Nana Sir Ofori Atta I (1881–1943) was the Okyenhene or King of Akyem Abuakwa, one of the largest and wealthiest kingdoms of the then Gold Coast Colony (now Ghana), from his election in 1912 until his death in 1943.
He was a striking personality and without doubt an outstanding African of his generation in Gold Coast. As one of the few educated chiefs in the then Gold Coast Nana`s stewardship both in his tribal affairs and in the general politics of the Colony was exceptional. He was at once a chief of his own people, the acknowledged leader of his brother chiefs in the Colony and the valued and trusted advisor of the Government. His conviction to support his fellow chiefs and strengthening of the position of chiefs in colonial government saw him colliding with the Gold Coast intelligentsia especially with celebrated J E Casely-Hayford and some members of the Aborigines Right Protection Society (ARPS).
As a result of this some historians attack him as an ambitious chief and a "colonialist stooge." However, his hardworking role in leading Gold coast Delegation including Dr Frederick Nanka-Bruce to petition British parliament in 1934 to force British Government to withdraw obnoxious laws and demand for official majority of Africans on the legislative council, permanent African representative on the Governor`s executive council and eligibility for non-chiefs to be as provincial members of the executive council proved that Nana indeed was not what his detractors perceived him to be.
Nana Sir Ofori Atta I (1881 - 1943, centre), Paramount Chief of the Gold Coast Colony, visits the Cadbury's chocolate factory, Bournville, Birmingham, 10th July 1928. (Photo by Crouch/Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Nana was an eminent authority on colonial land laws in the Legislative Council where he was first on the financial committee with Dr Frederick Nanka-Bruce. Nana Sir Ofori Atta`s often quoted statement on the customary concept of ownership of land in Ghana is: "I conceive that land belongs to a vast family of whom many are dead, a few are living and countless host are still unborn."
In 1927, Nana Ofori Atta was knighted or honored as a Knight of British Empire (KBE) for his hardworking role in government and service to the Gold Coast Colony, He was thereafter known as Nana Sir Ofori Atta or Sir Ofori Atta.
Nana Ofori Atta was born at Akyem Abuakwa as a royal in 1881. He was educated in Basel Mission schools and at its Akuapim-Akropong Seminary. After his successful completion of his Seminary education, he worked as a clerk, and then served in the West African Frontier Force, fighting during the Yaa Asantewaa War.
Nana was later elected as an Omanhene of Akyem Abuakwa in 1912, and he proceeded to became the second African member of the Legislative Council in 1916 to represent the Gold Coast, after George Kuntu Blankson. Nana used these privileged role as one of the few educated chief in the Colony to champion the cause of his people. He was the voice for his fellow chiefs and cahmpion their role as legitimate leaders that represent the people and not the educated class or the Gold Coast intelligentsia. As a historian F. M. Bourret succinctly summed it up in his book "Ghana, the Road to Independence, 1919-1957" Nana after becoming a member of the Legislative Council "was to make this goal of raising the position of chiefs and encouraging them to mutual cooperation the principal achievement of his political career, which did not end until his death his death in 1943."
Nana was also a very forceful voice of the Gold Coast farmers. He criticized the Colonial Government for cheating the cocoa farmers in the manner they use scales to weigh their cocoa. "The planters felt that they could sell more cocoa and at higher price if they took over shipment of the crops themselves. They worked through four prominent chief- Ofori Atta I of Akyem Abuakwa, Chief Tackie Obile of Accra, Ofori Kuma II of Akwapim, and Kwaku Boateng (grandfather of Baron, Lord Paul Boateng of Britain) of New Juaben who in 1918 chartered a boat for £20,000 for shipping cocoa from Accra to New York, France or Liverpool. This arrangement worked well until 1924. In that year, the planters and the chiefs entrusted the selling of a large consignment of cocoa in New York to an American called F. D. Stickler. Unfortunately this man swindled them of £350,000 after selling the the product. This brought their arrangement for shipping and marketing cocoa to an end." (See Francis Agbodeka "Ghana in the Twenthieth Century" page 94 or The Gold Coast Independent, August1, 1925).
