The Gold Coast colony, now Ghana, a country south of the Sahara was once upon a time colonized by the British under Indirect Rule and it took the determination of some gallant men and women to resist oppressive rule to liberate the people.
This article seeks to remind readers and the public about the enormous role and contribution made by members of the Big Six in the struggle for the independence of this country as well as some six lessons the present and future generations can learn from their role in order to propel Ghana to the very high echelons.
During the First World War (1914-1918) when the Gold Coast, was under British colonial administration, the Gold Coast provided personnel to fight on the side of the Allied Forces comprising Britain, the United States of America (U.S.A), and France among others.
At the time, the illiteracy rate was high and political awareness very low. At the end of the war, West African troops from Nigeria, Gambia, Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast were demobilized without much furore.
Come the Second World War (1939-1945) and the men who were recruited had a fair number of literates, tradesmen, and artisans among them. They were fairly well trained and posted to such units as field medical units, engineer units, supply and transport, radio and wireless operation units etc.
On the battle field they lay in trenches side by side their colleagues from other enlightened allied countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka etc. Through interactions, their political and social consciousness was enhanced, particularly as each and every one was exposed to the same risks to personal security under war conditions.
After their heroic exploits in Burma Camp, the Gold Coast ex-servicemen felt so confident and were prepared to demand every pound of flesh when it became clear that all the promises given them could not be fulfilled by the colonial administration back home.
Resettlement offices established to assist the war veterans to secure employment in public service did not accomplish much. For those who decided to go into farming and other private enterprises, the post war hardships that prevailed at the time swallowed all their investments.
The rains were also unkind to those who went into agriculture as the cycle of drought and attendant bush fires devastated crops they had planted. Their disappointment and frustration were further fueled by rumours that their counterparts elsewhere within the commonwealth had been paid handsome bonuses and had been placed in lucrative public employment.
To abate their exasperation, the government quickly established the Gold Coast Legion along the lines of the British Legion, which sought to assist the veteran and represent his interests. The composition of the Legion council was elitist and could not be trusted to champion the cause of the veteran.
As a result, some of the veterans branched off to form the Ex-Service’s Union to operate on the lines of the Trade Union Congress (T.U.C). It was this group which undertook the protest march on 28th February 1948.
The United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), one of the foremost political parties that had been formed on August 4 1947 was pressurizing the British administration to grant the country self-government.
The key politicians of that era, comprising Dr J B Danquah, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Mr Ako Adjei, Mr Akuffo Addo, Mr Obtsebi Lamptey and Mr William Ofori Atta, had been interested in the plight of the ex-servicemen and had at various times been guest speakers at the war veterans’ meetings. With this goodwill and rapport, the lawyers among the politicians in fact helped the ex-servicemen draft their petition to the governor.
The march of the war veterans, in their legitimate concerns for a fairer deal from the colonial power to compensate for the risks they took in taking part in World War II and the loss of lives, ignited the fire of agitation for the British government to act on the long standing request to grant the country its self-rule.
When the march to the castle was thwarted by the action of Superintendent Imary, the ex-servicemen returned to Central Accra and with fellow citizens converted the boycott principle to looting and arson.
This spread to other municipalities like Nsawam, Swedru, Koforidua, Kumasi and Sekondi-Takoradi. The ensuing disturbances became a very serious internal security problem and troops and other security mechanisms were brought in from neighbouring countries to contain the situation.
The colonial government blamed the leadership of the UGCC for the disturbances leading to the killing of Seargent Adjetey, Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey Lampetey.
The educated elites blamed Sir Gerald Creasy, the then Governor (whom they called “Crazy Creasy”) for the riots due to his handling of the country’s problems. The Riot Act was read on 1 March 1948.
A Removal Order was issued by Sir Gerald for the arrest of the six leaders of the UGCC; Ebenezer Ako-Adjei, Edward Akufo-Addo, Joseph Boakye Dankquah, Kwame Nkrumah, Emmanuel Obetsebi-Lamptey and William Ofori Atta were arrested and detained by the colonial authorities and were held in the remote northern part of the Gold Coast following their arrests.
