This is a wonderful day in the life of this great institution. So much of the modern history of our country is bound up in the history of this place, and it is appropriate that we celebrate, in a grand style, the 90th anniversary of its birth.
I did not attend this school, but I have strong links with this most famous of schools in our country.
My maternal grandfather, Nana Ofori-Atta I, the illustrious Okyenhene, the redoubtable Kojo Dua, was one of the main sponsors of the Achimota project, and it would not have been surprising if his name had found a place in those recognised as the founders. Aggrey-Fraser-Guggisberg-Ofori-Atta would probably not have been out of place. But I have no intention of starting an argument along those lines on a day like this.
My Achimota connection is strong. My father, Edward Akufo-Addo, was one of the pioneer students of the school and became the first senior prefect. My aunt, Susan Ofori-Atta, the first female Ghanaian doctor, came to this school and became the head girl. My uncle, William Ofori-Atta, the celebrated Paa Willie, also came here and became senior prefect during his time. My mother, Adeline, Yeboakua, came to this school and became games prefect. Several other uncles and aunts, Aaron (Kofi Asante), Kuntunkunku (Teacher Joe), Grace and Jones, also attended Achimota School. And oh, my brother, Edward, abandoned Marlborough in England after his O’ Levels, and came here for his sixth form. Achimota has remained the school of choice for both sides of my family, including the latest Finance Minister of our country, the flavour of the moment, Ken Ofori-Atta. The lady who runs my office, Saratu Atta, is also an Achimotan. My wife, Rebecca, too, has an Achimotan connection, as she came to primary school here.
To provide an answer to the question that has been asked about why I did not come here, shall we say that I was at a school that was equally exciting, which did an excellent job, I hope, in giving me an education that has prepared me for life and all its vicissitudes. I must confess, though, that I used to visit this school a lot in my youth, since I had many friends, male and female, here. This is what allows me to express my solidarity with you by wearing your cloth.
Achimota was started with a clear vision of training young Ghanaians for leadership roles. It was supposed to be an unashamedly elite school. And I use the word elite here not in the pejorative sense of our times.
More than ninety years ago, Governor Guggisberg had a dream of establishing a school in the then Gold Coast that would match the standard of the best high schools in America and Europe. His vision was to create an institution that would produce quality students who would be nurtured further at the tertiary level to mature as quality human resource for the rapid development of the nation. His ultimate aim, to quote him, in a passage that is often cited, was also to ‘bridge the intellectual gap between the African who had completed his education at an English university and that of the semi-educated African of our primary schools’.
In many ways, Achimota has fulfilled its promise. We have heard the roll-call of presidents, 4½ of the 8 civilian presidents, I say half because my predecessor was at primary school here; vice chancellors and other high level officials who have been through this school. You have produced presidents and prime ministers, not only for Ghana, but for other African countries, and you have a reputation that is unmatched.
As we all know, Achimotans are heads of states, first ladies, prominent politicians, doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, bankers, scholars, inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, judges, musicians, merchants, teachers, farmers, authors, playwrights, architects, actors, models, bankers, businessmen, traditional rulers, senior military officers, diplomats, media practitioners, revolutionaries and clergymen. You are leaders in all sectors of our country and I congratulate you.
Your Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I suspect it is becoming clear to all that this President that we have elected wants us all to be frank with each other. I have gone on record to say that I do not want to be told what people think I want to hear. I take it that those who invite me to events also want me to be equally frank with them.
I believe it is good for our national health that we all engage in some plain talking, and even question things we have always taken for granted.
Ladies and gentlemen, I might not be an Akora myself, but I believe I have laid the grounds that qualify me to speak as part of the family. Let me provide you with even more evidence of my qualification to be part of the family.
Back in 1929, my granduncle, that Ghanaian colossus, Joseph Boakye Danquah, wrote in what he called An Epistle to the Educated Youngman in Akyem Abuakwa, and I quote him:
“…perhaps in the whole of tropical Africa, there is not a finer institution than Achimota. The product of the Achimota ideal will be the finest educational product anywhere in Africa. If you want the best of your children provided for, you cannot do better than seek entrance for them now at Achimota. If we in Akyem Abuakwaland fail to send our children to this institution we shall have consciously deprived ourselves of some of the highest advantages of enlightened progress…”
Since Achimota and Achimotans lay claim to being the undisputed rulers of Ghana and as your school song says, you prepare people to rule, shall we accept responsibility, then, for the state of affairs in our country? Is it worth our while to ponder where we went wrong? Should we ask why with leaders, like you, we are where we are? Why is it that 60 years after our independence, so many of our compatriots are still so poor and the state of our infrastructure is still so abysmal? Do such questions come up when you are preparing people to go and rule? Is the Achimota, that we have today, what was envisaged and what the Susan Ofori-Attas attended?
I think these are legitimate questions that we should think about, and, hopefully, find some answers.
Could it be that the school that many of the Akoras of old knew is not the school that we have today?
Young people used to spend a minimum of five years in Achimota and other secondary schools, quite a number of them spent seven years here in Achimota. There was time and room to mould young lives and influence behaviour of those who passed through the schools. Achimota was probably the best example of a school that recognized that education went beyond the passing of exams.
