By Dr. Kingsley Nyarko, Member of Parliament, Kwadaso
On August 5, 2021, I made a commemorative statement on the floor of Parliament honouring the memories of all those patriots and nationalists who sacrificed their lives and resources towards our attainment of independence on 6th March, 1957. It’s important for us to occasionally go back to our historical past, honour our heroes and heroines and bring out their respective contributions to our present status in order for us to learn their distinctive and remarkable contributions to our political freedom and socio-economic development.
Carrying out this exercise shouldn’t be misconstrued as a mere political game, but rather, a valuable exercise to benefit our society, especially the young, in order for us to glean some nuggets that will also help us to contribute towards the socio-political development of our motherland. One such icons I mentioned in my statement titled, “Our Founders, Our Foundation and Future,” was Okyeame Baffour Osei Akoto—the longest serving senior linguist to the Asante Kingdom—serving three (3) revered Asante Kings: Otumfuo Osei Tutu Agyeman Prempeh II (1935-1970; 1931-35 as Kumasihene); Otumfuo Opoku Ware II (1970-1999) and Otumfuo Osei Tutu II (1999 to present).
19 years ago, on September 3, 2002, Baffour Osei Akoto, one of the patriotic Ghanaians, a liberation fighter and the founder of the National Liberation Movement (NLM), passed on to glory at the age of 98 years. Baffour was born to Kofi Owusu Sekyere, Chief of Ankaase in the Kwabre district close to Kumasi and Obaapanin Akosua Apea of kwabre Heman. His father was the grandson of Asantehene Osei Asibey Bonsu and his mother was the great granddaughter of Asantehene Osei Yaw Akoto. So clearly he was an out and out royal with an impeccable ancestry and impressive cultural orientation.
Baffour Akoto trained as a mechanic and worked with F & A Swanzy company until he was chosen by Nana Sir Agyeman Prempeh II as a senior linguist to the Asante Kingdom in 1935- a revered and prominent position he held until his demise. Although he didn’t have a strong formal education, he was talented, gifted and intelligent, especially in cultural ethos and Asante traditional practices. These characteristics gave him a huge influence that was manifested in his mobilization and strong leadership skills and political wits. Baffour Osei Akoto exemplifies indigenous knowledge, and questions the notion that intelligence is the preserve of those who receive formal education and competent in the English language. His life and accomplishments clearly show that one’s ability in performing a given task is very critical and important in defining their success and accomplishments than mere eloquence.
Baffour’s worthy life could be summed up in these golden words by His Royal Majesty Otumfuor Osei Tutu II on his demise in 2002, “Baffour excelled in his career as an Asante diplomat, a valuable repository of Asante and Ghanaian social, cultural and political history, and a defender of the power of traditional leadership in the face of the onslaught of modern post-colonial politics in Ghana.” Also, in his inaugural speech on 7th January, 2017, the President of the Republic, His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo stated that Baffour Akoto and others were legends whose toils contributed to our deliverance from colonial domination and oppression. He stated, “Baffour Osei Akoto and others, who taught us that fidelity to principles, courage, patience, resilience and collective action, do yield results. They fought with intelligence, guts, steely determination and patriotism to liberate our land and reclaim our worth as human beings. Their love for country continues to inspire generations of us to commit our lives to the search for an enduring democratic legacy for Ghana.”
Baffour Osei Akoto was not only a statesman, but also a responsible family man who educated and took care of his children, nephews and nieces as well as others outside his nuclear and extended families. He believed that the educated mind was a transformative weapon capable of bringing dignity to man and society and thus encouraged and promoted education within and beyond his family. One of his children, Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto is the minister for food and agriculture and former member of parliament of the Kwadaso constituency from 2009 to 2017. His stepson, President John Agyekum Kufuor, was also a member of parliament for Atwima Nwabiagya between 1969 and 1972 during the 2nd Republic and from 1979 to 1981 during the 3rd Republic. Baffour was a worthy family man, a social icon and a political champion.
He was a man who believed that political development and democratic governance must be devoid of fear and intimidation, but rather provide an opportunity for the participation and benefit of all. He abhorred oppression and sought to lead his tribesmen and other well-meaning people of the country to demand fairness in the distribution of our resources, especially the improvement in the living conditions of farmers who had been given a raw deal by the CPP-led colonial administration.
