At the Black Star Square in Accra on 1st October, 1969
Members of the Presidential Commission, Your Excellencies, Heads of Delegation, Mr. Speaker, My Lord Chief Justice, Honourable Ministers, Nana, President of the National House of Chiefs, Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners, Nananom, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to begin by extending to all our distinguished guests from our own Continent of Africa and from all the other great continents of the world a hearty welcome on behalf of the Government and people of Ghana. Your presence here bears testimony to the global significance of what we are doing here today.
When the hand of Providence makes us participants in great and historic events, we find ourselves too close to them, or too engrossed in them to realize their full significance. It is only given to those who in the hindsight of history can see such events in a larger perspective to appraise them fully. Nevertheless, even we who are actors in what we do here today cannot fail to grasp something of its transcendent import.
It is a universal need of human societies to have rulers to direct their affairs. The rulers cannot accomplish what is expected of them unless they are invested and entrusted with adequate power. Our own recent history has taught us that the sweet heady wine of power is apt to besot and turn rulers into oppressive tyrants. We needed the combined operations of our Armed Forces and the Police to free us from the oppressive and corrupt regime we had helped to establish in our country. For their supreme courage and self-sacrifice we owe them a debt of gratitude which neither words nor material rewards can adequately repay. Such deeds of heroism belong to the immortal heritage of man.
On this splendid occasion, 1 can only say to you, our esteemed compatriots of the National Liberation Council, and all in our Armed Forces and the Police Service, very simply, but most sincerely, "thank you". This represents the measureless, inexpressible thanks of a grateful nation.
While we say thank you to the living who can hear us, we cannot fail to recall to memory those who died on 24th February, 1966, and on the 17th April, 1967. We recall the late Lt.-Gen. Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka and all the gallant officers and men who gave their lives to regain for us our lost freedom. The manner of their death has for ever hallowed and immortalised them in the nation's memory. They will be gratefully remembered as long as this nation endures.
1 believe that an equally memorable and noble deed, also worthy of our admiration and gratitude has just been symbolized here. It is a unique and noteworthy event that men who have seized power, and who have the means and the ability to continue to wield it, should not only voluntarily decide to surrender it, but should also supervise orderly, free and scrupulously fair elections, for the people to choose those to whom the power should be transferred. By any standard, this is an example of dignity and nobility at its best, and we are proud to be able to show the world that we have fellow citizens who can rise to such heights of grandeur. Esteemed compatriots of the National Liberation Council, we salute you; we pay homage to your dignity and nobility.
You have handed to me, as a symbol of the transfer of power from you to a democratically-elected civilian government, our new Constitution. It is a Constitution which seeks to place the exercise of power under restraint. It is the fruit of our recent experience. It bears the marks of our scars, our fears and our aspirations. Its underlying philosophy is that no man, or group of men, is virtuous enough to hold power without checks. My colleagues and I to whom the nation has freely entrusted that power accept the philosophy which underlies our Constitution. We are conscious of our fallibility as human beings, and we recognise the need to establish and develop institutions which help to tame the unbridled exercise of power. We shall endeavour to uphold the ideals of freedom and justice enshrined in our Constitution.
Power is good or evil according to the vision that it serves. Our vision is that of a democratic welfare society in which everyone is his brother's keeper.
We consider that an important function of the democracy we will endeavour to establish here in our country will be to enlarge our sympathies one for the other, and make our souls more roomy so that our loyalties to our families, tribes, political parties do not divide us as a nation, but rather provide the foundation for the extension of the brotherhood of family or tribe to the wider brotherhood of the nation.
Indeed our vision extends to an even wider brotherhood— the brotherhood of all nations and peoples. Human life cannot reach its highest level except in a world in which the barriers to friendship and brotherhood have been broken. We derive inspiration from the faith that all nations and peoples, in spite of cultural and historical differences, can dwell together in amity.
The interpretation we shall put on the doctrine of political neutrality which will govern our policies, is that in every given situation, we reserve the right to make our own judgments, and come to our own decisions. Our first consideration must always be our own country whose interests we must, as its Government, put above all others.
Let it not be thought by anyone that we shall be tied to the apron strings of any country, whether East or West. But we cannot run away from the facts of history. It would be unconvincing pretence not to acknowledge the fact that at this moment of history we share more common interests with some countries than with others. These compel us to endeavour to forge the closest links with our brothers in Africa, particularly with our neighbours with whom we share common boundaries. While we acknowledge this, we also recognise that we need to establish friendly relations with all countries in furtherance of our economic development and progress generally. We shall strive in all sincerity to extend and deepen our relations with other nations and peoples, and so make our contribution, however small it may be, towards world peace and brotherhood.
I must not end without emphasising our basic tenet. It is this: our yearning concern for every individual citizen. We regard politics as an avenue of service to our fellow men. We hold that political power is to be exercised to make life nobler and happier for those who entrust it to us. We think the yardstick by which our success or failure should be judged must be the condition of the human being himself. We must judge our progress by the quality of the individual, by his knowledge, his skills, his behaviour as a member of society, the standards of living he is able to enjoy and by the degree of co-operation, harmony and brotherliness in our community life as a nation.
The roads we seek to build, the efforts we shall make to increase productivity in shop, farm, office, or factory, the water or electricity we wish to convey to the home, the health posts or hospitals or houses we shall endeavour to provide, are all, as we see them, aids necessary to achieve progress in individual and social life. Our goal is to enable every man and woman in our country to live a life of dignity in freedom.
Let me end by drawing attention to yet one more notable achievement of the National Liberation Council. On 24th February, 1966, when the National Liberation Council seized power, there were 1,377 political prisoners in our prisons. The National Liberation Council took 1,850 into protective custody. Today, they hand over power to a civilian regime without a single political prisoner in our prisons. It is a challenging record which we must strive to maintain. With such a record, it will not come as a surprise that one of the last legislative acts of the National Liberation Council is a decree signed yesterday, 30th September, granting general amnesty to prisoners. The sentences of all prisoners who are serving terms of imprisonment of 3 years or more are remitted, in each case, to the extent of half the sentence. The remission of sentences does not, however, apply to certain named categories such as persons convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for offences like murder, or robbery, or rioting with weapons.
Persons sentenced to death will now serve life imprisonment; prisoners under life imprisonment who have not served 10 years or more are granted a remission of that part of their sentence exceeding 10 years; and those serving a sentence of life imprisonment who have already served 10 years or more are granted a remission of the remainder of the sentence. This final act of clemency is part of the sweet swan-song of the National Liberation Council.
Fellow countrymen, a great, prosperous and democratic nation is built by the co-operative efforts of all citizens. May God who holds the whole world in His hands sustain us as we strive towards the realisation of our vision of national as well as world brotherhood. We have before us the great and challenging adventure of building for our age and for posterity a worthy heritage. Let us, all of us, resolve to dedicate our talents and our lives to the service of others; let us in that spirit salute the birth of the Second Republic of Ghana.
Long Live Ghana.