), evidence presented at the tribunal showed “that in November and December  he [Awhaitey] was using a green Wolseley car which belonged to a then prominent Opposition Member of Parliament, Victor Owusu, who became Attorney-General in the National Liberation Council (N.L.C.). Awhaitey certainly had the car and was involved in an accident with it, after which it was repaired at Amponsah’s request…” General Paley [the British General then commanding the Ghana Armed Forces] reinforced this connection in his evidence to the tribunal when he confirmed that the car was indeed the one found in front of Awhaitey’s house at the time of his arrest.
According to Geoffrey Bing, “In the period immediately preceding Awhaitey’s arrest there had been rumours of an army coup d’etat 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 overhead 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 to be not particularly friendly to the C.P.P. 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 as to whether there was any possibility of the army planning a coup d’etat.”
Needless to say, these investigations did not uncover anything untoward at the time and Dr. J.B Danquah went on to appear as counsel for Amponsah, Apaloo and Dr. Busia before the Granville Sharp Commission.
The 1958 Preventive Detention Act
In July 1958, the government introduced the Preventive Detention Act to extend the period of pre-trial detention for suspected opposition terrorists, not dissimilar to the wave of anti-terrorist legislation passed in countries such as United Kingdom, United States of America, Australia, France and many countries round the world since September 11, 2001.
While preventive detention constitutes de facto, a temporary derogation from the normal provisions of the rule of law and the principle of habeas corpus, from time to time, nation states have had to assume emergency powers to deal with even greater dangers that often threaten the integrity and even the existence of the State itself.
In operational terms the concept of preventive detention has been in use since British rule in India and elsewhere in other colonies. For example, the U.G.C.C leaders (the so-called Big Six) arrested after the 1948 riots in the Gold Coast were technically held in preventive custody and were neither charged nor tried.
After 1947, both India and Pakistan adopted preventive detention statutes to bring this long-standing practice within the purview of their judicial systems and constitutions. In the Indian Constitution, this comes under Article 22-“Protection against arrest and detention in certain cases” specifically denies anyone held in preventive custody the fundamental rights set out in clauses (1) and (2). Article 22 clause (3b) specifically states: “Nothing in clauses (1) and (2) [i.e. protection from arbitrary arrest and detention, the right to consult and to be defended by, a legal counsel of choice] shall apply to any person who is arrested or detained under any law providing for preventive detention”.
Ghana’s version was first introduced to Parliament by the Minister for Interior Krobo Edusei, in December 1957, after a trip to India when he was shown a copy of their Act. He vowed to introduce a Ghanaian version when parliament resumed in February 1958 but was overruled by Cabinet which had decided against it. It was not until a tip off by British Intelligence that R.R. Amponsah had purchased replica uniforms of the army in London which further strengthened the earlier case of the “Special Branch..of possible breakdown in law and order…” if the violent elements of the Ga Shifimo Kpee ‘secret cells’ the “Zenith Ten” and “Tokyo Joes” were not broken up (according Geoffrey Bing the AG at the time) that a somewhat limited version of the Indian Act was enacted
As the then Minister for Information and Broadcasting Mr. Kofi Baako reminded parliament during the second reading of the Bill, “The Ghana Act is based on the Indian Prevention Act” except that Ghana’s was limited in scope to only those who attempted to “overthrow the State by force and those whose activities endanger the external relations of other states”. The Indian Act, according to Hon. Kofi Baako, allowed for the detention of persons engaged in acts that might be “prejudicial to the maintenance of public order or the maintenance o f services essential to the community”
Furthermore, the Act made provision that a detained person “…shall, not later than five days from the beginning of his detention, be informed of the grounds on which he is being detained and shall be afforded an opportunity of making representations in writing to the Governor-General with respect to the order under which he is detained.”
In response to the chorus of criticisms by British trained lawyers such as Messrs Joe Appiah and Victor Owusu who suggested that the proposed Act singularly undermined English justice and the rule of law, the Minister for Information and Broadcasting quickly reminded them of the United Kingdom’s introduction and use of the “Special Powers Act” in Northern Ireland that not only permitted imprisonment without trial from 1922, but the “suspension of nearly all ordinary provisions” of law in response to mounting sectarian violence in that part of the United Kingdom.
No politicians were held under the PDA immediately after it had been passed; the first politicians who were detained under the Act were R.R. Amponsah and Modesto Apaloo after the failure of the Granville Sharp Commission failed to reach a unanimous decision despite on the nature of the conspiracy.
1961 Workers’ Strike and Opposition Plots
In 1961 the C.P.P. government introduced an austerity budget to counter declining world price of cocoa while maintaining planned capital expenditure on economic expansion and industrialisation, including Tema Harbour and the new township, new industries such as the steelworks, housing and schools among others. In response to the proposed increases in duty on consumer goods and the introduction of a compulsory saving scheme to quell rising inflation, the railways workers organized a strike to register their opposition to the austerity measures in the budget.
