The life and sacrifice of a nationalist by Mike Oquaye

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Dr J.B. DanquahThe life and sacrifice of a nationalist

By Professor Mike Oquaye


Danquah knew the role of energy/power generation in the socio-economic development of Ghana. The Hansard of the Legislative Council 1947, capturing herein as advocating in the Legislative Body as follows during Question Time:

“Dr .Danquah: Would Government consider the appointment of a National Committee to enquire into the possibilities of a Volta Basin Corporation to develop the resources of the river for light, water and power, and to exploit for public benefit the vast mineral resources of the Volta Basin? Colonial Secretary: In present circumstances, No, Sir”. [i]

What he told the colonial government, Danquah repeated in 1953 when Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was Leader of Government Business:

“I have been thinking of the Volta as a great national asset long before political parties were formed in this country, long before even this national movement for liberation was started by old George Grant and long before the present Government came into power”. [ii]

Danquah advocated in 1947, the establishment of a Volta Basin Corporation (VBC) to generate electricity for Ghana! Dr. Nkrumah had the opportunity to execute this after independence and named the organisation Volta River Authority (VRA).

Danquah was the progenitor of extensive hydro-generation of power as part of his development vision for the new Ghana he had clearly perceived. He deserves his due in terms of appreciation.

The Legislator/M.P.

Danquah perceived bold and fearless M.Ps. who will stick to their principles; who have studied matters before the House and will stand unintimidated. This is what is expected of true and worthy representatives of the people.

On being accused of delaying a bill “in an attempt to raise passions” by then Minister of Justice, Sir Patrick Branigan, Dr. Danquah spoke boldly as a true African who could match the Whites boot for boot. He never was a colonial stooge. He could never have collaborated with “imperialists” against his own people. Danquah said:

“Mr. Chairman, I had been serving my country for 25 years before this man came. Go to Ireland. Your people are being used as slaves by the British. Go and save your people. You have no right to come here and interfere with my freedom. I sit down to bear all these things not because I cannot speak but because I have respect for the Chair. Go and save your country! I am interested in this Bill because I am a public man and I have got to use my time and energy to the best of my ability to stand here and fight, and I will fight honestly and sincerely, never minding what you say. I believe that this clause is wrong for 2 reasons and I will press for the amendment. If the Government turns it down, it is left to them, but the Minister of Justice must not come here and call names. Go to Ireland”. [iii]

Danquah obviously wanted a House of Parliament with real dignity both in form and in deed. He perceived an “inspirational” edifice, and, of course, together with its furniture depicting Ghana’s dignity and not advertising Chinese seats etc.

“In constructing a Parliamentary House, the general intention is to set up a building of a first-class standard as a memorial of the achievements of that particular country, and as a symbol or an inspiration for future generations.

…we want somebody who will be able to create inspiration; we want to see African spirit in this building, a Gold Coast Design into this particular building.

So I suggest… that the Government should withdraw this particular motion and agree to submit this matter to the Gold Coast African and to the entire world for designs to be submitted…”[iv]

Great detail as Danquah did. This is the essence of Parliamentary oversight of government financial estimates and ultimate expenditure.

MPs Vigilance

When the 1949 Budget Statement was presented, J.B. Danquah discovered that some items in the budget had been put there for the sake of being put there.

“How is it that this Government is so fond of foisting upon the country last-minute programmes hastily brought together and ill-digested? The explanation, of course, is simple: this government appears to have lost its grip on things: this government is sick of governing the people… Frankly, neither Roads and Bridges nor Water Supplies nor Social Welfare can be said to be wealth-producing in the sense that Adam Smith would speak of the wealth of a nation. No doubt roads and bridges for transportation of goods are a means to the production of wealth, but if these roads are used only for importing and transporting imported consumer goods in what sense can they be said to be wealth-producing? …We feel that the time has come to call a halt, to take stock and make an end of all new and hastily thought out commitments. This is a time that tests and tries men’s hearts.This is a time when an inefficient Government which has lost its grip must cease to tamper and to tinker with the destinies of a country the control and direction of which must soon pass out of their hands into the hands of the people and their Chiefs”. [v]

Danquah exemplified the need for careful scrutiny by MPs in all fiscal matters, “Now I say, Sir, that the Government has been extravagant in the manner of handling the country’s finances because never once does it seem to consider the question of the country’s economy. The very word economy appears to have disappeared completely from the dictionary and vocabulary of the present Government. This government has been very careless of the highest public interest. They do not seem to care who is to be taxed or who is not to be taxed, so long as the people pay the tax and the money flows in. So careless a government has proposed a series of taxes for this Budget Session, and it must be condemned as having outlived its day and the earlier it clears out, the better for this country. What we want is a Government in touch with the very life of their people, the sorrows, their groanings, their wants, their sufferings and their grievances and until we get that government this country, we will forever continue to agitate and demand for a better Government”. [vi]

The Opposition

One the role of the Opposition, Danquah had clear views which he passionately advocated: “I would like to make it clear that, although it is part of the game of politics for an Opposition to obstruct and criticize the Government and to take the maximum advantage of the Government’s mistakes so as to advance the Opposition’s own positive policy, the present Opposition does not intend to play that game unless compelled to do so by attempts on the part of the Government, if I may quote Laksi, “to do the worst possible things in the worst possible way”. Criticism is the salt of politics and we must not be afraid of it. It will indeed be dangerous if Government relied merely on its majority as its chief instrument of government.

