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EXPLAINER: Ghanaian court sentences six persons to death over 2019 coup plot

A Ghanaian court has convicted and sentenced six persons, including three military officers, to death by hanging after they were found guilty of a  coup plot to overthrow President Nana Akufo-Addo in 2019. The action by the men violated the Constitution of the West African country, which allows for a change of government only through the ballot in a public election. 

According to Article 3 (3) of the country’s 1992 Constitution, anyone who works alone or in concert with others to suspend, overthrow or abrogate the Constitution or aids or abets in the commission of coup d’état “commits the offence of high treason” and shall upon conviction be sentenced to suffer death.

The sentence handed by the High Court, made up of a three-member panel after a three-year trial, is the second treason trial in the history of the West African nation since it was declared an independent country on March 6, 1957. The first treason trial in Ghana reportedly occurred from Nov. 1963 to Dec. 1963 and was heard by a special court composed of Chief Justice Sir Arku Korsah.

After a 51-day trial in the case of the State versus Robert Benjamin Otchere and others, the three-persons court convicted two of the accused to be hanged and exonerated the three top officials who were charged with treason after Nkrumah was wounded in the shoulder by a bomb in an attempt on his life in August 1962, Time Magazine reported on Dec. 20, 1963

“Among the three (acquitted) were former Information Minister, Tawia Adamafio, 51, a leftwing, London-educated lawyer who had once been Nkrumah’s closest crony,” Time Magazine reported.

The court’s decision given on Jan. 24, 2024, has received wide media attention across the world as can be seen here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The facts of the case as presented to the Ghanaian court

Records available to the Ghanaian court have shown that sometime in June 2018, security agencies picked up intel regarding the operation of a group planning to topple the government of the day at a time when Ghanaians were gearing up for an election in 2020. Read page 4 of the judgment of the court here.

The men reportedly belonged to a non-profit group called Take Action Ghana (TAG), incorporated in August 2018 and whose unofficial mission statement, court’s records have revealed, was stated as being:

“An un-traditional civil revolutionary movement intending to galvanise and mobilise the masses in an unprecedented civil uprising that will force for a constitution, to shut the current government including Parliament and the executive branch at the Flagstaff House.”

Two alleged coup plotters were escorted out of the court’s premises in 2020. Photo credit: DailyGraphic

The accused persons  include the Chief Executive of Citadel Hospital at Alajo in Accra, Dr Frederick Mac-Palm, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Dr Benjamin Agordzo, army officer, Colonel Samuel Kodzo Gameli, a fleet manager, Bright Alan Debrah Ofosu, civilian employee of the Ghana Armed Forces, Johannes Zikpi, and a blacksmith, Donya Kafuo, aka Ezor.

The others were Corporal Seidu Abubakar, Lance Corporal Ali Solomon, Corporal Sylvester Akanpewon, and Warrant Officer II, Esther Saan Dekuwine, serving military officers in the country.

Further intel disclosed that some of the accused persons started organising meetings among themselves where issues such as the recruitment of additional soldiers, the acquisition of weapons and bulletproof gear, and the development of sketch maps of key and strategic installations and facilities of state to be attacked during the takeover were discussed, the court has revealed.

“They also discussed the procurement of electronic jamming devices and vehicles that would enable them to take over the National Communications Authority (NCA) and jam all radio stations except for the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), where they intended to broadcast their successful overthrow of the government from,” the court has said.

Some group members also discussed strategies to capture the country’s President and key members of his government. Also, they deliberated on what to do with President Nana Akufo-Addo when he was eventually arrested in the process, the facts as recounted to the Ghanaian court showed.

In furtherance of the coup plot, one of the accused persons, Dr Mac-Palm, contracted a local blacksmith from Alavanyo in the Volta Region of the country in the person of Donya Kafuo, aka Ezor, to manufacture explosives and pistols, court records have revealed.

The court established that the blacksmith agreed to charge the accomplices the sum of GHS2,300 for each pistol manufactured and GHS4,000 for each explosive made.

