The case for preventive detention under Nkrumah


The case for preventive detention under Nkrumah

Ekow Nelson and Professor Michael Gyamerah

Part I – Introduction

For all the criticism Nkrumah endured from much of the Western press and the opposition in Ghana, he did not kill any political opponents nor did he massacre groups of people opposed to him. Indeed in his often cited work – “Ghana without Nkrumah-The Winter of Discontent”, Irving Markovitz acknowledges that although “[t]here was considerable unrest and dissatisfaction, several assassination attempts against Nkrumah, and constant rumors of coups…[Nkrumah’s] 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.”  Markovitz concludes, in a piece published two months after Nkrumah’s overthrow amidst a flurry of the wildest allegations, that by the time of the coup in 1966 “Ghana was neither a terrorized nor a poverty-stricken country”.

In any discussion about Nkrumah, however, the narrative of his critics quickly gravitates toward detention without trial, a derogation from the principle of habeas corpus which was neither unique to Ghana nor without precedent even in advanced democracies of the United States and United Kingdom or a large democracy like India, whose own Prevention Detention Act provided the template for Ghana’s version.

Ghana’s version of preventive detention (not dissimilar to the wave of anti-terrorist legislation passed in many jurisdictions around the world since September 11, 2001) under Nkrumah, first passed into law in August 1958 after years of what will today be described as flagrant acts of terrorism that brought the country to the brink of civil war. Between 1954 and 1957 violence, murders and bombings, orchestrated largely by the opposition National Liberation Movement (N.L.M.) attended much of political life in the Gold Coast. A British newspaper described the climate then as “an unseen stealthy backstreet war being waged on Chigaco lines with gunmen in fast cars, rifle, and shotguns home made bombs and broken bottles and knives”.

Prominent among the N.L.M.’s victims was Hon. Krobo Edusei later Minister of the Interior after independence whose wife, Mary Akuamoah, was killed cruelly when her home was blasted by N.L.M. dynamites while preparing dinner for her children; his sister too was severely injured in another N.L.M. terrorist attack.  Nkrumah’s house in Accra New Town was frequently the target of N.L.M. terrorist bomb attacks prior to independence.

The violence of the Gold Coast spilled over into independent Ghana and in response the government introduced a range of emergency measures to restore stability and protect the embryonic independent state from disintegrating.  In fact, less than a year after independence the leader of the opposition N.L.M., Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia was exploiting American sensitivities about the spread communism to solicit funds from the U.S. administration to destabilize his own elected government.

However, as we explain later in this article, the proximate incident that increased the government’s resolve to introduce the preventive detention bill first proposed by the Minister of the Interior, Hon. Krobo Edusei, was the planned assassination of the Prime Minister by opposition members of parliament including a former deputy leader of the opposition in the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly, Modesto K. Apaloo, Mr. R.R. Amponsah,  general secretary of the opposition United Party (U.P.) and Captain Benjamin Awhaitey Commandant of the Ghana Army.

Although the Act was to have lapsed after five years, indiscriminate terrorist bomb attacks on innocent citizens throughout the early 1960s, including the infamous Kulungugu bomb that killed 11 innocent children, the bomb outrages preceding the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1962, and repeated assassination attempts on Nkrumah between 1962 and 1964, made its repeal difficult, if not impossible.

As Abraham Lincoln observed of the United States constitution in relation to his suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, “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.” – Letter to Erastus Corning.  Ghana’s PDA of 1958 was one such ‘constitutional’ measure in a period of serious rebellion which in our view public safety required.

Part II – An explosive cocktail of grievance, disaffection and opportunism

There are some on the opposition (United Party (U.P.)) side of this debate who trace the origins of the violence of the pre-independence period to the now infamous incident of 9th October 1955 involving a quarrel between supporters of Nkrumah’s Convention Peoples Party (C.P.P.) and their N.L.M. opponents in a house in Ashanti New Town, Kumasi.  According to Dennis Austin (“Politics in Ghana 1946-1960”, 1964) 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.”  Although Twumasi Ankrah was later charged, tried and hanged for his offence 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, however, date back to an earlier period in March 1954, before the June elections, when Nkrumah’s government took a decision to fix the price of cocoa at £3.12 shillings per 60lb load in response to the Seers and Ross “Report on Finance and Physical Problems of Development in the Gold Coast” to contain looming inflation. Contrary to inaccurate and revisionist accounts by the opposition, the C.P.P. did not promise in its manifesto to raise farm gate prices in the 1954 elections. On the contrary, when in August 1954 Mr. K.A. Gbedemah the then finance minister introduced the Cocoa Duty and Development Funds Bill in parliament, he was seeking a mandate to the execute a collective cabinet decision taken in March 1954, prior to the elections, to address the ‘fragility’ of the Gold Coast economy highlighted by the Seers and Ross Report stemming from an over-reliance on one commodity for nearly 60 percent of export revenues.

