We Still Remember…

“The tyrant dies and his rule is over; the

martyr dies and his rule begins”

Soren Kierkegaard

A MARTYR is said to be a person who suffers persecution and death for renouncing or refusing to renounce or advocating or refusing to advocate a religious or political belief or cause as demanded by an external party. The title ‘martyr’ will only be posthumous, given by the living to celebrate the one who demonstrated steadfastness and defiance while living. The death of a martyr or its value is called ‘martyrdom’. With Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, there have been many Christians who have suffered martyrdom. Stephen was the first Christian to be martyred in AD 34.

            The schism that erupted between Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England led to the public burning of 288 Christians by the Catholic Queen Mary between 1553 and 1558. In 1597, Anna Utenhoven (Anabaptist) was buried alive for refusing to recant her faith and revert to Catholicism, and in 1535, Thomas More had already been beheaded for refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Meanwhile, Saint Agnes of Rome had been beheaded for refusing to forsake her devotion to Christ for Roman paganism.

            In 1835, Madagascar’s (Malagasy) Queen Ranavolana had 60 Christians burnt at the stakes. Ordering Christian proselytizing to cease, she ordered, “To the English and French strangers… Do not worry yourselves – I will not change the customs and rites of our ancestor. Nevertheless, whoever breaks the laws of my kingdom will be put to death…”

            For political martyrs, Socrates’ name pops up first. In 399 BC, Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth. He chose death over escape, and he was made to drink hemlock (a poisonous concoction) which killed him instantly. In 1865, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was assassinated by a Confederate sympathizer after the end of the American Civil War (won by the Unionists). Patrice Lumumba became a martyr in the struggle for independence in the Congo when he was assassinated in Mwadingusha, Katanga in 1961. Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965 on account of his leadership role in Black nationalism, and Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 for his role in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1977, Steve Biko, a South African activist, was killed in police custody for his role in anti-apartheid movement, and in 1995, Ken Saro Wiwa was killed in Nigeria for speaking against the destruction of Odoni land for petroleum.

            But for judicial martyrdom, Ghana is perhaps the first country in the world to have had three judges (and a military officer) murdered on June 30th 1982. Mr. Justice Fred Poku Sarkodee, Mrs. Justice Koranteng-Addow and Mr. Justice Kwadwo Agyei Agyapong with the military man, Major Sam Acquah. These three men and one woman were kidnapped by armed men from their houses at Ridge, Accra at night and driven from Accra to Bundase near Afienya and callously murdered. The murderers did not even have sympathy for the woman-judge as a nursing mother! They burnt the bodies to obliterate traces, but a god-sent shower quenched the fire.

            A special investigation committee was set up and its report showed that on the night of 30th June. 1982, Amartey Kwei drove L/Cpl Amedeka and L/Cpl Senyah from Broadcasting House to the town and showed them the various houses in which the three High Court judges and the retired Army major lived; on their way back to Broadcasting House, Amartey Kwei passed through a house along the Independence Avenue, described as the residence of Mrs. Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings, for a Fiat Compagnola Jeep filled with petrol. Amartey Kwei, the hub around which the ‘wheel of conspiracy revolved’ had recruited also L/ Cpl Gordon Kwowu, Ransford Johnny Dzandu, Evans Tekpor Hekli, alias Tonny, L/Cpl Nsurowuo and L/Cpl Victor Gomeleshie for the dastardly act. This was in the heat of the so-called ‘Revolution’ of 31st December 1981, led by Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, and the PNDC had instituted a curfew from 6:00pm to 6:00am, and Amartey Kwei was a member of the PNDC. Amartey Kwei described Capt. Kojo Tsikata (Rtd.), Special Adviser to the PNDC, as the “architect” of the plot.

            The special investigation board was chaired by Mr. Justice S. Azu Crabbe and the members were C. E, Quist, T.O. Lindsay, Rt. Rev. Professor N. K. Dzobo and J. O. Amui. The June 4 movement and the New Democratic Movement issued a joint statement which noted that the act had been “…orchestrated by counter-revolutionaries to discredit the Revolution by trying to create the impression that the country is in a state of anarchy.” The statement added that although it was true that “…the judicial system did not favour the advancement of the Revolution, the answer to the problem did not lie in the abduction of individual judges.”

            Then, in a special radio and television broadcast to the nation on 4th July 1982, the Chairman of the PNDC, Flt. Lt. J.J. Rawlings, in a mournful mood announced, “We condemn these acts from the depths of our hearts…” he was confident that a high-powered investigation team would trace the criminals and deal with them “whoever they are and whatever their motives in accordance with the democratic laws of this country.”

            The Association of Professional Bodies, the National Union of Ghana Students, the Ghana Medical Association, the Law Students joined the demonstrating workers of the Judicial service to condemn the act: “…we further condemn the mutilation by burning of their corpses. The perpetration of these acts is singularly un-Ghanaian and we abhor any introduction of such alien and atrocious practices into our society.” And the Trade Union Congress issued a statement condemning the acts of terrorism on people who could never replace the mass struggle for social change; the statement noted further that the T.U.C, “endorsed the PNDC’s determination to spare no effort in searching for those responsible for this barbaric act and to punish them accordingly.”

            On July 13, 1982, the Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting at Wa issued a statement in which they said, among other things: “…The utter senselessness of this atrocity has once more laid bare the tragedy of a decadent social situation against which the Church must raise its voice….” On 17th July 1982, a memorial service was held for Mrs. Justice Koranteng-Addow and the Chairman of the National Council on Women and Development said, “It is such a woman, whose life held so much promise, a woman who would have made Ghana truly proud, whose life has been so wantonly destroyed, and the women of Ghana are justifiably angry and horrified. This should never have happened in Ghana. This should never happen again.” Amartey Kwei was sent to the gallows; several players, apart from L/Cpl who escaped from prison, were imprisoned. It is in commemoration of these acts that the Ghana Bar Association has instituted the annual “Martyrs’ Day celebration in Ghana. It is to remind ourselves the atrocities of the ‘dark days’ in Ghana and to give ourselves the opportunity to say ‘NEVER AGAIN’.

You could bet Sam Okudzeto would be at the 38th anniversary with the President, Nana Addo; the Vice President, Dr. Bawumia; the Chief Justice, Justice Anin Yeboah; the Attorney General, Ms. Gloria Akuffo, and the President of the Ghana Bar Association, Anthony Forson, at the Ridge Church.


From Africanus Owusu-Ansah