THE hordes of excited Gold-Coasters, who witnessed the declaration of independence at the old Polo Ground on March 6, 1957, included 23-year-old Joana Ayerson, then a Secretary at the Colonial Secretary’s Office.
She joined the crowd to celebrate the fruits of years of struggle for independence from British colonial rule and she describes the event as “the day the whole world came to the Polo Ground”.
Now 73 and very sharp and alert, Ms. Ayerson, is visiting from the United Kingdom where she has been living since 1964. She comes to Ghana frequently to keep touch with developments at home and help support the family.
Ms. Ayerson’s encounter with President Nkrumah started with her introduction into the Youth League of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) by her cousin (the late Mary Adotsoo Acquaye) in the 1950s. Although like other civil servants, she was not expected to take part in political activities, Joana would stealthily join in the activities of the League.
As an active member of the CPP, Madam Acquaye did many things for the party which included making party rosettes and the whole household would religiously help to have these done which had a strong influence on Joana leading to her decision to join the party.
Her assigned role within the League was to lead in the recital of prayers at the beginning and end of all programmes involving the League.
“Anytime Dr. Nkrumah had to deliver a lecture at Arena (Accra Central), his favourite hymn ‘Lead Kindly Light…’ was sung after which I had to mount the podium to lead the prayers”.
Touching on her recollections of Dr. Nkrumah, she said “I got to know Nkrumah as some one who was ready to learn every time and this he once demonstrated when he came to see my father, who was then the Korle Wulomo and a good friend to Kofi Baako and Nat. Welbeck, CPP functionaries who later became ministers, to have issues about the Ga people and Accra explained to him”.
She also recounted with relish, the simple but effective methods that were used during the electioneering campaign to have Dr. Nkrumah elected as Prime Minister in 1954.
“I remember we had okro in our hands (because the Akan word for okro ‘nkrumah’) while others had cockerels which was the party’s symbol and we would tell people vote for okro, okro.
Although she did not work directly with Dr. Nkrumah, Ms Ayerson recalled the opportunity they got to see the office that had been set up for him by the colonial administration at the ministry’s area. “The room had lights in holes made in the walls and there were cushions on the chairs. It was beautiful”.
“He came there only once in a while and after a meeting there would be a mad rush into the room and together with some other workers, I would also sit on one of the chairs and have a feel of it. One of us would then act like Nkrumah and then we would rush out to our offices before we are apprehended”.
“It was not about hero-worshiping or anything but the man had such an influence on the country that you would simply want to have some affiliation with him”.
She said Dr. Nkrumah’s driver was a family friend so occasionally when he could, he would give them lifts in one of the President’s cars, a gesture which evoked high ecstatic feelings.
For Ms. Ayerson, the patriotism exhibited in the post-independence era was so high that it even showed in the way people dressed.
“In those days we wore the Kente to work and did our hair in very fascinating, Ghanaian designs. When you dressed you wore a hat, shoes and a bag to match”.
She said in those days people worked very hard, “it was a happy occasion when you get a copy of the gazette, (an official government publication) and find your name or that of your friend’s in it for having earned a recent promotion from the position of a junior clerk to a senior office.
“Today it is regrettable to see the way people dress, it is so shocking and sickening that people want to show their bodies to the whole world and in the offices people spend time reading newspapers or doing things other than working.
“These days nothing is sincere, we do not work hard”.
“It is even more difficult to accept how low our cultural values have sunk. Respect is no longer known and people talk and act anyway and anyhow”, she said.
“Now I am a stranger in my own home, I do not follow politics or other developments very keenly but I still come to contribute my quota and hope that very soon I will come home to settle here for good”.
Ms. Ayerson has been in Ghana since November and hopes that if things go according to her expectations, she will be in Ghana for the 50th anniversary celebration.
The Ghanaian Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007 Page: 25