Although cocoa prices were enjoying a boon on the world market in 1954, those who took a long-term view recognized that high world prices were unsustainable (as it turned out prices fell from £500 per ton in 1954 to £200 in 1956) and farmers needed to be shielded from price fluctuations through a guaranteed farm gate price. Furthermore, as part of the economic diversification strategy to reduce Ghana’s over-reliance on as single cash crop, short-term windfalls in periods of high prices would be used to expand other sectors of the economy. Effectively, as long as cocoa enjoyed a boon, some of its proceeds will be used to expand other sectors of the economy although farmers would also be protected in hard times when prices fell.

Naturally, farmers who wanted a share of prevailing high world price for their produce were unhappy with this and demanded a repeal of the Bill. However, what started out as legitimate opposition by farmers to policy that did not maximize their short-term interests, was hijacked by disgruntled political activists, the rump of the opposition N.L.M. and an assortment of individuals with a melange of grievances ranging from dissatisfaction with Justice Van Lare’s  report on the allocation of seats for the 1954 Legislative Assembly, alleged malfeasance at the Cocoa Purchasing Company and disgruntled C.P.P. members who were unsuccessful in their bids to become parliamentary candidates at the 1954 elections.

Some, including B.F. Kusi – who stood as parliamentary candidate in the famous Atwima-Nwabagyia bye-election of 1955 and later became a formidable member of parliament for the opposition – challenged the basis of the Justice Van Lare’s report on parliamentary seat allocation by population. In one of his famous perorations during that bye-election, he proclaimed: “Ashanti is a nation … Population does not make a country”; suggesting in effect that Ashanti was entitled to a bigger role in the ‘new’ Gold Coast because of its history and the significant financial contribution it makes to the national exchequer through the export of natural resources such as gold, timber and cocoa. As Dennis Austin put it “the one argument that lay at the heart of the Ashanti protest was that its rulers had once held sway over a great part of the Gold Coast” and in that regard many in the N.L.M. opposition felt the Van Lare Report “reflected a total insensitivity to the historic economic and political importance of Asante to the Gold Coast. Asante they argued should be entitled to no fewer than 30 seats”. (Jean Marie Allman, “Quills of the Porcupine”)

There was also dissatisfaction with the Cocoa Purchasing Company which was accused of using funds to improperly assist the C.P.P. during the 1954 elections. This led to the establishment of the eponymously named Jibowu Commission chaired by the reputable Nigerian judge of the same name who led the investigations into allegations of financial malfeasance at the company.

In addition, some members of the C.P.P. who had failed in their bids to become candidates at 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 an opposition rump stoking up emotions about Ashanti representation, genuine farmers’ grievances over the fixed farm gate prices for cocoa, and disaffected failed party candidates became the perfect platform for members of the decimated Ghana Congress Party (GCP) and other minority parties to step up their campaign against the elected government of the Gold Coast through violence and in the process claimed the lives of many men, women and children.

Opposition reign of terror and violence

The N.L.M., launched in September 1954 under the leadership for the chief linguist of Ashantehene, Baffour Osei Akoto, emerged from this disgruntled group and the rump of the routed political opposition that threw in their lot with them. The Asanteman Council and Ashantehene lent them support enabling the N.L.M. to become the leading advocate for Ashanti separatism. For the first time this group of nationalists in Ashanti decided to break with the consensus on the transitional plans for independence and openly declared “yeate ye ho” – literally “we have seceded”.

