The case of Re: Akoto & 7 Others is one that every lawyer trained in Ghana had the good fortune of reading as part of the Constitutional Law course leading to an LL.B or B.A degree in Law. As a first year law student at the University of Ghana, the experience was quite daunting as I had to make do with the painful minutiae font size used in the case brief in original ‘Gyandoh & Grifiths’, the casebook on Constitutional Law. The 1961 Ghana Law Report that also had the case reported in it was never available at the Law Faculty Library whenever I went searching for it; well, this was A.D 1992. Secondly, I did not fully understand many of the philosophical underpinnings of the legal theories expounded by both Sir Geoffrey Bing (a British), the Attorney-General and Dr. J. B Danquah, the lawyer for the appellants in the case. Out of what I could understand from the case then, however, I developed a great affinity with Dr. Danquah for the sheer dearth of research and legal ingenuity that he prayed in aid to put forth such legal theories on the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms. By the same token, I was intrigued by the very fact that Sir Geoffrey Bing was prepared to defend to the death the Preventive Detention Act, the obnoxious law under which the eight appellants (and several others) had been detained without trial.
In the matter of Sir Bing, my perplexity waned when I later read about him from Justice A.N.E Amissah’s farewell speech in 1977 (at the latter’s retirement from the Bench at age 46) as follows: “Now Bing was a complex and intriguing character. He always said that he was a politician and not a lawyer. He could not see the Attorney-General exercise functions independently of political authority and, indeed, actively assisted in the removal of his independence… Bing aroused strong emotions, most of it repulsive in nature.” Justice Amissah had served under Sir Bing at the Attorney-General’s Department and incidentally, Sir Bing appeared with Justice Amissah as the lawyers for the Republic in the Re Akoto case. Once I learned that my repulsion for Bing was widely shared, I began to exhale easily.
The case of Re: Akoto & 7 Others
Just one year after Ghana gained independence, Parliament passed the Preventive Detention Act in 1958. This law gave the President the power to arrest and detain any person and imprison him for, at least, five years to prevent the person detained from acting in a manner prejudicial to the state. On 11th November, 1959, an order was issued for the arrest and detention of nine people, including Baffour Osei Akoto, Asantehene’s Senior Linguist under the Preventive Detention Act. Their lawyer applied to the High Court for a habeas corpus order for their release but they were denied an order for release. Then they appealed to the Supreme Court but the Supreme Court held, among other things, that the Preventive Detention Act was not contrary to the Constitution and that, Parliament had power to pass such a law even in peace time. Therefore, Baffour Akoto and the others, plus countless citizens detained without trial under the law languished in jail till they were released after the 1966 coup. Several others died in detention, including Dr. Danquah himself who had represented them as their lawyer in 1961 to seek their release without success.
The effect of Re: Akoto & 7 Others on Ghana’s constitutional democracy.
The case of Re: Akoto & 7 Others indisputably shaped the future course of fundamental human rights in Ghana. Indeed, from the 1969 Constitution of the Second Republic to the 1992 Constitution of the current Fourth Republic, fundamental human rights and freedoms have been explicitly set out and guaranteed for all citizens to enjoy. As we continue to enjoy multiparty democracy, we must keep reminding ourselves of the huge sacrifices that our forebears made to set the country on the path of rule of law and not rule of men. It is most humbling to observe that these persons who had to endure such horrendous treatment for the benefit of our generation were ordinary citizens; storekeeper, a sub-divisional chief, produce manager, auctioneer/letter writer, transport owner, etc. They did not belong to the hallowed professions neither were they of the middle-class bourgeois stock. They were ordinary citizens who made extraordinary sacrifices – enduring detention without trial in debilitating conditions for several years – thereby wasting many years of their lives which they could have spent with their families. It is for this reason that I applaud the institution of the annual Re: Akoto Memorial Lectures by the Ghana School of Law. The lectures highlight the great contribution the case of these brave citizens has made to our constitutional democracy: lest we forget. This year’s lecture was delivered on 28th April, 2021 by Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto, a son of Baffour Osei Akoto. It was a great event by all standards. Dr. Akoto gave a detailed biography of Baffour Akoto that was most insightful and enlightening. He reiterated the immense contribution the case of Re Akoto & 7 Others has made in shaping the current constitutional landscape in Ghana.
Who are the “7 Others”?.