“The 1st accused [Dr Mac-Palm] then converted the x-ray laboratory of the Citadel Hospital into a manufacturing shop where the 2nd accused [blacksmith] mounted his tools and machines to manufacture the weapons,” the court’s record has said.

Court’s documents revealed that it was when two of the nine accused persons standing trial, namely Dr Mac-Palm and the blacksmith in the company of a witness, went to test fire the locally manufactured pistols at the Teshie military shooting range in Accra on Sept. 29, 2019, that they were arrested by an army patrol team on duty. 

Following a search conducted in the premises of the Citadel Hospital, a medical facility owned by one of the accused, Dr Mac-Palm, security personnel recovered six unregistered pistols, one registered pistol, 22 explosives, three grenades, 63 rounds of ammunition, two empty AK47 magazines and other machines used in manufacturing weapons, court’s records have shown.

The accused persons were arraigned before the Ghanaian High Court on April 24, 2021, according to a warrant issued by the country’s Chief Justice empanelling the judges who heard the case, records available at the court’s registry have revealed.

One of the accused persons, Dr Mac-Palm, died in the course of the trial, leading to the official discharge of his lawyers by the High Court composed of a three-member panel made up of Justice Afia Serwah Asare-Botwe, Justice Hafisata Amaleboba, and Justice Stephen Oppong, all three of the country’s Court of Appeal sitting as additional High Court judges.

Response from the accused

State newspaper, the Ghanaian Times, reported on Jan. 19, 2023, that ACP Dr Agordzo and Colonel Gameli pleaded not guilty to abetment of high treason, while the seven others pleaded not guilty to high treason and conspiracy to commit high treason.

The blacksmith, Donya Kafuo, aka Ezor, denied the arms he manufactured were lethal before the court. He told the court the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were stuffed only with gunpowder and were intended to be used for funeral musketry, court records have revealed.

In his defence, Bright Alan Debrah Ofosu denied playing any role in the attempt to overthrow President Nana Akufo-Addo’s government. He told the court the allegation that he was planning with the others to overthrow the government was “unfounded.” 

According to court records, Mr Ofosu claimed the blacksmith was brought in to repair some faulty arms for them, which was for their protection during their medical outreaches across the country. 

He explained to the court that the state of their security in places like  Wa in the Upper West Region of Ghana encouraged them to contact an expert to help them procure pistols for their safety during their outreach programmes.

He later added that his voice in some videos recorded and produced to the court was doctored to further the plot to implicate him in the coup allegations, records available at the court’s registry have revealed.

The other accused persons also denied playing any role in unseating the democratically elected government of President Nana Akufo-Addo despite evidence to the contrary, the High Court has said.

The law on high treason in Ghana

The offence of high treason is a creation of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution to prevent people from using unlawful means to change the government of the day.

Article 3(3) of the West African Constitution provides that,

“Any person who –

  1. By himself or in concert with others by any violent or other unlawful means, suspends or overthrows or abrogates this Constitution or any part of it, or attempts to do any such act; or
  2. Aids and abets in any manner any person referred to in paragraph (a) of this clause;

Commits the offence of high treason and shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to suffer death.”

Data has shown that between 1961 and 1985, the West African nation has experienced a total of 17 coup incidents (five successful coups, five attempted coups, and seven documented conspiracies) since the overthrow of the government of President Kwame Nkrumah on Feb. 24, 1966.

A former Ghanaian leader and the first President of the 4th Republic of Ghana, Flt Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, a man who rose to power and fame through the barrel of a gun, reportedly fended off three coup attempts and four conspiracies.

In view of this history, Article 3(4) of the country’s 1992 Constitution has clothed Ghanaians with the “right and duty at all times” –

  1. to defend this Constitution, and in particular, to resist any person or group of persons seeking to commit any of the acts referred to in clause (3) of this article (overthrow of the government); and 
  2. to do all in their power to restore this Constitution after it has been suspended, overthrown, or abrogated, as referred to in clause (3) of this article.

According to the Constitution, anyone who suppresses or resists the suspension, overthrow, or abrogation of Ghana’s Constitution as referred to in clause (3) of Article 3 commits no offence.