In March 1955, Assistant Secretary at the Colonial Office R.J. Vile gave one of the first independent assessments of the N.L.M. after his visit to the Gold Coast.  He wrote: “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 Vile 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 in Ashanti and by December 1955 over 850 cases of assault had been reported in Kumasi alone. Kofi Banda a C.P.P. activist was shot by a gunman from the palace of the Chief of Ejuisu – a crime for which no one was convicted. Krobo Edusei’s sister was murdered at home while preparing dinner for her children.  Other victims of the N.L.M.’s were C.E. Osei, Archie Caseley-Hayford and Kwame Nkrumah whose houses were targets for bombings. The Governor, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke was pelted with stones when he went to Kumasi to mediate and seek an end to the violence and Baffour Osei Akoto warned of a possible civil war. A U.K. newspaper described the climate as “an unseen stealthy backstreet war being waged on Chigaco lines with gunmen in fast cars, rifle, shotguns home made bombs and broken bottles and knives”.

The N.L.M. raided C.P.P. offices in Ashanti and local party leaders such as B.E. Dwira of New Tafo were barricaded in their homes and needed protection whenever they went out. The C.P.P. regional office was closed and the local party newspaper the Sentinel was shutdown for a while.  Fourteen months after closing the party’s offices in Kumasi, however, the C.P.P. re-opened it and predictably, the occasion was met with violence perpetrated by the N.LM. This time, however, the C.P.P. responded and faced down the N.L.M. squarely.

The aim of much of the 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. 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.

Avoiding the ‘Guyana trap’ and an intransigent opposition

The C.P.P. was keen to avoid the so-called ‘Guyana trap’ that would reverse the gains made since 1951 and its leadership urged restraint to avoid the fate of the South American colony that was on course to secure its independence well ahead of the Gold Coast. In October 1953, the British government suspended the 1953 Guyana constitution after the ruling People’s Progressive Party’s (PPP) Labour Relations Act triggered strikes that led to disturbances and confrontations with the opposition. Planned transition to self-government in Guyana was suspended and an interim government of a small group of conservatives, businessmen and civil servants was imposed by the British to run the country until 1957. While a number of elections were held subsequently, it was not until 1966 that Guyana finally secured its independence.

Members of the first All-African Gold Coast government aware of this precedent, were keen to diffuse the situation diplomatically and urged their supporters to show restraint. The government set-up a parliamentary select committee to address the N.L.M.’s grievances but the opposition in the Legislative Assembly, led by S.D. Dombo, walked out and boycotted the hearings. Three times the N.L.M. refused to attend meetings with the Governor and Nkrumah to discuss their grievances and insisted on a new federal constitution.

The leader of the opposition, Dr. K.A. Busia travelled to London to lobby the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Alex Lennox-Boyd, and requested that a constitutional expert be dispatched to mediate and resolve the impasse yet, the N.L.M. refused to co-operate with Sir Frederick Bourne when he arrived. Undeterred and undaunted, Sir Frederick Bourne consulted with others in the Gold Coast, proceeded with the task at hand and in due time, presented his report to the Governor and the Secretary of State for the Colonies. While his recommendations were not favourable to the C.P.P. by any means, he described the N.L.M.’s demands for a federal constitution as “an extreme form of federation [which] would introduce an intolerable handicap to the administration of the country”.  The N.L.M. was again invited to the Achimota Conference to discuss Sir Frederick Bourne’s report but its leaders declined and continued to insist on a constituent assembly to draft a new federal constitution.

Finally, the Secretary of State for the Colonies decided that the only way to settle the constitutional impasse was through the will of the people and so felt it necessary to call for one last election in 1956 prior to granting independence. The N.L.M. happily accepted this concession hoping that the alliances it had built with other minority opposition parties would enable it secure victory at the polls. But once again, the N.L.M. was defeated obtaining only 13 seats against the CPP’s 71, out of a total of 104 seats. The N.L.M. did not win a single seat in the Colony and for all its appeal to Ashanti nationalism and separatism only just managed a majority of the popular vote in Ashanti with the C.P.P. securing a respectable 43% share of the vote and 8 out of the 21 seats in Ashanti, proving once again, that although the N.L.M portrayed itself as a predominantly Ashanti party, not all Ashantis were N.L.M supporters.