Following their incarceration, the nationalists became so popular and were referred to as the Big Six by the people of the Gold Coast.
Role of Each Member of the Big Six
Ako Adjei was born in Adjeikrom in Akyem Abuakwa on June 16, 1916. His father was Samuel Adjei while his mother was Johunna Okailey; both Gas from La. He had many brothers and sisters but he was the last son of his father.
The young Ebenezer Ako Adjei began schooling at the Busoso Railway Station Primary School where he walked one and half miles to and from school daily. He left the village school after two years, and was admitted into class three of the La Presbyterian Middle Schools(now La Presbyterian Junior School).
His good performance at the senior school won him a scholarship on completing standard five in December 1932 to enter the Christ Church Grammar School, a private Secondary School which was then on the point of winding up. After just a month at that school, he left and entered Accra Academy in April 1933 and was put in form two.
From his home in La, he walked the four miles to his school at James Town, because he could not afford the bus fare. He completed the Secondary School in December 1936 passing the Cambridge School Certificate with exemption from London Matriculation.
After school, he taught for a while before entering the Civil Service in June 1937 as a Second Division Clerk in the Colonial Secretary’s Office which used to be popularly called the Secretariat.
All this while he continued writing regularly for Nnamdi Azikiwe’s African Morning Post. Azikiwe developed great interest in Ako Adjei’s writings and helped him to get a scholarship to Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, USA.
In January 1939, he arrived at the University to the welcome of two Gold Coast students, K.A.B. Jones-Quartey and Francis Nwia Kofi Nkrumah (who later became popularly known as Kwame Nkrumah) there.
It was at Lincoln University that Dr. Ako Adjei met the then Kwame Nkrumah, and they struck up a friendship! They co-founded the African Student Association of America and Canada; and a newspaper called the African Interpreter, to explain African issues to American readers.
In the United States, Ako Adjei also became a follower of the fledgling Pan-African Movement which campaigned for an end to colonialism in Africa, among others.
In 1945, Dr. Ako Adjei attended the seminal conference of the Pan-African Movement in Manchester, England. It was at this meeting that a forthright call was made for African independence.
Among the delegates were Kwame Nkrumah and Joe Appiah from Ghana; and Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya; Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, of Nigeria; well as Dr. W.E.B Dubois, and George Padmore.
Thus, by the time he returned to Ghana, Ako Adjei was not only a qualified lawyer, but a veteran of the post-war political agitation among Africans in Britain to end colonialism in Africa.
In the history of Ghanaian politics Adjei can be said to be the John the Baptist. For it was through him that Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah came back to Ghana to lead the country to Independence.
It all happened in the middle of 1947, when at one meeting of UGCC, the view was expressed the time had come for the movement to have a full-time General-Secretary.
Adjei who had been a pioneer in the formation of the movement was voted by the meeting to take up the post because he had in mind plans of establishing a chain of newspapers in the country as well as looking forward to successful private legal practice.
He declined the offer and instead recommended Kwame Nkrumah, whom he met and worked with at Lincoln University, Philadelphia and in London, as the best person suited for the post.
After the leadership gave their grudging approval, Ako Adjei sent a letter of invitation to Nkrumah in London to return home and assume the position. Nkrumah did return, and assumed the position of General Secretary in December 1947.
Following the killing of ex-servicemen, who were protesting no-payment of their allowances on February 28, 1948; and the subsequent rioting in Accra, and other towns, the colonial government accused the UGCC of fomenting trouble, and declared a state of emergency.
On March 12, the Governor issued Removal Orders and police arrested the entire UGCC leadership. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Dr. Joseph Boakye Danquah, Mr. Edward Akufo Addo, Mr. William Ofori Atta, Mr. E. Obetsebi Lamptey and Mr. Ebenezer Ako Adjei were detained and exiled to the Northern Territories, now the Northern, Upper East, and Upper West Regions.
Kwame Nkrumah broke away from the UGCC, and formed the Convention People’s Party (CPP) on June 12, 1949, with the catchy phrase: “Self Government Now for the Chiefs and people of the Gold Coast”. The difference between the UGCC and CPP was apparent from then on. The election of 1951 which was won by the CPP signaled the demise of the UGCC, and its leaders formed competing parties. Ako Adjei however, joined the CPP.
