A traveller’s sojourn through Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana
By Raphael James
In April 2016, I visited 3 East African countries, namely Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya on a 13-day tour of that sub-region of Africa. It was a most revealing trip. On October 10, I left Lagos for a 7-day tour of West Africa, covering Republic of Benin, Togo and Ghana.
My first stop was in the Republic of Benin. Right from their border, I was to experience massive corruption. Even after I had identified myself as a journalist, an immigration officer would not budge in her demads and pointedly told me to go ahead and write that she had collected N3000.00 from me!
Touring Benin Republic was not so much fun for me, probably because of the language barrier. The former Dahomey Kingdom has a lot of historical connection with Nigeria. I visited Ancien Pont bridge in Cotonou, constructed in 1928 and renovated in 1981. It is a long bridge, bridging Lagune and Cotonou. I also visited the museum at Quidah “Route des Esclaves” – a slave trade museum, with Benin’s culture, history, and religion items on display.
Getting inside Togo, I was soon to observe, that ‘black market’ fuel selling is very big business. For example, in Atakpamé, the fifth largest city in Togo, almost every house hold deals in fuel business, which they sell in bottles and plastic containers. I also observed motorbikes loaded with empty kegs driving around town and was told that they use the kegs to buy from filling stations. As for the few filling stations that I saw – some of them looked really old and non-functional – I was reliably informed that they function perfectly well. I became eager to find out the source of their fuel, and behold their response: “We get them from tankers from across the borders,” the attendant responded. ‘From which country I asked further?’ “I will not tell you, my friend said you are a journalist”. I laughed; it was obvious the country is Nigeria.
While in Togo, I visited the National Museum in Lome, a beautiful place no doubt, but could not take photos and of course the labeling of artifacts was done in French which I could not really decode. A tour guard I approached to help out did not also help matters: when I did not accept his charges, he practically left me to find my way around the maze, almost unaided! However, from what I could see, the museum hosts items like hats worn by the Fulani, a dowry hat with horns for weddings, musical instruments, farm tools, drums, weapons, furniture, textiles, pottery and baskets as well as photographs of the Tata Somba houses of the North. There are also slavery era items like chains and shackles and weapons that had been used to capture slaves.
Significantly there were also photographs of the signing of the protectorate treaty in 1884 between the King of Togoland and Germany, as well as of the many important governors, presidents and royalty associated with Togoland in the late 19th and early 20th century. My challenge here was the language barrier and as such I did not catch enough fun. I thus had call it quits with Togo and move on to Accra, Ghana.
As a proud Nigerian, on my arrival in Accra I paid a courtesy call on the Nigerian High Commissioner. Though the High Commissioner was not in the office at the time of my visit, I was warmly welcomed by Mr. Osasona Oluropo Obasola, the Minister II, Political Matters at the High Commission. He was nice to me and we discussed so many political issues as they had to do with Nigeria/Ghana relations.
I also went on a courtesy visit to one of Ghana’s eminent traditional rulers, Oblempong Nii Kojo Ababio V. On getting there, I found out that several illustrious predecessors had made the trip ahead of my humble self. For example on May 27, 2016, His Royal Highness, Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex in the United Kingdom had similarly paid a courtesy call on Oblempong Nii Kojo Ababio V. On October 5, 2016, His Imperial Majesty, Alayeluwa Oba (Dr) Adeyeye Enitan Babatunde Ogunwusi Ojaja II, Ooni of Ife also visited.
Though I met the absence of the 96-year old ruler, I was told he was still receiving visitors after his 4th annual WETSE KOJO/KING JAMES Memorial lectures that had been held in the same week of my visit. I was therefore received and welcomed by the able Secretary of the palace who is also a first class chief – NII Akwei Bonso III. (Mr. Ezekiel Quarmina AlloteiCoffei), through whom I got further details about His Royal Highness.
Oblempong Nii Kojo Ababio V was born on June 12, 1920 at James Town, British Accra, to the late Mr. William Cofie of Aflagai Shia, Naa Korle We, James Town and Madam Delphina Owoo from the Krotia Division Adjumako of the Royal Stool of Ngleshie Alata (James Town). In 1934, he gained admission to Achimota College to pursue a three year secondary education. During World War II, he gained admission to the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. He is a Dental Surgeon Licentiate in dentistry at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1949, Scotland and a Bronze Medal winner from the World Students̕ Games in Paris.
Among other schedules, Oblempong Nii Kojo Ababio V is currently the Senior Advisor of the Greater Accra Regional House of Chiefs which he is a founding member of. He has spent over 38 years on the thrown, He is the Paramount Chief and President of Ngleshie Alata Traditional Council. He is also a patron of the Accra Great Olympics Football Club.
