Feature Article of Thursday, 29 January 2004
Columnist: Obeng-Diawuoh, B.K.
Your feature article, "Anti-Constitutional Coup Fears: A Bubble or Gathering Storm" (Monday 19 January) was an interesting one. While I commend you for this beautiful piece, I would like to mention too that in trying to analyse the conduct of Ghana's two main political parties and their attitudes towards constitutional rule and coup detats, you glossed over a few historical truths that needed to be told. Better still, I think, you were dishonest in some of your assertions. That is the reason I have decided to respond to your article. Falsification of historical facts is a serious issue!
When you and other former AFRC members went to Ghana in November 2003 to present your joint petition to the National Reconciliation Committee, you told half truths. You defended your actions on June 4th, and the subsequent government you established, by explaining that you took those actions to punish military officers who had subverted civilian governments in the past and removed them from office. In doing so you sought to portray the AFRC as a group that was dedicated to the ideal of saving Ghana.
Nothing can be farther from the truth than that; and this is not just what I believe to be my subjective opinion. I believe it is the objective view shared by many Ghanaians, based on the utterances of the AFRC men, and the way they conducted themselves in office during those tumultuous three months that they forced themselves on the people of Ghana. To be more straight to the point, the documentary evidence which exists as regards your aims and objectives in coming to power, differ sharply from what you and your colleagues are telling us today.
A few days ago, the GhanaWeb news culled a news item from "The Heritage" which provided considerable documentary insight into what motivated the AFRC to execute the Military Officers for overthrowing legally constituted governments. "The Heritage" made references to the following:
the AFRC's contemporary press releases, The Daily Graphic of 16 June 1979 The Ghanaian Times of 16 June 1979 The Ghanaian Times of 27 June 1979 The Daily Graphic of 27 June 1979 "Politics In Ghana" (1972-79), by Mike Oquaye
A summary of the charges made against the military officers, as revealed by the above references, shows that the military officers were found guilty of corruption, embezzlement, and using their positions to amass wealth. No where in the charges was it mentioned that the Generals had been found guilty of plotting and executing coups against civilian administrations.
In fact, there has never been any time in the past that Ghanaians have ever thought that this was the reason the AFRC executed the Generals -- the reason being that the AFRC never made mention of it whether in their numerous lunatic ranting or in the heavily censored media reports that were spewed out in those days. So when Major Boakye Djan and the other members of the AFRC, including you, presented your petition to the NRC and mentioned the unconstitutional removal of democratic governments as the reason for staging the June 4th coup, most Ghanaians knew that you had acted dishonestly by falsifying history to suit present needs.
Was it not curious that even though the AFRC claims to have come into power with the sole aim of punishing military officers who had engineered to remove civilian governments from office, they did not go all the way out to include every one who falls into that category? Why were people like General Ankrah, Major Ocran, Mr. Deku, Major-General Otu, and others who had also participated in the coups of 1966 never touched? I know that Major Boakye Djan has given the lame excuse that they could not get to some of the retired officers because they were out of the country. That is a lie. If that was the case, why didn't you try those retired officers in absentia, the same way people like IGP Ernest Arko and General Osei Boateng, Border Guards Commander were. Is it not an open secret that Major Boakye Djan had a personal score to settle with General Kwasi Afrifa and for which reason he brought him in? Is there not a rumour that the AFRC feared if Afrifa was left alone he would win a seat in parliament and use his clout to secure legislature that would call the AFRC junta to account later?
Far from your appearance at the commission helping to "clear any lingering anxieties about anti-constitution coups in Ghana" as you put it in your article, it has further exarcebated the situation because of the barefaced lies you and the others helped Boakye to tell. Nothing about the AFRC resembled a group that was preparing Ghana for a proper return to civilian rule. Nothing about June 4 suggested that you removed the SMC from power because of its coup against a civilian government. Nothing about your group convinced Ghanaians that you had thier good at heart.
For starters, the AFRC was packed with a bunch of idiots. Please do not get me wrong here. Most of you were nice folks, probably of above-average intelligence. However, with the exception of a few officers like FL.LT.Rawlings, Captain Boakye Djan, Major Mensa Poku, Major Mensa Gbedemah, Lt. Commander Apaloo, etc. the rest of you, for the most part, were just Privates, Lance Corporals, Sergeants, Warrant Officers, and a ragtag group of non-commissioned officers and men who lacked any discipline. Soldiers, around the world, have never put together a good government even when they are mostly righ-ranking officers. But when they are mostly non-commissioned disgruntled hoodlums with axes to grind like the AFRC did, they make a terrible mess of a country's present and future. That is why I call you idiots -- Privates, Lance Corporals, Corporals, Sergeants, etc., have no business meddling in government. Most of you were people of little education lacking the ability to understand the complex job of ruling a country.