He became the Minister of the Interior in 1957. In 1962, another event thrust Ako Adjei, then the Minister of Foreign Affairs, unto the national limelight, though this time, it was unsavoury.
On August 1, 1962, president Nkrumah was returning from a meeting at Tenkudugu in what is now Burkina Faso with then president Maurice Yameogo of Upper Volta (as Burkina Faso was then called), when a bomb was reportedly thrown at him in Kulungugu, in the Upper Region of Ghana.
Ako Adjei, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, was among those accused of plotting to assassinate the president. The other accused were Tawiah Adamafio, the Minister of Information, Cofie Crabbe, the CPP Executive Secretary, Joseph Yaw Manu, and Robert Benjamin Otchere.
Tawiah Adamafio, Cofie Crabbe, and Ako Adjei were acquitted because the evidence against them was rather circumstantial and fraudulent; and pointed more to CPP in-fighting as the basis of their accusation.
President Kwame Nkrumah sacked the three judges who had acquitted the three men. Nkrumah then empaneled new judges headed by Justice Sarkodie-Addo, who found the acquitted, guilty.
Ako Adjei and the two others were sentenced to life imprisonment. The prisoners gained their freedom only after the overthrow of President Nkrumah on February 24, 1966.
Edward Akufo-Addo was a Ghanaian politician and lawyer. He was one of the leaders of the UGCC, which engaged in the fight for Ghana’s independence. He became the Chief Justice and later President of the Republic of Ghana.
Akufo-Addo was born at Dodowa. He had his basic education at Presbyterian Primary and Middle Schools at Akropong.
In 1929, he entered Achimota College, where he won a scholarship to St Peter’s College, Oxford, where he studied Mathematics, Politics and Philosophy.
Akufo-Addo was called to the Middle Temple Bar, London, UK, in 1940 and returned to what was then the Gold Coast to start a private legal practice a year later.
In 1947, he became a founding member of the UGCC and was one of the “Big Six” (the others being Ebenezer Ako-Adjei, Joseph Boakye Danquah, Kwame Nkrumah, Emmanuel Obetsebi-Lamptey and William Ofori Atta) detained after disturbances in Accra in 1948.
From 1949 to 1950, he was a member of the Gold Coast Legislative Council and the Coussey Constitutional Commission.
After independence (1962–64), Akufo-Addo became a Supreme Court Judge and one of the three Judges who sat on the Treason trial involving Tawia Adamafio, Ako Adjei and three others after the Kulungugu bomb attack on President Kwame Nkrumah and for doing so he was dismissed with fellow judges for finding some of the accused not guilty.
From 1966 to 1970, he was appointed Chief Justice by the National Liberation Council (NLC) regime, as well as Chairman of the Constitutional Commission which drafted the 1969 Second Republican Constitution). He was also head of the NLC Political Commission during this same time period.
From 31 August 1970 until his deposition by coup d’état on 13 January 1972, Akufo-Addo was President of Ghana in the Second Republic.
On 17 July 1979, Akufo-Addo died of natural causes.
Joseph Kwame Kyeretwie Boakye Danquah
Joseph Boakye Danquah, a descendant of the royal family of Ofori Panin Fie was born on 18 December 1895 in the Ghanaian town of Bepong in Kwahu in the Eastern Region of Ghana. His elder brother is Nana Sir Ofori Atta I and he is the father of actor Paul Danquah.
At the age of six, J.B. began schooling at the Basel Mission School at Kyebi, going on to attend the Basel Mission Senior School at Begoro. On successfully passing his standard seven examinations in 1912, he entered the employment of Vidal J. Buckle, a barrister-at-law in Accra, as a clerk, a job which aroused his interest in law.
After passing the Civil Service Examinations in 1914, Danquah became a clerk at the Supreme Court of the Gold Coast, which gave him the experience that made his brother Nana Sir Ofori Atta I, who had become chief two years earlier, appoint him as Secretary of the Omanhene’s Tribunal in Kyebi.
