The Case for J.B. Danquah’s Arrest and Detention

Sat, 14 Mar 2015 Source: Kwarteng, Francis

In Part 2 of our “JB Danquah: The Case for The Preventive Detention Act” we made the following statement: “As an illustration of the first point, lawyer Danquah, a reprobate political criminal, and Ataa Ayi, a hardened armed robber, both knew the law and what was required of them by society yet they ignored the law thinking they were too smart to get caught in the dragnet of their misdeeds.” There is no doubt that this statement defines the basis of Danquah’s self-destruction. This essay takes a look at the events leading to Danquah’s arrest and nine-month detention under the Preventive Detention Act (PDA), an emergency Act of Parliament.

It is essential to stress that Danquah’s detention did not evolve in a vacuum. Therefore, it is crucial to connect the dots between his subversive political calculations against the state and his arrests and detention. At the first treason trial of the Awhiatey-Amponsah-Apaloo conspiracy in November 1958, it was revealed that Danquah had assured a foreign diplomat of Nkrumah’s overthrow in December 1959 (see Geoffrey Bing’s “Reap the Whirlwind”). Yet the security forces did not act immediately upon this information. Rather, they set out to gather more corroborating evidence by placing Danquah’s every move under surveillance. This strategy of gathering intelligence on dangerous enemies of the state to avert its subversion was and still is not unique to Ghana; it is part and parcel of statecraft in democratic societies globally.

The fact of the matter was that Danquah organized a meeting in his home during which two men, Ismaila Annan and Atta Bordoh, presented a plan to him detailing the subversion of Nkrumah’s government. Danquah endorsed it. Annan and Bordoh had been executive members of the United Party in the Western Region. Both men infiltrated the leadership of the union, infusing it with their subversive political tactics. On the occasion when they met in Danquah’s home, both men presented themselves as party executives, not as trade unionists or strike organizers. Later, it became known that the Opposition had assisted the union in drafting and paying for telegrams in behalf of the unions, via fictitious names and a private mail-bag address of Ishmaili Annan [Annan was a member of the Moslem Association Party before it became part of the United Party], a man known for his close association with Amadu Baba. The government deported Baba for orchestrating much of the NLM’s violence in Kumasi in the lead-up to independence. The contents of the drafted telegrams, made out to the International Railway and Maritime Workers’ Unions in Nigeria, the U.S. and the U.K, asked for funds to secure the “survival of parliamentary democracy” in Ghana. In other words the aim of the strikers was no longer about workers’ grievances. The workers’ grievances had shifted to the survival of parliamentary democracy in Ghana.

All this happened against the backdrop that the government had declared the strike illegal under the 1958 Industrial Relations Act, because Union representatives refused to meet with cabinet members to iron out their differences. As well, following an executive meeting of the United Party, Danquah traveled to Sekondi where he met with strike leaders in the house of one Kwesi Lamptey (Fijai Secondary School). The meeting focused on strengthen the resolve of the striking workers not to give up their demands, and to ignore Nkrumah’s offers upon his return from a trip. Prior to this, however, the executives of the United Party had organized a press statement calling on the government to resign or to recall parliament in the failure or refusal of the government to revise the budget.

That aside, what were the grounds for Danquah’s arrest which was submitted to him in writing? The state then indicted Danquah in a written submission read to him, as was done to all indicted enemies of the state. This was how he [Danquah] interpreted his indictment. He wrote: “During the first month of September 1961 YOU DID JOIN in a DESIGN for the subversion of the Government of Ghana PRESENTED to you at a meeting on the premises of Dr. J.B. Danquah in Accra, by ISMAILA ANNAN and ATTA BORDAH both now detained and you did ENCOURAGE this design and in furtherance of it DID ACT in a manner calculated to endanger the security of the State and to cause the overthrow of the Government of Ghana by unlawful means” (see the “Historic Speeches of J.B. Danquah”). Dr. Botwe-Asamoah, however, makes an interesting observation regarding the manner in which Danquah crafted his response to make it look like the handiwork of a defense attorney. Danquah claimed he had called for the meeting in his home in reference to the 1961 Takoradi Workers Strike and the government budget. That notwithstanding, the strategy for crafting his indictment the way he did, it seemed, was, in Dr. Botwe-Asamoah’s words, to make it possible for him to “accuse the Nkrumah’s Government of unlawful detention without trial.” In other words, he crafted his indictment in such a way as to give him some leeway to transfer his culpability to the state instead.