Nana Ofori Atta was often suspicious of Gold Coast intelligentsia plotting to move Chiefs out of politics. He saw the intelligentsia as ratifying Bills that sought to curtail the role of chiefs and making room for the non-chiefs. Nana himself was also accused of ratifying Bills that favors the British and fighting against the interest of Gold Coast intelligentsia whom he saw as a threat to his power base. When Governor Frederick Guggisberg laid out the new constitution for the Gold Coast in May 1925, giving for the first time the right of the elected representation and still maintaining the large Provincial Council which constituted the Chiefs and appointees of the British government, the Gold Coast elites became very angry against the law whilst Nana Ofori Atta supported it. This created a serious friction between the intelligentsia and Nana Ofori Atta who believed in Governor Guggisberg words that the new constitution`s retaining of "Provincial Councils are really the breakwaters, defending our native constitutions, institutions, and customs against the disintegrating waves of Western civilization....." Dr James Kwegyir Aggrey who witnessed the bitterness which the new constitution has engendered between the chiefs and the intelligentsia (especially members of Aborigines Right Protection Society and British West African Congress) wrote in the spring of 1926 to his friend in America:
"The New Order in Council concerning the new Legislative Council had stirred up the hornets nest. Part of the people of the Eastern Province, especially the educated, are against it... The paramount Chiefs of the Eastern Province... including Nana Ofori Atta I and Konor Mate-Korle are heartily for it. The political atmosphere is charged!" (see Smith, Aggrey of Africa pp. 259-60)
But that was not often the case! In 1930 when the colonial government made several attempts to introduce local taxation, sound treasury systems, and more efficient courts, one urban lawyer and representative of the Legislative Council tried to block the bill. In his disgust Nana Ofori Atta said :"If i listen to these Barristers I often wonder what they really think of the chiefs. One day they will say to the chiefs "You are Almighty God," and the next day the chiefs would not be worthy of respect due to scavenger."
Nana Ofori Atta I sitting with his kra (soul/little boy) in from his him and his junior brother Dr J B Danquah standing (first from left), when Gold Coast/Akyem delegation visited England in 1940,s
When the Colonial government introduced obnoxious laws that restrict the inclusion of Africans in the Legislative Council, Nana put his differences with the Gold Coast educated elites aside and in 1934 led a Gold Coast Delegation that includes Dr Frederick Nanka Bruce and M K Korsah (later Sir Kobina Arku Korsah, the first African Chief Justice of Ghana), the municipal representatives for Accra and Cape Coast respectively as well as five representatives of Ashanti Province to London to petition the British Parliament to withdraw an unpopular Bills and also ask for general constitutional reforms. The petition which they presented to the secretary of state for the colonies in 1934 demanded for official majority of Africans on the legislative council, permanent African representative on the Governor`s executive council and eligibility for non-chiefs to be as provincial members of the executive council. Though Nana and his delegation`s demands were not met, however, it gave impetus for Aborigines right Protection Council to send its own delegation to UK to press home more demand will saw the obnoxious bills withdrawn and petition granted.
"Ofori Atta was the son of a senior official of the palace; his mother was the descendant of one of the founders of the kingdom.... Once in power, he was determined to return Akyem Abuakwa to its former glory. His approach to politics was a mix of educational modernism and aristocratic nepotism that gave as much importance to merit as it did to blood." He created a dynasty by privileging education both amongst his sons and daughters, through two paths, “one firmly rooted in a concern for binding the state by the traditionally sanctioned method of multiple marriage and the other rooted in his strong case for ‘modernisation’ and ‘progress’.”
Apart from Governor Gordon Guggisberg, Dr James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey and Fraser, Nana Ofori Atta can be said to have played a singularly instrumental role in the establishment of Achimota School or College (formerly Prince of Wales School), where most colonial Gold Coast leaders and current prominent Ghanaian leaders schooled.
Nana Ofori Atta I waved a final goodbye to the land of the living and journeyed to his ancestors in August 21, 1943. He left behind an intelligent educated class in his family and for mother Ghana.
Nana was the brother of Dr. J. B. Danquah (a founder of the United Gold Coast Convention), and the father of Aaron Ofori Atta (a Minister of Communications and Minister of Local Government), William Ofori Atta (a Minister of Foreign Affairs, Presidential Candidate of the UNC), Dr Akwasi Amoako-Atta (Governor of Bank of Ghana), Dr Jones Ofori-Atta (Deputy Minister of Finance), and Dr. Susannah Ofori Atta (the first female doctor in West Africa). He was the grandfather of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, Ghana's former Foreign Minister and Presidential Candidate of the NPP in 2008 and 2012.
Source Kweku Darko Ankrah (http://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.de/)