KEYNOTE ADDRESS –
LEADERSHIP, GENDER AND DISABILITIES, CORPORATE GOVERNANCE: THE WAY FORWARD AFTER LEGAL EDUCATION
• My Lord Justice Dennis Adjei, Justice of the Court of Appeal and Chairman for today’s function
• Mr Kwasi Prempeh-Eck, Director of Legal Education and Ghana School of Law
• Mr Juliette Adu-Adjei, Registrar of the Ghana School of Law
• Management and Staff of the Ghana School of Law
• The Media Fraternity
• Ladies and Gentlemen
I wish to thank the student body of the Ghana Law School for inviting me to deliver the keynote address at this event. One may be wondering why students of law would invite the Minister for Food and Agriculture to be the Keynote Speaker at the Launch of a Moot Court Competition.
The answer lies in the confluence in the inequality in society. Inequality cuts across all spheres of the society. In my field of work, farmers are the poorest group of workers in terms of prestige, incomes, education, etc. This provides a challenge to any government to strive to raise the living standards of farmers to the level of the average Ghanaian.
In a similar vein the disadvantage suffered by people living with disability, women and children in society have to be addressed through strong advocacy and public policy.
We still have discrimination of women at the workplace and at the home. Women farmers are denied land rights and in many cases their cultivation is limited to food crops rather than the more profitable cash crops which are
reserved for men. Often times farm machinery supplied to farmers are for the benefit of their male counterparts. Child labour has become an issue in recent years especially on cocoa farms and along the River Volta. The opening up of education to the girl child is leading to an increase in the rising role of women in society at the top echelon. These favourable trends would not have been achieved without strong advocacy and changes in the law.
Currently, people in this country living with disabilities still struggle to make their voices heard. In spite of the introduction of laws to achieve this objective, the impact on the lives of our disabled country men and women has not been substantial. Strong advocacy is therefore needed to address these concerns to provide an enabling environment for their valuable contribution to Ghana to be maximised.
I am reliably informed that the Ghana School of Law has already taken steps to provide new disabled-friendly facilities and has begun construction. I am further informed that two visually-impaired students have benefitted from the newly introduced SRC Scholarship fund. It is my hope that there will be many more and that in the not too distant future, the inclusion of our disabled members of society will not be the exception but the norm.
4. THE THEME FOR THIS EVENT
The Moot Court Competition is named after Baffour Osei Akoto. The link between the law and Baffour Osei Akoto derives from Re: Akoto and Seven Others. This cause célèbre is celebrated each year by students of this school
with an endowment established by Asantehene Otumfuor Osei Tutu II in 2006. Following the footsteps of your predecessors, this competition seeks to highlight the importance of human rights in our pursuit of a more equal and
just society. The facts of the case are well known and I am sure you students are by now acquainted with them. However, for the purposes of this event, I would like to give you the highlights of the event leading to the case.
5. WHO IS BAFFOUR OSEI AKOTO?
Baffour Osei Akoto came into prominence in the mid-fifties during the struggle for independence of the Gold Coast from British rule. He formed a political party, NLM (National Liberation Movement) in September 1954 to oppose a
virtual one-party system which was then emerging under Kwame Nkrumah and the CPP (Convention People’s Party). He led cocoa farmers in the struggle to obtain a decent producer price to better the lives of cocoa farmers at the time.
During the March 1954 election campaign, Kwame Nkrumah had promised to double the producer price of cocoa farmers if they voted for the CPP. After winning the elections, instead of doubling the producer price of cocoa as
promised, Kwame Nkrumah turned around to announce a reduction in the producer price thereby putting cocoa farmers at a financial disadvantage. The furore which followed this broken promise led to severe agitation against the CPP in the cocoa-growing areas of the time.
Being a popular figure in the cocoa-growing community, because of his position as senior linguist to the Asantehene and as a big cocoa farmer himself, Baffour was a natural choice to lead this agitation. This finally
resulted in him founding and leading the first political party (which at the time included the Brong Ahafo Region) in Ashanti – the National Liberation Movement (NLM).
For his role in standing up for the rights of cocoa farmers and advocating for multi-party democracy, Baffour Osei Akoto and hundreds of others were detained under the Preventative Detention Act (1958) and was kept in Nsawam medium security prison in solitary confinement for a period of nearly six years.
6. WRONGFUL DETENTION FOR SPEAKING UP FOR COCOA FARMERS
Baffour and the top hierarchy of detained political prisoners including Dr J B Danquah were kept in cells meant for condemned prisoners who had been found guilty of murder. The condition of their lives in detention is adequately
articulated by a letter written by Dr J B Danquah to President Nkrumah in February 1965 and I quote:
“… I find myself locked up at Nsawam Prison in a cell of about six by nine feet, without a writing or reading desk, without a dining table, without a bed, or a chair or any form of seat, and compelled to eat my food squatting on the same floor where two blankets and a cover are spread for me on the hard cement to sleep on, and where a latrine pan (piss pot) without a closet, and a water jug and a cup without a locker, are all assembled in that narrow space for my use like a galley slave.
As aforesaid, I am not allowed to do any reading except the Bible, and I am, on the other hand, required to sleep or keep lying down on the blankets and a small pillow for the whole 24 hours of the day and night except for a short period of about five minutes in the morning to empty and wash out my latrine pan, and of about ten to fifteen minutes at noon to go for a bath. I am occasionally allowed to do a short exercise in the sun say once a week for about half-an hour”.
This is what Dr Danquah suffered in cell number 9 of the condemned block at Nsawam prison. It was pretty much the same conditions next door where Baffour Osei Akoto found himself in cell number 11. He suffered such
inhumane conditions for nearly six years. That is the price he paid for advocating for better lives for cocoa farmers and for pluralistic “ka bi ma menka bi” (democracy) system of government.
The celebrated case Re Akoto was an attempt by the political prisoner to declare his detention unlawful on the grounds of human rights. What I have recounted above about the life of Baffour Akoto demonstrates the price one
has to pay sometimes for advocating for equality and freedom of political choice.
The latest example of our time is Nelson Mandela and the story of South Africa where after 27 years of political prison, apartheid was indeed abolished and South Africa gained its independence and became a multi-racial society.
7. APPEAL TO THE STUDENTS
In Ghana, you as law students are a privileged group. You will leave the portals of this school to go into the legal profession which is known all over the world as an advocacy profession (Human rights, Racial discrimination,
Gender and Disability inequalities).
Ten, twenty years from now, most of you will have successful practices and be well to do members of the Ghanaian society. The sacrifices that the Baffour Akotos and the Mandelas made to bring equality and justice to society should
not be lost on you. You may be sitting in your comfort zone after school pursuing your profession, that should not blind you to the injustices in society. A lot has been achieved in past years, but a lot of injustices still remain in our society. It would be your responsibility to uphold the advocacy pursued by our forefathers. As trained advocates, it is incumbent upon you to continually uphold the rule of law to address the inequalities in society which Baffour Osei Akoto and others fought for.
I wish you all a healthy and successful competition.
Hon. Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto 14th February 2022