Nkrumah was out of the country at the time and a delegation of the cabinet sought a meeting with representatives of the Unions, but the leaders of the strike refused to meet and the government declared a state of emergency in response to what was an illegal strike under the 1958 Industrial Relations Act. After this, many workers returned to work except in Sekondi–Takoradi and surrounding areas.
As time wore on, it became clear that the union leadership had been infiltrated and come under the influence of the opposition United Party. Two leading members of the strike – Ishmaila Annan and Atta Bordoh – were executive members of the United Party in the Western region. Ishmaila Annan had been a member of the Moslem Association Party (before it became part of the UP) and was closely associated with the deported Amadu Baba who orchestrated much of the N.L.M.’s violence in the run up to independence.
A week after the strike was declared the executive of the opposition United Party met in Dr. J.B. Danquah’s House in Accra. Present at the meeting were the strike leaders, Ishmaila Annan and Atta Bordoh ostensibly in their capacity as party executives and not as trade unionists or strike organisers. However, as Dr. J.B. Danquah was later to confirm, the central issue for discussion at the meeting was the railway strike and the 1961-1962 budget.
At the end of the meeting, the United Party executives issued a press statement calling on the government to recall parliament and revise the budget or resign. In public, however, the opposition did not condemn the illegal strike but criticized the government for failing to control it.
A week after the executive meeting of the United Party, Dr. J.B. Danquah travelled to Sekondi to meet with the strike leaders in Kwesi Lamptey’s house in Fijai Secondary School. Those present included members of the United Party executive and far from seeking to resolve the dispute, the meeting discussed how to steel the nerves of the striking workers and to persuade them to continue with the dispute and not to respond to Nkrumah’s overtures such as ending the state of emergency and releasing persons arrested, when he returned from his trip.
It later transpired that members of the opposition helped draft and paid for telegrams on behalf of the unions (using fictional unions names and a private mail bag address belonging to the Ishmaili Annan) to the International Railway and Maritime workers unions in Nigeria, U.S and UK requesting funds to ensure the “survival of parliamentary democracy” in Ghana. The strike was no longer about workers’ grievances against the 1961 budget, but the survival of parliamentary democracy in Ghana. It became clear that not only were the U.P. financing the strike, they were involved in the design of an illegal activity that soon took on a politically subversive character.
Dr. K.A. Busia, who was in self-imposed exile moved to Lome to provide proximate support to the strikers and other subversives and was joined by a number of opposition leaders including Obetsebi Lamptey and Ekow Richardson. Dr. Busia disclosed he had been offered £50,000 to fight the democratically elected government of his country.
The government also discovered that among the plans of the Lome group was a series of bomb explosions to be launched from neighbouring Togo on national monuments and at the residences of prominent ministers orchestrated by the personal assistant to K.A. Gbedemah (who had by now become estranged from the C.P.P. administration) Victor Yaw de Grant Bempong.
It became clear that as in 1954, when a defeated opposition took advantage of the grievances of farmers to re-launch itself on the political stage, having lost the 1960 elections, they were once again exploiting the genuine grievances of working people about an austere budget to create havoc, mayhem and foment violence to bring down the elected government of Ghana. This time the colonial government was not around to indulge them and the C.P.P took decisive action. Leading opposition politicians including Dr. Danquah and Joe Appiah were arrested under prevention detention for the first time in the three years since the Act’s introduction.
Opposition Terrorist Bombs of the 1960s
Preventive detention was intended as temporary and the law was expected to lapse after five years, although parliament had the right to extend it by a further three years. The bomb outrages that ended and blighted many innocent lives made it impossible for the government to allow the law to lapse [in 1963].
In the early 1960s ordinary life in Ghana was attended by frequent bomb blasts and assassination attempts. The bomb outrages in late 1961, preceded the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1962, and repeated assassination attempts on Nkrumah throughout the early 1960s and especially in 1962 and 1964. By the fifth assassination attempt on Nkrumah’s life, a death toll of 30 Ghanaians, men, women and children, had been recorded with the wounding of some 300 others.
Here is a selection of terrorist bomb atrocities that had become routine with not a single word of condemnation from the opposition United Party and its leaders:
7th NOVEMBER 1961: EXPLOSIONS PRIOR TO ROYAL VISIT
Prior to the first visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to Ghana, the opposition, determined to stop the visit, stepped up their campaign of violence. Here is how London Times reported one such bomb blast on 7th November 1961.
