The origins and the case for preventive detention in Ghana

23 January 2009 at 01:34 | 7265 views

By Ekow Nelson and Dr. Michael Gyamerah

For all the criticism Nkrumah received 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 (by the CIA no less) - ‘Ghana without Nkrumah-The Winter of Discontent’ - Irving Markovitz says under Nkrumah “Ghana was neither a terrorized nor a poverty-stricken country”.

As with the familiar narrative of Nkrumah’s critics, the argument soon gravitates toward detention without trial. The Preventive Detention Act (PDA) was passed into law in 1958 after years (starting in 1955) of what we will today describe as acts of terrorism. In this regard the PDA is not dissimilar to the wave of anti-terrorist legislation that has been passed in many countries in the world since September 11, 2001.

Between 1954 and 1957, violence, murders and bombings, orchestrated largely by the National Liberation Movement (NLM), 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 (after seeing a copy of the Indian Act on preventive detention), whose own sister had been killed in an act of NLM terrorism and whose wife had been the victim of an N.L.M bomb blast, was the planned assassination of the Prime Minister by Modesto Apaloo, R.R. Amponsah and an army Commandant, Captain Awhaitey. Apart from Apaloo and Amponsah. The latter 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. Note: apart from some minor political figures in Accra, none of the leading members of the opposition was detained under the Act from over three years following its enactment in 1958, until 1961 following the workers strike.

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 houses were targets for bombings at one time or another.

There are some on the United Party (U.P.) side of this argument who trace the origins of the violence of that period to the now infamous incident on 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 to an earlier period, in March 1954, and before the June elections, when Nkrumah’s government took a decision to fix the price of cocoa at £3.12 shillings 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 historical accounts, the C.P.P. did not promise in its manifesto to raise farm gate prices in the 1954 elections and in August 1954, Mr. K.A. Gbedemah, then finance minister, introduced the Cocoa Duty and Development funds bill in parliament based on the cabinet’s decision in the March.

In his presentation to parliament Gbedemah argued that he was seeking to deal with 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. While cocoa prices were enjoying a boon on the world market in 1954, 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.

As part of the diversification strategy to reduce the risk of over-dependence on one crop, any windfall would be used to expand other sectors of the economy. Naturally the farmers, who wanted a share of higher world prices for their produce were unhappy with this and demanded a repeal of the bill. However, what started out as the 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 the Legislative Assembly in the 1954 elections.

Some, including B.F Kusi - who later stood as parliamentary candidate in the famous 1955 bye-election at Atwima-Nwabagyia and became a formidable member of parliament for opposition before and after the independence - challenged the basis of the electoral seat allocation by population. He one of his famour perorations, he proclaimed: “Ashanti is a nation ... Population does not make a country”?

There was dissatisfaction with the Cocoa Purchasing Company which was accused of using funds to help the C.P.P. during the 1954 elections leading to the setting up of eponymous named Jibowu Commission after the reputable Nigerian judge who chaired it. In addition, some members of the C.P.P. who failed in the 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 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 and in the process fomented violence and mayhem which needlessly claimed the lives of many men, women and children.

The National Liberation Movement (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 threw in their lot with them. The Asanteman Council and Ashantehene lent 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 an intransigent opposition
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.”

He continued:
“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. Local party leaders such as B.E. Dwira of New Tafo were barricaded in their homes and needed protection when they went out. The C.P.P regional office was closed and the local party newspaper, the Sentinel was shutdown. Baffour Osei Akoto warned of a possible civil war and a U.K. newspaper described the situation 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 Governor, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke was pelted with stones when he went to Kumasi to mediate and seek an end to the violence. Kofi Banda 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 while preparing food her children at home and Nkrumah’s home in Accra new Town was bombed.

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 the gains made since 1951 and its leadership urged restraint. Fourteen months after closing the party’s offices in Kumasi 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 the N.L.M. squarely. 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 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’ .

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. The Governor went to Kumasi but he was stoned and humiliated.