It also turned out after Nkrumah had pardoned him and other detainees on June 2, 1962, he [Danquah] went to the American Embassy to make inquiries into why CIA funds to his family while he served his nine-month detention had ceased. Richard D. Mahoney, author of “JFK: Ordeal in Africa” and son of William Mahoney, the American Ambassador at the time, writes that [The situation caused his father to summon “the CIA chief of station to ask why he had not been advised of the agency’s association with Danquah…; and that Ambassador Mahoney was not satisfied with the explanation given him by the CIA chief of station so he “(Mahoney) flew to Washington two days later and personally informed Kennedy about the matter”]. Thus, Danquah’s lamentations over why the CIA funds had ceased and the contents of the telegrams requesting for funds to underwrite parliamentary democracy in Ghana are not unrelated. That said, Danquah’s placement under surveillance would yield another fruitful outcome when the Chief Security Officer authorized his arrest and detention under the PDA on January 8, 1964, nearly two years after Nkrumah had pardoned him. His arrest came against the backdrop of his participation in Constable Seth Ametewe’s aborted assassination attempt on Nkrumah on January 2, 1964. Danquah was found to possess his own signed hand-written speech which he intended for broadcast in the wake of the success of the Seth Ametewe’s attempted assassination on Nkrumah. Dr. M.N. Tetteh makes it clear that Danquah and other traitors were detained “after the Chief Security Officer had made sure that adequate reasons were given to justify’ their detention, and that such people ‘WERE DETAINED BEFORE NKRUMAH COULD BE INFORMED OF THEIR DETENTION.’”

It also became clear upon investigation that, according to the testimony of two members of the police band, a leading Opposition politician in the country persuaded them to shoot Nkrumah as he “approached the band to congratulate them after their performance” at Flagstaff House (see June Milne’s “Forward Ever” and the “Exemption Committee Report”). It also became clear later that the co-conspirators of the assassination plot including some top police officers, strangled one of their own whom they had suspected of making attempts to expose them. To cover their misdeeds however, they alleged that their strangled colleague had committed suicide by throwing himself via a third-floor window onto the ground, a window with iron rods that the body of a baby will have a hard time going through. The leading Opposition politician in question in the country at the time was Danquah, since all the other Opposition members were outside the country plotting with foreign security services to overthrow Nkrumah and destabilize the country, were in detention under the PDA for various crimes against the state, or were on board with Nkrumah and the CPP government building and developing the country.

Concerning Nkrumah’s concern for Danquah’s condition in detention, the former assigned his best friend Dr. Seth Cudjoe (also a Pan-Africanist) to provide medical care for J.B. Danquah; and indeed, Dr. Cudjoe “prescribed medicines’ for Danquah. Besides, Danquah “was allowed sandals, clothing and his own blanket” (see Genoveva Marias). Marias further makes it clear that the sister of Danquah’s second wife, Nkrumah’s friend, visited Danquah in detention. She then went back to Nkrumah with information on Danquah’s medical condition. Marias notes that Danquah’s second wife “visited Nkrumah fairly regularly and improvements were made to her house on Nkrumah’s instructions” and also that Danquah’s wife “always saw Nkrumah when she requested an interview, which was never refused.” Danquah’s wife even wrote to Nkrumah requesting private funeral rites for her husband upon his death. Danquah, on the other hand, got to know about Nkrumah’s concern for his health and welfare through these visits undertaken by individuals closest to him. Why would Nkrumah weep over Danquah’s passing, a man he appointed as Director of Legal Education in Ghana and who he also made a member of the Ghana Arts and Academy of Science? (see Geoffrey Bing).