Even after they were roundly defeated, the N.L.M. would not accept the will of the people, as the eminent scholar of Ghana’s history, Richard Rathbone was to observe: “The election held in July 1956, saw another impressive CPP 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 a similar observation 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 NLM have shown little skill as conspirators and the CPP leaders will take no chances.”

Part III – Post-independence destabilization

After independence, the N.L.M. continued with its violence in Kumasi and there was evidence of arms smuggling across the border of the kind R.J. Vile had written about in 1955, from Ivory Coast to western Ahanti. Over 5,000 people originally living in Ashanti had been exiled as result of the N.L.M.’s violence.

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 a technicality on appeal because of an error in summing by the original trial judge.

In December 1957, less than a year after independence and long before prevention detention legislation was introduced, the leader of the opposition Dr. K.A Busia secretly solicited funds from the United States government to undermine and destabilize the elected government of his own country. In a memo by then US Ambassador to Ghana (see Foreign Relations, 1955-1957, Volume XVIII,  pages 387-388), Ambassador Wilson Flake notified the State Department that the leader of the opposition in Ghana and member of Parliament Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia had 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.”   According to the Flake memo, Dr. Busia wanted US help to “condition” potential donors in U.S. and also to transfer such funds to Ghana where he says they would appear to be proceeds of party fund raising efforts in Ghana”. When Ambassador Flake told the leader of the opposition he would have nothing to do with it Dr. Busia asked if the State Department could “inspire some university to invite him expense paid to [the] U.S.”  As it turned out, Busia ostensibly received an invitation to lecture at the University Leiden in Netherlands while investigations into the plot to assassinate the Prime Minister were underway.

It is worth reflecting whether any country would tolerate such flagrant acts of subversion by elected opposition leaders less than one year after open free and fair elections had ushered in the first post-independent government. How would a US or UK government feel if members of the opposition in Congress or Parliament sought to collude with a foreign country to subvert the elected government of their country? Needless, to say Ambassador Wilson Flake was summarily recalled from his post soon after sending that telegram.

In the meantime, a group of youngmen in Accra led by Attoh Quarshie formed the Ga Adangbe Shifomo Kpee (Ga Adange Standfast Association), ostensibly to defend the interests of the Ga Adange people of Accra and surrounding areas. 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’s. objective to use whatever means available to them to oppose and disrupt the elected government of Ghana.

In an attempt to fan tribal hatred 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.  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 C.P.P. supporters in Accra also setup a rival group, the Ga Ekomefeemo Kpee (All Ga Unity Association), and two inevitably clashed notably in a demonstration outside Parliament on 20th August 1957 at which 40 people were seriously injured.

The leadership of the N.L.M. were also engaged in a plot of their own. The police were tipped-off by staff at Badges and & 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 through relatives of another opposition member in Lome, Mr.  Modesto K Apollo, former deputy opposition leader of the Legislative Assembly, for onward delivery to Accra.

The order of replica Ghana army uniforms, badges of rank and Sam Brown belts by senior members of the opposition rang alarm bells; it reminded the government and the security services of what happened to the Burmese government in 1946 when members of the opposition to the government of Burma dressed in replica uniforms of the Burmese army, commandeered an army vehicle, stormed the cabinet room and murdered 14 cabinet ministers.

Apaloo and Amponsah sought the assistance of Captain Benjamin Awhaitey and other senior non-commissioned officers of the Ghana Army to assist them to kidnap and assassinate the Prime Minister at Accra International Airport on the 20th December1958, on the eve of his departure to India for a state visit.

According to Geoffrey Bing (“Reap the Whirlwind, (MacGibbon and Kee, 1968), “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 not to be 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.”

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 been “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 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 Captain Awhaitey. For example, according to Geoffrey Bing  evidence presented at the tribunal showed “that in November and December [1958] 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.


Emergency measures and preventive detention

In response to these early disturbances and attempts to destabilize the elected government of Ghana, the C.P.P. government took a number of landmark and controversial measures to preserve the security of the state, all which were subject to extensive debates in parliament and voting

  1. 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 use of public resources for political activity) 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.
  2. The government set up commissions of inquiry headed by a senior judge 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 Troopers.
  3. 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 religions grounds. The Act’s immediate impact was to trigger the merger of the N.L.M., Northern People Party (N.P.P.), Togoland Congress Ga Adangbe Shifomo Kpee combined to form in a single opposition party, the United Party.