Sporting activities played an important part of school life. Achimota school’s playing fields were famous; many athletes emerged from this school; competitive cricket and hockey teams were part of the Achimota legend; children learnt to swim and the basics of gardening. Arts and craft and music were not limited to only children who wanted to offer them as examination subjects. There was room for carpentry and pottery, and there was room for theatre.
Accra used to look forward to the annual production of famous operettas by Achimota School. I remember when the school would stage Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. I wonder when the last time was that anybody here thought of staging the MIKADO?
No one can suggest that the school we have today is anything like that same school of old. Now that the children only spend two and a half years in the school instead of five or seven years, it is not surprising that the extra curricula activities have largely disappeared and the emphasis is on passing exams.
These are uncomfortable things to talk about, but they are unavoidable ones that should be discussed, and these discussions are best done among friends. It cannot be right that sixty years after independence, Ghana, our beloved country, (that is a quote!) should be in its current state. But I do not want us simply to moan about our present conditions. I urge you to lend your wholehearted support to this government and the efforts we have just began to make to build a happy and prosperous nation. Hard work and a consistent fight against corruption in public life would bring the transformation we look for. Make your presence felt by setting the example of hard work and incorruptibility. After all, you are the leaders everywhere and your example should make a difference.
Obviously the conditions in 1927 were different from the 2017 state of affairs in our country, and we should not expect the Achimota of today to be the same as the one attended by our hosts, the class of 1966/67. We should build on what we have and constantly improve our institutions, but it is also important that we try to maintain the characteristics that gave places, like Achimota, the winning formula.
Today, we have a student population of over three thousand; this would have been unimaginable when some old students were here. This situation comes with a different set of difficulties that the teachers and students have to deal with.
One of the admirable features of Achimota school is the strength of the old students association. I congratulate all of you that you continue to take such an active interest in your school and come to the aid of the school when needed. I pray that other old student groups take some lessons from you in helping their old schools.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a sad, but well-known fact now, that Achimota school lands have been the subject of concerted encroachment. I have heard the president of the 1966/67 year group and I have heard the headmistress.
This is not a new problem and I am sure the majority of Ghanaians are horrified at the thought of this national icon being destroyed. Achimota school does not belong to only those who have been to school here. The safety and security of Achimota should not and cannot be the responsibility of only those who go to school here or are old students.
Achimota is a national icon, it belongs to the people of Ghana, and the conversation about what happens to Achimota cannot be limited to a discussion within these walls.
The truth is that many of the problems here are replicated all over the country. Other schools have lost lands not on the dramatic scale of Achimota, but what little they have lost means they no longer have a playing field, and the consequences are equally grave. The problem of encroachment of school lands as a whole will receive urgent attention from my government, not only attention, but, even more importantly, a satisfactory solution.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is not a secret that the Akufo-Addo administration has a lot of high profile old Achimotans amongst its ranks; they will doubtless make sure the issue receives attention and resolution. I understand there is a scheme to build a perimeter wall around the boundaries of Achimota. I am able to say that this government will help the OAA with the project.
Dear Headmistress, I am here with the Minister for Education and he is an inveterate note taker. I think he must have heard your passionate appeal for the 18-Unit classroom block. Let us leave that request in the capable hands of the Honourable Minister. I expect him to act on it promptly, even if, like me, he is not an Akora. Together with him, I will revert to the issue of autonomy shortly.
To you, the current students of Achimota School, I dare say you have a lot to try to live up to. You live, though, in more interesting times than your predecessors. Technology has made life much easier. You might have come from Axim or Gambaga or Keta, but you can call home every day, if you so choose. Your predecessors had to wait for the postman to bring the letter to get any news from home.
Seize the opportunities that Achimota offers and the many advantages that come from having such a wide range of powerful predecessors in all sectors of our society, and shine.
Ladies and gentlemen, on the subject of Gambaga to Accra, and what that signifies in Achimota, I pray that the school never loses the theme of unity on which it was founded. A deliberate attempt was made to take in children from all parts of the country, Axim to Keta, and from all backgrounds, rich or poor. This school became a microcosm of Ghana. If proof were ever needed that there is strength in unity, Achimota provided it. The lesson is clear. A united Ghana will be a successful Ghana.
To the staff of the school, I say thank you for keeping up the spirit of Achimota.
I congratulate our hosts, the Akoras of the 1966/67 year group. I know it feels like only yesterday when you left this school, but this is your golden jubilee. Thank you for all the help you have given the school and this country in your individual capacities and as a group.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the potential of our nation is great. A functioning Ghana can make a unique contribution to the growth of African and World civilisation. I am deeply persuaded that we have it in us to be, indeed, the beacon of Africa and the light of the world. Let us all rise to that challenge, and make the Black Star sparkle. We can do it.
Once again, let me offer you all the warmest congratulations on your 90th anniversary. I wish you well, and more successes in the years and decades ahead.
Thank you, God bless you and God bless our homeland Ghana.