Close Encounters with the Big Six
Leaking my Confidential Notes – Prof. Kwesi Yankah

The Big Six of Ghana

This is our Heritage month and what about a little on the contemporary relevance of our national heroes: Ebenezer Ako Adjei, William Ofori Atta, Kwame Nkrumah, J. B. Danquah, Emmanuel Obetsebi Lamptey, Edward Akuffo Addo. This historic month, I leak my notes on four of the Big Six I have encountered either personally or vicariously. Remember, these heroes are prominently featured on Ghana’s currency notes.

Ebenezer Ako Adjei

Arko Adjei

One of the Big Six, born in 1916, died in 2002. His death in 2002 closed the political history of the Big Six founding fathers who fought for Ghana’s independence. He occupied various ministerial positions under Nkrumah’s CPP. Attended Accra Academy, Lincoln University, Hampton, etc. He was great nationalist, and journalist. It was through him Kwame Nkrumah returned from abroad to be General Secretary of the UGCC, and later formed the CPP to struggle for the attainment of Ghana’s independence.

Ako Adjei is more than an interchange, and was perhaps too big a name to fraternize with, even long after his hey days. I met him in the early 1990s long after Independence. It was the era of the NDC. Meeting such a luminary in the early 1990s was a source of pride. And it’s too bad we lost this humble celebrity in 2002, not long thereafter. Happily, the Rawlings Government gave him a national award.

It was a rare interview opportunity with the last of the surviving Big Six, and I grabbed the opportunity. I was an occasional writer for the great Uhuru Magazine, founded by Big Brother Kojo Yankah, and collectively produced by the Yankah Brothers.

I met Mr Ako Adjei in his house at Osu one evening, at the locality named after him: Osu Ako Adjei, near an Ako Adjei Park. The dialogue was very productive. The Big man did not come across any longer as overly in love with his previous pal, Kwame Nkrumah. Not exactly bad blood between them, but an attitude of cynicism towards Osagyefo. The Big Sixer appeared peeved by Osagyefo’s projection above all of his peers. More importantly, he was sent to bring
Nkrumah over from abroad to lead the UGCC, only for Nkrumah to end up ‘hijacking’ the Party, he lamented. But it was also because he had earlier been detained by his former pal for an alleged plot to assassinate Osagyefo. He was bold to persistently refer to Nkrumah, as ‘that boy,’ during our chat. One of Ako Adjei’s daughters later became a ‘hello’ friend; she worked at the Ghana Commercial Bank in Legon.

Indeed, my brother Kojo was expected to do a book on Ako Adjei at the time.

On another note, several years before, in the 1960s, when Ako Adjei was a Minister, we got snippets of information about the great man through a neighborhood colleague called Auntie Mercy. We lived at Abasraba in Winneba, and were attending school at Zion. Auntie Mercy spoke very fondly of Ako Adjei, who was supposed to be ‘special’ friend.

William Ofori Atta

Ofori Atta

He was born in 1910, and died in 1988; a nephew of JB Danquah.

William Ofori Atta was a founding member of UGCC; and one of the Big Six. Nationalist, lawyer, statesman, clergyman, he played a pivotal role in the fight for Independence. He later became leader of the United Party, in opposition to Nkrumah. He was detained by Nkrumah under the Preventive Detention Act, and also played a leading role in opposing Acheampong’s military regime as an active member of the People’s Movement for Freedom and Justice.

Never met him face to face, and got to know more about him, long after his heroic role in the fight for Ghana’s independence. He was virtually a living legend. Paa Willie, we all called him. Never met him, but he was everybody’s Paa Willie in the late 1970s when we were puppies. I was in love with his United National Convention (UNC), that broke away from Victor Owusu’s Popular Front Party. We loved Paa Willie, and even voted for him, expecting him to sweep the polls. Sadly enough, the virtue he propagated, Integrity, did not appear to be a priority in the earthly search for pedestrian votes. It was even said Paa Willie lost the election because he was too clean, and that as a politician a little soil in between the fingers could itself be a virtue. Hilla Limann’s People National Party, PNP, took advantage of the split between Victor Owusu and Paa Willie, and stole a clean victory.

The symbol of Paa Willie’s UNC, Open Hand, stood for honesty, integrity and transparency in leadership.

Several years after, all has not been lost of this great man. In 2012, Central University established a leadership Institute, a William Ofori Atta Institute of Integrity, inspired by the virtues the man stood for.

The brain behind this was the Founder of Central University Dr Mensa Otabil. I had been appointed the President of Central just at that propitious moment, and the first Director for the Institute was Professor Ken Attafua, before he was made Dean of the Faculty of Law at Central, then later Director of National Identification Authority. At Central, we also instituted an annual William Ofori Atta Lecture series.

Central University, in establishing the Institute, had indeed highlighted a theme, integrity, in which there has been considerable deficit in Africa’s leadership practice.

In the 21st century do we miss the footprints of Paa Willie?

Tomorrow, I release my notes on Nkrumah’s enigmatic pal, Professor Willie Abraham, who was alleged to have authored Nkrumah’s famous book, Consciencism. I met him in 1995 when he was ensconced in the pristine woods of University of Santa Cruz, USA. Willie Abraham, now 86 is still alive and kicking. I may even leak a note he just sent to me if nobody is watching.

My Heritage notes will eventually end with vicarious encounters with two more of the Big Six, Mr Edward Akuffo Addo, former President of Ghana; and the doyen himself: J B. Danquah.

Happy Heritage Month to you all.

Professor Kwesi Yankah.

Prof. Kwesi Yankah
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