As Ghana entered 1964, at about 1.15 pm on Thursday, January 2nd, President Nkrumah of Ghana left his office at Flagstaff House to return to Christiansborg Castle for lunch. As he moved towards his car, across the courtyard, he was accompanied by two security guards – one Salifu Dagarti, a veteran British-trained police professional, the other an amateur provided by the President’s own party, CPP. A rifle shot rang out. It had been fired from behind some sort of cover – perhaps about 50 yards away – by Constable Ametewee, one of the policemen on guard at Flagstaff House who had been transferred for duty there only a day or two previously. The driver of the President’s car immediately disappeared. The CPP security guard hid for his life behind the car. The President and Salifu dived for cover.
Salifu got up to see what was going on and was instantly shot through the head. Two more shots were fired. One or both of them ripped through the President’s shirt but were apparently deflected by his bullet-proof vest.
Constable Ametewee then attempted to fire his fifth and last round, but the bullet was accidentally ejected. The President, perhaps seeing what had happened, got up and ran. The distance he covered was considerable. And, as he ran, he shouted for help. A number of armed policemen apparently watched with interest to see how the incident would end but did not move.
Senior officials similarly watched from the windows of nearby offices, one of them confining himself to the single comment: ‘They’ve bungled it again’.
As the President approached the kitchen of Flagstaff House, the Constable caught up with him and tried to club him with his rifle butt, but the rifle slipped from his hands. Inside the kitchen, the President and the Constable finally got to grips. The Constable bit the President’s cheek. The President kicked the Constable in the groin and the latter momentarily collapsed. At that stage, other policemen arrived on the scene and decided the time had come to intervene.
Constable Ametewee was quickly knocked out and left lying on the ground. The President, having changed his shirt and had his cheek dressed by a Russian doctor, had his photograph taken crouching over his assailant, as he might have done had he just overpowered him. He then left for the Castle, from which he has not since emerged.
From 1.45pm onwards, it was clear to any casual onlooker that something serious had happened at Flagstaff House around which a cordon of troops had been thrown. It was not till 4pm that a brief announcement was made on Ghana Radio to the effect that an unsuccessful attempt had been made on the President’s life, that he was unhurt and that the assailant was in custody. For over 12 hours, neither press nor radio had any further light to throw on the subject, although the same evening the Russian ambassador was already telling his diplomatic colleagues that the President had ‘overpowered his assailant’.
Salifu Dagarti was venerated as a national hero and given a state burial with full military honours. It was announced that his dependents were to be cared for by the state, going forward.
The most immediate practical effect of the attack, was that the personal protection of the President was taken completely out of the hands of the police and given to the Army. This meant in effect that the Presidential Guard (a battalion, trained and equipped by the Russians) took over, complete as opposed to partial guard duties at the Castle. But other units of the Army were also involved. Two battalions were put on alert and a Brigadier placed under the President’s direct command.
On 5th January, the commissioner of police, two deputy commissioners, six assistant commissioners and one superintendent – over half the higher command of the police force – were dismissed (the first of the ‘purges’) and the whole force began to be disarmed, their armories being taken over by the Army. The Police Force was put under the acting command of the former head of Special Branch – Assistant Commissioner John Har1ley.
As this dispatch issue, the present situation is that the President has still never (not even in the company of Chou en-Lai) publicly emerged from the Castle, where he is closely guarded by heavily armed troops and that the police force, having been stripped of their senior officers and arms, are disorganised and demoralised …
Inevitably, excesses of power and fear have brought with them over the years the attitudes and instruments of repression. It is, of course, true – and one of the mercies for which we must be truly thankful – that Dr Nkrumah does not like killing: he probably does not even like violence in any form. But he shows no compunction at all about locking people up in prison, if necessary without any charges and if necessary for years. It is the fear of the police coming in the night and removing the head of the household without any explanation to disappear into Preventive Detention for goodness knows how many years that is the most powerful instrument of intimidation in Ghana today.
It is not known how many people are in preventive detention in Ghana at present. No names or figures are ever published, but the number is certainly considerable. But, beyond that, hundreds more are taken away from time to time for ‘questioning’ and held incommunicado for weeks or months … There is still laughter and easy talk amongst this inherently happy people, but before they start their conversations, they now tend to take a good look over their shoulders to see who is listening.
Wherever and however it started, President Nkrumah has become entangled with communism to an extent that can no longer be written off as a mere flirtation. This is not to suggest that he is in any sense a ‘satellite’ of the Russians or the Chinese. He is an African first and Kwame Nkrumah above all.
There is little doubt he prefers the Russians: he probably admires their more flexible political approach and their great material advances … To some extent too the Russians seem to have got him under their influence. Their ambassador here is a most effective operator and spends much time with the President …
Though President Nkrumah appears to have largely lost the mass appeal which originally swept him to power, he still has a considerable personal magnetism, conveyed through bright eyes and an infectious smile, which can affect not only individuals but on occasions groups of people like Parliament. He often appears to agree with anyone who is talking to him – thus at least temporarily ingratiating himself – only to adopt or get others to adopt for him a totally different course later on.
Though he still, therefore, deludes the few with ‘charm’, he is, in fact, for this and other reasons a most dangerous man. He is exceptionally vain. He is spiteful, impatient of argument, and deceitful. He gives an impression at times of helplessness and weakness and of being pushed around by his advisers. Part of this is due to muddle in his own mind – he is not a good administrator and does not understand economics: part of it is undoubtedly a pose.
There is in fact an extraordinary consistency in some of his long term objectives, e.g African Unity and an exceptional ruthlessness in pursuing them. It is indeed really he who pushes others around playing one aspirant for influence off against the other. He lives now in a state of acute fear. President Kennedy’s death following his own escape at Kulungugu were bad enough.
But after the latest shooting, he is so frightened that, according to the most reliable sources, he dare not even take a walk in the gardens of Christiansborg Castle. But perhaps his most conspicuous characteristic is that he regards himself as what Hegel described as a world-historical individual’.
Though he passes it off with an easy and almost modest smile, he has become obsessed with a sense of destiny. In this respect, a doctor who has had an opportunity of observing him at close quarters for more than a week, has described him as a paranoiac.
In short, there is very little in the Nkrumah character of today either to attract or to offer hope for the future. Whatever he said to be like, he is now thoroughly corrupted by power.
Source: Culled from report to Foreign Secretary, Rt. Hon Duncan Sandys from the British High Commissioner in Accra.