On Dec. 11, 1963: Nkrumah fires Chief Justice Sir Arku Korsah, after court acquits Kulungugu bombing suspects

When, on December 11, 1963, the Chief Justice Sir Arku Korsah announced a verdict of Not Guilty, it came as a bombshell to Nkrumah. He swiftly over-reacted. Two days after the verdict, he dismissed the Chief Justice, and rushed a bill through the Assembly which gave the President the power, in the national interest, to set aside any judgement in the country’s courts. This rapid demolition of the independence of the judiciary did more than anything else to convince the world that Nkrumah had embarked on a course leading to dictatorship. Protests flooded in from Britain and America, and even Nkrumah’s most loyal supporters grew alarmed. C. L. R. James, who in 1962 had publicly thanked Nkrumah for being the greatest leader in the emancipation of Africa, now chided him publicly and privately. James had previously warned him to investigate the reasons why people wanted to kill him and, very shrewdly, had asked if the people around him were telling him the truth. Now, in an anguished appeal James said ‘You cannot dismiss your Chief Justice. . . You must go and make a public apology.’ He concluded by saying that if the Chief Justice was dismissed ‘You dismiss all of us’. This action further sullied Nkrumah’s reputation both at home and abroad. His foreign policy had alienated all his neighbors and had created an atmosphere of serious international tension; at home the shortcomings of the party, of the government, and of the security services had alienated most of the Ghanaian people. Basil Davidson, a sympathetic commentator, spoke of ‘the offensive ballyhoo of the Nkrumah cult’.Others have spoken of the atmosphere of terror. Students who applied for visas to visit Britain were told that if they spoke one word of criticism while they were abroad they would go straight to Nsawam prison when they returned to Ghana. A proposal had been made at the CPP Conference at Kumasi in 1962, just before Kulungugu, that Ghana should become a one-party state. The proposal was enthusiastically endorsed in the emotional aftermath of Kulungugu. The referendum on the one-party state held in January 1964 illustrated how little Nkrumah was able to control his local party members. The CPP claimed a 99 per cent vote in favor, but reports showed that the votes were shamelessly rigged. In some areas the ‘No’ votes were simply emptied into the ‘Yes’ boxes. In others the ‘No’ boxes were sealed to prevent any votes going in, or party stalwarts threatened anyone voting ‘No’. In the whole of Ashanti not a single ‘No’ vote was recorded. These figures convinced no-one, but they showed how more and more power was being concentrated in the hands of Nkrumah, and how completely the opposition was being eliminated. The referendum and its obviously false figures reinforced the criticisms Nkrumah had received over the sacking of Sir Arku Korsah.