HOW I WISH KROBO EDUSEI WERE ALIVE!
By CAMERON DUODU
At the time Mr Krobo Edusei became Minister of the Interior in Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s Government in November 1957, the atmosphere in Ghana’s Parliament was one of the most pleasant in the world.
Humour was one of the most appreciated contributions Members could make to debates, with the result that sharp-witted people like Mr Kofi Baako, became “pillars” of the House.
Whatever the chief humourist of the day, Opposition MP Joe Appiah, threw at the Government of Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Kofi Baako would manage to find an answer to it.
As Parliamentary Reporter of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, I enjoyed the exchanges between the MPs. I also found that they respected objectivity: I never once received a complaint from an MP on either side of the House about how they had – or had not – been reported.
Me and a guy called Sam Morris, originally from Trinidad, did our best to report these happenings in the House objectively and accurately, in order to deserve the respect of both sides of the House. And the country enjoyed our efforts — even today, old pals with whom I used to work in Broadcasting House, often yell “TODAY IN PARLIAMENT!” [the title of our main programme of Parliamentary reports] when they see me.
One of the victims of Joe Appiah’s wit was Mr Krobo Edusei, who became Minister of the Interior in November 1957. Now, that date is important — these were the days before the Preventive Detention Act was passed.
Mr Edusei had once attempted to get the Government of Ghana to commit itself to carrying out some joint enterprises with a Ceylonese national, operating in Britain, who styled himself as “Dr” Emile Savundra. But Joe Appiah and others who had lived in the UK for a long time knew of Savundra as a swindler, who had collected huge amounts of money from customers who sought life and motor-car insurance from his firm, but left them without insurance.
Joe Appiah and the others exposed “Dr” Savundra, and he had to make a fast exit out of the country before the CID – which was then very independent and efficient – hauled him before Ghana’s courts.
From then on, any time Mr Krobo Edusei entered the House, Joe Appiah (who held Krobo Edusei responsible for the deportation to Nigeria of two wealthy Opposition supporters in Kumase, Alhaji Ahmadu Baba and Alhaji Othman Laramie) would yell across to him: “SAVU!” And the Opposition MPs would chant back: “SAVUNDRA!”
But Mr Krobo Edusei, who had started his working life as a debt collector for the Ashanti Pioneer newspaper, had a thick skin and would feign deafness and take his seat on the Government front bench.
Krobo Edusei only changed his attitude to the Opposition MPs’ mockery when the Preventive Detention Act was passed and he obtained power to detain people without trial for five years. He began to preface every statement he made with the threatening words, “As Minister of Interior (sic) responsible for internal security, I shall not tolerate….” (He always managed to omit the “the” before “Interior” thus sending — I imagine — a cold shiver down the spines of the poor civil servants who laboured to write his speeches for him!)
All this brought a huge laugh from the Opposition benches, who regarded Mr Edusei as basically “illiterate”. They finished the sentence for him whenever he began to say, “As Minister of Interior….”!
They thought Mr Edusei was merely boasting, parrot-like, about his new-found power and that the Prime Minister, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, would respect the Constitution of the land and curb Edusei’s desire to “show where power lies”.
But they calculated wrong, for the ebullient Krobo Edusei was but his “Master’s Voice”. Although the ugly violence that had occurred in Ghanaian politics between 1954 and 1956 – carried out, in the main, by the Action Troopers (on the side of the National Liberation Movement, NLM) and the Action Groupers (of the governing Convention People’s Party, CPP) had died down — relatively speaking — by 1957, Mr Edusei and some of his colleagues in the Government wanted to reap revenge.
And before long, most of the Opposition front-benchers were in jail without ever having been tried: Joe Appiah, Victor Owusu, R.R Amponsah, S.D Dombo, Jato Kaleo, Abayifaa Karbo and so on.
The result was that the House subsequently became extremely dull and tedious. I no longer enjoyed reporting the debates, because the wit and spontaneity had vanished from speeches and one could predict what everyone who stood up to speak would say. What was debate if it did not throw up ideas that had to be challenged with other ideas? CPP speeches were full of denunciations of the Opposition. And Opposition speeches were full of bitterness, predicting doom and gloom for Ghana.