After the 1954 elections, Kwame Nkrumah promised the cocoa farmers that the producer price of cocoa would be doubled to five pounds per ton, but the government offered them 72 shillings instead. This deception, coupled with tax deductions from cocoa angered the cocoa farmers. Baffour Akoto, who at that time was one of the biggest cocoa farmers in the country intervened to ensure that the cocoa farmers were treated fairly and justly.
Although, Baffour Akoto’s political involvement was short-lived, his contribution towards the development of multiparty democracy, the rule of law, respect and protection of fundamental human rights and the attainment of our independence cannot be hidden under the carpet. In fact, he positively imparted his generation and those unborn. On September 7, 1954, he led some youth of Ashanti to form the National Liberation Movement (NLM) after he had led a huge crowd to slaughter a sheep in River Subin to herald and symbolize the birth of the NLM and followed it up with a mammoth rally attended by people of all walks of life across the country at the Prince of Wales Park near Kejetia. This potent political movement had the support of Asanteman, and was joined by political greats such as Dr. Joseph Boakye Danquah and Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia. It was also joined by some leading members of the CPP such as R. R. Amponsah and Joseph Appiah. The NLM, because of its strategic origin and position became an alternative to the CPP.
Baffour, after helping his party to win 13 seats in the 1956 elections, one less to the seats won by the Northern Peoples’s Party, and in consultation with his party executives, appointed Dr. K. A. Busia as the leader of the NLM members in parliament. He later worked with the leader of the NPP—Chief Simon Diedong Dombo—who was a member of parliament and the leadership of the other minority parties to make Dr. Busia the leader of the 31-member minority in parliament.
In 1957, after the government had enacted the Avoidance of Discrimination Act—an Act that sought to proscribe organizations from using tribal, regional, racial or religious propaganda to the disadvantage of any other community, or electing persons on the basis of their tribe, region or religious leanings and for other related purposes, Baffour Akoto chaired meetings and negotiations to join forces to form the United Party (UP). This was solely and purposefully done to prevent Kwame Nkrumah from turning the country into a one party State.
Okyeame Akoto, together with seven individuals were arrested and detained on 11th November, 1959 under the Preventive Detention Act (PDA) enacted in 1958 by the Nkrumah-led administration. The PDA permitted the President to incarcerate for up to five years and later to 10 years, persons whose activities were deemed to threaten the security of the State. Individuals charged by the PDA may be detained without a trial. Section 2(1) of the Preventive Detention Act of 1958 reads: “The President may order the detention of any person who is a citizen of Ghana if satisfied that the order is necessary to prevent that person from acting in a manner prejudicial to a) the defence of Ghana, b) the relations of Ghana with other countries, c) the security of the State.
Although, J. B. Danquah—counsel for the suspects failed to secure their release at the High Court through the application of habeas corpus—that is protection against unlawful and indefinite imprisonment, and the surprising outcome of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of Article 13 (1) of the 1960 constitution presided upon by Justice Arko Korsah JSC. The Article stated inter alia that the President upon assuming office shall make a declaration that he will ensure the safety and security of all persons in Ghana without discrimination; however, the Supreme Court ruled that, that constitutional provision was a mere declaration by the President and not enforceable in a court of law. Flowing from the ruling. the framers of the 1992 4th Republican Constitution have expanded the frontiers of human rights laws in the country as evidenced in chapter five (Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms). This singular act, sacrifice and patriotism by Baffour in the celebrated Re: Akoto and 7 others is a monumental political and liberation feat that deserves unending commendation and continuous applause.
Baffour Akoto has shown that fighting for one’s country is a just and noble cause that must be pursued by all and sundry in our quest to promote and ensure the sustainable development of our country. He has shown us that boldness and courage are virtues and must transcend all in fighting tyranny and despotism. He has also shown us that political sacrifice and service must have a rewarding end—that end must not be necessarily personal, but most importantly, to the benefit of the larger populace and the nation.
In concluding, let me state in no ambiguity that Baffour Osei Akoto was a hero who deserves more honour, more recognition and more relevance in the country. His place and story in our history are not well told, and we must rise to the occasion and begin to accord him his rightful place in the history of not only the New Patriotic Party, but Ghana as a whole. His political party—the National Liberation Movement was one of the foundation political parties upon which the NPP solidly stands. As a country, we must admit that we have not done enough to showcase his socio-political and cultural contributions towards our development and independence. Baffour was a pillar of our democracy and founder of our country; in fact, a formidable one that cannot be discounted when counting the founders of our dear country. It is simply impossible! God bless Ghana!!!