“Another explosion shook Accra at 6 p.m. today. Police said that a bomb had been let off in a bush near the national lottery building on the outskirts of the city. The police spokesman said no damage had been done to property, but other time devices had been taken away for examination”. The Times, London
The frequency of terrorist bomb attacks in the months preceding her visit caused the UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and the UK Parliament to oppose the trip. At her Majesty’s insistence on proceeding with the visit, the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Duncan Sandys, and two security officers of Scotland Yard, were dispatched on a reconnaissance to Accra to ensure that adequate security and protection measures were in place for Her Majesty’s safety.
Despite opposition campaigns to stop it, the visit went off successfully and was featured in a recent TV series about the Queen as one of her earliest diplomatic triumphs.
September 10, 1962 – TWO MORE DIE AFTER GHANA EXPLOSION
The infamous Kulungugu bomb in August of 1962 (see next section) was followed by a succession of bombs blasts throughout September. One such occurred outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Accra and claimed casualties over several days as exemplified in the report below:
“Two more people have died in hospital from the injuries they received when a bomb exploded in Accra yesterday, 200 yards from the main gate of President Nkrumah’s official residence, Flagstaff House. This brings the number of deaths from the explosion to three. An 11-year-old girl died in hospital yesterday. More than 60 people were injured.” The Times, London
September 21, 1962 – 3 DEAD, 120 INJURED IN ACCRA EXPLOSIONS
A deadly bomb blast took in Accra while supporters of the government were celebrating the birthday of the Prime Minister. The blast was also prior to the planned four-day state visit of Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India. Here is an excerpt from the Times’s report.
“Three people were killed in last night’s bomb explosions in Accra and about 120 were injured, police said today. Two people are critically ill. Police and troops cordoned off the area and made a house- to-house search. Several People were taken to the police station for questioning, but no arrests were made. Last night’s bomb incident was the third since August’ 1 when a bomb was thrown at President Nkrumah in northern Ghana. The celebrations for the President’s birthday, which were the occasion of last night’s incident, have been cancelled in Accra”. The Times, London
September 21, 1962 – 100 INJURED IN ACCRA BOMBS THROWN AT PROCESSION
“A public meeting had been held in the West End Arena, and the crowd set out in a torchlight procession led by Young Pioneers, when after less than a mile the bombs went off. Most of the casualties were members of the Young Pioneers.” The Times, London
As a result of these bombings the ceremonial opening of Ghana’s republican Parliament scheduled for September 25 was postponed until October 2. The government of Ghana accused the United States, France, and West Germany of complicity in the bomb plot.
September 25, 1962 – ACCRA PARLIAMENT ARMS SEARCH
The dangers posed by these indiscriminate bombings led to stricter security measures around Parliament square; the perimeter around it was cordoned off.
“Police searched members of Parliament for arms when the Ghana National Assembly met today. The area around the Parliament building was sealed off three hours before the session began, and everyone entering the building, including members, reporters and the public, underwent a rigorous search… Many districts of the city were cordoned off by troops in armoured cars…” The Times, London
September 28, 1962 – WATCH ON GHANA PARLIAMENT
Three days after the security cordon, armed police were deployed to guard the National Parliament round the clock. According to the London Times “emergency measures decreed by President Nkrumah following the four bomb explosions in the past seven weeks, killing 15 and wounding 256 are still in force and the dusk-to-dawn curfew is still in operation. Search of vehicles, persons and premises by armed police and troops continues”.
November 9, 1962 – BISHOP’S APPEAL FOR UNITY IN GHANA: VIOLENCE STRONGLY CONDEMNED
Violence deteriorated so much that the Anglican Bishop of Accra issued a condemnation in his first sermon after returning to Ghana. He condemned the attempted murder of President Nkrumah calling it the “deepest of human crimes”.
He said: “Violence and intimidation in the field of national politics are always deplorable and can bring no lasting good to anyone. When such violence reaches the point of attempted murder or assassination, one of the deepest of human crimes is committed, and those who are proved guilty of such crimes merit the extreme penalties of the law. Freedom of thought and speech and action in Ghana or in any other state can never under any circumstances justify the plotting or execution of murder, and the Church condemns such things unreservedly.”
January 8, 1963 – BOMB EXPLOSION AT GHANA RALLY
In January 1963, another bomb blast, this time at the Accra Sports stadium.
“A bomb explosion occurred at Accra sports stadium tonight as people were dispersing from a rally of the ruling Convention People’s Party, which had been addressed by President Nkrumah. The bomb exploded after the President left…A number of persons were wounded and have been admitted to the Accra hospital. A man has been arrested by the police in connection with the incident.” The Times, London
March 15, 1963 – BOMBS IN GHANA PARLIAMENT
At the treason trial following the Kulungugu bomb, it was revealed that while President presented his budget in 1962, six men armed with grenades managed to get into Parliament. But for some reason they did not detonate the bombs.
