Travelogue ~ A Return to Ghana ~ Wale Okediran


Although I have been to Ghana by air several times in the past, the last time I travelled to the country by road was in 1975 when I went to the country as a member of the University of Ife Hockey Team (now Obafemi Awolowo University) Ile Ife, Nigeria to participate in the West African University Games.

While the details of what transpired during the approximately 12- hour trip from Ile Ife to Accra are now foggy in my memory, what was crystal clear was that it was an enjoyable trip. As students are wont to be, we were a merry lot in our ‘Luxurious’ Mercedes Benz bus filled to the brim with our clothes, jerseys, hockey sticks, boots, stockings and of course, some foodstuffs. We had been warned about the dicey economic state in Ghana at that time and so the need to go with some gari, yams and plantain with which to supplement any likely gaps in our culinary needs.

I also recall vividly that the final Hockey match between the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi and the Ife team was a tough one. Played at the Accra National Hockey pitch near the popular Makola market, we had a tough time coping with a very talented Kumasi team as well as a passionate home crowd which included market women who had come from the nearby Makola market to cheer their ‘children’ who were playing against their regular Nigerian rivals.

My job as a midfield player for Ife was compounded by the fact that I was assigned to mark the main Kumasi striker, a highly skilful hockey player, called, Akwesi Yankyira. Since my duty was to prevent him from scoring, Akwesi and I clashed several times during the very stormy encounter which was finally won by the Ife team with a 2-1 final score line. 

Fate later brought Akwesi and I together again when he came to Nigeria in the 80s to work as a teacher in a town where I was undergoing my compulsory National Youth Service year. Although he was in Nigeria for just about five years, my relationship with Akwesi has continued till date as we both grew from springy teenage hockey players to ‘fairly used’ portly grandfathers now in our mid- 60s. When he learnt that I was coming to Ghana to pick up a new job, my old friend was naturally excited that it was now his duty to host me in Ghana after I had played the same role in Nigeria several years ago.

As if getting out of Lagos was not bad enough, the stretch of the road from Lagos to Badagry was another nightmare due to the several potholes and deep gullies on the road. The road got better after Bereko. It was lovely as we moved past farmlands interspersed with residential buildings. From the farmlands the scenery changed to palm tree dotted plain fields as we moved further in the direction of the Republic of Benin’s border.

We soon reached what I was told, was the last Petrol Station in Nigeria where a horde of women could be seen buying petrol into plastic containers and bags which they backed like babies or carried on their heads to be smuggled into Benin Republic. Not even the fear of the highly inflammable product causing them harm could dissuade them from such a very dangerous business.

In addition to the women, some commercial vehicles were also into the petrol smuggling business as they had expanded the fuel tanks of their vehicles to accommodate more fuel for the sniggling business. I was informed that the business was very lucrative because a litre of petrol was being sold in Benin Republic at about three times the Nigerian price.

Half an hour later, we crossed a big bridge over a very large river and entered Badagry. And as we crossed the river, I could see far below, children swimming in the muddy water which was all that remained of the wide river which was yet to fill up because of poor rainfall.

At the Seme border, the diplomatic courtesy extended to our team ensured that we had a smooth passage into the Benin Republic. Moments later, we were in Cotonou with its wide and well paved boulevards and large roundabouts gaily decorated with flags and flowers. The Toll gate at Grandpopo and the border town of Hillancondji passed in quick succession and before long, we were in Togo just as twilight was setting on the surrounding landscape. Lomé was like a construction site under the fading evening sunshine with the main artery of the city undergoing massive reconstruction.

A sparsely populated city at that hour of the day, the city, a black and white photographic version of an old French city was well populated with an array of old buildings built in the French Architecture. And while the Lomé Port, the Conference centre, the Assemble Nationale and ‘Grand Marche’ (The Big Market) were on our right, a long and lovely serpentine beach could be seen beside the blue and sedate Atlantic. Unlike our short wait at the Seme border, we spent long hours at both the Togo and Aflao borders so much so that we arrived in Accra past midnight.

All this while, Akwesi and I kept in touch as he monitored my progress. ‘’Where are you now?’’ he would whisper over the phone as if afraid that I would be unable to make the trip which had been postponed several times due to logistic reasons. I re-assured him that I was making good progress but may enter Ghana too late to call him. Despite that, we continued to chat until when I thought it was too late to communicate with each other.

