Just 24 years and 184 days old, the officer with the starting rank within the command corps of the Ghana Army was not just to arrest one of the nation’s most senior soldiers, he was to arrest the Head of State!
Looking back at events that unfolded 49 years ago, the only surviving member of the trio of officers who led the abortive 1967 coup d’etat is calling on government to designate the Castle as a tourist site.
Giving the background to his encounter with Gen. Ankrah, Lt Osei Poku says he was based in Ho as an officer with the Bravo Recce Squadron.
On Sunday, April 16, 1967 at about 11 p.m. the acting Commanding Officer of the squadron, Lieutenant Samuel Benjamin Arthur, ordered the movement of the entire squadron of three officers and 120 men to Accra.
He explained that they were to join other troops to overthrow the government of the National Liberation Council.
On arriving at the Castle at about 4.00 a.m., Lt Osei Poku says his men overpowered the guards on duty who though outnumbered them, could not stand their superior fire power.
Inside the Castle, Lt Gen. Ankrah who had apparently become aware of a coup attempt, dressed up fully as a General and came out without holding any weapon.
“Submit yourself for arrest sir; I will do you no harm,” the second lieutenant recalls ordering his commander in chief.
Lt Osei Poku recalls that between the entrance to the Castle and the gate where he and his men were positioned, which he estimates to be roughly 20 metres, the General knelt down and pleaded for his life to be spared. Then, just as he was almost within their reach, he dashed through a small door and vanished.
The lieutenant says some shots were directed at the door but he ordered his men to hold on and wait till about 6.00 a.m. when he decided to investigate.
It was then he and his men discovered to their amazement that the door shielded a tunnel that led to the sea and that General Ankrah had swam in his full attire to safety.
Lt Osei Poku insists that the tunnel which saved the life of a Head of State must be shown to the public as part of historical education.
He argues that since the airport, where General Kotoka died, is recognised today, there is the likelihood that the Castle would have been recognised as the place of death of a sitting Head of State if General Ankrah had died.
“So why can’t we recognise the tunnel which facilitated his escape and eventually brought an end to a coup attempt?”
Though the Castle is no longer the office of the President, it is still being used as part of the Presidency. Lt Osei Poku does not think opening part of the place to public view will disturb any official work there.
He surrendered to two officers he had great respect for: Lieutenant-Colonel George Bernasko who was his fellow old boy from Adisadel College, and Captain Joe Kumi who was his training instructor at the Military Academy, at about 10.00 p.m.
Second-Lieutenant Osei Poku was tried and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. Lt Yeboah, who killed General Kotoka, and Lt Arthur, who killed one Captain Avevor of the Alpha Recce squadron, were both sentenced to death and executed by firing squad.
Lt Osei Poku was granted pardon by Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, the Head of State and Chairman of the National Redemption Council on July 10, 1973, having served six years and 84 days in prison.
An attemp to establish whether the tunnel has not been sealed turned out negative owing to national security.