According to a Times report on the Court proceedings in March 1963, “About six people armed with hand grenades were in the Ghana Parliament on one occasion when President Nkrumah made a budget speech, the Ghana special court hearing treason charges was told today. All had instructions to throw bombs at the President as he spoke, but they did not do so because they considered Parliament was not a good place to throw bombs…The incident occurred just before the bomb attempt on President Nkrumah’s life last August, according to a statement made to the police by Malam Mama Tula, one of those on trial for treason and conspiracy”. The Times, London
January 3, 1964 – SHOTS FIRED AT PRES. NKRUMAH SECURITY GUARD KILLED GUNMAN ARRESTED
As the President walked to his car from his office at Flagstaff House a gunman fired five shots from close range at him but missed. One of the President’s security officers was hit and died in hospital from his wounds. According to Donald H. Akenson, biographer of then Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Conor Cruise O’Brien, “the attacker … chased the president into Flagstaff House and momentarily cornered him in the kitchen where he bit Osagyefo in the face”. The assailant, later identified as PC Ametewee, was arrested immediately.
Here is how the Times reported the incident: “An attack was made as Dr. Nkrumah was walking to his car from his office, Flagstaff House. Police immediately massed round the spot. Armoured cars helped to cordon off the grounds, but traffic outside continued unhindered. Ghana Radio interrupted a programme to broadcast a flash giving the first details of the attempt, and this was followed immediately by an official announcement from Flagstaff House. Ghana’s Association of Journalists and writers was holding a vigil of thanksgiving for the President’s escape at the press club here tonight.”
AUGUST 3RD, 1962 The Kulungugu Bomb – FOUR KILLED, 56 INJURED
Perhaps the most notorious attack on Nkrumah following the introduction of the PDA, was the attempted assassination in the infamous Kulungugu bomb in Northern Ghana.
On the 27th July 1962, the President left Accra for Kumasi to attend the annual congress of the Convention People’s Party. He then proceeded on the 31st July 1962, to Tenkudugu in the Republic of Upper Volta for a meeting with the President of the Upper Volta President Maurice Yameogo.
After the meeting with President Yameogo, Nkrumah and his entourage made their way back from Tenkudugu on 1st August 1962 to Ghana. He was not scheduled to stop at Kulungugu but at the insistence of local party officials decided to step out and meet the teeming crowds and inspect a hurriedly put-together parade of school children. As he walked towards the school kids a loud explosion went off from a hand-grenade thrown a few yards away from the President. Several of the assembled school children were blown into smithereens but the President himself escaped serious injury. Here is how the Times of London reported the incident:
“A search is going on in northern Ghana tonight for persons who threw a bomb near President Nkrumah’s car last night. Four people, two of them policemen, are reported to have been killed. The President was unhurt. Today he was resting, as messages of sympathy and relief flooded in, including telegrams from the Queen and Mr. Macmillan…Fifty-six people, including some of the large party accompanying the President, were injured. The party included Cabinet Ministers and senior Government officials. Air Force aircraft were flying north today to bring those badly hurt to Accra.” The Times, London.
The Queen of England and Prime Minister of Britain sent messages of support to the President. The Queen’s message read: “I was shocked to learn of the attempt on your life. My husband and I are greatly relieved that you are unharmed. Please convey an expression of our sincere sympathy to those who were injured”.
The UK Prime Minister wrote: “I have learnt with great concern of the attempt on your life and should like to convey to you the relief of my colleagues in the British Government and myself at your fortunate escape. We all deplore the grievous injuries which have resulted.”
Several arrests were made along with special criminal court proceedings.
On 17th April a “special criminal court …imposed the death sentence by hanging on five of the accused persons in the Ghana treason trial who were charged with treason and conspiracy to commit treason. The five are: Teiko Tagoe, Joseph Quaye Mensah, Joseph Adotei Addo, Malam Mama Tula, and Anum Yemoh. Tagoe and Mensah had also pleaded guilty to another capital offence of unlawful possession of arms and explosives. A sixth man, Sulemanu Jeremiah, accused of failing to reveal knowledge of acts of treason to the authorities, was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment with hard labour, and Asaba Quarcoe, mother of five children, accused of the same offence as Jeremiah, was sentenced to five years’ hard labour.”
In a 75-minute judgement, Chief Justice Sir Arku Korsah, president of the court, said this: “We have already stated that it is not an offence for anyone to desire or endeavour to procure a change of Government by lawful means. This indeed is the privilege of every citizen. But to endeavour by violence, that is with hand grenades, to procure a change of Government is one of the most serious offences in our criminal code. It does not matter even if the explosions did not cause death or injuries to anyone. The mere fact that the conspirators had decided to use hand grenades for such a purpose constituted the crime of treason.”
