|Oil painting of John Mensah Sarbah, Esq|
The Ghanaian Supreme Court in a historic case was attempting to shield itself from the glare of light both literal and metaphorical in the age of light(the cyberage). But really who can? The metaphorical case for letting in the cameras has been made already. The Supreme Court of Ghana is the people's court; owned by the citizens of this our Republic. Today it is not a complicated undertaking to beam sound and images live to our tv, phone and pc screens. It is just as well the Supreme Court saw reason and seized that rare historical moment. It risked to my mind eternal historical opprobrium if it had been indelicately obstinate about this; a far more politically charged and even volatile Kenya had allowed the cameras in and not imploded. This shame would have been Ghana's shame as well; the lode star of this great continent would have lost its way.
I had visited the Supreme Court once in my early twenties. There was no case in session. It was a visit driven by curiosity and a love of my country. I just wanted to see where all of those major cases which have tended to affect the very minutiae of our existence were heard and argued. Even in its quiet repose then shorn of any activity it had an overwhelming aura about it; a certain almost arrogant serenity that was at once infectious and repulsive. Here one remembers the intellectually razor sharp J.B. Danquah and his nephew Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo who is a very interested petitioner in the case at hand, And before them the pioneering role played by the incomparable John Mensah Sarbah(1854-1910)(the first Ghanaian barrister) for Ghanaian thought, independence, legal profession and jurisprudence. It must not be forgotten ever that it was the law in the hands of Sarbah and his enlightened logic which prevented the infamous Lands Bill of 1897 from becoming law. This invidious bill had sought by a clever artifice to vest under section 3 "all waste-land and all forest-land in the colony" " in the Crown for the use of the Government of the colony." Sarbah's response is worth quoting in full here:
I am specially instructed to say that this Lands Bill is an elaborate and expanded form of the Crown Lands Bill of 1894. That Bill refers only to what is termed waste land and forest land whereas this Bill refers to the whole land of this country, depriving the aborigines of their right in the soil of their land.(Azu-Crabbe,1971)
Sarbah had saved the Gold Coast and Ghana that great land question that other African countries are still grappling with today.
Again I cannot resist to quote the Gold Coast Leader on Sarbah in Azu-Crabbe(1971: 2)
As a lawyer of more than twenty years's standing, we know of no widows, or indigent and impotent folk whom he ever entrapped with ingenuity, cleverness and artfulness. He had no sordid commerce with the technicalities of the law or the sophisms of Pettifoggers. He has broken no hearts,wrecked no homes, nor raised himself upon the debris of lost reputations and crashed ambitions. He is no bland and subtle schemer, ready and eager to play upon the folly and ignorance of the unsophisticated bucolics and innocent clientele. He has forged his way ahead and built up a lucrative practice through honesty, sincerity and assiduity in the discharge of his responsibilities and obligations.(kindly note the delicacy of the diction in 1910 Gold Coast and cf with Ghana's papers today)
And so I saw like millions of my compatriots the innards of the Supreme Court. For most of our compatriots it was the first time on the historic 17th of April, 2013. At stake is the presidency and the legitimacy of the one holding today the instruments of ultimate state power. In times past in this our Republic bands of power thieves will conspire at night and steal power in the morning. We all cowered because this stolen power was propped by the shiny, treacherous bayoneted tips of guns. Today "stolen" power could be challenged in a civilized, solemn, cerebral way shorn of the barbarity of weapons.
The matte wooden panels reflected the lights in the court room on April the seventeenth. Some of the key lawyers in the full glare of these lights in this case had gone to the school that Sarbah had helped to found with his own money: Mfantsipim. Messrs Tsikata and Addison are products of Sarbah's selfless and exemplary patriotism to the country of his birth. The motto of the school Dwin Hwe Kan(Think and look ahead) was the progeny of his mind. He might have been talking to the supreme court judges a century later who will decide the case and all of us bona fide citizens of this our most beloved Republic. We wait.