ACHIMOTA AGAIN? By CAMERON DUODU
In February 2010, Ghanaians were stunned to hear that Achimota School, in its day, the most prestigious educational institution in the country, had fallen on hard times to such an extent that excreta was leaking from its sewerage system into the campus:
QUOTE: “Achimota School’s entire sewerage system collapses
“Accra, Feb 4, GNA – The health of students of Achimota School in Accra is under threat, as its entire sewerage system [has] collapsed, forcing human excreta and other hazardous materials to gush out… on [to the] campus. Since the emergence of the problem [a] few months ago, students have had to spend two days out of the five studying days, to tidy up the campus…
“ A tour [of] the school showed the severity of the problem; the stench and sight of raw sewage emanating from a broken central sewage processing system…..
Human excreta and raw sewage from the dormitories which was [supposed] to pass through the underground sewerage, had spilled into the open [ground] on campus, posing health danger to students, police officers stationed there and a hospital which is on the campus. A cursory look at the periphery of the campus shows the development of sprawling neighbourhoods made up of state of the art mansions, which have undoubtedly contributed to the collapse of the underground sewerage network.
“Most of these structures are said to belong to well-connected persons in society, … [They] have encroached on the school’s land, covering about one-third of it. “UNQUOTE
As soon as this news reached the Internet, a petition – signed by thousands of people – was organised by Old Achimotans on their website. These thousands were from both Ghana and the Diaspora. They called on the Government to halt the ruination that faced this important institution. The connection between Achimota and many potentates – from Sir Gordon Guggisberg (who founded the school in 1924) to Dr Emmanuel Kwegyir Aggrey and Dr Kwame Nkrumah – was recalled. Indeed, by a happy coincidence – or so those of us who vigorously supported the campaign thought – the President of Ghana at the time was Professor John Attah Mills, an old boy of the school. Surely, as an “Akora” [Old Achimotan] he would leave no stone unturned to save his alma mater?
It was at this stage that Achimota proved to some of us that “education” does not necessarily free men and women from an inability to think through their problems to their logical conclusion. Some of the erudite products of Achimota concluded that a petition presented publicly to the President by the former students of such an elite institution would cause “political embarrassment” to him!
So instead of exerting maximum pressure on Mills and his Government by a publicly-staged naming and shaming, session at which the petition would be presented to the President, a clique of “influential” Akoras intercepted the petition and arranged a private meeting with the President to convey its contents to him. Reports of the secret meetings are sketchy, but the upshot of it is that the President told them that he was President of the whole of Ghana and that he could not therefore single out Achimota for special treatment. Very correct, of course, but quite asinine. Just because you cannot feed every person in the world, must you starve your child?
But a few years later, afar more insidious danger threatens the school. This is the deliberate encroachment, by well-heeled land/estate developers, of Achimota school lands. Information seeps through about this in driblets: a well-known leader of a charismatic church is an encroacher; others are powerful enough to threaten the school’s staff with lawsuits and/or political action.
Hawkers, Pentecostal Churches and rubbish disposal practitioners of all types have also turned parts of the Achimota Forest – a well-conceived facility meant to teach the students that there is life outside the classroom – into such a waste-dump-plus-wayside-free-
for-all heap of the undesirable, as is usually sighted in the slums of our moribund towns and cities.
This has happened to Achimota Forest? It is a slap in the face of the elite of Ghana But why not? If the swimming pool that had delighted countless students for decades could be allowed to dry/crumble; if the sewerage system could be neglected to such an extent that it disgorged stench on to the campus; if teachers’ bungalows were being walled off by encroachers, without action from the Government that is supposed to care for the school in trust for the public, then what could not be done?
Well, it is not fanciful to suggest that this deliberate vandalisation of the institution was done with a purpose: namely, to pave the way for commercial operators to claim that Achimota is being ruined because it is a “state-owned” institution! Therefore those of its possessions that have a commercial potential, such as the Forest, should be hived off and sold. Developers, unlike the Government, do need to turn a profit and so will operate the resultant projects “efficiently.”
Have we not heard that before? Water facilities? Communications? Electricity supplies? All the public utilities our Governments have sold off have performed to absolutely satisfactory standards, no?
Well “privatisation” has pounced again: on 20 Feb 2016 – almost six years to the day the Achimota excreta story was published, we read that:
QUOTE: “The Forestry Commission has signed an agreement with a development partner, Aikan Capital Limited, to convert the Achimota Forest into an international eco-tourism facility.
At the signing of the agreement, the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Nii Osah Mills, said the Achimota Forest Reserve … was under serious threat. That, he said, was due to encroachment for settlements, the construction of roads and its use as dumping sites for various waste materials, leading to the initial coverage area of the forest of 500 hectares being reduced to 360 hectares…. The conversion of the Achimota Forest into an eco-tourism facility is, therefore, a timely intervention to save the forest from further destruction”.UNQUOTE
Now, I seek answers to a few questions:
- Obviously, the waste dumps, churches and hawkers’ enclaves, will all have to be removed – by whatever means – before the proposed eco-tourism can be accomplished. If a clean-up can be done to pave the way for the new project, then why can’t it be done to PRESERVE the Forest as it was originally conceived?
- Is the Minister not aware that the Achimota Forest is on land that was acquired by the Gold Coast Government in 1927 for a public purpose under colonial laws, and that such acquisitions clothe the acquired property with the status of a public trust that cannot be arbitrarily abrogated and turned into acquisition for a commercial purpose – without new legislation?
3. Why are the Minister and the Lands Commission disposing of a public asset without prior public discussion, or consultation of any sort whatsoever? Are they not aware that the current Government has only about nine months of life left and that without public consent, the project might be jettisoned by the next Government? Has the Minister not heard of a ”lame duck ” administration?
4. Does the company venturing into partnership with the Government to develop such a controversial site not realise the danger into which it is placing its proposed “investment”? Does the company not know that following the Woyome case, Ghanaians have become acutely suspicious of the way public projects are handed to hand-pickled individuals and companies? Does it not know that the inconsistencies that can arise in the relationship between the Government and private companies like Woyome’s can have dire consequences – such as the rampant demands for compensation from the Government, often leading to questionable ”judgement debts”?
5. What is the background of this company anyway? What projects has it executed elsewhere which it can point to and say, “We did this” and so, you are safe if you enter into partnership with us”?
6. Even if – I repeat if – everything about the project was devoid of controversy, would be it wise for the Government to offer participation in it to a single company – without any tendering process– given the amount of disquiet that has been expressed about
the fact that the ”Ameri” contract (recently concluded to supply Ghana with electric power) was “single-sourced” to a foreign company?