Heroes of Our Time
– Former Chairman of the Council of
With : A.B. CHINBUAH
MR. William Ofori-Atta was born in Kyebi on October 10, 1910. His parents were Nana Sir Ofori-Atta I, Paramount Chief of Akyem Abuakwa and Oheneba Abena Ohenewaa. He had his primary education at the Government Boys School at Kyebi from 1918 to 1925. In 1925, his father sent him to Mfantsipim School in Cape Coast. He continued his education at Achimota Secondary School in 1929. He sat for his Cambridge School Certificate in 1930 and his intermediate Arts Degree in 1932 and passed.
In 1934, he accompanied his father to England as his Private Secretary on a delegation to England and stayed behind when the delegation left for home. He was admitted to Queens College, Cambridge to study Economics in 1935. He successfully completed his course and graduated in 1938. When he was in Cambridge he took active part in students’ politics. He always spoke against colonialism and managed to have his anti-colonial speeches published in the British newspapers. He returned home in 1939 and taught at Achimota College. In Achimota College, he made the students interested in debates through the Plato Club and trained the students in debating skills and the gift of oratory.
In 1943, he resigned from the Achimota School in protest against a decision of the school authorities which required him to vacate his bungalow for a British Tutor in the school. In 1947 he became the Principal of the Abuakwa State College.
While there, he received an invitation from Paa Grant to meet him at Mr. Mends’ house in Saltpond on April 7, 1947, to discuss the formation of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC). He honoured the invitation and became one of the founding members when UGCC was launched on August 4, 1947. He was one of the leaders of the UGCC who were arrested and detained after the 1948 riots. He was detained at the Wa Prisons.
He appeared before the Watson Commission which probed the underlying causes of the 1948 riots and submitted a memoranda to it. He continued to head the Abuakwa State College as Principal and did all he could to improve the welfare of the students in the college. At the same time he was very much involved in the National Politics in the struggle for Self Government for the Gold Coast people in the shortest possible time, for which he had submitted memoranda to the Watson Commission. Mr. Ofori-Atta was also very much interested in the sittings of the Coussey Constitutional Committee. He hoped that the Committee of which three members of the UGCC were members would issue a report which would accord the aspirations of the people for the necessary Constitutional reforms.
He was therefore always in touch with members of the Committee to give them his inputs. Though he was in agreement with the views of those who signed the minority reports, he accepted the report as a start. In the general elections of 1951 which was conducted under the Coussey Constitution he took part and stood on the ticket of UGCC for Akyem Abuakwa rural electoral district and won. He resigned his post as Principal of the Abuakwa State College to work in the Legislative Assembly and the struggle for independence within the shortest possible time.
In the Legislative Assembly, his debating skills came into full play and it was interesting to hear him speak against the British authorities and oppose their colonial policies which he found were against the interest of the people of the Gold Coast. It was therefore sad that he lost his re-election bid in the 1954 elections.
He left for Britain to study law. He was admitted to Gray’s Inn, where he studied, sat and passed his Bar examinations. He was then admitted to the Bar in Grays Inn and returned home in 1959. At home he did his pupilage in Kwakwaduam chambers and joined the chambers. In politics he became a fierce and fearless critic of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) government which resulted in being detained twice. The first was in 1963 for two weeks and then in 1964 for eleven months.
When Dr. Nkrumah’s government was overthrown on February 24, 1966 he was appointed a member of the National Liberation Council (NLC) Political Committee, Chairman of the Cocoa Marketing Board, Director of Ghana Commercial Bank and a member of the Goodwill Mission on Britain.
On the lifting of the ban on political parties on May 1, 1969, he joined Dr. K.A. Busia and others in founding the Progress Party. He was a leading member of the party and a trusted friend of Dr. Busia. He toured most parts of the country as one of the leaders of the party to establish branches of the party. He devoted most of his time to ensure that the party won political power for the first time for the Danquah Busia tradition.