Although the passage of the prevention detention bill had been mooted and indeed even discussed and rejected by Nkrumah in cabinet, it was only introduced in parliament weeks after the facts of the Amponsah and Apaloo conspiracy became known to government. As Sir Geoffrey Bing Attorney-General confirmed (ibid) preventive detention “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 threatened to introduce a measure based on the Indian Act when Parliament resumed in February, but he was overruled at Cabinet and at that time it seemed the Government had decided against. It was not until after the discovery that Amponsah was purchasing military accoutrement and that the Ga Shifome Kpee had setup a violent secret organization, that the proposal and a somewhat restricted version of the Indian Act was [introduced] in July 1958.

Its effect was to extend the period of pre-trial detention for suspected terrorists and is 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.

Part IV – Bombings and assassination attempts and Kulungugu

Although the Act was to have lapsed after five years it remained law until Nkrumah’s overthrow in 1966.  Curiously the incoming regime of the National Liberation Council (N.L.C.) that overthrew Nkrumah’s government replaced the PDA with their own version called the Preventive Custody Decree (PCD) under which a different set of political opponents were arrested and detained without trial. Under the N.L.C.’s PCD, detainees could make no appeal and there was no requirement to inform them as to why they were being arrested.

In any case as Bing says, “the original proposal that the act should lapse after five years was discarded in the face of the attempts on the President’s life and the terrorists bomb attacks”  (pp. 273, ibid.).  Indiscriminate terrorist bomb attacks on innocent citizens throughout the early 1960s including the infamous Kulungugu bomb outrage that killed 11 innocent children, the bomb outrages preceding the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1962, and repeated assassination attempts on Nkrumah between 1962 and 1964, made its repeal difficult, if not impossible.

In 1961 the C.P.P. government introduced an austerity budget to deal with declining revenues from lower 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 counter rising inflation, the railways workers organized a strike to register their opposition to the austerity measures in the budget.

Nkrumah had travelled 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. In response, many workers returned to work except in Sekondi –Takoradi and surrounding areas.

It soon became apparent that the union leadership in Sekondi –Takoradi 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 members of the Moslem Association Party (before it became part of the U.P.) and was closely associated with the deported Amadu Baba who orchestrated much of the opposition’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 to revise the budget or resign. In public, however, the opposition did not condemn the illegal strike they were encouraging, 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 where he was Headmaster. Those present included members of the United Party executive and far from seeking to end the dispute, the meeting discussed how to steel the nerves of the striking workers and to persuade them to continue with the dispute and reject Nkrumah’s overtures including ending the state of emergency imposed while he was away and releasing workers arrested during the strike.

Members of the opposition helped draft and paid for telegrams on behalf of the unions (using fictional Union names and a private mail bag addresses 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 opposition 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 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 planned bomb explosions to be launched from neighbouring Togo on national monuments and at the residences of the President and prominent cabinet ministers coordinated 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 republican elections, the opposition were once again exploiting genuine grievances of working people about an austere budget to wreak havoc, mayhem and foment violence with a view to bringing down the elected government of Ghana. But this time the colonial government was not around to indulge the opposition and the C.P.P took decisive action. Leading members of opposition politicians including Dr. J. B. Danquah and Joe Appiah were arrested under prevention detention for the first time in the three years since the Act’s introduction.

When they were not taking advantage of workers’ grievances to subvert the elected government of Ghana, the opposition were engaged in assassination plots. Numerous attempts were made on Nkrumah’s life in the years following the introduction of the PDA, including the infamous Kulungugu bomb, the bomb outrages that 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.

The opposition intensified their campaign of terror. According to Bing “[f]ollowing upon the Kulungugu grenade-throwing there occurred a series of organised terrorist bomb outrages in Accra.  In the course of these thirty people had been killed and over three hundred injured and maimed for life. Finally, at a public meeting the police succeeded in arresting a man with a grenade concealed between his legs. Investigations of his contacts revealed that Obetsebi-Lamptey, who had retuned clandestinely from Togo where he was living in exile, had supplied the grenades and recruited and paid the actual assassins….Seven persons connected with the Accra bomb-throwing were tried, five of whom were sentenced to death and two given terms of imprisonment. The death sentences were commuted and those concerned were called to give evidence on the trial of those supposedly behind the Kulungugu attempt.”