Following the influence of his brother, Danquah was appointed as the Assistant Secretary of the Conference of Paramount Chiefs of the Eastern Province, which was later given statutory recognition to become the Eastern Provincial Council of Chiefs. His brilliance made his brother decide to send him to Britain in 1921 to read law.
After two unsuccessful attempts at the University of London matriculation, Danquah passed in 1922, enabling him to enter the University College of London as a philosophy student. He earned his B.A. degree in 1925, winning the John Stuart Mill Scholarship in the Philosophy of Mind and Logic.
He then embarked on a Doctor of Philosophy degree, which he earned in two years with a thesis entitled “The Moral End as Moral Excellence”. He became the first West African to obtain the doctor of philosophy degree from a British university.
While he worked on his thesis, he entered the Inner Temple and was called to the Bar in 1926. During his student days, he had two sons and two daughters by two different women, neither of whom he married. In London, Danquah also took time off his studies to participate in student politics, editing the West African Students’ Union (WASU) magazine and becoming the Union’s president.
Danquah returned to the Gold Coast in 1927 and went into private legal practice. In 1929, he helped J. E. Casely Hayford found the Gold Coast Youth Conference (GCYC) and was Secretary General from 1937 to 1947.
In 1931 Danquah established The Times of West Africa (originally called the West Africa Times), which was the first daily newspaper in Ghana and was published between 1931 and 1935.
A column called “Women’s Corner” was pseudonymously written by Mabel Dove, daughter of prominent barrister Francis Dove, and in 1933 she became Danquah’s first wife, bearing him a son. His second wife was named Elizabeth Vardon.
J. B as he was popularly known by his supporters and contemporaries played a significant role in pre- and post-colonial Ghana as the founder of the UGCC, pro-independence and the first political party in the Gold Coast.
Danquah became a member of the Legislative Council in 1946 during the era of Sir Alan Burns and actively pursued independence legislation for his country.
The Watson Commission of Inquiry into the 1948 Accra riots described Dr. J.B. Danquah as the “doyen of Gold Coast politicians; the man at the back of nearly all political movements; the man from a famous chiefly family who but for accident of birth might have been a notable chief himself.” The report went further thus: “the man has great intelligence but suffers from a disease not unknown to politicians throughout the ages and recognised under the generic name of expediency.”
Indeed though it could be said that he was master of expediency, what was equally striking about him was his lively intelligence and his unending commitment to the course of liberal democracy. These were the qualities which established him firmly as advocate of a liberal democratic political tradition in the politics of Ghana.
Ghana’s first President, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, was born on September 21, 1909 to Kofi Ngonloma of the Asona Clan and Elizabeth Nyanibah of the Anona Clan at Nkroful in the Western Region.
Nkrumah was first named Francis Nwia-Kofi, after a prominent family personality but later changed his name to Kwame Nkrumah in 1945 in the UK, preferring Kwame because he was born on a Saturday.
His childhood mentor was Dr Kwegyir Aggrey, an Assistant Vice Principal and the first African member of staff at the then Prince of Wales’ College in Achimota.
He had his elementary school education at Half Assini, where his father worked as a goldsmith, but a German Roman Catholic priest, George Fischer significantly influenced his elementary school education.
In 1930, Nkrumah obtained his Teacher’s Certificate from the Prince of Wales’ College at Achimota, which was formerly known as the Government Training College, Accra.
Subsequently, in 1931 he became a teacher at the Roman Catholic School at Elmina in the Central Region, and later became the Head teacher of the Roman Catholic Middle School (now Roman Catholic Junior High School) at Axim in the Western Region.
Dr Nkrumah moved to the Roman Catholic Seminary at Amisano in the Central Region in 1932 as a Teacher but three years later, in 1935, entered the Lincoln University, Pennsylvania in the USA, where he earned a BA in 1939.
In 1942 he earned a BA (Theology) at the same Lincoln University in the USA and in 1943 earned an M.Sc. Education, MA Philosophy, and completed course work as well as preliminary examination for a Ph. D. degree at the University of Pennsylvania, USA.
From 1939 to 1945, Dr Nkrumah combined his studies with part-time lectureship in Negro History. During this period, he helped to found the African Studies Association and the African Students Association of America and Canada.
He was voted the “Most Outstanding Professor-Of-The-Year by “The Lincolnian” in 1945 as a result of his hard work. In May the same year, he arrived in London with the aim of studying Law and completing his thesis for a Doctorate but met George Padmore.
The two, as Co-Political Secretaries, helped to organise the Sixth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England.
After the Congress, Nkrumah continued working for the colonisation of Africa and became the Vice-President of the West African Students Union. He was also leader of “The Circle”, the secret organisation dedicated to the unity and independence of West Africa, in its struggle to create and maintain a Union of African Socialist Republics.
In 1947 Dr Nkrumah wrote his first book titled “Towards Colonial Freedom” and in the same year in December, he returned to the then Gold Coast and became General Secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC).
As a result of his activism, he, together with Executive Members of the UGCC known later as the “Big Six”, was detained in 1948 following disturbances in the colony. It was in September that same year that Dr Nkrumah established the Accra Evening News, which appeared on the news-stands the same day that he was dismissed as the General Secretary of UGCC.
In June the following year, he formed the Convention People’s Party (CPP) with the Committee on Youth Organisation (CYO) and in December that year, (1949) declared Positive Action to demand Independence.
In January 1950, Dr Nkrumah got arrested, following riots and looting resulting from the declaration of Positive Action.
However, while he was in prison in February 1951, Dr Nkrumah won an election with 22,780 out of the 23,122 ballots cast, to take the Accra Central seat. He was released later from prison in the same month to form a new Government.
He again won the national election in 1956, which led to Ghana’s independence on March 6, 1957. The following year in April 1958, Dr Nkrumah convened a conference of the existing independent African States, made up of Ghana, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Morocco and Liberia.
In the same year after the country’s independence, he married 25-year-old Helena Ritz Fathia, an Egyptian Coptic and relative of President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, when he was 49 years, and had three children by her: Gokeh, Samia Yaaba and Sekou Nkrumah.
In December that year, he once again held an All-African People’s Conference in Accra, the first Pan-African conference to be held on African soil during which he took the first step towards African Unification, by signing an agreement with Sekou Toure to unite Ghana and Guinea.
Through Dr Nkrumah’s instrumentality, Ghana gained full republican status to become a sovereign nation on 1st July, 1960. In 1961 Nkrumah extended the Ghana-Guinea union to include Mali under Modibo Keita.
It was the following year in August 1962 that Dr Nkrumah for the first time became the target of an assassination attempt at Kulungugu in the Northern Region.
Undaunted, Nkrumah in May 1963 organised a conference of the 32 independent African States in Addis Ababa. It was at that conference that the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was formed with the purpose of working for the Unity, Freedom and Prosperity of the people of Africa.
In 1964, Nkrumah established Ghana as a one-party state, with himself as Life President, and published his book, “Neocolonialism” in 1965. In the book, he showed how foreign companies and governments were enriching themselves at the expense of the African people. The book drew harsh protest from the US government, which consequently withdrew its economic aid of $35 million previously earmarked for Ghana.
Dr Nkrumah was on February 24, 1966 overthrown in the country’s first military coup d’etat while on a trip to Hanoi, North Vietnam. He left for Conakry, Guinea, on being told of the overthrow and lived in Conakry as Co–President of Guinea.
He died of natural causes in Romania on April 27, 1972 and was buried on July 7, 1972 at Nkroful in Ghana.
Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah authored over 20 books and publications and is a lead authority on political theory and practical Pan-Africanism.
He selflessly dedicated his life to show how future sons and daughters of Africa should prepare themselves as well as strive to unify Africa and harness its wealth for the benefit of all descendants of the continent.
Emmanuel Odarkwei Obetsebi-Lamptey
He was educated at the Accra Wesleyan School and Kv. Government Boys’ School, from which he was transferred to the Royal School in 1921 to complete his elementary education. After passing his school certificate examination, he was employed as a shorthand typist by A. J. Ocansey (q.v.), a prosperous firm.
