Lest We Forget = So That We Don’t Forget

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

(William Shakespeare: King Henry VI)

KING OSEI TUTU II, Asantehene, could have received the Holy Sacrament in any Anglican Church on any Sunday or Feast Day. Doing so, would just be in keeping with the tradition set in motion by King Prempeh I who got baptized into the Anglican Church while on exile in the Seychelles and with all his people were allowed to return to Kumasi in November, 1924.

But last Sunday was a different occasion. He was invited by the lawyers and judges in Ashanti to grace the 37th Martyrs’ Day Memorial Service, and he did it in style at the St. Cyprian’s Church. Lawyers and judges had put their tools down on Friday, as a mark of respect for their colleagues who had been callously murdered on June 30, 1982. Among the congregants were Daasebre Osei Bonsu, Mamponghene, Arnold Prempeh, Esq. Atipimhene and Dr. Kwame Addo-Kufour. The clergy was represented by Archbishop Emeritus Akwasi Sarpong of the Catholic Church, Reverend Francis A. Abubakr, Past Methodist Bishop; the presenter, Reverend Canon Osei Poku and the Acting Dean of the Anglican Cathedral, Reverend Canon C. O. Amoah. The Bench was well represented by Professor Dennis Adjei, Justice Diawuo, Justice Dr. Osei Hwere, Justice Pius Gyamfi Danquah, Justice (Rtd) Kpentey, Her Worship Portia Salia-Anafo, Her Worship Rosemary Asante and Her Honour Comfort Tasiame.

A ‘martyr’ is a person who is persecuted for advocating or refusing to advocate, or renouncing or refusing to renounce a belief or cause as demanded by an external figure. Unattractive Socrates would not stop philosophizing and was adjudged guilty of corrupting the youth and not believing in the gods of the state; he was sentenced to death and made to drink conium maculatum (poisoned hemlock) in 399 BC.

Charles Lwanga, Kizito and Andrew Kaggwa together with 20 Catholics and 23 Anglicans were executed in the Kingdom of Buganda, Uganda, between 1885 and 1887 on the orders of Mwanga II the Kabaka of Buganda for their religious beliefs. The Coptic Christians of Libya and Egypt suffered martyrdom when they refused to deny Jesus, but as the Chadian among the Coptics arrested in Libya in 2015 had professed: “…their God is my God, your God is not my God”.

In Ghana, the mention of ‘martyr’ takes one’s mind not to the death of J. B. Danquah in Nkrumah’s Nsawam Prison in 1965 but to the murder of the three judges: Mr. Justice Fred Poku Sarkodie, Mrs. Justice Cecilia Koranteng – Addow, Mr. Justice Kwadwo Adjei Adyepong plus Major Acquah. To us, they are ‘Martyrs’ of the ‘Rule of Law’.

The three Justices had a very brilliant career. Justice Poku Sarkodie had left Ghana for Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone, and then for the U.K, He found himself at the Society of the Middle Temple in 1957, returning to Ghana after completing his legal studies in two years. He worked at the Attorney General’s Department and hoisted into the Bench in 1971 as a High Court Judge. Even without the ‘Intestate Succession Law of 1985 (PNDCL III)’, he was championing the cause of women in the celebrated case of Abebreseh v Kaah in which he argued that a wife who contributed towards the construction of a house should not be denied the fruit of her labour. In Addo v Addo, he ruled that “persistently refusing a young wife sexual intercourse over a long period constituted unreasonable behavior such that the wife ought not to be called upon to endure it any longer.”

Justice Kwadwo Agyei Agyapong, a Grade A trained teacher of Wesley College, Kumasi, was full of humour, and famous for the use of the Queen’s English and Latin expressions. He taught the former Vice-President, the late J. W. de Graft Johnson and the former Chief Justice, the late I. K. Abban. Trained at the University of London, he obtained his LLB in 1958 and was called to the Inner Temple in 1960. He returned to Ghana and engaged in a private legal practice with the late Mr. Amankwatia. He was noted for his decision on Dr. Kwame Amoako Tuffour v PNP and also for his lamentation in a report on the unwarranted use of firearms to control students doing communal labour at the Accra Railway Station, in 1979.

Mrs. Justice Cecilia Koranteng – Addow born in 1936, attended OLA and Holy Child Secondary Schools in Cape Coast. She entered the University of Hull and obtained the Bachelor of Law degree in 1963 and called to the English Bar in 1975. She became one of the three female Superior Court Justices, and she wrote a masterpiece judgment especially on procedure. During the AFRC era, a Writ of Habeas Corpus was brought before her in the case R v Director of Prisons and another: Ex-Parte Shackleford. She ruled: “One must not lose sight of the fact that in a revolution a lot of things happen and nobody questions the makers of such coups d’état. However, when they seek to clothe their actions with the responsibility of legality, then sitting as a judge, I will have to look at these things clothed with legality, with reference to the norms of legality with which we are familiar… We are all witnesses to what happened in the AFRC era. People used that period to settle old scores… If the acts… were to be brought up to court now, can the transitional provisions be pleaded in the name of justice in defence of such an act? … It will surely not.”

And Major (Rtd) Sam K. Acquah was working at the Head Office of GIHOC as the Director of Personnel. His crime?

These four persons were told by Johnny Dzandu on their way to Bundase that they were the “enemies of the revolution.” The Report by the Special Investigation Board appointed by the PNDC, and which included Police Superintendent Yidana’s investigative report gave a chilling account of the abduction of the four people. Driving in a Fiat Compagnola jeep during curfew hours; the abduction of the victims at a time they were taking their supper or (as in the case of Mrs. Koranteng – Addow) weaning a baby! How callous! How inhuman! How insensitive! And all the victims had received multiple ‘gun-shot wounds’; ‘extensive superficial burns’ and ’unnatural cause’ of death.

Those born in the 80s and above may read these pieces and brush them over. Those of us who lived through them can only give glory to the Almighty for protecting us and keeping us alive. Imagine being forced to sleep at 6:00pm. (Curfew hours: 6:00pm to 6:00am); imagine women being stripped naked and tortured for selling above the ‘controlled price’; imagine being in a queue for hours for a loaf of bread. These are things we saw, and just as Jesus Christ is said to have suffered and put to death “under Pontius Pilate”, then under whom were these four martyrs “shot” in Ghana and their condition: “Burnt, decomposed, maggot-infested body…” And when Amartey Kwei was sentenced to death, J. J. Rawlings, in the fashion of David and Jonathan, accompanied him in true camaraderie to the shooting range.

Reading the theme of the day, Francis Kofie, the Ashanti Bar President noted: “…we have forgiven the wrongdoers for their cowardly evil deeds. But we still remember these martyrs of the rule of law and will continue to celebrate them.”

Africanus Owusu – Ansah