The Vikings celebrate 50 years of Mensah Sarbah Hall

BY: Razak El-Alawa
Mensah Sarbah Hall

The Vikings, the name by which the students and alumni of Mensah Sarbah Hall are known, are in a jubilant mood, no doubt. They are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of their famous hall, with a series of activities lined up to mark the occasion.

The Golden Jubilee celebrations were expected to be flagged off last night with the finals of a quiz competition at the courtyard of a main hall. The celebrations will reach their climax on Friday, November 6, with a special public lecture by the redoubtable Prof. Agyemang Badu Akosa, a former Director-General of  the Ghana Health Service and a true and outstanding Viking. The topic for the lecture is: “The Spirit of Entrepreneurship” and it will be delivered at the Great Hall of the University of Ghana under the distinguished chairmanship of Osabarima Kwesi Atta, Omanhen of the Oguaa Traditional Area, from where came John Mensah Sarbah, after whom the hall was named.

The curtains will be brought down on the celebrations with a dinner dance,in a week’s time, on November 6, at the Mensah Sarbah Hall at 7:00p.m.

The hall actually opened in October, 1963 with 246 students. The first JCR President was Mr T. A. Annang, with Mr C.M.K Segbawu as the first JCR Secretary. Today, the student population is over 1,800.

However, Mensah Sarbah Hall was officially inaugurated on behalf of Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the President of the Republic and Chancellor of the University of Ghana by Mr Kojo Botsio, the Minister of Foreign Affairs on December 19, 1963, with Prof. E. A. Boateng, the renowned Geographer, assuming office as the first Master of the Hall, while Mr L. A. K. Quashie was appointed the first Senior Tutor.

Some characteristics

Mensah Sarbah Hall, the fifth hall of the university, stands on the southern part of the campus. It is one of the traditional halls, together with Legon, Akuafo, Commonwealth and Volta. The hall consists of a main hall built around a quadrangle and a number of annexes, standing to the north and east. The last two annexes are attached to the hall. Until October 1991, Mensah Sarbah was the only mixed hall of residence at the university.

The decision to name this hall of residence after John Mensah Sarbah was undoubtedly intended to honour this distinguished Ghanaian patriot, jurist and scholar, as well as to immortalise the ideals of knowledge, service and honour to which he so gallantly devoted his entire life. Those ideals, which have become the motto of the hall, are the greatest legacy John Mensah Sarbah left for future generations of Ghanaians.

John Mensah Sarbah was born on June 3, 1864 in Cape Coast in the Central Region. His parents were John and Sarah Sarbah. He was educated at the former Wesleyan Boys High School, Cape Coast and at Tounton School (now Queen’s College), England. He was admitted to the Lincoln’s Inn in 1884 and called to the Bar in 1887.

He was instrumental in founding what is now Mfantsipim School. Sarbah is perhaps remembered most for his indomitable leadership of the nationalist movement that successfully opposed the Lands Bill of 1897, a service he offered without asking for any reward.

This great Ghanaian also served in the colonial legislative council from 1901 till 1910 when he died at the early age of 46. It is worthy of note that Sarbah’s death occurred shortly after King George V of England had honoured him with the award of the Companionship of the Most Distinguished Order of St. George (CMG) on June 3, 1910, the first anniversary of the King’s enthronement which was also Sarbah’s 46th birthday.

Celebrations

Really, Mensah Sarbah Hall clocked 50 about two years ago (December 19, 2013) but the occasion coincided with the 65th anniversary of the University of Ghana (1948 – 2013) which had drawn up an elaborate programme of activities for the anniversary.

That was what stopped Mensah Sarbah Hall from also marking its birthday, its Golden Jubilee, at that time. However, as the saying goes, it is better late than never.

The Vikings must, therefore, rise and mark this important milestone in the history of their hall with all the pomp and circumstance the occasion deserves. They must never sit on the fence and allow this great moment to pass them by. Mensah Sarbah is the only hall they have and can boast of. Vikings, where are you? Visit your hall next week and be part of history.