In 1923 he passed his civil service examination and became a clerk’ Customs and Excise Department. He worked in Accra till 1930 and in Takoradi till 1934, when he left for the United Kingdom to study law.
He graduated in LL.B., and was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1939. By then World (1939-45) had begun, and he stayed and worked in England where he took active part in student politics and in the agitation for colonial freedom.
He returned to the Gold Coast later to join his compatriots in the UGCC to fight to liberate the people from British oppression and was among the UGCC leaders arrested and detained by the colonialists for being behind the 1948 disturbances in the Gold Coast.
William Ofori Atta (Paa Willie)
Born on 10th October 1910, William Ofori Atta and attended the Mfantsipim School in Cape Coast and was later among the first batch of students at the Achimota School who pioneered the intermediate degree programs. He was also the first ever school prefect of the School. His batch of students went on to form the nucleus of the University of Ghana.
William Ofori Atta was a founding member of the United Gold Coast Convention who first began the struggle for the country’s independence from the British.
Following the agitation in the Gold Coast following the 1948 riots, he was arrested and detained together with the leadership of the UGCC.
He later became the leader of the United Party (UP) in opposition to Dr. Kwame Nkrumah whom they had seen to be a dictator.
William Oforit Atta was detained by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah during the first republic under the Preventive Detention Act (PDA).
During the Second Republic (1969-72), he was appointed Minister for Education and later Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Progress Party (PP) government of Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia.
He was an active member of the People’s Movement for Freedom and Justice (PMFJ) which campaigned against the ‘Union Government’ (UNIGOV) concept proposed by General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, then Head of state of Ghana and Chairman of the Supreme Military Council (SMC).
The Union Government concept was seen by many as an attempt by the military regime to extend military rule instead of handing back power to civilians.
After the fall of the SMC, he stood for president in the 1979 Ghanaian presidential election on the ticket of the United National Convention (UNC) coming third with 17.41% of the popular vote. Eventually, he became chairman of the Council of State for the Third Republic.
Any lessons from the Big Six?
Several lesson can be drawn from the enormous role played by the iconic Big Six. Six of such lessons are discussed as follows;
To begin with, members of the Big Six first and foremost, identified and never abandoned their African identity. Notwithstanding the fact that all of them went for further studies abroad and even landed themselves in lucrative jobs, they never in their pursuits wanted to take up the lifestyle of others but stuck to their black identity.
Secondly, members of the Big Six were indeed true patriots and selfless people. They had love for their country and the entire citizenry. In spite of having educated themselves to be among the educated elites in the Gold Coast, they did not look down upon the illiterates and the vulnerable but were committed to deploying every strategy at their disposal to liberate their countrymen from oppressors rule.
Furthermore, education was considered important for members of the Big Six. Every single individual of them pursued education to the highest level ever that they could. Dr J. B. Danquah for instance was the first black to have ever obtained a doctorate degree. They foresaw education as a vehicle that they could use to break the dominance and superiority of the colonialists.
The spirit of ‘never give up’ can also be found among members of the Big Six. Our forbearers knew exactly what they wanted for the people of Gold Coast and stayed in their course to achieve the ultimate. Notwithstanding the arrests, detention and persecution by the colonial authorities, the Big Six did not give up fought hard for this country.
Moreover, the Big Six were united towards their course of action. They were of the strongest conviction that independence for this country could not be achieved if the people of Gold Coast were not united for they became convinced it was only a united people that could dismantle the might of their colonial masters. It was therefore not surprising that the first political party ever formed in this country was named United Gold Coast Convention.
The final lesson that can be drawn from the exploits of the Big Six was the ready to die for their country. Members of the Big Six, in order to liberate their people from the shackles of oppression, poverty, deprivation among others did not think of themselves only but got themselves ready no matter the consequences to die for their fellow countrymen to attain freedom for this nation.
As we mark Republic Day today, let us as Ghanaians take a deeper reflection of the sacrifices made by these national heroes and take a cue from them in order to move forward as a country.
Happy Republic Day
Long Live Ghana.
Source: News Ghana and proudly sponsored by Tigo.