When the NLC decided to return the country to Constitutional Rule in 1969, general elections were held in September 1969. He stood on the ticket of Dr. Busia’s Progress Party as a candidate in Akwatia Constituency and won. He became Minister of Education, Culture and Sports and later on Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Busia’s cabinet of 1969 – 1972. It was, as a Minister of Foreign Affairs that he explained Dr. Busia’s dialogue with South Africa and assured the African nations that Ghana still stood by its anti-apartheid stand. He really had a tough time convincing his African counterparts of this policy. It was very unpopular at that time but in his view the whole concept was misunderstood. Fortunately, apartheid is dead and dead forever and as to whether that policy contributed in a small measure to it, nobody can say, but at least the hawks did not have their day for war and now there is peace in South Africa.
On January 13, 1972, Colonel Kuku Acheampong arrogated to himself the power to rule this country and without any constitutional mandate, shot himself to power and unlawfully overthrew the duly constituted government of Dr. Busia while the latter was in England for medical treatment. Mr. Ofori-Atta found himself in protective custody for a short time and then was released. He was advanced in age and therefore could not do anything on his own about the coup. He therefore looked on with concern as Colonel Acheampong messed up their laid down plans for the governing of the country as they had indicated in their manifesto and were following it religiously.
He winced in horror and smelled trouble when Acheampong declared over the hill tops that he was not going to pay the government’s debts to overseas creditors. True to his belief, the economic situation of the country, partly because of this policy, nosedived to the detriment of the nation. Overseas goods were in short supply and there was general famine in the country which prompted the self appointed prophet Acheampong to declare that he was not God to allow the rains to fall and for crops to grow, and that it was not by “I put to you” by lawyers that the economic situation will be improved. Mr. Ofori-Atta; a lawyer, economist and evangelist replied, if this was so then why did you shoot yourself to power with the barrel of a gun.
In desperation, Colonel Acheampong, who had promoted himself general surrounded himself with questionable and mediocre politicians, who advised him that, the only way to come out of his political and economic mess was to form a union government consisting of military, police and civilians. He imbibed the idea hook, line and sinker and attempted to drown it under the throats of Ghanaians but unfortunately he met such resistance that he never dreamt of. Mr. Ofori-Atta joined forces with Mr. K.A. Gbedemah, Gen. Afrifa, Prof. Adu Boahene, Mr. Victor Owusu and others to from the Peoples Movement for Freedom and Justice (P.M.F.J.) to fight against Gen. Acheampong and his Unigov concept.
The Unigov concept was put to a referendum in the early part of 1978. General Acheampong lost miserably and his Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Justice Abban, had to run away and seek refuge in the Catholic Bishop’s house nearby for fear of his life as he would not fiddle with the figures. General Acheampong therefore declared his own results, which obviously was skewed to make him win. This brought about a great agitation within the country and self appointed General Acheampong hounded and arrested the leaders of P.M.F.J. Mr. Ofori-Atta, Mr. Gbedemah, Gen. Afrifa, Prof. Adu Boahene, Mr. Owusu and others. They remained in prison until they were released on July 6, 1978 by General Akuffo who succeeded Gen. Acheampong as the Head of State in a palace coup.
Mr. Ofori-Atta formed the United National Convention (UNC), after a split as to who was to succeed Dr. Busia in the Danquah Busia tradition party. The other faction also formed the Popular Front Party (PFP) which was led by Mr. Owusu. Mr. Ofori Atta contested the general elections which was held on June 18, 1979 on the ticket of the United National Convention (UNC) as their presidential candidate and came third after Dr. Hilla Limann of the Peoples National Party (PNP) and Mr. Owusu of the PFP.
In October 1979 Mr. Ofori Atta was appointed chairman of the Council of State of the Third Republic. He held this post until Dr. Limann’s government was overthrown on December 31, 1981. He thereafter devoted himself as a full time evangelist, traveling all over the country to spread the word of God. He became a very strong member of Gideon International and many other religious bodies. His maker called him to eternity in 1988.
Headmaster, lawyer, politician, founding member of U.G.C.C., Ghana Congress Party, P.M.F.J., Progress Party and UNC, Chairman of Cocoa Marketing Board, Minister of State in the second Republic, Chairman of the Council of State of the Third Republic and One of the Big Six.
Daily Graphic - Friday, November 16, 2007 Page: 11