Under the daily gaze of Rawlings, the chief idiot, and the connivance of Boakye Djan who could have done better, you and the other AFRC men offered supervision as our soldiers went round the country, firing shots and killing or maiming innocent civilians. What is worse, you oversaw the plunder and pillaging of the wealth and estates of hardworking sons and daughters of the land, under the guise of righting so-called wrongs. But the most obscene of all was when you stripped our mothers and sisters naked, placed them on tables and whipped them on the bare buttocks in the name of restoring democracy to Ghana. At Makola Market, for instance, a Lt. Puplampu whipped a woman until she passed menstrual blood.
Furthermore, there was no sense in the coup. General Kwasi Akuffo and his colleagues, disgusted by General Kutu Acheampong's crude political strategy of UNIGOV, had gently eased him out of the way and put the country back on the path to constitutional government. The ban on political activity had been lifted, political parties had been formed to contest the elections, and Ghanaians were upbeat as they once again began to steer their own affairs. Thus, when the AFRC burst onto the scene it was a national distraction, an infuriating interruption, an unnecessary diversion, and an absolutely fruitless exercise.
It is true you have apologised collectively for these and other mistakes, and we accept the apologies. What I am doing here therefore is not dredging the past again. However, when a person comes forward to apologise for his wrongs and in the same breath he tells lies about what he did for which he is asking pardon, you cannot help wondering if his apologies are indeed sincere.
Let me turn my attention to something else you insinuated in your article. It may be true that the June Fourth movement which was borne out of the AFRC operation, had distanced itself from the actions of Rawlings and the 31st December movement even long before the PNDC military government transitioned into the NDC political party. Yet, it must be re-emphasized that it was still the June Fourth movement that gave birth to the Rawlings phenomenon. Rawlings, as a person, was probably on his way to the gallows for the botched attempt to overthrow the SMC 2 administration. Judging by the proceedings of the military tribunal set up to try him and the other men with him, the final verdict was probably going to be given on June 4 1979. It was widely believed that he would have been given a death sentence. In the early hours of that day, however, even before the court could reconvene, a group of soldiers who would later crystallise into the AFRC, spirited him out of jail to lead the new government. But for that coup and the offer of Head-of-State he received from these men, Rawlings would be history today.
Would it be too presumptuous then to surmise that the men who opened the jail that morning let out a self-willed genie, and once that gene had been let loose, there was no knowing what other evil spirits would exude from him. In fact, in the years that followed the opening of the bottle to let the evil genie out, so to speak, we would all be witnesses to the uncanny capacity of the genie for perpetrating evil. Boakye Djan has argued forcefully in the recent past in an effort to distance the June Fourth debacle from the 31 December putsch. I beg to disagree, because Rawlings himself has always seen a connection between the two, referring to the latter as representing "... a continuation of the work we began in 1979". When Rawlings reached the height of his misanthropy, he brought up trumped up charges against Kyeremeh Djan, Boakye Djan's younger brother, and murdered him in cold blood, all as a way of settling old scores with Boakye Djan who, in Rawlings' estimation, had betrayed him. It is very unfortunate that Kyeremeh Djan suffered this fate; and my heart genuinely goes out to his entire family of whom Boakye Djan is a part. But if Kyeremeh Djan's death has any lesson to teach us it is that, as our Akan elders say, Boakye Djan "ATWA ABAA AMA ASEN NE TENTEN". Literally, he has carved out a walking stick that is taller than him. Idiomatically, he has bitten more than he can chew. In rehabilitating Rawlings, a guy who was on his way out, Boakye Djan opened a can of worms that is still infecting us today. I have harder words for Boakye Djan but this may not be a good time to say them. I will save them till I address him one-on-one some day.
But the long and short of what I am trying to say here is that Boakye Djan, and the AFRC of which you Ansah Atiemo are a part, should stop deceiving themselves that June 4 has nothing to do with December 31. Just because you didn't take part in it does not mean there exists no link between the two events. Simply put, June 4 was the PROTOTYPE of December 31; and that is why it is annoying for you to criticise the NDC as benefitting from the spoils of a coup. While it may be far fetched to say so, it is nevertheless arguable that the NDC exists as a party today because of the work you and others did on June 4th. The truth is that the NDC began the day you and your colleagues installed Rawlings in power. You basically spoon-fed him with cheap power, and after he had had savoured it there was no turning back for him. He only needed an excuse to return to power again. And on 31 December 1981, it didn't matter who was in power and how well he must have been performing. Rawlings would still have staged a coup.