For some reason, Nkrumah became convinced that members of his party were involved in the plot to assassinate him.
In another high profile trial – STATE v. OTCHERE AND OTHERS  – presided over by Chief Justice Kobina Arku Korsah along with two Justices of the Supreme Court , Willian B. Van Lare and Edward Akufo-Addo, the following Robert Benjamin Otchere (Member of Parliament for the United Party), Joseph Yaw Manu (an United Party Operative), Tawia Adamafio (Minister for Broadcasting and Information and also the Minister responsible for the President’s office), Ako Adjei (Foreign Minister) and Hugh Horatio Coffie Crabbe (Executive Scretary of the Convention People’s Party) were (1) charged with conspiracy to commit treason; and (2) treason, and the second accused Joseph Yaw Manu alone was charged on a third count for concealing knowledge of treason.
According to the trial transcripts, the three Justices, were satisfied: “(1) that in the years 1961 and 1962 some members of the United Party in exile among whom was Obetsebi Lamptey held meetings in Lomé in the Republic of Togo; (2) that at these meetings the members who attended agreed together to overthrow the Government of Ghana by unlawful means, that is by a resort to violence; (3) that in furtherance of the said agreement Obetsebi Lamptey came to Accra in May 1962; and (4) that the attempted assassination of the President at Kulungugu on the 1st August, 1962, and the exploding of hand-grenades in Accra thereafter were in furtherance of the objects of the agreement aforesaid.”
In the sworn testimony of the first accused, Robert Benjamin Otchere, who at the time of his arrest was the member of Parliament for Amansie West in Ashanti, alleged that “the plot which brought about the bomb incidents in Accra and Ghana in general and also plans to overthrow the Ghana Government took place in Lomé. The persons who took part according to the letter dated the 1st March 1962, from Kow Richardson were, Kow Richardson himself, Obetsebi Lamptey, Ashie Nikoi and Adam Amandi”.
Otchere insisted that “the procurement of explosives and arms to overthrow the Ghana Government was discussed at Lomé by Dr. Busia, Yaw Manu, myself, Kow Richardson, O. Lamptey, Adam Amandi and Ashie Nikoi”.
The court concluded that “on the evidence adduced …, there was an agreement among the members of the United Party in exile, among whom was Obetsebi Lamptey, to overthrow the Government of Ghana by unlawful means and in furtherance of the said agreement Obetsebi Lamptey came to Accra in May 1962, and the attempted assassination of the President at Kulungugu on the 1st August, 1962, and the subsequent exploding of hand-grenades in Accra were in furtherance of the objects of the agreement.”
The three Justices of the Court unanimously found both first and second accused, Robert Benjamin Otchere (Member of Parliament for the United Party), Joseph Yaw Manu (a United Party Operative) guilty of their respective charges. The third, fourth and fifth accused, Tawia Adamafio, Ako Adjei, and Hugh Horatio Coffie Crabbe (all CPP members) were all found not guilty and acquitted.
Revisionist historians will have us believe that no member of the opposition was ever involved in the bombing campaigns, but it is a matter of record that an opposition Member of Parliament, R.B Otchere, and Yaw Manu, an activist, pleaded guilty for their role in the Kulungugu bomb outrage. This is what Dennis Austin wrote (see “Politics in Ghana 1946-1960”, published 1964): “That the [Kulungugu bomb] plots had been hatched in Lome and elsewhere by former opposition members – notably Obetsebi Lamptey – was clear. And, indeed Otchere [R.B.] pleaded guilty. But that Tawia Adamafio, Ako Adjei or Coffie Crabbe had anything to do with the Kulungugu attack became increasingly doubtful as the trial continued. And on 9 December all three were acquitted. No one who examined the evidence could have supposed the verdict would be otherwise. Nevertheless, on 11 December, Nkrumah – acting within the terms of the constitution- dismissed Arku Korsah as Chief Justice… and on December 25th Nkrumah declared the judgement null and void”.
The consequence of Nkrumah’s response to the trial was that opposition members who pleaded guilty and were convicted by the court presided over by Van Lare, Akufo-Addo and the Chief Justice, had their death sentences quashed.
With the passage of time honest observers of our history concede that Tawia Adamafio, Ako Adjei and Coffie Crabbe who were convicted in the re-trial were treated unjustly. But to conclude from their convictions in the retrial, that they were the bomb plotters is not only unfair to their reputations and memory; it is simply dishonest.
Prevention detention was and is not unique to Nkrumah’s Ghana
Preventive detention was not unique to Nkrumah’s administration and the time of its introduction in Ghana, was used contemporaneously elsewhere in the Commonwealth. As the Minister for Information and Broadcasting the Hon. Kofi Baako again reminded parliament, in the year of Ghana ’s independence, 32 members of opposition in Singapore were arrested and detained without trial. Curiously the arrest of the opposition leaders drew this editorial response from the London Times on 24th August 1957: “Democracy sometimes has to resort to undemocratic means to defend itself.”