Unlike my previous trips to Ghana when I came for brief meetings and conferences, this time around, I had come to Ghana to stay for quite a while. In addition, in view of a long hiatus in the leadership of my new job, I had come determined to quickly make up for the long gap and ‘hit the ground running’.

Therefore, a few hours after arriving Accra after the approximately 15- hour strenuous but scenic road trip from Lagos, I resumed work much to the surprise of some of my staff who had thought that I would take a few days off to recover from the long trip. I was so much immersed in my work that it took me about ten days after my arrival in Accra before Akwesi and I could see each other.

He came for me with his son, Kofi at the wheel of his beautiful vehicle one lovely Saturday morning after my return from my regular early morning walk. ‘’Welcome back to Ghana’’ he said as we did the elbow greetings in lieu of our traditional warm embrace in compliance with the COVID -19 rules.

Just like me, he still looked trim, like the hockey player of old. ‘’I regularly work out at home with my exercise equipment’’ he told me when I asked him the secret behind his firm tummy which was a little bit podgy when last we saw a few years before.

Minutes later, Kofi nosed the vehicle towards Achimota street, passed the junction of the University of Ghana’s medical centre up to the N4 Highway. ‘Where are we going?’’ I asked Akwesi

‘’We are going sightseeing. I want you to recapture your view of Accra before we go on to Aburi’’ he said breaking into a smile. Aburi. I remember Aburi.

Although Aburi, a town in the Eastern Region of South Ghana is said to be famous for the Aburi Botanical Gardens and the Odwira festival, what many Nigerians will remember the town for was the memorable if not emotional role it played in the history of Nigeria, particularly, in the countdown to the infamous Civil War that plagued the country between 6 July 1967 and 15 January 1970. The Aburi meeting which took place between 4 and 5 January 1967 was between the then Nigerian Head of State, Lt Col Yakubu Gowon and the other Nigerian Governors including Lt Col Odumegwu Ojukwu. The meeting was chaired by the then Chairman of the Ghana National Liberation Council Lt General J A Ankrah .

In response to the accord reached at the meeting, the Federal Government of Nigeria promulgated Decree No. 8, which was mainly an embodiment of the accord. Unfortunately, the accord finally broke down because of differences of interpretation on both sides. This led to the outbreak of  the Nigerian Civil War.

And as Kofi eased the purring masterpiece of a vehicle off the N4 Highway and passed the Toll Gate, it was easy to feel the rising humidity and the cooler elevation as the vehicle climbed the steep incline. Down below us on the right- hand side was Accra with its scenic rooftops amidst a spotting of jagged hilltops.

As the vehicle continued its ascent, one could see on the left side, far above the golden orange horizon of the early morning sun, the line of hills as they rolled into each other, indistinct and pale before merging into a beautiful and delightful totem with the bright September morning in the background.

At the peak of our climb, on the left emerged the Aburi Presidential Lodge, safely ensconced behind solid heavy security gates. And as we passed the historic site, my mind went back to January 1967 as I imagined a flurry of activities taking place behind the heavy gates as the major Nigerian military leaders sat down to sign the famous but still- born accord.

Suddenly, we were descending again, down, down the previously steep incline. Before long, from behind the hills materialized another lovely set of buildings which unlike the Aburi Presidential Lodge was not gated by any intimidating fence. ‘’Welcome to Peduase Valley Resort’’ so read the sign.

We were met by a Director of the Resort, a warm personality and an old friend of Akwesi who took us round the facility which is said to be a four -star Hotel with various other accessories. As we looked round, I was impressed with the place which apart from a 37 room Hotel also had a mini Zoo, Gymnasium, Swimming Pool among other facilities. After a hearty three course meal of White Rice, Smoked Salmon, Vegetables and Fruits, we listened to a live band that serenaded diners with old, beautiful melodies.

Lunch over, Akwesi and I went down memory lane as we tried to recapture the past. Our discussion went back to the 1975 Hockey match and we laughed heartily at the memory. 

‘’Is the Hockey pitch still near the Makola market’’? I asked, my mind going again to the difficult match, the heat of the Accra sun, the dust of the sandy pitch and the noise of the marvelous market women as they cheered the home side.

‘’Yes’’ Akwesi replied. ‘’But it has now been built into a modern stadium complete with an astra synthetic surface’’ he added.

‘’I think we should go back there one day and take part in a symbolic game as a form of thanksgiving to forty- five years of friendship and divine mercies’’ I said as we continued our reverie.


Dr Wale Okediran is the Secretary General, Pan African Writers Association, Accra, Ghana.