We are not in a stage of siege but in a stage of freedom. The chief strength of the Opposition lies not so much in its numbers as in its quality. I am anxious that the Opposition should be strong not only to put the Government on its mettle, but to avoid slackness in our habits in this house and to ensure a regularity of attendance, as many members of the Government side taking as much pains as others in the Opposition do” [vii]


Danquah was passionate about education. To him, every Ghanaian should be given opportunity to attain the highest possible educational level. When the colonial administration, outdoored a plan to build ONE University to cater for the whole of West Africa at Ibadan, Nigeria, Danquah was vehemently opposed to the idea. He spoke against it on platforms and wrote condemning it in his newspaper publications. At the Legislature, he was most vocal. He said inter alia;

“…The Gold Coast is not Nigeria and never could be! Achimota is not Yaba or Ibadan and never could be…Sir, there are nations in Africa as there are nations in Europe. There are peoples among Black Africans as well as there are peoples among Europeans. You cannot expect to build a successful University in Andalusia in Spain with its Moslem foundations for the education of the people of Oxfordshire in England with its feudal background; for the English are not Spanish, nor the Spanish English. So it must be everywhere, among every people, whether in West Africa or Western Europe.

Sir, for purely cultural reasons, I conceive that the Gold Coast “a proud little country with a good reason for being proud”, will never, can never and shall never be proud of a University situated at Ibadan and not at Achimota. And for this reason alone, this superlative cultural reason, I support the motion for a committee to be set up your Excellency to look carefully into Despatch No.169 and to make recommendations, recommendations to suit our Gold Coast tradition, our Achimota tradition!” [viii]

At the end, Danquah’s viewpoint carried the day. The University College of the Gold Coast was established in Achimota and the University acknowledges him as the Father of the University of Ghana and father of University education in Ghana.

On the Judicious Use of Public Funds

“I think that the existence of Parliament or Assembly is to look after public money. That is our first duty and I am surprised to see Ministers of high rank crying “shame, shame”, when they have committed mistakes and we are trying to point it out that they have been careless”. [ix]

“If you are going to entrust public money to persons who are not going to be honest, and who are going to yield to bribery and corruption and who are going to allow themselves to be influenced, then you are not doing good to the country”.[x]


Danquah perceived a strong, independent and competent Judiciary as sine qua non. The adjudicatory function should be completely administered to promote human rights and development. Hence, about the appointment of Acting Judges:

“Acting Judgeship is not a desirable thing for litigants. The practice of appointing Magistrates as acting Judges is a very undesirable thing. Either a man is competent to be a Judge or he is not. If he is competent, appoint him as a judge; if not, then do not appoint him as acting Judge to let him experiment with cases of poor people who appear before him. A man is not yet competent to act as a Judge, if a man is merely a Magistrate by his profession. Let him stay a magistrate. There is no reason why responsible Barristers should not be created Judges. Barristers who are devoted to their profession, Barristers who are deem eminent in their profession, should at any time be appointed Puisne Judges”. [xi]

Holistic Development

Danquah saw this in this way. We are all involved in building our father/motherland. He said: “We are in this struggle fighting for the greatness of our nation and a great nation does not consist only of men who are greater than Aggrey; it consists of real Aggreys and real Sarbahs and real Roy Ankrahs. In other words, a great nation does not consist merely of politicians who are fighting for their own self-glorification–megalomaniac politicians. But a great nation consists of the real men who are interested first in the culture of the nation; secondly in the commercial life and industries of their nation and lastly in the real political progress and economic independence of a nation. That is why when we started this struggle we thought that we should start on all fronts–not only political independence, but commercial independence, economic independence, banking, sports, philosophy and literature”. [xii]

Lawyer and People’s Servant

Danquah practised law selflessly. Wherever his services were required, he was liberally available. He was lawyer for the Joint Provincial Council of Chiefs. He was lawyer for the cocoa farmers of the Gold coast in their struggles with the colonial authorities. He was so generous and committed to their cause, that having chalked great successes for them (chiefs), Danquah was given the accolade “Akufo) Kanea” ( a light of salvation/hope for the Farmers of Ghana). He was indeed, a man for the people.

J.B. Danquah attained a lot.


He was founding member of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences.


He was the first President of the Ghana Bar Association.


He was the First Editor of the Ghana Law Reports.


He was the Father of Constitutionalism in Ghana. He was the man, who through the famous case of Re Akoto, tested the constitutionality of a law passed by Parliament on the due interpretation of a constitutional provision in Ghana. Today, this is a free pathway for all Ghanaians!


[i] Hansard, Legislative Council, September 17, 1947

[ii] Hansard, Legislative Council, February 23, 1953

[iii] Hansard, Legislative Council, October 16, 1952

[iv] Hansard, Legislative Council, December 10, 1951

[v] Hansard, Legislative Council, April 13, 1949

[vi] Hansard, Legislative Council, March 28, 1950

[vii] Hansard, Legislative Council, June 30, 1952

[viii] Hansard, Legislative Council, July 24, 1946

[ix] Hansard, Legislative Council, February12, 1953

[x] Hansard, Legislative Council, March 27, 1953

[xi] Hansard, Legislative Council, March 27,1950

[xii] Hansard, Legislative Council, March26,1952

Source: Ghana | Africa Public Policy Institute



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