While in Ghana I also met and had brief deliberations with Mrs. Sherry Ayitey, the Hon Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, I presented to her a copy of our magazine, ‘The National Biographer.’ And though she wanted the edition that had the Ghanaian President, John Dramani Mahama as cover subject, I gave her the President Goodluck Jonathan edition, since the Ghana edition was not scheduled to be officially out on the news-stands until much later in November. She is a nice woman.
I also danced with the ANUNYAM Traditional Music and Dance Troupe, a group that is making waves in Accra and its surrounding areas with splendid performances of various traditional pieces laced with their own variations. The group is led by Nii Afotey Odai, and has in its repertoire, pieces such as “Adzogbo”, “Mandela”, “Tigari”, “Burundi”, “Nokona” and “Adiagba”, which they have performed to cheering and enthusiastic audiences. I was honoured to be adorned in one of their colourful traditional dance wrappers. It is a group you will love to watch as they perform.
During my visit to the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and memorial park, I presented to the Mausoleum a framed joint photograph of Drs Kwame Nkrumah and Nnamdi Azikiwe, taken in 1959. The gift was received by Mr. Edward Quaw, Principal Curator of the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and Memorial Park. He told me that though they already had photographs of the two great leaders, it was a thing of joy to have me come all the way from Nigeria with a gift for the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum. We hugged and exchange contact addresses.
The Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and memorial park which is located in downtown Accra, Ghana was designed by Don Arthur, It’s made up of Italian marble, with a black star at its apex to symbolize unity. It was erected in memory of Osagyefo (the Messiah) Doctor Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president and one of its founding fathers. Built on a former British Polo field, it was the point where Nkrumah declared independence for Ghana in 1957. The park consists of five acres of land and holds a museum tracing Nkrumah’s life. It is surrounded by water which is a symbol of life and music makers in all forms. Events are held on Independence Anniversary celebrations on 6 March and the Celebration of Emancipation Day on 1 August. I also visited the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and memorial park and Centerpiece, the final resting place of Nkrumah and his wife. It is made up of marble flooring and marble graves surrounded by ocean washed rocks. At the top is skylight that illuminates the graves.
If we recall on February 24, 1966, the government of President Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown in a coup, led by Colonel E.K. Kotoka, Major A.A. Afrifa, Lieutenant General (retired) J.A. Ankrah and Police Inspector General J.W.K. Harley. During the coup, there were riots and destruction and one event that remained remarkable was the beheading of the statue of President Nkrumah. Today at the memorial place, stands the headless body of the great leader. When I asked the Principal curator why they have not joined the head back to the body, he explained to me that it is more historic leaving the headless body the way it is. The bronze statue was originally installed in front of the Old Parliament House, Accra before it was vandalized during the February 24th 1966 military/Police coup d’état. The head was taken away but was returned by a patriotic Ghanaian on May 28, 2009. It was thereafter mounted on the park on September 1, 2009.
The Mausoleum and memorial park also hosts President Kwame Nkrumah’s official car, and several other materials used by President Nkrumah while he served as the president of Ghana such as his dress, shoes, bed, table and telephone set. There are several tress planted in the Mausoleum and memorial park for remembrance among them is a ‘Lignum Vitae” (tree of Life) planted by the Nigeria Hon. Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu.
I also visited the Independence square or Black Star Square, the celebration venue for Ghana’s independence anniversary. The square has an eternal flame.
From there I left for the ‘Osu Castle.’ Built at about the 17th century, it was primarily used in the gold and ivory trade, but under Dano-Norwegian control it increasingly dealt with slaves. It has also been used for different purposes like the storing slaves before shipping and as headquarters for the Danish Gold Coast.
The Portuguese, Danes, the Akwamu ethnic group of Ghana, the British and more had occupied the castle in the last 300 years. For example Asamani, the Akwamu leader, in 1693 occupied the Fort for a year, trading with merchants from many nations. In 1694, Asamani sold the Fort back to Denmark-Norway for 50 marks of gold (400 troy ounces, worth £200,000 to £250,000 in 2008) but retained the keys, which are still in the ethnic group’s possession to this day.
In the 1770s, the Danes at Osu became involved in a conflict with Dutch-controlled Accra because of the castle. In 1850, the British bought all of Denmark’s Gold Coast possessions for £10,000 (between £850,000 and £1.5m in 2007), including Fort Christiansborg. An 1862 earthquake destroyed most of the upper floors, which were rebuilt in wood. Later that century, the castle became the seat of the colonial government. In 1950, the wooden upper floors were rebuilt according to the original Danish plans.
In 1957, when Ghana became independent, with Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State, the Fort became Government House, the residence of the Governor-General. When Ghana became a republic in 1960, it became the residence of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah.