Between 1974 and 1989 the United Kingdom renewed and maintained a series of Parliamentary Acts known as the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act. (PTA). The PTA allowed for the arrest and detention of individuals on the basis of reasonable suspicion that they were involved “in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”
Following the terrorist outrages of September 11, 2001, both the US and UK governments introduced a wave of anti-terrorist legislation much of which has created a conducive atmosphere for preventive detention and some would argue encouraged the flagrant breaches of human rights witnessed or alleged in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and the detention camps of Guantanamo Bay which President Obama promised to close down.
The UK’s “Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001” allowed non-UK nationals to be detained without charge or trial for an indefinite period of time, if the Home Secretary believed such a person was a national security risk and a suspected “international terrorist who could not be deported. According to Amnesty International, the “only body which [could] review the executive decision is the Special Immigration Appeals Commission” which “can hold hearings in secret, can exclude the detainee and their lawyer from parts of the hearings, and can base its decision on secret evidence.”
The reason for this, according to the then Home Secretary is that suspected “terrorists” cannot be easily convicted because of “the strict rules on the admissibility of evidence in the criminal justice system of the United Kingdom and the high standard of proof required”. In his view, these high standards of proof have to be set aside in the interest of national security. A view echoed by Geoffrey Bing in his book [Reap the Whirlwind] in which he demonstrates how difficult it was under British law – the basis of much of Ghana’s legal system – to get common criminals into jail after independence. In fact, under J.K. Harley and A.K. Deku (Commissioner and Deputy of Ghana Police under Nkrumah) much of the police force pleaded with the C.P.P. government to extend the PDA to common hardened criminals by 1960.
The UK ’s Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 has since replaced indefinite detention of foreign nationals with a system of “control orders” that can be brought “against any suspected terrorist, whether a UK national or a non-UK national, whatever the nature of the terrorist activity (international or domestic).” Control orders, which can be imposed for as long as 12 months renewable, are, according to the UK Home Office “preventative orders which impose one or more obligations upon an individual which are designed to prevent, restrict or disrupt his or her involvement in terrorism-related activity. This could, for example, include measures ranging from a ban on the use of communications equipment to a restriction on an individual’s movement”.
The Australian Anti‑Terrorism Act of 2005 allows “a person to be taken into custody and detained for a short period of time in order to:(a) prevent an imminent terrorist act occurring; or (b) preserve evidence of, or relating to, a recent terrorist act.”
In 2001, the United States Congress passed the Patriot Act which, among other things, provides for mandatory detention without trial of suspected foreign terrorists or those who are deemed to pose a threat to national security. In a wide-ranging set of provisions, even more draconian than Nkrumah’s PDA, the Patriot Act allows for the interception of “wire, oral, and electronic communications relating to computer fraud and abuse offenses”; it authorizes the inclusion of suspicions of illegal activity in written employment references; mandates that securities brokers and dealers report suspicious financial transactions; requires the Attorney General to fully monitor the movements and activities of foreign students in the United States; prescribes penalties for harbouring any individual known to have committed or about to commit a terrorism offence; and even denies driving licences to anyone who is determined as a security risk to the State. .
No doubt some will argue these provisions were required to safeguard the security of the people of the United States after the September 2001 terrorist attacks but under its definition of domestic terrorism – “activities that occur primarily within U.S. jurisdiction, that involve criminal acts dangerous to human life, and that appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, to influence government policy by intimidation or coercion, or to affect government conduct by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping” – many more people, than the General–Secretary of the Ghanaian opposition party Mr. R.R. Amponsah and Mr. Modesto Apaloo who were found by majority of a tribunal to have been conspiring to assassinate the prime minister and were involved in the purchase of replica military accoutrement for the Ghana Army, would have been arrested and detained for national security reasons.
The likes of Mr. Victor Yaw de Grant Bempong, a former aide to Nkrumah’s former Minister of Finance Mr. K.A. Gbedemah who was in possession of a list of planned bombing targets, including public buildings and spaces and residences of prominent ministers, would have been held in preventive custody in France for years.
The case for prevention detention under Nkrumah
Martin Wolf of the Financial Times once observed that the length to which terrorists are prepared to go to achieve their aims “creates, in extreme form, the classic liberal dilemma – how do people who believe in freedom respond to those who would use that tolerance to threaten it?” It is a delicate matter of balancing rights with security, but in the end, most fair-minded liberals will accept, however reluctantly, that there was a powerful argument for preventive detention in the Awhaitey case at least.
