Fifty-four years ago, Ghana experienced its first military and police overthrow of government after independence. The former President of Ghana Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was unconstitutionally ousted from office on February 24, 1966 by the National Liberation Council.
On the dawn of that fateful day, a group of officers and men of the Ghana Army led by Lt. Colonel Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka and the Major Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa with the support from the police removed Kwame Nkrumah from office while he was away on a peace mission in Hanoi, China, to end the War in Vietnam.
They announced on radio that “Kwame Nkrumah is overthrown, and the myth surrounding him is broken”. The 1960 constitution was abolished, parliament was dissolved and the Convention People’s Party (CPP) was disbanded.
After independence in the early 1966, the political scene of Ghana was dominated by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and the CPP. During that period, CPP was not only stifling opposition parties but was also instituted measures which made them a totalitarian government rather than be of interest in nurturing democracy in a newly independent country.
As a way of suppressing the opposition parties, the government in December 1957 passed the Avoidance of Discrimination Act which forbade the existence of parties on regional, tribal or religious basis. Before the Avoidance Discrimination Act, the Deportation Act was passed in August 23, 1957, which led to deportation of two foreign, Muslim leaders who were anti CPP. In July, 1958, the Prevention Detection Act (PDA) was passed. This Act empowered the government to detain persons without trial for five years with no right to appeal.
On the side of the media, even though Nkrumah thought of the press as a “collective organiser, a collective instrument of mobilization, a collective educator- a weapon, first and foremost, to overthrow colonialism and imperialism and to assist total liberation of Africa independency and unity”, the media equally was not free to criticise the government during his period. The Criminal Code Act 29, 1960, demanded that “newspapers and other publications which had been indulging in the systematic publication of matter calculated to prejudice public order or safety” could only be published after scrutiny from authorities. News Paper Licensing Act (1963) also subjected editors and publishers to yearly license renewal. These and other laws were implemented to censor the media and intimidate opposition of the government. The media in his era was known as the “era of political oppression”
Nkrumah made amendment to the 1960 constitution through a plebiscite, which gave him the power to in his discretion to dismiss a High Court Judge and also the existence of one national party and that’s, CPP. Ghana became a one party state with CPP as the only legal party in 1964.
In order to have a check on the army as an insurance against any military takeover, Nkrumah created security units such as the Special Intelligence Unit (1963), the Presidential Detailed Department (PDD) or Department 1 and Presidential Guard Company. Spies were place everywhere in offices, public transport, factories to fish out people opposing the government.
The CPP government was coup due to dictatorship and the suppression of freedom. The establishment of one-party state system in the country and the promulgation of laws which put fear in people to voice out their opinions especially when against the government was a clear indication of dictatorship. He imprisoned political opponents, introduced press censorship, destooled some chiefs and elevated others. This system of government infringes the human rights o f people and the suppression of the opposition.
Nkrumah’s government was characterized with economic mismanagement. Before the National Liberation Council overtook the CPP government, the country’s foreign reserve stood at eighty-million Ghana cedis whilst the national depth, eight-hundred million Ghana cedis. The country’s fund was used to award scholarships to nationals of other African country, granting of loans and financial aid to other countries like Guinea, Congo Kinshasa and Mali.
Also, the pre-occupation and obsession of Nkrumah with the issues of Pan-Africanism and continental African unity to the neglect of national issues earned him the accolade “a good leader but a dad Ghanaian”.
The overthrow of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah ushered the country into a military regime, which did not solve the problems upon which the CPP government was oustered. Ghana after independence has experienced four military regimes; the National liberation Council (1966-1969), the Supreme Military Council (SMC1) under Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, the Supreme Military Council (SMC11) led by General Fred Akuffo, Armed Forces Revolutionary Council(AFRC) by Flt Lt. Jerry John Rawlings and Provisional National Defence Council (1981-1993) under Flt Lt. Jerry John Rawlings. And through all these periods, lives and properties were lost, rights and freedoms were curtailed and development halted.
However, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is an unforgettable character in the history of the independence, governance and development of this country and the Africa continent at large. He speared headed the independence of Ghana and inspired other African countries to fight for freedom from their colonial rulers. For this reason, he earned the name “Osagyefo” which means “Redeemer”. Ghana observes September 21 as a national holiday to remember and pay homage to him. Even till date, regardless, Ghanaians still sing praises of him and some say if we had held on to Nkrumah’s plan of development, Ghana would have been the Singapore of Africa.
Ghana has leant its lesson the hard way and has embraced democracy for good. Under the fourth republic, Ghana has gone through the democratic process of free and fair elections and has successfully had five presidents including the incumbent.