The British and the Bawku Chieftaincy Conflict (Part 2)
The protest was against Nayiri’s insistence to directly select the Bawku Naba. Meanwhile, upon receiving the original regalia, the Kusasis gathered in full strength at Bawku on 6th June 1957 and elected Abugrago Azoka I as Bawku Naba and Tribal Chief of Kusasis. With two rival chiefs in Bawku and tensions rising, the Governor-General, Lord Listowel, instituted a three-member Committee of Enquiry made of S. D. Opoku-Afari (Chairman), Nana Yaw Agyeman Badu I – Dormaa Hene (Member), and Lure Kanton III – Tumu Koro (Member). Mahama Yiremia, in an interview with the Committee, stated among other things that, “The Kusasis are not fit to rule as chiefs” (Committee Report:8). He insisted that his enskinment “was complete without the sanction, will, or attendance of any Kusasi.” As far as Yiremia is concerned, “He had been appointed the Chief of the Kusasis by the Nayiri and he did not care what the Kusasis say or think about it” (p.9).
Yiremia admitted that in pre-colonial days, Prince Ali was appointed by the Nayiri to go into the Kusasi area and guard the trade route but added that now “Nayiri owns all the land in the Kusasi area up to the French border. He owns the land in the Frafra, Bimoba and part of Konkomba as well as Builsa, Kassena and other areas to the North. Nayiri can do whatever he likes with the land” (p.9). He goes on to state condescendingly: “The Kusasis are the children of the Mamprisis, and God never created the Kusasi man to be a Bawku-naba nor for that matter a chief at all” (p.10). It must be said that there is no shred of verifiable historical evidence of Mamprusi conquest of any of these people groups. The claim which continues to date is based purely on the colonial orchestrations and repeated boundary demarcations detailed above.
In their findings, the Committee referenced J.K.G. Syme’s “Short History of Kusasi” and stated as follows: “The Committee believes the evidence of the Kusasis that Mamprusi Chiefs were forced upon them by the Whiteman and the Nayiri consequently seized the chieftaincy with the aid of the Whiteman” (p.13). The Committee Report went on to state that: “Those who call themselves Mamprusi Princes in Bawku now all have Kusasi Mothers and in fact there is hardly anyone who can claim to be wholly Mamprusi by blood relationship” (pp.14-15). The Committee detailed some of the abuses meted out to Kusasis by Mamprusi chiefs in Bawku:
“From the evidence the Members of the Committee have come to the conclusion that the average Mamprusi man in Kusasi area is a princely sort of person who looks down upon the Kusasis and demands that he must be acknowledged as a superior person. Evidence has been given of the constant demand by the Mamprusi rulers of cows, sheep, guinea fowls and millet as well as free labour from the Kusasis. Evidence has been given of whipping and all kinds of maltreatment meted to the Kusasis if they failed to satisfy the demands of their masters. To have tolerated and endured the sort of treatment for such a long time may be described as cadaverous obedience on the part of the Kusasis, but no doubt they have been watching for the opportunity to bark out” (p.16).
The Committee declared that “No one in the present Ghana, no matter what part of it, North or South, East or West would like to be ruled by a chief of another tribe appointed by the head of his tribe to go and rule such other tribes” (p.16). They claimed to have unrebutted evidence that “Abugurago is the direct descendant of the former rulers of Bawku and the owners of the land. No doubt as the Tindana of Bawku land, they ruled as chiefs or headmen of the local tribesmen until the Mamprusis arrived, followed sooner or later by the Whiteman.” The Committee concluded its report with the following submission: “Finally, we humbly pray to report to your Excellency that Abugurago Azoka has been customarily elected and installed the Chief of the Kusasi Area” (p.19). Cabinet considered the Committee’s Report on 25th February 1958 and advised that the Acting Governor-General, Lord Listowel, through the Minister of Local Government, should vary the final submission of the report to read: “That Abugurago Azoka has been customarily elected and installed the Chief of Bawku.”
The Mamprusis, led by Mahama Yiremia, and Mumuni Bawumia as secretary to the Mamprusi State Council, sued the committee and the Minister of Local Government at the High Court in Accra. Their claim was that the committee’s submission as varied by the Governor-General, was not part of the terms of reference of the committee and that the Governor-General had no powers to declare Abugrago Azoka has been customarily elected and installed the Chief of Bawku. On 24th May 1958, the High Court presided over by Justice N. A. Ollennu, ruled that the terms of reference of the Committee was to determine whether Abugrago Azoka was customarily elected and installed as the Chief of the Kusasi Area, and not the Chief of Bawku. The judge argued that the offices of “Chief of Kusasi Area” and “Chief of Bawku” are mutually exclusive. The committee’s submission as varied by the Governor-General that Abugrago Azoka was customarily elected and installed Chief of Bawku was therefore outside the committee’s terms of reference which made the Governor-General’s final determination on the issue null and void.
The Committee of Enquiry and the Government challenged the ruling at the Court of Appeal, arguing that Bawku is the Chief town and administrative centre of the Kusasi area, and that at least from 1932, the Chief of Bawku has been recognized as the Chief of the Kusasi area. They argued further that the Chief of Bawku and the Chief of Kusasi area are interchangeable and not mutually exclusive as the High Court judge claimed. The Court of Appeal presided over by Justices Sir. Arku Korsah, C. J. Van Lare and Granville Sharp ruled on 21st October 1958 that “clearly there has been no excess of jurisdiction either on the part of the committee or the Governor-General. The appeal must therefore be allowed and the order for certiorari withdrawn. The Governor-General’s decision is hereby restored.” In other words, Abugrago Azoka was customarily elected and installed as Chief of Bawku and Tribal Chief of Kusasis. With this ruling by the highest court of the land at the time, Bawku Chieftaincy was taken away from the Mamprusis and returned to the Kusasis. And with that, the British thought they had cleaned the mess they created in the Kusasi area, or did they?
BY REVEREND PROFESSOR JOHN AZUMAH