The outcome of the Granville Sharp Commission provides a perfect illustration of this argument. As Geoffrey Bing explains (pp. 265, ibid), “no Government could be expected to release individuals whom majority of a quasi-Judicial Tribunal had found were engaged in a plot to murder the head of the Government. On the other hand, it was almost certain that no successful prosecution could be launched against those concerned when a Judge of the Court of Appeal had come to the conclusion that, though they had been involved in the conspiracy, it was impossible to determine what this conspiracy was and that they had abandoned their plans, whatever they were, prior to the date on which they were to be carried out”.
Setting aside the fact that majority of the Commission found the accused guilty of conspiracy to assassinate the Prime Minister, how was a responsible government expected to react to Justice Sharp’s own conclusion that Amponsah and Apaloo had been part of a conspiracy but had withdrawn from it when they suspected the police had knowledge of their plans? Does the government set them free and wait until the next plot or conspiracy succeeds? Or, is preventive detention in these circumstances the lesser of two evils?
This requires finely balanced legal and political judgments and in our view, the age-old maxim of fiat justitia, ruat caelum – let justice be done though the heavens should fall; that the law should take its course even if the opposition were plotting to assassinate the Prime Minister and shaking the very foundations of the state that assured their freedoms – would have been a wholly irresponsible and inappropriate response for a country that was being plunged into violence and on the verge of breaking-up along tribal lines.
Arguably, the PDA may have fallen into misuse or may have been abused on occasions: among other things, it was used by some to settle local disputes by making serious but false accusations against their opponents; a peculiar problem which still afflicts the Ghanaian body politic and leads some people to use security personnel to settle personal scores or as private debt collectors.
Abraham Lincoln, who himself suspended the writ of habeas corpus enabling the arrest and detention without trial of those who were suspected to be assisting the secessionists during the civil war, provides the most eloquent defence for why it is sometimes necessary to do this and a resolution to Wolf’s ‘classic liberal dilemma’ . Some will argue that that was during a war. However, Lincoln himself did not conceive of it as a war but as a domestic rebellion by political insurgents of an extreme political party.
In his letter to Erastus Corning the New York Democrat who led protests against what he called Lincoln ’s “pretensions to more than regal real authority” – from which we quote extensively – he explained in tones and echoes of the circumstances in the Gold Coast and Ghana in the 1950s, why he took such extreme action: He wrote:
“I was elected contrary to their liking; … The insurgents …had carefully considered all the means which could be turned to their account. It undoubtedly was a well pondered reliance with them that in their own unrestricted effort to destroy Union , constitution, and law, all together, the government would, in great degree, be restrained by the same constitution and law, from arresting their progress. Their sympathizers pervaded all departments of the government, and nearly all communities of the people. From this material, under cover of “Liberty of speech” “Liberty of the press” and “Habeas corpus” they hoped to keep on foot amongst us a most efficient corps of spies, informers, [suppliers], and aiders and abettors of their cause in a thousand ways. They knew that in times such as they were [inaugurating], by the constitution itself, the “Habeas corpus” might be suspended; but they also knew they had friends who would make a question as to who was to suspend it; meanwhile their spies and others might remain at large to help on their cause. Or if, as has happened, the executive should suspend the writ, without ruinous waste of time, instances of arresting innocent persons might occur, as are always likely to occur in such cases; and then a clamor could be raised in regard to this, which might be, at least, of some service to the insurgent cause. It needed no very keen perception to discover this part of the enemies’ programme, so soon as by open hostilities their machinery was fairly put in motion. Yet, thoroughly imbued with a reverence for the [guaranteed] rights of individuals, I was slow to adopt the strong measures, which by degrees I have been forced to regard as being within the exceptions of the constitution, and as indispensable to the public safety.”
Nkrumah’s determination to maintain an integral united country and be prime minister for all of Ghana – even though he has been declared persona non grata in certain parts of the country in the early days of the N.L.M. opposition – was not too dissimilar to Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to resist the secessionists and his refusal to accept that the Confederacy was not part of the Union. The civil war insurgents, like the opposition NLM/UP, deliberately acted to provoke the government into taking such action as they could describe as unconstitutional and dictatorial. But for a country that was perilously close to breaking up along tribal lines after years of violence and bombings, this was a risk the government decided it could not take.
In response to opposition submissions during the debate (in particular by the Hon. J.A.Braimah), the then Minister for Broadcasting and Information Hon. Kofi Baako said: “It is true the ordinary laws in the country may be effective enough to deal with those engaged in violence, rioting and hooliganism, but the particular conditions which exist as the result of the activities of some elements in this country make it very necessary for such a Bill to be introduced”.