The sour and depressing atmosphere became infectious and eventually, even some CPP ministers who did not entirely toe the party line but exhibited an independence of mind (such as Patrick Quaidoo and W. A. Wiafe), found themselves being detained. Freedom of speech in the House reached rock bottom when Mr K.A Gbedemah, former Minister of Finance and the man who, as deputy leader, had kept the CPP alive when Dr Kwame Nkrumah was in jail, fled the country in order to prevent himself from being detained.
On the day Gbedemah fled, he made a very fiery and passionate speech in the House, denouncing Dr Kwame Nkrumah for being drunk with power and seeking to punish innocent people with imprisonment and even worse. He drew attention to the fact that Dr Nkrumah had proposed legislation to establish “Special Courts” to try those he accused of “subversion”. Everyone thought that this was the end of Gbedemah. But experienced operator that he was, he had made arrangements to drive to Togo immediately he left Parliament House, and whilst his car drove to his house and someone dressed like him got out of it and entered the house, he himself had changed into a different car at a pre-arranged, secret spot, and was driven across the border by Mr Mark Cofie, a garage-owner and one of the fastest drivers I have ever encountered.
Gbedemah’s escape from Ghana was sensational — and a very sad day for Ghana. For it illustrated, in a very sinister but ironical manner, the uncertainties that go with politics in authoritarian countries. If the man who had been Number Two to Nkrumah since the CPP was formed in 1949, could be vaporised from Ghanaian politics like that in October 1961, who could think of himself as being “safe”? In fact, the CPP never regained its composure again after that and it wasn’t strange that its own Ministers — including such “stalwarts” as Mr Kwaku Boateng (who had, at various times, held such important portfolios as Information, Education and the Interior) — began to denounce the Government of which they had been members, when the military overthrew their Government on 24 February 1966. (Kwaku Boateng famously confessed at a press conference in 1966 that all Nkrumah’s Minister had become “gaping sycophants” in the latter days of the regime!)
So, when I hear the current Minister of the Interior, Mr Woyongo, state that he wants to “license” some groups that commit violence against others, such as was witnessed in the Talensi by-election of June 2015, I involuntarily shudder. My mind flashes back to how we stepped on the slippery slope in 1958 and were taken from the “violence” of incarceration by legislation (specifically, the Preventive Detention Act) through — inexorably — to the barrel-of-a-gun violence that occurred, as night follows day, with the coup of 24 February 1966, and how we then moved into further violent overthrows of government, in January 1972, July l975, June l979 and December 1981.
In each of these violent overthrows of government that imitated the first (1966) coup, completely innocent and apolitical people — whom every political persuasion would regard as “harmless” — got killed, or suffered from serious acts of violence and brutality of various types, because when violence breaks out, reason vanishes through the door. Many men, women and children, can testify to that. Collateral damage, right?
It needs to be pointed out that in all these upheavals, many of the Ministers of the Interior who have occupied that office since independence — including the first to use legislative violence against his Government’s opponents, Mr Krobo Edusei himself – have been constrained to see prison from the inside. (Mr Edusei went in twice, actually, after changes in government!) I am sure he would, were he to be alive and asked, tell the current Minister of the Interior to be careful not to encourage the outbreak of violence in the service of politics, because no-one can predict where exactly such violence can lead.
And Krobo would be quite right, for the 1966 violent overthrow of the government was as different from those that occurred in 1979 and 1981, for instance, as “oranges” are from ” apples.” Yet even 1979 and 1981 could become like child’s play, compared to what we could, if we are stupid enough, unleash upon ourselves in a world that has since experienced 9/11 and Boko Haram.
To say nothing of Laurent Gbagbo [of the Ivory Coast] and Blaise Compaore [of Burkina Faso] – both rulers who believed in retaining power through violence, and whose idiocy occurred for us to witness — a mere one door away from us, so to speak! What did the Spanish philosopher, George Santayana, (16 December 1863 – 26 September 1952) say?
QUOTE: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it!” UNQUOTE