According the historian Dennis Austin, “[t]hat 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”.

Unfortunately, Nkrumah’s regrettable dismissal of the Chief Justice and his ordering of a re-trial drew attention away from the real perpetrators of the heinous crimes that hot afternoon near Kulungugu.

Revisionist historians will have us believe that no member of the opposition was involved in the bombing campaigns yet it is a matter of record that an opposition Member of Parliament, R.B Otchere, and Yaw Manu, an opposition activist, pleaded guilty for their role in the Kulungugu bomb. One consequence of Nkrumah’s response to the trial, however, was that opposition members who pleaded guilty and were convicted by the court presided over by Justices Van Lare, Edward Akuffo Addo (later Chief Justice and President of Ghana) and Chief Justice Arku-Korsah, had their death sentences quashed. With the passage of time honest observers of Ghana’s history concede that Messrs 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 re-trial that they were the bomb plotters is not only unfair to their reputations and memory, it is simply dishonest. One cannot criticize Nkrumah’s ill-advised handling of the trial and then hold on to the view that the opposition were innocent;    condemn the re-trial but argue that those pronounced guilty in that re-trial were the guilty ones.

Arguably, the PDA may have fallen into misuse and abused on occasions but as Markovitz 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 some would argue that the likes of Obetsebi-Lamptey were treated quite well, despite his dastardly acts, as shown for example in this from Sir Geoffrey Bing:  “At the time of his [Obetsebi-Lamptey’s] arrest he was suffering from an advanced stage of cancer of the liver…Though at the time he had been charged with organising terrorist bomb outrages in which thirty persons lost their lives and some three hundred others had been seriously injured, he was placed in a private ward in the best equipped civilian hospital in Accra and had all the drugs and attention possible provided for him by the Government” (ibid. pp 274-275.)

Part V – Lincoln, Nehru to Blair and Bush –preventive detention was not unique

Nkrumah’s determination to maintain a united country and be prime minister for all of Ghana – even though he had been declared persona non grata in certain parts of the country by the N.L.M. and other opposition parties – was not too dissimilar to Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to resist secessionists from the Union. Lincoln refused to accept that the Confederacy was not part of the Union and suspended the writ of habeas corpus enabling the arrest and detention without trial of those suspected of assisting the secessionists.

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”,  he explained in tones and echoes of the circumstances in the Gold Coast and Ghana in the 1950s, why he taken such extreme action: He wrote: “I was elected contrary to their liking;… [t]he 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.”

The civil war insurgents, like the opposition N.L.M./U.P., 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 ethnic lines after several years of violence and bombings, this was a risk the government decided it could not afford. In response to opposition submissions during the debate on the Act (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”. A fact which Lincoln too acknowledged in his letter to Corning: “Nothing”, he wrote, “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.”

Lincoln argued  further that “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.”

Preventive detention was commonplace during 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 held in preventive custody and were neither charged nor tried.

After 1947, both India and Pakistan adopted prevention detention statutes to bring the long-standing practice within the purview of their judicial systems and constitutions. Article 22- “Protection against arrest and detention in certain cases” – of the Indian Constitution specifically denies anyone held in preventive custody the fundamental rights set out in clauses (1) and (2). Article 22 clause (3b) 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”.

During the passage of the preventive detention bill in Ghana, Hon. Kofi Baako the Minister for Information and Broadcasting reminded parliament during the second reading on 15th January 1958 (see Hansard col. 499) that “[t]he Ghana Act [was] based on the Indian Prevention Act” except that Ghana’s was limited in scope only to 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 of services essential to the community”

In response to the chorus of criticisms by opposition legal luminaries  like 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.  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”.

Preventive detention was deployed contemporaneously elsewhere in the Commonwealth at the time of its introduction in Ghana as Hon. Kofi Baako again reminded parliament. In the year of Ghana’s independence 32 members of the opposition in Singapore were arrested and detained without trial, drawing this editorial response from the London Times of 24th August 1957: “Democracy sometimes has to resort to undemocratic means to defend itself.”