The six persons convicted and sentenced to death by hanging are Donya Kafui, aka Ezor (the blacksmith), Bright Alan Debrah Ofosu, Johannes Zikpi, Warrant Officer II Esther Saan Dekuwine, Lance Corporal Ali Solomon, and Corporal Sylvester Akanpewon.

However, the Ghanaian High Court acquitted three out of the nine accused, namely, a police chief, ACP Agordzo, army officer Colonel Gameli, and a junior military officer, Corporal Seidu Abubakar.

Reactions to the court’s decision

Ghana’s Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Godfred Yeboah Dame, has praised the court’s decision, describing it as “significant and a very historic occasion.”

He told the media minutes after the court convicted and sentenced the six men to death by hanging on Jan. 24, 2024, that,

“It is a very historic occasion. The first treason trial in the Republic of Ghana and the 4th Republic… and the occasion must not be lost on us. It has a lot of significance for the Constitution of Ghana.”

Godfred Yeboah Dame is Ghana’s Minister of Justice and Attorney-General. Photo credit: Crosscheckghana

Mr Yeboah Dame observed, “The Constitution is the fundamental law of the country, the one which has sustained the peace and stability of the country, and that is why it frowns seriously on any attempt to overthrow a government and has categorised it as an offence [treason] punishable by death.”

He said the general public initially thought the trial was a “child’s play…but court evidence showed systematic attempts by people to organise the overthrow of the government of Ghana.”  

Shortly before the prosecution opened its case, ACP Agordzo shot into the limelight after he suggested the country’s Police administration, whose top hierarchy is appointed by the government in power, cannot be said to be independent of its appointor. He was convinced the case brought against him was to persecute him for “speaking his mind.”

But reacting to the comment, Ghana’s Attorney-General dismissed it as baseless. Speaking on Newsfile, a news analysis programme on Accra-based Joy FM on Jan. 27, 2024, Yeboah Dame said he did not know the accused person, and his criticism of the system has not been brought to his attention to warrant such comment from the police chief. 

The West African country’s legal advisor explained to the host of the talk show, Samson Lardy Anyenyi, that ACP Agordzor was arrested after a preliminary investigation by the police showed he had been on three separate WhatsApp platforms created by the group, Take Action Ghana (TAG). 

ACP Agordzor was deemed to have had multiple conversations with the key architect of the attempted coup plot, Mac-Palm, which compelled the prosecution to include him as one of the accused persons, Yeboah Dame said. 

He further noted the Ghanaian court agreed with him when it ruled in his favour that ACP Agordzor indeed had questions to answer when he [Agordzor] filed a statement of no case after the prosecution had closed its case.

Also speaking, after the end of the trial, ACP Agordzo, a police chief who was acquitted together with two others by the court, reasserted his innocence in the whole trial. See the video uploaded on YouTube by Ghana’s Daily Graphic, starting from minutes 0:01 to 1:12.

“I have always been free within my heart. I have always been free because I knew how it was going to end. From the beginning, I knew that is how it is going to end today [the day of judgment]. I didn’t know when it was going to end, but I knew how it was going to end. I was too confident,” told the media.

A visibly elated ACP Agordzo said, “They [government] knew it was falsehood. Our God doesn’t fail. I have always been free within my heart, and I knew how it would end. We give glory to God. He alone has made it happen.”

Lawyer for ACP Agordzo, Martin Kpebu threatens to sue the government for compensation following the acquittal of his client by the Ghanaian court at the end of trial.

Meanwhile, lawyers for ACP Agordzo have announced their readiness to sue the government for compensation for their client for “maliciously prosecuting him.”

“You see that from day one my client [ACP Agordzo] has made it clear that he was just giving advice about how to get citizens active…and he said [they should] pass through the legal means because he said conditions are ripe in Ghana for another [Arab] spring and the situation has [now become] worse,” a private legal practitioner, Martin Kpebu told the media.

