Famous Case:The Mysterious Death of Dr J B Danquah in Detention

“My idea of independence is a state of political existence where every person shall enjoy human rights under the rule of law. It is an irony of history that a great pioneer of Ghanaian scholarship should die in a detention camp, barely eight years after his country had become free from foreign domination.  As one who fought side by side with Dr. Danquah in order to liquidate colonialism in Africa, I personally regret the circumstances surrounding his death. All who honestly believe in human freedom would have wished it were otherwise”.- Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe

In the morning of February 4, 1965, the world woke up with the sad news of the death of one the most prominent African sons, Dr Joseph Boakye Danquah. He died in detention at the Nsawan Medium Security Prisons in controversial circumstances at 69. His death led to a chain of events that eventually removed Dr Kwame Nkrumah from power as President of Ghana.

It was a sweet association at the beginning. Six young indigenes of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) fired by nationalism and the zeal to liberate their people had formed a team under the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), a party they used in fighting the British Colonial Power. They are J.B Danquah, Obetsebi Lamptey, Akuffo Addo, Kwame Nkrumah, Ako Adjei, and William Ofori- Atta.

Gold Coast in those days was like the capital of West Africa and was one of the most prominent sign posts of the colonial powers. UGCC was formed by Dr Danquah with some traditional rulers and intellectuals within the society. He later invited Dr Kwame Nkrumah, then a student in the United States of America, to come home and become the secretary of the party.

Founding Fathers of Ghana
The founding fathers of Ghanaian Independence

For more than a quarter of a century, Dr Danquah’s was one of the most prominent names in West Africa (between 1930 and 1957). He was well respected by all, including the Colonial government. This is basically due to his antecedents at that time. Between 1925 and 1926, he bagged two degrees in Law and Philosophy. A year later, he researched into the history of the country and came up with its real name, Ghana, the name the country eventually gained independence with.

Despite the closeness of the Nkrumah and Danquah, there was one issue they never agreed on. It was this same issue that separated them and turned two great nationalists to bitter enemies that eventually destroyed both of them.

Danquah was an aristocrat to the core. A chief from a very famous family, he believed in the institution of monarchy and capitalism. He was very much known to be opposed to communism and socialism. He actually looked forward to a day the chiefs and intellectuals will take over the reign of power from the colonialists.

On the other hand, Nkrumah believed that the ultimate power lies with the people. This enabled him to get the support of the youths and the down trodden while the chiefs and intellectuals supported Danquah. It was this difference in ideology that led Nkrumah to leave UGCC in 1947, to form his own party, Convention Peoples Party (CPP).

The real test of their strength came as the country move towards independence. While UGCC under Danquah, the chiefs, businessmen, and the intellectual class advocated for a gradual independence, Nkrumah and CPP supported immediate self rule. Then the first general elections held in 1951. CPP won 32 seats in the parliament to UGCC two. Danquah with another of the big six, Williams Ofori Atta were the members of UGCC that won the seats. This was the only time Danquah ever won an election all his life.

After this experience, some other parties emerged with the help and support of Dr Danquah. For instance, he assisted in the formation of Ghana Congress Party (GCP) with Dr Kofi Busia between 1951 and 1953. He also supported the Ga Shifimo Kpee Party, which sought to retain Accra, the nation’s capital exclusive for the Ga tribe. All these were in the attempt to whittle down the influence and power of CPP. Others are the Northern Peoples Party, the Muslim Association Party, the Anio Youth Organisation, and the Togoland Party.

Despite all these efforts, CCP under Nkrumah still won the next elections with an overwhelming majority of 71 seats out of 104 seats. In 1954, the Ashanthene, the paramount ruler of the Ashanti tribe also formed another party- National Liberation Movement to further oppose Nkrumah and his party.

The result was the passing of a new law by Parliament,” Avoidance of Discrimination Law” of 1954. The law banned all parties based on religion, and tribe. With the law, the country moved a step into dictatorial rule. The opposition parties reacted by merging together to form one party, National Democratic Party (NDP). The party was later renamed United Party.