But of course the double standards of the British press did not allow them to extend the same benefit of doubt to Nkrumah as the late Dr. Conor Cruise O’Brien, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana (a vehement critic of Nkrumah and a keen supporter of the 1966 coup), was to observe after Nkrumah was overthrown. He wrote: “[Nkrumah’s] 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 the [likes of the] Daily Telegraph was that it was an African who was doing them.” (The Observer, 27th February 1966, London)

Following the terrorist outrages of September 11, 2001, both the US and UK governments introduced a wave of anti-terrorist legislation. The UK’s “Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001” for example, 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 sentiment echoed by J.K. Harley and A.K. Deku Commissioner and Deputy of Ghana Police respectively under Nkrumah, who pleaded with the C.P.P. government to extend the PDA to common hardened criminals on grounds that British law – the basis of much of Ghana’s legal system – made it difficult to get common criminals into jail.

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 it 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 to 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.  See Congressional Research Summaries available at

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 former leader of the opposition Mr. Modesto Apaloo who were found by  majority of  a tribunal to have been conspiring to assassinate the prime minister 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.

Part VI – The case for preventive detention under Nkrumah

In view of the foregoing and after numerous attempts on Nkrumah’s life and those of his Ministers, 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?

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 people will accept, however reluctantly, that there was a powerful argument for preventive detention in the Amponsah, Apaloo and Awhaitey case at least.

The outcome of the Granville Sharp Commission provides a perfect illustration of this point. 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 had been plunged into violence and was on the verge of breaking-up along tribal lines.

From time to time nation states assume emergency powers to deal with dangers that often threaten the integrity and very the existence of the State itself. Abraham Lincoln, whose suspension of the writ of habeas corpus enabled the arrest and detention without trial of those who were suspected of assisting the secessionists during the civil war, provides the most eloquent defence for why it is sometimes necessary to do this and to resolve Wolf’s ‘classic liberal dilemma’. In the conclusion to his letter to Erastus Corning, Lincoln made this observation: “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.”

Without the terrorist bombings, violence, indiscriminate killings and assassination attempts orchestrated largely by the opposition in Ghana in the 1950s and 1960s, there would have been no need for preventive detention. These were no ordinary peaceful times and in our view, prevention detention was a necessary piece of emergency security legislation which, along with the Avoidance of Discrimination Act, might, just might, have helped Ghana avoid some of the more dangerous conflicts that have been witnessed on the African continent. It quickly isolated 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, London and Michael Gyamerah PhD, Houston.

6 thoughts on “The case for preventive detention under Nkrumah

  1. The author has presented a very slanted and obscured view of what happened under Nkrumah’s regime. i would wonder how he would present the Libyan situation under ghadafi.
    It is unfortunate that some of the people who have had the opportunity to enjoy their personal freedoms would be very oblivious to the point of justifying ‘Detention without Trial’.
    Attributing the bomb throwings etc which characterised the latter days of Nkrumahs regime to members of the NLM is equally diabolical and very characteristic of those who thrive on cheap propaganda. May I make it known to the author that the key personalities who were arrested and tried for treason under Nkrumah were leading CPP members- Ako Adjei (Defence Minister); tawiah Adamafio (Information Minister); H.H.Kofi Crabbe (CPP General Secretary). Sir Arku Korsah was sacked as Chief Justice when the Supreme Court acquitted the three named above ; Nkrumah set up a new court to try them and they were all imprisoned.
    the unfortunate thing is that Ghanaians have allowed themselves to be fooled for so long by a few who can shout so the society seem to have accepted lies as the truth.
    The author has forgotten that Nkrumah was criticising the aparthied system in S.Africa and Rhodesia while denying his own countrymen the same freedom the aparthied system had denied the indigenous South Africans.

    1. Very accurate information and excellent piece on the political history of Ghana (formerly Gold Coast) with the turns and twists on some prominent and pertinent political issues till date. Very well done. . Stay blessed. My father was B? E Dwira, proprieter and publisher of The Ashanti Sentinel newspaper headquatered in Kumasi, but burned down by the NLM party activists during the ‘ma te me ho’ era (disenfrachised or seperated myself) from party ties. My father, Hon. B E Dwira was the Ashanti Regional Chairman of the CPP even before the demarcation of the Brong-Ahafo Region. He was also the first Kumasi City Council Chairman after independence. He held a few more positions in Ghana and abroad during the Nkrumah regime.

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