On May 10, 1936, the ‘African Morning Post’, a newspaper owned by the Ada-born Gold Coast millionaire and media mogul, Alfred J. Ocansey and edited by the celebrated radical Nigerian nationalists, politician and later first President of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik, who was based in Ghana then), hit town with a controversially catchy and powerful article, “Has the African a God?”
The British Colonial Administration which had passed a Sedition Bill to deal with notorious anti-colonial elements like Nnamdi Azikiwe, I.T. Wallace-Johnson and their controversial and radical fire-eating nationalist-poiltician, Augustus William Kojo Thompson considered the article seditious. So on May 14, 1936, the Head of CID and three others stormed the editorial office of ‘African Morning Post’ and whisked the editor (Nnamdi Azikiwe) away to the Police headquarters and charged him with sedition.
The case was heard at the court and was charged £50.00 or three months imprisonment. The paper`s money-bag owner, A.J Ocansey paid the money and an appeal was lodged with West African Court of Appeal (WACA) which met later that year. The first ground of appeal was that the evidence on record did not support the verdict.
On hearing day, Frans Dove, one of the best Gold Coast lawyers with Sierra Leonean ancestry and the counsel for Azikiwe, appeared before the court. The colonial administration (Crown) was represented by the Attorney-General, Solicitor-General, and two Crown Counsel. They entered the court with about 20 law books carried by four ushers. The court room was filled to the brim with crowd in expectation of mighty legal battle. It was a battle of wits and legal knowledge between the white imperialist British colonial government and a Black African legal brain with Sierra Leonean blood to save or imprison and deport a Nigerian.
When the presiding judge called the case, Frans Dove got up and said: My Lords, in dealing with the first ground of appeal I would like to state that although the appellant admitted on 14 May that he was the editor of the ‘African Morning Post’ there is no evidence on record that he was the editor of that paper on that material date, May 10, the day the article was published”.
At once the three judges began to examine the records. Immediately, the Attorney-General got up to speak but the President of the Court cut him short and said: “Mr. Blackmore, there is nothing you can say to help the Court, the appeal is allowed.” Within five minutes the case was over for the Crown. It was such a major setback to the colonial administration that the Governor, Shenton Thomas in anger immediately ordered his A-G (Mr. Blackmore) to go on leave with immediate effect to England and never report back to Gold Coast.
The Sedition Bill later died a natural death, and the Government was so humiliated by the outcome of the case so much that the judgement (ruling of the case) was never recorded in the Annual Law Report as constitutional procedure demands.
One day when I am free, I shall post the full article, “Has the African a God?” Serious article!!
Kweku Darko Ankrah