At independence in 1957, it was clear to all that it will be difficult for both the ruling and opposition parties to work together. The bitterness grew every day. This is coupled with the intention of Dr Nkrumah of bringing the whole country, and indeed all Africa together under one umbrella. The opposition even at home to bring the new Ghana under one political party was very stiff.

However, Dr Nkrumah engineered the parliament to pass into law a bill declaring Ghana a one party state in 1960. This led to sporadic violence in the new country. Several attempts were made on the life of Nkrumah. His house was bombed at a point. He was shot at five times but he survived. The point of no return came when a bomb was detonated at Kutulungu in the northern part of the country. Although the bomb missed its target, it killed seven school children.

Another law was again passed by the parliament, Preventive Detention Act. This law enabled the government to detain for five years anyone considered as a security risk without trial. On October 3, 1961, Dr Danquah and 63 others were arrested and detained under the new act. Dr Danquah was in detention for nine months before he was released on June 20, 1962.

On January 8, 1964, Dr Danquah was again arrested and detained at Nsawam Prison. According to report of enquiry into Ghana prisons, 1967 -1968, Dr Danquah was placed under inhuman condition in the prison.

The report stated: “it was elicited first of all that Dr. J.B. Danquah, as in the case of Mr. Lamptey and small group of others of the more prominent detainees, was confined in the Condemned Cells (Special Block), on the upper landing in his case, together with condemned prisoners. When considering the following facts it must be remembered that Dr. J.B. Danquah was a man 69 years of age at the time of his death.
Dr. J.B. Danquah was arrested and detained on the 8’th January 1964. He was admitted to Nsawam Prison and lodged in the Condemned Section (Special Block) in Cell No. 9 on the upper landing. The cell is approximately 9 feet by 6 feet in area, secured by solid door with small open grille in the top half of the door and barred window high up in the rear wall. The cell contained no bed or other furniture other than a chamber pot.

For three months after admission Dr. Danquah was not issued with a bed, but first of all with only a blanket to cover the bare concrete floor. Evidence revealed that there was an order that detainees in the Condemned Cells, for a period of several months are not allowed to stand up in their cells having to lie down or sit on the floor. The purpose of this order appears to have been to prevent each of the detainees knowing who were the others detained.

His life was regimented in the same manner as that of a condemned prisoner awaiting execution. Indeed, in some respects, his treatment was more rigid and circumscribed. On the few occasions when he was permitted to use the lavatory at the end of the corridor, he was escorted there and back; while he had his bath ; he was issued with tooth paste and toothbrush, he was supervised while he cleaned his teeth; the paste and brush were then withdrawn, his cell was subject to frequent rigid searches during the early part of his period of detention he was given no exercise and later apparently, only 15 minutes every week, although the records show this was somewhat irregular; during the early part of his detention he was allowed no visitors nor allowed to write letters but he later was permitted a visit from his wife approximately once a month.

There is conflicting evidence in regard to the diet given to Dr. Danquah and a few of the other more prominent detainees confined in the Condemned Cell. However, the commission feels more inclined in the evidence of Mr. C.E. Baiden, a retired prison officer, then in charge of the Condemned Cell, who says, when asked ” Do you consider that in the treatment of Dr. Danquah the measures taken were in the interested of justice?” He answered “No”. The treatment given Dr. Danquah was not good. The food was poor, and even when the doctor recommended European diet for him this was overruled by the Director of Prisons.”

There is also evidence that on the 30th June, 1964. a prison warder 2C/E/O Dogo Moshie, with the assistance of others, placed Dr. J.B. Danquah in leg irons for a short period as a punishment for being rude to a senior officer. This has been denied, but we refer to accept the evidence of the Assistant Director who heard the case and who said: “I am convinced that Dr. Danquah was chained by the officers.

On the 4th February 1965, at 6:10 am following the normal routine, Dr. J.B. Danquah was unlocked and escorted to the end of the corridor to take his bath at 6:20 am. On returning to his cell, he found, apparently, that his cell had been thoroughly searched and some of his things including his Bible were on the floor. He lost his temper and began to abuse the warder. This brought on a heart attack and he collapsed and died”.

A year later, precisely on February 24, 1966, the government of Dr Nkrumah was toppled via a military coup led by Kotoka and Gen Afrifa.


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