Furthermore, you are wrong in describing the actions of the National Reconciliation Committee as an endorsement of coups d'etat. Just because the commissioners are working at national reconciliation does not mean that they cannot express their disdain or revulsion for terrible things that happened in the past. You seem to imply from your writings that because the eight military officers had been involved in a coup to remove a constitutional government, the brutal treatment you gave them and their families was justified; and so it would be unacceptable for anyone to show any feeling of sympathy towards them. Regardless of the fact that the eight officers had done things to dismantle the democratic institutions of Ghana, they were still entitled to civilised treatment, such as a fair and public trial and the right to a legal counsel of their choice. You seem to imply that legal technicalities were not needed in the trial of the Generals because they had a proven record of corruption and mal-administration. No one can be so sure of the details of an accused person's crimes until he has been thoroughly investigated by a competent criminal justice system and his case argued forcefully in court by legal counsel before an impartial judge. Even Timothy McVeigh, the young man who blew up the Oklahoma City Federal Government building and killed so many hundreds of people in the process was given a fair trial; and after he had been executed his body was handed over to his family for a respectable burial. In a civilised society even mass murderers like Timothy McVeigh are given respect in death! In the circumstances under which the AFRC tried the Generals it would be a misnomer to even call what you did a trial. To call it a travesty of justice would still be an understatement, because what you did was to just write their charges on a piece of paper, read it to them from behind a screen, slap them if they tried to speak and lead them away from the room to begin another "trial".
Not only did you not accord the Generals a proper trial, but what is more, after you murdered them, you dumped all of them into a shallow grave, the way dogs are buried, making it impossible for their families to see them even in death. Even worse, the soldiers forbade every one to shed a tear for any of the murdered Generals. I was in Akropong-Akwapim the entire month of June -- from the time the coup was pulled off right through the executions of the Officers -- and what the soldiers did in that town was shocking. After the officers had been rounded up, a group of soldiers was dispatched to Akropong to guard the residence of General Kwasi Akuffo who was a native of the town, and to also intimidate the people. There was so much tension hanging in the air that when General Kwasi Akuffo was executed along with the others it was impossible for anyone to grieve openly for fear of military reprisals. That gave rise to a rumour that used to make the rounds in those days: a woman, they say, went up to one of the soldiers and asked him, "sir, you have forbidden us to cry. Well, that is okay. But at least, can't we even say, 'aye dwe o' (meanining 'it is tough')". To which, they say, the soldier replied, "aye dwe de wo tumi ka (that, you can say)". And so the woman said, "ene aye dwe o" (then I'll say, it is tough).
Which is to say that, the AFRC had become so inhumane and callous that even the basic dignity that civilised societies everywhere in the world accord to even the most despicable of people, was denied the Generals. Even the natural involuntary human response to death, which is weeping, was prohibited. And this, you tell the world, was a government that was correcting the mistakes made by the SMC in overthrowing Busia's government and preparing Ghana for constitutional rule.
Admittedly the previous governments of Generals Kwasi Afrifa, Kutu Acheampong and Kwasi Akuffo were military dictatorships. These officers did a bad thing when they overthrew constitutional governments, and I am not in any way holding a brief for their actions. However, when the AFRC moved in they made the Generals and their associates look like saints because of the bestial brutalities they unleashed on the people of Ghana. In retrospect, we can easily recall the three months of the AFRC rule to mind better than the seven years of the SMC administration. And the reason is that the AFRC junta destroyed so much more within that short time than the soldiers of the SMC period did throughout their stay.
It is therefore sickening that even though you and the others claim to have appeared before the NRC to ask forgiveness for your crimes, you have almost cancelled that by the lies you told at the same time you were apologising. Not only that, but the way you look at what you did to the Generals, and the things you say about them, suggests that you have not really repented for your actions. For an apology to be sincere, it has to be honest and offered unreservedly. That is why I don't believe that you and your colleagues are sorry for what you did. If you had the chance you might probably do it over and over again.
With regard to Squadron Leader Dargbe's testimony, it would be hard to tell if he is being truthful or not. That doesn't mean, however, that your version of events are true either. SQ. LDR. Dargbe placed the AFRC in an awkward situation by what he said on January 8, 2004. And so be it! The AFRC government came and went as if the art of governing a country was an easy job that even people of your calibre could handle. They kept no proper records of the trials they held; they called up just anybody to do anything; they picked and chose what information, and how much of it, they would reveal to the public; and they toyed with our nation's hopes, fears and aspirations as if we were a conquered people. And all of this they did as if there was never going to be any day of reckoning. And so today, if an associate of your government is giving his version of the events of those days, where is the hard evidence to disprove his accounts? The court transcripts from the kangaroo sessions you held to bring trumped up charges against innocent people of the land should have been somewhere in Government house where its agencies could always pull them out to corroborate or refute the historical accounts that people give. In the current situation where no records of any kind exist -- a situation brought on by the egregious inefficiency and plain stupidity on the AFRC's part -- the public is bound to believe what they want to believe, based on their own personal analysis of what they hear or read. So just quit trying to disprove SQ. LDR. Dargbe's testimony because you have no objective record to disprove it!
I believe the time has come for us in Ghana to tell the truth about this link between June 4 and December 31, and stop believing the hypocricy and self-serving attitude of the AFRC, whose members are still trying hard to project themselves as national saviours. I believe also that because of the way the AFRC did its work, more was torn down than was built, and the image they have tried to portray over the years, as a group which came to power to restore sanity, and help Ghanaians to rediscover themselves, is a false one. I wish you and your colleagues would just shut up and give us our peace.