Put differently, why would Nkrumah mourn a traitor who had plotted his assassination on a number of occasions? Where in the world do coup plotters and assassins enjoy life as Danquah did in detention? Was the PDA not the most appropriate and effective response to the danger which Danquah and his terrorist and ethnocentric secessionist gangsters represent? Did the National Liberation Council not execute Lt. Moses Yeboah and Lt. Samuel by firing squad after the former assassinated General Kwasi Kotoka? Even Pres. George W. Bush cited Saddam Hussein’s alleged plot to assassinate his father [George H.W. Bush] as one of the principal reasons to get rid of Saddam and his government. Why must it always be different with Nkrumah as regards the state’s approach to stemming the tide of terrorism, armed insurrection, and violence on the part of the Opposition? Why must the Opposition refuse to use constitutional means to seek redress for their grievances, which the masses rejected? And what if the state under Nkrumah’s premiership had resorted to the conventional method of executing bomb throwers, assassins, and coup plotters?

Thus, Nkrumah may partly be blamed for allowing bomb throwers, assassins, and coup plotters to go scot-free, to live. We, therefore, have to agree with Marias’ position that “he [Nkrumah] would have [perhaps] remained in power and his enemies been given no opportunity to plot and counterplot against him” had he physically eliminated all his enemies. It is also a fact that Nkrumah allowed dangerous political criminals to live “because of his strong sense of spirituality like Gandhi (meatless diet, loath for alcohol, fasting, meditation, yoga, etc); his anti-capital punishment philosophy and attitude of forgiveness…This was typical of Nkrumah. And those who did not understand Nkrumah’s forgiving heart and anti-capital punishment ‘took it to be a lack of stability in’ his character’” (see Marias). Overall, Dr. Botwe-Asamoah notes: “In fact, evidence collected at the Exemption Committee of personal accounts of some Ghanaians, including close associates of Nkrumah who testified to having actually subverted Nkrumah’s government ‘by financing the importation of various bombs and grenades which killed school children and Young Pioneers,’ vindicated Nkrumah’s government” (see Dr. M.N. Tetteh).

Where did Nkrumah go wrong? We believe the situation may have turned out differently if Nkrumah had listened to advice. Perhaps he may not have paid serious attention to one such advice Richard Wright, the famous African-American writer, gave him in a letter. Wright said: “Be merciful by being stern! If I [Richard Wright] lived under your regime, I’ll ask for this hardness, this coldness…Make no mistake, Kwame, they are going to come at you with words about democracy; you are going to be pinned to the wall and warned about decency; plump-faced men will mumble academic phrases about ‘sound’ development; gentlemen of the cloth will speak unctuously of values and standards; in short, a barrage of concentrated arguments will be hurled at you to persuade you to temper the pace and drive of your movement…But you know as well as I that the logic of your actions is being determined by the conditions of the lives of your people. If, for one moment, you take your eyes off that fact, you’ll soon be just another African in a cloth on the streets of Accra. You’ve got to find your OWN path, your OWN values…” (Wright’s emphasis).

Wright continued: “Above all, feel free to IMPROVISE. The political cat can be skinned in many fashions; the building of that bridge between tribal man and the twentieth century can be done in a score of ways…You know as well as I know that politics alone is not enough for Africa. Keep the fires of passion burning in your movement; don’t let Westerners turn you away from the only force that can, at this time, knit our people together. It’s a secular religion you must create; it’s that, or your edifice falls apart. In your hands lies the first bid for African freedom and independence. Thus far you have followed an African pathway. I say: So be it…Europe know clearly that what you have achieved so far is not confined to the boundaries of the Gold Coast alone;…Your fight has been fought before. I am an American and my country too was once a colony of England…” (Wright’s emphasis; see Martin Kilson’s and Cromwell Hill’s book “Apropos of Africa: Sentiments of Negro American Leaders on Africa from the 1800s to the 1950s”).


In the end, Danquah’s coup plots against and assassination attempts on Nkrumah were part of a larger scheme going as far back as April 19, 1956, when the Kumasi-based terrorist and secessionist National Liberation Movement (NLM) prophesied what happened in February 24, 1966, a plot ten years in the making (see Prof. Ninsin)! Like all his eternal handiworks, it is hardly debatable that Nkrumah’s unitary state and vision have outlived Danquah’s intellectual and political myopia!

We shall return…

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis