That Week in the House Forty-Eight Years Ago
Forty-eight years ago, in June 1970, during the moving and discussion of a private members’ motion in the House of Parliament, tribal invectives took central stage, which gave birth to the infamous inward-looking statement that has come to haunt the liberal democracy tradition of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and its predecessors.
Careful reading of the Parliamentary debates that took place from 09:50 on Tuesday June 16, 1970 to 16:15 on Friday June 19, 1970, one would agree that there was a deliberate attempt by the opposition to spew untruths, just to provoke a harsh response from the ruling Majority.
The private members’ motion moved by the leader of the opposition, Dr. G.K. Agama, read as follows: That this House deplores the government’s unconstitutional dismissal of a large number of public servants and views it as an abuse of trust.
Under Article 140 of the Constitution, the power of appointment was given to a public officer, and even though the opposition admitted that the Prime Minister was also a public officer, it claimed that because he came into office through an election, he was not the type of public officer contemplated in the Article.
Dr. Agama of the National Alliance of Liberals (NAL), in moving the motion, made erroneous pronouncements which included that the dismissal of the 568 public servants was targeted only at Ewes and Gas. For example, he stated that out of 131 disengaged police officers, 108 were Ewes, whereas he knew for a fact that only 102 police officers were disengaged, and out of that number, 53 were Ewes, 36 Ashantis and 6 Gas.
Dr. Agama went on to claim that the Constituent Assembly was made up of a majority of 80 Progress Party members, when, at that time, no political party was formed for members to come on their tickets.
He came up with the most provocative ethnocentric comment when he claimed that based on a book, In Search of Democracy, written by Prof. K.A. Busia, in which he had stated that the support of a dominant tribe was needed to win power, the Progress Party was a tribal party, led by a tribal Prime Minister. When pressed upon to explain what he meant by tribal, Dr. Agama said the government of the Progress Party was practising tribalism by favouring only the dominant Akan tribe over others in public office hiring and firing.
The mischief behind Dr. Agama’s motion was unveiled when reference was made to his own recommendations on page 42 of the Electoral Commission’s report by its Commission of Enquiry, of which Dr. Agama was a member of both.
He was quoted as saying: “Accordingly, we recommend that all persons against whom adverse findings involving dishonesty are made by any of the Commission or Committees of Enquiry appointed by the NLC, and all those persons against whom adverse findings shall be made by the Committee probing the operations of the PDA are to be disqualified for life from being elected as members of the Legislature, provided such findings are accepted by the NLC.”
Here was someone who did not want persons found guilty of malfeasance to ever be elected into public office, but only turned round to question why some people were dis-engaged from the public service by the Prime Minister, even though the Constitution allowed that.
The Constituent Assembly, however, reduced his recommendation to five years during a debate on Article 71, and because Dr. Agama had realised that his recommendation of condemning some anonymous people for life was biting close, he never participated in that debate during a session in the Constituent Assembly.
In firebrand fashion, as he was always known to be, an ex-Nkrumaist turned staunch member of the Danquah-Busia family, Mr. Victor Owusu came out the following day with the statement that “The distinguish doctor and leader of the opposition moved a motion in terms of which one finds difficult to follow. Dr Agama himself belongs to a tribe that has been notorious for its inward-looking tribalism.”
Strong as those words may be, he went on to state why he was justified in making that comment, referring to the hypocritical anger of the opposition, who had sat and heard their leader refer to the Prime Minister as a tribalistic Prime Minister.
He went on to expose the mischief behind that allegation against the Prime Minister when he reminded members that even though Dr. Agama’s region voted massively against the Progress Party, of the thirty-seven ambassadors appointed by the government, the Volta Region had seven. One slot each was given to the Brong Ahafo and Northern regions, where the Progress Party had 100% and 90% wins respectively. In the Greater Accra Region, where the ruling party had 33 1⁄3%, six ambassadorial slots were given to the region.
To further justify why he said the Ewes were an inward-looking tribe, he came out with facts that when an Ewe was put into position of authority, overnight that workplace would be over dominated with Ewe staff. With Ewe heads, 60% of the Police Service were Ewes; 80% of C.I.D were Ewes; 80% of GNTC were Ewes, ad nauseam. The over-dominating members of staff who were Ewes, justified why large numbers were dis-engaged in some of the public services.
He went on to establish that during the campaign for elections, the National Alliance of Liberals had compiled a list of 1,800 names of certain Asantes, Fantis and Northern tribes in the public service, who would be dis-engaged if that party won the elections, and with detailed plans prepared and discussed to appoint an Ewe President, Inspector General of Police and Chief Justice.
Even though he expressly did not use the words inward-looking as applicable to Akans, Dr. Agama, in summation, meant that there was no other tribe as inward-looking as Akans. Mr. Victor Owusu saw this in the leader of the opposition’s statement when he moved the motion, and in hitting back, he directly used the words inward-looking.
The word inward-looking in itself means a person, people or society more interested in themselves than in other people or society. It could also mean, in a sense, one who is not interested in people or things that do not affect them, or someone who keeps to themselves, avoiding mixing up with people, as a way of protection. This can be useful, for example, in a school going girl who wants only to study and not mixing up with the gang for fear of disruption of studies and possibly getting involved in immoral acts.
In whatever context Mr. Victor Owusu intended to use to express his opinion in reaction to the ethnocentric invectives against Akans spewed out by Dr. Agama, it seems most Ewes, took the most negative form of the term inward-looking as the case in reference to them; and that means being selfish, greedy, cynical and not generous. The source of the latter’s reaction was not blamed on the former’s action.
For decades, this has come to haunt the uppists in their relationship with majority of Ewes who view the word inward-looking as insulting and as demeaning to their tribe known, as any other, for its warm hospitality.
The effects of this comment transcended political barriers into the ethnic scope, which was already plagued with tensions, and the politicisation of ethnicity continued to cause separations between the Akans, especially the Asantes and the Ewes.
Even though, in 1957, the opposition united to form the United Party (UP), which was made up of two Ewe-based parties, the Togoland Congress and the Anlo Youth Organisation, and the Asante-based National Liberation Movement, alongside the Northern People’s Party, Ga Shifimokpee and the Muslim Association Party, and also, in 1966 when the first successful coup was led by Kofi Abrefa Busia (Akan). In 1966, there was a coup led by Major Afrifa (Asante), Colonel Kotoka (Ewe) and Mr. J.W.K. Harley (Ewe), this union was temporary.
In 1967, in an attempted coup orchestrated by Akan junior officers, Kotoka was murdered. Even though the failed coup was more on political ideology and nothing on ethnicity, and was gladly supported by Nkrumah and the Nkrumaists, the perception fed into the existing tribal tensions that Akans were out to eliminate Ewes.
The perception that Ewes were side-lined in the Busia ministerial appointments is very mischievous. The parliamentary system of governance mandated that all ministers were to come from Parliament. And, out of the nineteen seats available in the Volta Region, the Progress Party won only two, and this was just enough for the appointments of a Regional Minister and Deputy Regional Minister.
In all, this the comment by Victor Owusu helped make matters worse, as the ethnic divide between Ewes and Akans widened on the national scope, but, strangely, in the domestic scope, intermarriages between these two ethnic groups generally flourish and are successful.
Forty-eight years after Victor Owusu’s comments in the House, another ex-Nkrumaist, now a Danquah-Busia member, is entangled in another issue which seems to have rekindled this fracas.
Hon. Daniel Dugan