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Human Rights, Individual Freedoms and Democracy in Ghana- The Preventive Detention Act and After - The Preventive Detention Act

The Preventive Detention Act

The Preventive Detention Act was a pernicious piece of legislation which conferred unfettered power on Kwame Nkrumah, as Prime Minister and later President of Ghana, to order the arrest and imprisonment of any citizen without trial. The power was extensively and arbitrarily invoked by Nkrumah to imprison his political opponents. That was the way Nkrumah was able to muzzle all dissent and suppress opposition to his repressive regime. That eventually culminated in the constitutional imposition of a One-Party State and a One Man rule on the good people of Ghana. As may be deduced from his own words, this was a premeditated and planned programme of political repression by Nkrumah even before Ghana attained Independence.

The language of the Preventive Detention Act is significant. It is one of the products of the evil brain of Mr. Geoffrey Bing, Q.C., an Irishman whom Kwame Nkrumah chose as his Attorney-General at the time. It was provided in section 2(1) of the Preventive Detention Act that:

“The [President] may order the detention of any person who is a citizen of Ghana if satisfied that the order is necessary to prevent that person from acting in a manner prejudicial to

(a) the defence of Ghana;

(b) the relations of Ghana with other countries; or

(c) the security of the State.”

At the time of the passage of this law in 1958, the Governor-General of Ghana was Lord Listowel, who should have signed the Bill into law. Because the Earl did not want his name associated with such infamous legislation, he was by design absent from Ghana when the Bill was to be presented for Royal Assent. This was the pattern that Lord Listowel was to exhibit for the rest of the time that he was Governor-General. As Governor-General he was constitutionally bound to act on the advice of Kwame Nkrumah’s Government. In that situation he could not veto the Bill when approved by the Cabinet of Nkrumah. Rather than create a constitutional crisis by exercising a power of veto, in which Lord Listowel would lose, the astute Englishman was intentionally away in England whenever there was to be presented any Bill which he considered undemocratic or repressive.

On this occasion also Lord Listowel the Governor-General was away from Ghana. The Chief Justice, Sir Kobina Arku Korsah, became the acting Governor-General. As would happen in subsequent cases of obnoxious legislation, Sir Arku Korsah was well pleased to do the bidding of Nkrumah until he himself was eventually dismissed in disgrace. Sir Arku Korsah signed the Preventive Detention Bill to make it into an Act of Parliament. As usually happens to all who timidly ride on the back of the tiger, the same Preventive Detention Act was held in terrorem over Sir Arku Korsah when he was arbitrarily dismissed by Nkrumah from the high office of Chief Justice. Sir Arku knew that the Bill he had signed into law would be invoked by Nkrumah to send him to prison if he dared to protest his dismissal. It was left to others, particularly the National Union of Ghana Students, to protest against the dismissal of the Chief Justice and other Justices of the Superior Courts. The whole country had otherwise been cowed into silence when the powers of Nkrumah descended on the courts to intimidate them into submission.

Initially the Preventive Detention Act provided for a maximum of imprisonment for five years without trial. Like all dictators, Nkrumah considered that to be long enough to silence the opposition and independent dissident voices. As the five years approached its end for those initially detained in 1958, Nkrumah realised that the nefarious objectives of the Act could not be achieved. Therefore, Kwame Nkrumah amended the Preventive Detention Act by removing any limit on the length of imprisonment without trial. This was done by amending the Act to permit the President (that is Nkrumah) to extend the periods of detention as he thought fit.



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