Emma Emeozor, [email protected]
Sixty-two years after independence, Ghana is contending with the threat of break up. Following the outcome of a plebiscite conducted on July 9, 1956, former British Togoland joined the former Gold Coast to form what is today known as Ghana. Until the call for secession was made, the marriage between the Ewes who are the inhabitants of the former British Togoland and the people of the former Gold Coast had been adjudged to be one of the most successful in the history of post-colonial Africa.
Cracks in the relationship emerged in 1994 following the birth of a separatist movement, the Homeland Study Group Foundation (HSGF) in Ho. The group had pressed for secession and the creation of an independent country for the inhabitants of the former British Togoland to be known as Western Togoland. The proposed country will comprise the Volta region and parts of the Northern and Upper East regions. The agitation attracted international attention recently after 89 members of the HSGF were detained by the police over alleged plan to formerly declare the region as a sovereign state.
In this report, Ghanaian octogenarian, lawyer and Chairman of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Nigerian branch, Chief Kofi Atiemo-Gyan recalls the events that led to the merger of British Togoland with the former Gold Coast. He insists that the call for secession was driven by selfish interest.
Asked to comment on the demand for the creation of Western Togoland as an independent country, Atiemo-Gyan was not amused. With a disturbed look, he said: “I think the people agitating for a new country to be created from Ghana need to be examined very well in terms of mental fitness because before the name Ghana came into existence, the areas in question were known as trans-Volta territory.
“At the time, the people were agitating that they don’t belong to Togo. They said they want to be part of Ghana. Ghana was then known as Gold Coast. Ghana being what it is, we decided to that we can’t arbitrarily absorb them, let there be a plebiscite to determine the majority will. The plebiscite was held in 1956 by the United Nations when Ghana had not even had its independence
“Majority of the inhabitants voted to be part of Gold Coast which later became independent in 1957 and was renamed Ghana. For all these years, they have been part of the country without any problem. So, why the agitation?” Atiemo-Gyan believes the recent agitation was sparked by the new demarcations made by the government following the creation of some new regions. He may be right. Leaders of HSGF have said the new region created from the Volta region was done to favour the Guan ethnic group and “had nothing to do with national development.”
Atiemo-Gyan was quick to dismiss the complaints of the activists over the status of the new regions. According to him, the government created the new regions, taking into cognisance the outcome of the referendum it conducted in the affected areas, including the Volta region. “Majority of the people voted for the creation of the new region and consequently, the demarcation was done by the government,” the octogenarian quipped just as he said the creation of new regions has been an ongoing exercise since Ghana attained independence.
“Look, the new regions created by the present government weren’t the first. When Kwame Nkrumah was in power, he created new regions without conducting a referendum. Ashanti region was one of the biggest regions at the time and Nkrumah felt it should be divided. He took part of it to Brong Ahafo.
“Also, former Head of State, Jerry Rawlings created new regions. He created the Upper West region and it was done without referring the decision to the people to ratify through a referendum. So, why are they raising objection to the region created by the present government following the outcome of a referendum?”
He wondered if the activists have asked their children to go and be part of Togo. “Their children are in Ghana. They built their houses in Ghana, they enjoy all the freedom in the country, and so what do they really want. The agitation is uncalled for because their forefathers voted to become Ghanaians. Some of those who agitating for a new country was not even born at the time. I believe they don’t know the real reason their forefathers opted to be in Ghana. When reminded that the group has taken their demand to the UN, Atiemo-Gyan said, “Well, if they insist on going and they want to hold another referendum, it can be done very easily.”
The group said it “works to advance the rights of the people in eastern Ghana.” Answering questions in 2017, the leader of HSGF, Mr Charles Kormi Kudjordjie reportedly said: “This is the beginning of the united effort of exerting final pressure to extricate ourselves from over 50 years span of our established union with Ghana which has not yielded any benefits – social, economic and financial security to the common people of the land.”
Continuing, he said: “The time is now to execute a common plan of action to come out of serfdom as some wise men and women did before under various autocracies the world over. Our wise men and women are again ready to strategies for the formula for coming out of the serfdom sooner than later. This congress is the launch pad for the missile attack at all fronts for independence. Whether it is here now, today, tomorrow is matter of choice that must not be delayed, but pursued vigorously.”
But Atiemo-Gyan is not convinced by the reasons the activist advanced for staging the agitation. He said they have no reason to complain. “What is the economic contribution of the Volta region to the development of Ghana? They don’t contribute to the economy of the country. Rather, it is the other regions that are contributing to the development of the region. So, I don’t see any tangible reason for their action.