Osu Castle as the seat of government hosted many international dignitaries: including Queen Elizabeth II, U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama and German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. President John Kufuor moved the seat of government out of Osu a few years ago. Even at that, there is still heavy security in the area. It is open to tourists but no photos are permitted to be taken inside and outside on account of its controversial history.
I also visited the statue of the blessed memory of the early Basel Missionaries who first landed at OSU (Christiansborg) 1828 and tragically died within months of arrival and in commemoration of the site of the first chapel of the Basel Mission.
I also visited the ‘Ussher Fort’ in Accra, Ghana, built by the Dutch in 1649 as Fort Crèvecœur. It was one of three forts that Europeans built in the region during the middle of the 17th century. It was part of the Dutch Gold Coast, until the Anglo-Dutch Gold Coast Treaty (1867) – which defined areas of influence in the Gold Coast – transferred it to the British in 1868. It was used as a slave port just like all other forts in Ghana. Located in Usshertown, east of the Korle Lagoon, the area was heavily developed by the end of the 19th century but today it is a fishing community inhabited primarily by the ‘Ga‘. There is strong evidence of neglect and decay but it is obviously a place of attraction for tourists like us due to the fact that it has an ancient story to tell and also on account of the presence of historical relics.
I next walked through the ‘DOOR OF NO RETURN’ like we have the POINT OF NO RETURN in Badagry, Lagos Nigeria, it was said that once a captured person crosses this door, he or she is a sure slave heading out of Ghana. From there, I entered the ‘Dark room.’ Once you walk pass the DOOR OF NO RETURN’, you will enter inside this room and be kept there for at least 24 hours. it’s a dark room with a tiny opening on the wall, big enough to enter only a hand, but even with that, it has an iron cross bar to it. By the time a slave is brought out, he descends the staircase into a waiting ship out of Ghana. I also visited the Slavery museum set up by KID N’ TEENS Ltd. sponsored by UNESCO in collaboration with the EU Commission and under the patronage of the Ministry of Tourism and Diaspora Relation. It contains photos and the history of 400 years of slavery in Ghana. You need to visit it to appreciate the extent of the slave trade. A shock experience awaits you in the electrocution room. This is where hardened prisoners were electrocuted on a chair after the slave fort became a prison. The chair is missing today but you can see the remains of the electricity unit. Before the introduction of electricity, hardened slaves were beaten to death in this room. Alternatively, you can call it the ‘Room of Horror.’
At the slave market inside Ussher Fort in Accra, Ghana, I also saw iron chains fixed to the ground. A slave is chained to the iron in the market, come rain or sun until he or she is bought. The prices varied then from a tin of sardine to a pack of matches, a mirror, a bottle of gin, Tobacco, gun-powder, umbrella pottery, woollen cloth, iron, brass pans and many other items, including also manila iron money. I went into the kitchen and walked into several of the rooms for slaves. At its peak, each tiny room accommodated as much as 20-50 slaves depending on the number of slaves available at a given time. Exhausted, I came out to catch my breath on the balcony of Ussher Fort in Accra, Ghana facing the Atlantic Ocean. It was probably the same spot from where the slave masters usually stood to bid farewell to yet another shipload of slaves as they departed to the ‘New World.’
I also paid my respects to the former President of Ghana, Dr. John Evans Atta Mills, by visiting his grave side. May his soul, continue to rest in peace. I equally had the privilege of being hosted by former President Jerry John Rawlings in his house for 1 hour and17 minutes.
Coincidentally, during my visit, the world observed the UN World Food Day, so I represented Nigeria at the United Nations World Food Day event held in Accra, Ghana, The World Food Day celebrations highlighted the 2016 theme, “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.’
Tired, I had to look for somewhere to relax. The sun was hot; in fact it was raining sun, and all I needed was to cool down. Then I saw this Jamaican-looking Ghanaian, with his table of coconuts! Coconut business is good business in Ghana and Togo as I had observed, young men pushing their four wheeled wooden trucks of fresh coconuts about. Coconut water contains nutrients that help in weight-loss efforts because it contains less fat. It also helps in building a perfect skin and to facilitate digestion, boost hydration and reduce blood pressure. It is equally very compatible with the human blood and can be used alongside other fluids to quickly rehydrate the human body if administered intravenously. O, coconut!
Overall, my seven days traversing Africa’s own ‘West Coast’ was most remarkable and fun filled. My Ghana tour guard in particular was a bomb! Solomon is indeed a wonderful, young man. So also is Dr Donaldson, the Personal Assistant to President J. J. Rawlings. He is the epitome of a complete gentleman. So impressed was I on the visit that my final thoughts were: ‘I love the people of Ghana and will love to visit again!’