My friend, Nii Armah Josiah Aryeh, has returned to the ancestors, too soon, and we mere mortals are left to bear the pain of losing him. In his relatively short life, he did a lot to inspire numerous Gadangme people on a path of consciousness. He provided the opportunity for like-minded people to rally behind a cause of projecting, yet again, the unique position of Ga people in nation building. But he will be better remembered as a politician, who rose to high office within a political party through his force of ideas and his competence, but who could not sustain his position because of political intrigue.
Though Nii Armah proved adept at handling press conferences and gave many television and radio interviews, he was perhaps more comfortable when drafting these documents, probably because he was an academic. He wanted to be viewed as more than just another ordinary politician.
I got to know Nii Armah in the mid-1990s when he had just completed his PhD study in Law. He had accompanied a friend of his, Robert Trebi Asafoatse, to visit my good friend Joshua Nii Attoh Quarshie. Nii Attoh, who had been instrumental in the setting up of Gadangme Nikasemo Asafo, telephoned me and suggested that I meet with this young man who had refreshing ideas and fire in his belly, for the projection of Ga culture within an urbanised Accra, the capital of Ghana.
I invited him to join us at the monthly meeting, the start of a fruitful association that ended up in his becoming secretary of the organisation, for a brief period. Our association continued with the formation of the GaDangme Foundation in London and resulted in other important developments in the Gadangme Diaspora that gave a voice to the GaDangme Council in Ghana. He had been involved in other Ghanaian groups such as the Black Stars for the World Cup and Gadangme Think Tank which incidentally included luminaries such as Numo Nortse Amartey, Nii Nortei Omaboe, Albert Johnson, Sally Baffour, Dr Jo Blankson who became the Ga Mantse King Tackie Tawiah III and one of the present Ga Mantse, Nii Adama Latse II. He was also associated with some Ghanaian Socialist Group and with the Liberated Nkrumaist Brigade in London
Though our discussions were about how to move our organisation forward to achieve our goal of influencing the psyche of the typical cosmopolitan and detribalized Gadangme from a civil society perspective, they always took a political framework. We discussed the importance and achievements of the likes of AW Kojo Thompson, Solo Odamtten, FV Nanka-Bruce, Tommy Hutton-Mills, Obetsebi Lamptey whose legacy had been largely forgotten and observed how the likes of Tawia Adamafio, Sony Provencal, EC Quaye, Paul Tagoe, Ako Ajei, Kwatelai Quartey, Boi Doku had galvanised the Ga into national participative politics. It was clear that he had an interest in politics and felt that he could play a useful role in shaping the destiny of Ghana.
But our immediate task remained trying to get the GaDangme polity interested in civil society activity that will push them to contribute to and participate in regenerating the urban community with the purpose of lifting them out of poverty. We considered several issues: the language under threat because of the onslaught of in-migration, the culture under assault from the charismatic churches, our institution of chieftaincy convoluted because of a lack of a written constitution and decided that perhaps the best hook would be to rekindle an interest in the history of the Ga people. That was his forte because he had reviewed several documents during his doctoral dissertation and he still had access to the libraries.
This period coincided with the decision to rehabilitate the burial grounds of King Tackie Tawiah I in Accra. A group of us set up the King Tackie Tawiah Memorial Trust that together with the Union of GaDangme Associations, eventually metamorphosed into the Gadangme Foundation. Nii Armah offered to research the history of the Gadangme people with an emphasis on the leadership of King Tackie Tawiah during peace time. The high point of The King Tackie Tawiah Memorial lectures in July 1997, was that the prestigious Brunei Theatre at the School of Oriental and African Studies was filled to the brim for each of the three lectures and the content received resounding acclaim from the large mass of Gadangme and other people who attended.
I was grateful to Nii Amarh when he actively supported my candidacy to be chairman of Ghana Union London, helping to organise and recruit several members and advising on an agenda for action after the elections. I, in turn, had introduced him to several of my older friends in Ghana who would assist him both in his career in the law and in his involvement with the Gadangme Council.
A year later Nii Armah left London to take up an appointment as a senior lecturer in law at the University of Ghana. Nii Armah continued with the sterling work when he returned to Ghana; organising within the GaDangme community, helping to energise the Gadangme Council with the lectures that he delivered, and assisting with outreach work amongst the GaDangme community. He also ended up as the liaison with the chiefs and elders. He started to help write that constitution of the Ga people which he felt, left unwritten, had been the cause of much of the disputes amongst chiefs and families owning land. He attributed these disputes to the disunity and total breakdown of a system of governance that had left our traditional rulers at the mercy of politicians and civil servants at large, who were controlling the lands that had become the main source of income for our chiefs.
The pull of politics was probably too strong for him and he left the Gadangme Council without achieving the goal of uniting the Chiefs with the people. He himself could not win the seat he contested though eventually by dint of hard work and merit he rose to become General Secretary of the National Democratic Congress as they went into opposition. He was not treated very well by his party and became mired in some controversy betrayed by friends and close allies within the party and within the wider political community.
In a perverse sense though we had often discussed the fate of Ga politicians such as Ako Adjei and Tawiah Adamafio and Owula Kojo Thompson, who had climbed high but ended up being marginalised by their own parties, he did not escape that fate despite his many celebrated press conferences that he organised to propagate the social democracy ideology of his party.
Most thought that he had left politics behind to concentrate on his academic career. He had such a sharp and incisive brain with attention to detail, and he was thorough as a researcher. He wrote well and was an ardent and persuasive orator but he was impatient with those who did not readily see his point of view and who maintained other positions.
His autobiography ‘Inside Ghana’s democracy’ largely sought to justify the events of his departure from the NDC but he also wrote some academic books – ‘Property Law of Ghana’ and another ‘Islamic Customary Law in Ghana’ as well as the ‘Law of Wills in Ghana’ that he autographed for me.
But Nii Armah was not done with politics completely, and he bounced back as Chairman of the breakaway National Democratic Party led by Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings and persisted in trying to get back into the party from which they had deserted. He had to give up that position when his health started failing him early last year.
We have lost him too early, he had a lot to offer the people of Ghana and he was diligent in the causes that he championed, but perhaps unable to form the necessary alliances to see these to fruition and to maintain a dispassionate perspective. He certainly was ahead of his time considering some of the innovative strategies that he espoused as an activist for the Gadangme concern.
The caucus of the Gadangme community in London will certainly miss you and the legacy you leave – your unpublished King Tackie Tawiah Memorial Lectures will find their way to a blog in your memory.
May your soul rest in perfect peace in the Lord
Anyemi Nii Armah, yaa wo ojogbann
London June 2017