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 dispatcheded 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 they had built with the other opposition parties would enable them secure victory at the polls. Even so, after they were roundly defeated, in they would not accept defeat. 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 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 NLM, 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 NLM, once again resorted to its tried and trusted tactics of boycott, lobbying to London and threatening secession. ... The NLM continued to suggest that it would refuse to operate as a loyal opposition...”

The governor’s advisor on external affairs, F E Cumming-Bruce 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 CPP 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.”

Post-independence destabilization
Even 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 Asante. 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 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 on a technicality.

In the meantime, a group of youngmen in Accra led by Attoh Quarshie formed the Ga Adangbe Shifomo 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 members of the cabinet 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, and two inevitably clashed notably in a demonstration outside Parliament on 20th August 1957 at which 40 people we seriously injured.

The meantime, leaders of the N.L.M. were 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 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 Ghana 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 Captain Awhaitey. For example, according to Geoffrey Bing (in his book "Reap The Whirlwind"), 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.

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..

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 CPP agents who have unlimited funds.” Needlessly 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 the Ambassador to Ghana.

Emergency legislation and introduction of preventive detention
In response to these and other disturbances and events, the CPP government took a number of landmark decisions to preserve the security of the state, all 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 Troopers.
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 sole on ethnic, racial or religions grounds. The Act’s immediate impact was to trigger the merger of the NLM, Northern People Party (NPP), Togoland Congress Ga Adangbe Shifomo Kpee combined to form in a single opposition party, the United Party (UP).

In July 1958, the government introduced the Prevention 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.

Attempts to overthrow the Nkrumah and assassinate him
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, new housing, and new schools, among others. In response to 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 state of emergency and releasing persons arrested, after he had returned from his trip

It later transpired that members of the opposition helped drafted and paid for telegrams on behalf of the unions (using fictional unions names and a private mail bag addresses belonging to the Ishmaili Annan) to 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 UP 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 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 gain taking advantage of the genuine grievances of working people about an austere budget to bring down the elected government of Ghana. This time the colonial government was not around to indulge them and thee C.P.P took decisive action and leading members of opposition politicians were including Dr. Danquah and Joe Appiah were arrested under prevention detention for the first time in the three years since the Act’s introduction.

The violence did not, however, end there: numerous attempts were made on Nkrumah’s life in the years following the introduction of the PDA, including the infamous Kulungugu bomb outrage, the bomb outrages in late 1961 that preceded the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1962, and the 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.

Revisionist historians will have us believe that no member of the opposition was ever 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 activist, pleaded guilty for their role in the Kulungugu bomb. 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 the opposition members who had pleaded guilty and were convicted by a court presided over by Van Lare, Akuffo Addo and the Chief Justice, had their death sentences quashed. In the subsequent trial ordered by Nkrumah, those who were acquitted in the original one were convicted. With the passage of time, all honest observers of our history accept that Tawia Adamafio, Ako Adjei and Coffie Crabbe 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.

Yes, as Markovitz confirms, toward the end of Nkrumah’s administration “[t]here was considerable unrest and dissatisfaction, several assassination attempts against Nkrumah, and constant rumors of coups, yet the government had made conciliatory gestures toward its opponents both within and outside its ranks, and showed every sign of having attained a durable balance of interests.”

Comparisons with other countries
Each country in the midst of a terrorist crisis has a set of emergency laws that are similar to the PDA. In operational terms, the concept of preventive detention has been in existence 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 prevention 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”.

In the United Kingdom for example, The Prevention of Terrorism Action (PTA), allowing for detention without trial, charge or access to legal counsel for a period, has been in force since the early 1970s. Since 9/11, both the US and UK governments have introduced 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 has 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 “Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001” has since replaced indefinite detention of foreign nationals with a system of "control orders" which 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 to be 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 http://thomas. bin/bdquery/ z?d107:HR03162: @@@D&summ2=m&.

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 an opposition Member of Parliament, 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 the prevention detention under Nkrumah
In view of the foregoing and after the 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?

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 shaking the very foundations of the state and plotting to assassinate the Prime Minister - 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.

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 [788] 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.

But again as Markovitz’s argues to “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.”

No one has suggested 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.”

In our view, however, the PDA was a necessary piece of 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 and safeguard the security of the nation and people of Ghana.