The untold story of Ghana’s independence struggle

The controversy over who the real patriots or forebears are when the story of Ghana’s political development and independencestruggle is told, has lingered for a long time.

The “Big Six”are credited by some political observers and historians for championing the struggle for self-rule, which resulted in Ghana’s independence on March 6, 1957, and, therefore, founders of the nation.

However, others, especially those of the Convention People’s Party tradition acknowledge Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first Prime Minister, and first President, as the sole founder of the nation.

Interestingly, Dr Kwame belongs to the ‘Big Six” fraternity, with other members as Ebenezer Ako-Adjei, founding member of the United Cold Coast Convention (UGCC), and Edward Akufo Addo ,  also founding member of the UGCC, and subsequently Chief Justice and President of Ghana. The restare Joseph Boakye Danquah, Emmanuel Obetsebi-Lamptey and William Ofori Atta, allfounding member of the UGCC.

Not even the role of the ex-servicemen in the independence struggle is given much prominence.But, it was the shooting to death of three unarmed ex-servicemen, by the British colonial police, during a protest march by ex-servicemen  that triggered the 28th February 1948 riots, in Accra, that gave the Gold Coast’s march towards independence, arguable the most significant momentum.

It was after this event that the “Big Six” were arrested even though they were not directly involved in the disturbances, making them the toast of the people. 

The death of the three ex-servicemen, Sergeant Adjetey, Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey Lamptey, and the boycott of all European imports in response to inflated prices, organized by the Ga chief, Nii Kwabena Bonne III, known in private life as Theodore Taylor (1888–1968), were “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, marking the final stage of the struggle for Ghana’s independence.

It appearsGhana is fixated with the “Big Six” legacy,which itself is a matter of dispute for some politicians and historians.The time has come for a free and liberal narrative of the country’s journey to freedom,particularly the critical events that occurred between 1897 and  1957.

It is unfair to celebrate the 10 years of the “Big Six”(1947-1957) and ignore the critical period of 50 years (1897-1947) of political activism of selfless nationalists.

This explains why Professor Kwame Karikari, former Director of School of Communication, University of Ghana, lamented that “one of the outcomes of the recent narrowly defined narratives and partisan political debates over who were the leading heroes of Ghana’s independence has pushed farther into oblivion, the critical contributions of many patriots and nationalists, such as A.J. Ocansey, to the quest for Ghana’s freedom”.  

Certainly, there are some forgotten farmers (cocoa), journalists, politician, teachers, civil servants, tradersand scholars, to mention but some who need to be celebrated for their roles in the independence Struggle.

One wonders why only selected individual politicians, such as Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and J.B. Danquah have been immortalize with national monuments, without devoting much attention to the ‘real’ contributors to Ghana’s social, economic and political development. In fact, there are other forgotten heroes of the independence story that should be remembered.

Jacob Wilson Sey (1832-1902 ) was a Fante artisan/carpenter, farmer, philanthropist, nationalist and the first recorded indigenous multi-millionaire in the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana). Some scholars regard him as the “first real architect and financier towards Ghana’s Nationalism and independence”.

He was the first president of the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society (ARPS), which was formed in 1897, in Cape Coast, by John Mensah Sarbah. The ARPS was initially triggered by the 1897 Land Bill, that was to be introduced by Governor William Griffith.

The ARPS served as a stimulus for another stage for the fight against colonial rule. The group sought the withdrawal of the Land Bill of 1897, which intended to put under British control, all Gold Coast lands, which were not under any utilization at the time.

It was also to ensure the protection of the rights and welfare of the Gold Coasters, promote unity, education among the people in Fante land, and agitate for the inclusion of Africans in the Legislative and the Executive Councils.The ARPS made the first attempt to institutionalize nationalist sentiment in the Gold Coast.

Sey led the campaign against the 1897 Lands Bill,which prevented the British colonial authorities from taking over the Gold Coast as was done by the British in Zimbabweand South Africa.

He was supported by other members of ARPS, John Mensah Sarbah, J.E. Casely Hayford, Kwegyir Aggrey, Kobina SekyiJ. W. de Graft-Johnsonand J. P. Brown.

Sey on behalf of chiefs and people of Gold Coast, led a delegation of the ARPS, consisting of Thomas Freeman, Cape Coast merchants: Edward Jones and George Hughes, to present a petition to Queen Victoria,in London, UK, to abrogate the land Bill.

He funded the entire trip to London, the hiring of a ship, the Alba,paid fees for the ARPS legal aidthat was offered by a Sierra Leonean solicitor, Edward F. Hunt, with assistance of a team of barristers from a London-based law firm, Messrs. Ashurst, Crips Co., and a certain Mr. Corrie.

The ARPS returned to the Gold Coast with a letter signed by Queen Victoria, repealing the Lands Bill, and a gift of the Queen’s bust that was inaugurated at Cape Coast’s Victoria Park by Princess Anne, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, during an official visit in 1925.

 Alfred John Kabu Ocansey (1879-1943) a nationalist, businessman and media mogul, played a significant role in the struggle for independence in Ghana and Nigeria.

He established the Gold Coast Spectator and the African Morning Post,newspapers, which became the mouthpiece of the Gold Coast during nationalist struggle.Ocansey employed two West African journalism stalwarts – I.T.A. Wallace Johnson from Sierra Leone, and Nnamdi Azikwe, from Nigeria, who became his country’s first President.

In fact, 1930smarked another dawn of Gold Coast politics with the emergence of the two radical journalists, I.T.A. Wallace-Johnson, and Nnambi Azikiwe .

Ocansey led and organized the first ever social and economic freedom conference with the establishment of Gold Coast and Ashanti Cocoa Federation organizations.He was influential in the famous Gold Coast Cocoa hold up at Nsawam, which threatened cocoa business as it became a topic for discussion on the floor of British Parliament.

Many academic scholars concluded that, Ocansey really financed and sponsored many national and international events in the quest for freedom for the Gold Coast now Ghana.

George Alfred Paa Grant(1878-1956), popularly known as Paa Grant, was a merchant and politician in the Gold Coast, who has been called “the father of Gold Coast politics”.

As a political activist, he was a founder and the first president of the UGCC, a non- partisan national organization, to address the leadership and economic challenges of Gold Coast. He was one of Ghana’s founding fathers, and paid for Kwame Nkrumah to return to Ghana from the United States.

The nationalists of that era always had the country’s interest at heart, invested their resources to create a welfare society and opportunities for all to survive and help to build a promising nation.

Ghana urgently needs an aggressive ideology of an all-inclusive true democracy, coupled with a human centered set of working laws (constitution) on a knowledge revolutionary approach with the focus on modern national interest models.

This is why Ghana’s constitution needs to be reviewed, to ensure the participation of all Ghanaians, in national development irrespective of their political affiliation, ethnicity or religion.

Nation building and politics should not be in the hands of a few people, who may consider politics as exclusive and a preserved employment, profession or profit-making venture.

The selfless contributions and achievements of all nationalists, who toiled to secure for Ghana independence, must be relayed to the younger generation. This would engineer a reconceptualization of politics that would focus on a shared responsibility in nation building, and not self- aggrandizement 

Engr. Kudiabor Dzabaku Ocansey, Executive Director of Center for National Interest and Research

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