As the Granville Sharp Commission had shown, the courts were incapable of remedying planned acts of terror, a fact which Lincoln too acknowledged in his letter to Erastus Corning. He wrote: “Nothing is better known to history than that courts of justice are utterly incompetent to such cases. Civil courts are organized chiefly for trials of individuals, or, at most, a few individuals acting in concert; and this in quiet times, and on charges of crimes well defined in the law. Even in times of peace, bands of horse-thieves and robbers frequently grow too numerous and powerful for the ordinary courts of justice. But what comparison, in numbers, have such bands ever borne to the insurgent sympathizers even in many of the loyal states?”
He argued: “Ours is a case of Rebellion—so called by the resolutions before me—in fact, a clear, flagrant, and gigantic case of Rebellion; and the provision of the constitution that “The [privilege] of the writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of Rebellion or Invasion, the public safety may require it” is the provision which specially applies to our present case. This provision plainly attests the understanding of those who made the constitution that ordinary courts of justice are inadequate to “cases of Rebellion”—attests their purpose that in such cases, men may be held in custody whom the courts acting on ordinary rules, would discharge. Habeas Corpus, does not discharge men who are proved to be guilty of defined crime; and its suspension is allowed by the constitution on purpose that, men may be arrested and held, who cannot be proved to be guilty of defined crime, “when, in cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” This is precisely our present case—a case of Rebellion, wherein the public safety does require the suspension. Indeed, arrests by process of courts, and arrests in cases of rebellion, do not proceed altogether upon the same basis. The former is directed at the small percentage of ordinary and continuous perpetration of crime; while the latter is directed at sudden and extensive uprisings against the government, which, at most, will succeed or fail, in no great length of time. In the latter case, arrests are made, not so much for what has been done, as for what probably would be done. The latter is more for the preventive, and less for the vindictive, than the former.”
Lincoln concluded: “If I be wrong on this question of constitutional power, my error lies in believing that certain proceedings are constitutional when, in cases of rebellion or Invasion, the public safety requires them, which would not be constitutional when, in absence of rebellion or invasion, the public Safety does not require them—in other words, that the constitution is not in [its] application in all respects the same, in cases of rebellion or invasion, involving the public safety, as it is in times of profound peace and public security.”
A necessary ‘evil’
In view of the foregoing and after numerous attempts on Nkrumah’s life and those of his Ministers, and the violence of the late 1950s and early 1960s, what else was he to do in a legal system ill-equipped to deal with the N.L. M’s/U.P.’s terrorism? As Markovitz observed, although “[t]here was considerable unrest and dissatisfaction, several assassinations attempts against Nkrumah, and constant rumors of coups…the government … made conciliatory gestures toward its opponents both within and outside its ranks, and showed every sign of having attained a durable balance of interests.
Even so, Markovitz’s argues, the notion “that the mass of the people lived in terror would be quite wrong. The commonly accepted estimate of the number of Nkrumah’s political prisoners is 1,100, and reports of individual beatings by prison guards may well be believed. On the other hand, credible evidence of systematic torture has yet to be produced, and though the old regime sentenced several people to death for participating in one of the assassination plots, no one in Ghana appears to have been executed for a political crime.” Indeed, the number of people arrested under the Act was so exaggerated that the N.L.C. had to release common criminals with PDA detainees after the coup in 1966 to confirm this falsehood.
According to Geoffrey Bing, “of the seven hundred and eighty-eight  detained persons that were released [after the coup in 1966], [some] three hundred and fifty to four hundred [350-400]” were criminal detainees “apparently let loose for the purely propaganda purpose of increasing the total number freed”. This led to an embarrassing upsurge in crimes rates in the country after the coup.
No one is suggesting Nkrumah was perfect and had no faults. Dr. Conor Cruise O’Brien, ex-Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana (who died only recently) and himself a vehement critic of Nkrumah and supporter of the 1966 coup and its plotters provided a more objective assessment (The London Observer on 27th February 1966) after Nkrumah was overthrown: “His dream had been a great one, his belief in his mission was strong, his talents many; his actual achievements were considerable –the Volta Dam and the smelter, a greater expansion of the education system and an extraordinary effervescence of buildings, some of it useful… He was not cruel, or militaristic, or racist. He took over the British colonial structure, which was essentially authoritarian like all colonial systems, and retained the powers of past Governors, including the power to replace troublesome chiefs and detain fractious citizens. There was nothing novel about these things; what was novel and objectionable” to his critics, O’Brien’s concludes, “…was that it was an African who was doing them.”
Taking everything together in the round, in our view, preventive detention was a necessary piece of emergency security legislation which, along with the Avoidance of Discrimination Act, might, – just might – have helped us avoid some of the more dangerous conflicts that we have seen in other parts of the African continent. It served to quickly isolate potential and real leaders of violent and destabilising acts of secession and safeguard the security and integrity of the nation and people of Ghana.
© Ekow Nelson and Dr. Michael Gyamerah
Updated June 2018