As if to buttress his argument, Atiemo-Gyan noted that the Volta region has had a fair deal in government. “If they are alleging discrimination, let me remind them that the first minister of finance came from the region, the Chief justice and other prominent government officials came from the region.
“If census is conducted, the Western region that contributes more to the development of the country doesn’t have as much people in government. Go to the universities, they have the majority of the academics. Now, they are crying because power has started shifting to other areas.”
Asked to explain what he meant by ”power-shift,” he said, “the Volta region always want to dominate the other regions but now . . . they came in through plebiscite and they are saying they are more Ghanaians than the indigenous people they met . . . no . . . no . . . they only became Ghanaians by plebiscite.”
But even as Atiemo-Gyan insists the Ewes (Volta region) are dominant in the universities, one of the leaders of the activists, Mr Gotthold Yao Agra was once quoted as saying “the Western Togoland was clandestinely removed at all levels of education in Ghana with the view to creating a vacuum that will consume their identity as a state among United Nations, African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other international organizations.”
Even then, Atiemo-Gyan sees no reason for the call for the state of Western Togoland. “The only reason they may have may be selfish interest.” He believes that those agitating for secession don’t have the backing of the people of the region. “If you go to the region, the people will tell you they are not part of the agitation. It is just some individuals that are involved.
“Why has it taken them over 60 years to realize that they have to agitate? When their son was Head of State, they did not agitate for their own country. Rawlings was president of Ghana, Komla Agbeli Gbedemah was the first Finance minister of Ghana and he was almost a deputy prime minister, there are others, they are everywhere in the civil service. This is selfishness.”
The Ewe ethnic group spreads across the former British Togoland and the former French Togoland. While the British Togoland became part of Ghana, the French Togoland became independent on April 27, 1960. Could the clamour for independence by the Volta region be as a result of external influence within and outside the West African sub-region?
Atiemo-Gyan said “it could be possible there is external influence.” But he quickly added: “But if anybody is involved, he hasn’t declared it openly, so I won’t say in clear language that there is external influence, I don’t think so . . . that argument doesn’t even come in.”
While acknowledging that fact that the people of the Volta region have their kinsmen in Togo, he said “Togo depends on Ghana for many things.” Therefore, he could not imagine people in Togo instigating the agitation when that country is dependent on Ghana.
The arrest of the activists has been condemned by a cross section of the society, particularly in the Volta region. One of those who denounced the action of the police was the Member of Parliament representing South Dayi in the Volta region, Rockson-Nelson Dafeamekpor.
Dafeamekpor was irked by the arrest of octogenarian Kudjordjie.
In a statement issued on May 7, 2019, Dafeamekpor condemned “in no uncertain terms the Rambo-style arrest of our compatriots including octogenarians in Ho, the capital of the Volta region.” While noting that “the state would take steps to protect the sovereignty and sanctity of Ghana, and to take steps to ensure the safety and integrity of the nation,” the MP said “such conducts by the state in the exercise of its rights, must be done in accordance with laid down procedure anchored in law.”
The statement read in part: “Subversion is a serious crime so any allegations of same ought to be thoroughly investigated. However, the raw exercise of executive power ought not be abused in the manner it was applied in this matter on Sunday in Ho.
“A mere declaration of intention is no crime. An intention by one to declare Volta Region a supposed independent state cannot constitute a crime. Were they arrested in the act of doing so? No. Indeed, several scholars including Emeritus Professor Amenumey and Hon. Kosi Kedem have written extensively on the trans Volta Togoland and Western Togoland union issues with the Gold Coast and raised fundamental historical, political, legal and jurisprudential issues underpinning the supposed union.
“It’s a matter of record that these same people were arrested amidst state fanfare in 2017 and supposedly prosecuted in Ho High court. The State in its wisdom, discontinued the prosecutions in or about 2018.
“It would be advisable for Gov’t to engage the agitators, if indeed there are, with a team of scholars to deal with these issues once for all. The choice of criminal prosecution is a horrible one. Persecution has never succeeded in quelling the agitations of a people determined to attain ‘self-rule’.”
But Atiemo-Gyan thinks otherwise. Though he agreed that the use of force cannot stop the agitation, he however said “Ghana believes in the rule of law. If people are agitating demonstrating against the authorities, definitely the government cannot fold its arms and watch, those involved must be arrested and if there is need, they are charged accordingly.
He denounced the group’s call on government to negotiate with them. “The government must not give them such a chance for negotiation. Today, Ghana has 16 regions. It started with 9 regions at independence. Any move for negotiation will serve as a bad precedence for the future of the country,” he said.