As a child growing up, some of the words that I heard from snippets of general conversations between my great-great grand and great-grand folks and from their work were “detention”, “bailiff”, “affidavit”, “auctioneer”, “commissioner for oaths” and “deponent”. My maternal great-great-grand uncle was the late Mr. B. E. Adwetewa of Asante-Mampong; a great Presbyterian, an old student of Begoro Boys Boarding School in the early 1900s, a Commissioner in the Northern Territories in the colonial days, a staunch UP member, and a Commissioner for Oaths in his retirement days. When he grew quite too frail in his 90s to read documents, he used to call us to read out “affidavits” to him before the “deponent” signed and he also signed and put his stamp on the affidavit – B. E. ADWETEWA, COMMISSIONER FOR OATHS, MAMPONG-ASHANTI. How nostalgic! “Bailiffs” were people who worked at the Court; my maternal step-grandfather used to be a bailiff. These were the means by which I got acquainted with those exotic-sounding words in my early years.
The only one of those words that was not common in my immediate environment was “detention”. Legend at home had it that, my maternal great-grand uncle, the late Andrew Kofi Edusei, was “taken into detention during Kwame Nkrumah’s time”. He was said to have been taken along with Baffour Akoto, Nana Nkofehene and others in Kumasi and kept in prison for several years. For what offence? They were said to be opponents of Kwame Nkrumah’s government, I gathered.
In the Re Akoto & 7 Others case reported in the 1961 volume of the Ghana Law Report, all the “7 Others” were named as follows: Peter Alex Danso alias Kwaku Danso, Osei Assibey Mensah, Nana Antwi Boasiako alias John Mensah, Joseph Kojo Antwi-Kusi alias Anane Antwi-Kusi, Benjamin Kwaku Owusu, Andrew Kofi (mistakenly written as ‘Kojo’) Edusei and Halidu Kramo. Till date, nothing much is known about them. Being deprived of one’s freedom for a day is not easy; spending time in prison as a political detainee under the Preventive Detention Act must have been the most harrowing experience of their lives. The heart-wrenching letters written by Dr. Danquah to President Nkrumah, pleading for clemency gives one a sense of how dire the detention conditions were.
I know Andrew Kofi Edusei’s name was wrongly written because he was my great-grand uncle. I have a faint recollection of Nana Edusei, as we called him in the family. I recall that he used to visit my mother when he was an auctioneer at Offinso in the early 1980s. He was a tall and elegant man and had a commanding presence – maybe, I saw him as a giant because I was little then. It saddens me to no end that I was not grown enough to be able to hold conversation with him. He died in 1985. He was well-educated and his penchant for good food and other good things in life was well known at home. His wife, Maame Serwaa, was from Kumawu – Asante. She, I remember very well because she always attended funerals of family members in Mampong after Nana Edusei’s death. She also died a couple of years ago. We maintained contact with his children. Nana Edusei was a man of principles and was prepared to defend his beliefs, even at the peril of his life.
Why the “7 Others” Matter.
The contribution of Baffour Akoto and the 7 others to the development of multi-party democracy and the entrenchment of fundamental human rights and freedoms cannot be over-emphasized. President Akufo-Addo is quoted to have reinforced in his inauguration speech on 7th January, 2017 that Baffour Osei Akoto and others, taught us that “fidelity to principles, courage, patience, resilience and collective action, do yield results. They fought with intelligence, guts, steely determination and patriotism to liberate our land and reclaim our worth as human beings. Their love for country continues to inspire generations of us to commit our lives to the search for an enduring democratic legacy for Ghana.”
It has been stated elsewhere that the case of Re Akoto & 7 Others brings to the fore the negative way in which the doctrine of separation of powers can be used. In the Re Akoto & 7 Others case, the legislature gave power to the executive to imprison citizens without the need to show cause. The judiciary as the third arm of government worsened the situation by giving its blessing to such an abuse of power. This went a long way to undermine the legal system and the protection the legal system was to offer to ensure development.
Can we say in all sincerity that under the Fourth Republic, the Courts of Ghana have always risen to the occasion to save citizens by interpreting and enforcing laws fairly? Has our Parliament not passed laws that are oppressive of the citizens? Has the executive always lived above reproach? The beautiful words are printed in the Constitution but what matters most is the quality of human beings who steer the affairs of the nation as members of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, Slowly, the gallant fight our forefathers fought might be in vain if we do not keep reminding ourselves about the issues that pushed them to sacrifice their freedoms and their lives so we will inherit a better Ghana.
Therefore, I believe it is incumbent upon us all to put out the necessary history about our gallant forebears whose great sacrifices and toil set us on a path to peace, tranquility and constitutional safeguards in our dear nation Ghana. And to serve as a reminder that our generation cannot only live on platitudes and the accolades of our forebears; we must also contribute our quota to eradicate all forms of social evil -corruption, extortion, abuse of office, oppression, state and judicial capture.
Photo credit: Re: Akoto Memorial Lectures brochure, 2021.
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Francisca Serwaa Boateng is the Founder & Managing Counsel of FSB Law Consult.
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