Prof. Atukwei Okai: A life of rhyme and rhythm

BY: Amarkai Amarteifio

I called him Kordeitse Dientse (veritable father of Kordei, his eldest child).  I chose this poetic manner of acknowledging my dear departed friend, Professor Atukwei Okai, not only in keeping with the Ga culture of respect and courtesy in addressing a person by reference to his eldest child, but also in appreciation of the rhyme and rhythm in  as in Logoligi logarhythm. (A poem by Atukwei).

Like his poems, Prof. Okai’s life and personality was full of rhyme and rhythm. He was a patriot and lived a life of courage and fortitude devoid of any pretences. You always knew where you were with him.  He praised where praise was due. He also blamed where blame should be apportioned.

Much as he praised Dr Kwame Nkrumah for great feats at home and abroad, he blamed him for passing the law that ensured the rapid dissipation and alienation of lands in Accra without just cause. ACT 2, which was passed at the turn of Ghana’s independence, is the epitome of discrimination as it applies only to Accra. Prof. Okai, together with other people of like minds, organised a demonstration against this law.


Kordeitse Atukwei owed nobody an apology for being an Nkrumaist. Our debates on Nkrumah lasted forever. I am sure the next time I see him, we shall resume the debate about Nkrumah’s legacy and I will be reminded about Dr Nkrumah’s Educational Trust, but for which there would have been no Labone Secondary School as it stands now and without which some of us were guaranteed life on the beach.

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Till his death, Prof. Okai remained an undisputed icon in the literary world, particularly in Africa and the African diaspora. He was the secretary general of the Pan African Writers Association from the date of its foundation to the time of his passing.

Kordeitse Atukwei dedicated a great part of his life championing the cause of the Ga Dangbe people who face an uphill struggle for the survival of their culture, language and customs against alien influence and practices.

In 1897, the capital of the Gold Coast was moved from Cape Coast to Accra. The implication for the people who lived on very sparse land in this part of the country was obvious. The sacrifice  made by the people of Accra, particularly those of La, was devastating. Sodom and Gomorrah sprang up and became permanent features of Accra, while the indigenous slept in shifts.

Prof. Okai organised seminars and led campaigns that drew attention to the plight of Ga Dangbe, particularly where their lands were concerned. He made this campaign the centre of his entire life. He endured the humiliation of having hot water sprayed on him and other colleagues during a march to the Castle to present a petition in April 2006.

The success of his selfless campaign to save what is left of Ga Dangbe culture and values can be measured by the awareness that the Ga Dangbe Council, which he led with the Late K.B. Asante, has created among the youth who see the council as an important rallying point.

He loved

Kordeitse Atukwei loved his wife and children beyond measure. It was not uncommon to find them accompanying their father and husband to state functions. As for Mr & Mrs Okai, they truly lived “till death do us part”.

They were “Akpe k3 Mary”.

They were “Ojo k3 Mutuole”.

They were “Oko k3 Akwele (twins).

I recall a day at the prestigious Temple University in Philadelphia in May 2003. It was graduation day and the university banner was carried by none other than Klorkor Okai, a daughter of Atukwei. This honour is reserved for outstanding students. She graduated with Magna Cum, Laude, while her friend, also from the Wesley Girls High School, Amerley, graduated with Suma Cum Laude.

The two proud fathers had almost concluded that the greatest thing that happened to education in Ghana was WeyGeyHey, when a polite intervention by a lady sitting next to them reminded them of the proverbial Aburi Girls’ School Class of 1961. The conversation was adjourned sine die.

Not much credit has been given to Prof. Okai for the legal recognition of Greater Accra as a region.

Until August 1982, Greater Accra was only a de facto region. In law (De jure), it was part of the Eastern Region. It was Prof. Okai who pushed the agenda with the support of Nii Amugi, the late Ga Mantse, Nii Anyetei Kwakwranya, La Mantse, Nii Odai Ayiku, Nii Kojo Ababio, Mr Harry Sawyerr, Mr C.B Faryorsey among others.

I took over as Provisional National Defence Counsil (PNDC) Secretary (Minister) for Greater Accra from Kordeitse when much of the work had been done and Chairman Rawlings had agreed to the new status of Greater Accra. Yes, the new region was inaugurated by Chairman Rawlings under my watch but a lot of the credit goes to Prof. Okai.

He never lost sight of where he came from and took pride in his origins and culture. He will forever be remembered for his love of his ancestry, for the love of Ghana and Africa and his work to project same. 

He spoke his mind freely and frankly. He was aided in such exercise by a wonderful sense of humour which enabled him to speak the truth with little or no offence to those who cared to hear or read his views.

“Those who no know go know” was his favourite prelude to a conversation.

Prof. Okai, you lived your tall stature.

You lived a life of ryhme and rhythm. You will never be forgotten.

Kordeitse Dientse, Ayekoo,

Wo Djogbann.    


The writer is a lawyer