I write this piece, not as a Viking but as a friend of Mensah Sarbah Hall and as a member of the University of Ghana Alumni Council (UGAC), and for which reason I take interest in all that goes on at the university.

However, I cannot gloss over the strong bond of friendship and affinity that has existed between the Vandals of which I am proud to be one, and the Vikings during the past half century. A sizeable number of the 264 students with whom Mensah Sarbah Hall took off in 1963 came from Commonwealth Hall.

The story goes that students from the Commonwealth Hall were enticed with single rooms if they should decide to move to Mensah Sarbah Hall and change their allegiance.

At that time, a number of the Vandals were paired and, therefore, some accepted the offer to cross over to Mensah Sarbah and enjoy single rooms and start a new life in a virgin hall. 

Refugees and colonies

For some time, those who moved from the Commonwealth Hall to the new hall were called refugees. It is for this reason that when the Commonwealth Hall declared all the other traditional halls as colonies, the Vandals still gave Mensah Sarbah a dominion status. This I got to know from one of the Vandal historians and theoreticians, the incomparable I. K. Gyasi of T. I. Ahmadiyya fame.

Nana Akuoko Sarpong, the Omanhene of the Agogo Traditional Area, who was also a student at Commonwealth Hall at the time of the inauguration  of Mensah Sarbah Hall, has also given credence to this story. Nana refused to join the exodus because he already had a single room.

Among the refugees were Amponsah Dadzie, St. Oswald Gyimah Kessie (the present occupant of the silver stool of Asante Mampong under the stool name Daasebre Osei Bonsu II), whose representative I was in Commonwealth Hall when he gunned for the SRC presidency in 1968 / 69;  the late William Armateifio, Kwesi Botchway, the late Sawyerr, the late David Bediako Amoa, who taught at Prempeh College and Opoku Ware before heading the Ahantaman Secondary School, Takoradi; the late Fosuhene, a former headmaster of Suhum Secondary Technical School, A. K. Ansah former MD, GCB and Anthony Ansah.

I cannot conclude this piece without congratulating some of my very good Viking friends. I salute Mrs Stella Amoa, the Director of Public Affairs at the University of Ghana, with whom I have had some good rapport since her days as the Alumni Relations Officer and who serves on the board of my alma mater, WASS and who influenced this write-up.

I also salute her supportive husband, Baffour Amoa, a distinguished Viking, who used to run the Cross Country for his hall in his heyday, J. C. Mprah (present Krachiwura who was my mate at the History Department) and P. Owusu Donkor, two-time JCR president in the 60s and former headmaster of Opoku Ware.

My special felicitations also go to Kofi Dua Adonteng, with whom I serve on the UGAC, Lepowura M.N.D Jawula whom I have known since our Tamale days when he was Vice Chairman of RTU and who took me along to watch some Black Stars matches across the continent when he was GFA Boss, Ato Amoaning Annan, a journalism teacher with whom I shared so many memorable moments in Lagos in the 1980s / 90s, Ebo Quansah, the Editor of the Chronicle, Nana Amo Adade Boamah (Tom Sawyerr), who was in form one when I was in the Sixth Form at Great KOSS and was one of the young ones I mentored, and Justice Baffoe-Bonnie, whom I also taught at KOSS when he was in Form Two.

How can I forget some of the great Vikings such as the two who became Vice Chancellors of our great university, Prof. Addae Mensah and Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, whom I had the opportunity to teach when he came to Presec, Legon, for his Sixth Form; as well as  Ladi Nylander, Ken Amankwa, Nutifafa Kuenyehia and Nii Lantey Vanderpuye?

I can’t remember everybody, but I salute the current and 17th Hall Master, Mr Timothy E. Andoh, who grew up in Kumasi. Congratulations for all the projects your administration has initiated to make Mensah Sarbah Hall a showpiece in Legon.

I wish all Vikings very fruitful celebrations. May your illustrious hall continue to grow from strength to strength.