He was clear the Ghanaian government brought a “very frivolous case to the highest degree around his [ACP Agordzo] neck.” See the video uploaded on YouTube by Ghana’s Daily Graphic, starting from minutes 1:18 to 2:41.

“We will sue the State for compensation because this case has always been frivolous against him [ACP Agordzo] from day one…We will look at malicious prosecution and other causes of action,” Mr Kpebu added.

However, the lawyer for four of the six people convicted of the offence of treason has indicated their preparedness to appeal against the conviction and sentence.

Defence lawyer Victor Adawudu told the media the evidence presented to the court by the defence team was not properly scrutinised.

The lawyer for four of the six convicted persons, Victor Adawudu, says they will be appealing against the conviction and sentence of the Ghanaian High Court.

“I believe that the evidence we have put before the court is not being looked at critically, and I think that it is a process, and we will also be going to the Supreme Court for it to also look at the evidence, and you saw that the soldiers were charged with conspiracy and have been acquitted on the substantive charge so these are things that we will go to the Supreme Court to test,” he said.

Mr Adawudu said his team was able to put up a good defence, looking at the evidence they adduced during the trial despite the decision of the Ghanaian court.

“We will be going to the Supreme Court because they don’t even have an inventory of the time; they arrested the people to show that the guns they were talking about were with the people who had them. We will see what we will do,” he added.

Will Ghana execute the six people convicted of treason?

It is not clear if the six people convicted of high treason and sentenced to death by hanging would be executed as announced by the Ghanaian court since the last time the West African country carried out an execution was pre-1992 before it was ushered into a constitutional rule.

Late last year, Ghanaian lawmakers abolished the death penalty from the country’s penal code to the praise of the world after it amended the provision of two legal instruments, the Criminal Offenses Act, 1960 (Act 29) as amended and the Armed Forces Act, 1962 (Act 105) as amended.

See here for a special feature on abolishing the death penalty in Ghana.

However, President Nana Akufo-Addo has refused to assent to the Bills abolishing the death penalty, citing an unanticipated financial burden on the public purse.

In a letter addressed to the country’s lawmaking body, the President noted that although the content of the bills has his support, he believed they were not enacted “in line with established constitutional and legislative process.”

“I raised specific constitutional concerns regarding the bills related to Article 108, particularly the nature of these bills, which were introduced to Parliament as private member’s bill rather than being presented by or on my [President] behalf,” the letter read.

In Article 108, the country’s 1992 Constitution provides that,

“Parliament shall not unless the bill is introduced or the motion is introduced by, or on behalf of, the President – 

(a) proceed upon a bill, including an amendment to a bill, that, in the opinion of the person presiding, makes provision for any of the following – 

  1. the imposition of taxation or the alteration of taxation otherwise than by reduction; or
  2. the imposition of a charge on the Consolidated Fund or other public funds of Ghana or the alteration of any such charge otherwise than by reduction; or
  3. the payment, issue, or withdrawal from the Consolidated Fund or other public funds of Ghana of any money not charged on the Consolidated Fund or any increase in the amount of that payment, issue, or withdrawal; or
  4. the composition or remission of any debt due to the Government of Ghana or

(b) proceed upon a motion, including an amendment to a motion, the effect of which, in the opinion of the person presiding, would be to make provision for any of the purposes specified in paragraph (a) of this article.”

The President was emphatic that “any legislation we pass must be in complete alignment with the provision of our Constitution. I intend to have the bill reintroduced to Parliament on my behalf in due course.”


There are two options open to the six people convicted of treason and the three people acquitted by the Ghanaian court, their lawyers have told the media. 

The former can appeal against the conviction and sentence if dissatisfied with the trial outcome based on the evidence at their disposal. The lawyer for four of the six convicted persons, Mr Adawudu, has already hinted at a possible appeal at the country’s apex court in view of the evidence the defence team adduced at the trial. 

Also, the latter group, comprised of the three people acquitted by the Ghanaian court, can head to the country’s Supreme Court to ask for compensation. Mr Kpebu, who represents one of the three persons acquitted by the three-member court panel, said they will exercise that option in the coming days

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