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Opinions of Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Columnist: Addai-Sebo, Akyaaba

President Hilla Limann and I

A Feature Article by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo

I got to know President Hilla Limann through my good intellectual friend, Dr. P.A.V. Ansah of blessed memory.

By the first quarter of 1981 it was all clear that the centre of the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) was not holding as demoralising invectives were directed at President Limann and the First Lady, Fulera, by some leading members of the PNP who were bent on attesting that Limann was not fit to rule and also lead an Nkrumaist party. The lampooning of Limann to the extent of claiming that some walls of both the Castle and Peduase Lodge were peppered with kola nut sputum out of the mouth of Limann became tribal in intent and purposes. The warning signals of an impending and polarising social catastrophe was obvious and a preventive diplomacy action had to be taken. I was fortuitously placed to undertake such action or mission.
I was quite incensed by the internal wrangling within the ruling PNP which undermined the very social purposes of the nomination as a flagbearer and eventual election of Limann as state president and on the ticket of an Nkrumaist party whose predecessor was the proscribed Convention People’s Party (CPP). It is important here to recall that in order to save Ghana from the virus of tribalism, separatism, discrimination and marginalisation the CPP government had passed the Avoidance of Discrimination Act soon after independence in 1957. It was therefore uncanny for some so-called Nkrumaists to be promoting intolerance and acts of discrimination with such impunity. The angst and poison of division had been released by these loud-mouthed and self-serving politicians who were unwittingly weakening the hands of the government to deal with opportunistic prowlers waiting to pounce to seize state power for their own ethno-hegemony, wealth and resources extraction purposes (now which the awakening public aptly ascribe as “create, loot and share” and the perpetrators whom President Rawlings frustratingly pinpoint as “greedy bastards”).
At the time I lived in Washington, D.C. and P.A.V. Ansah was on sabbatical at Howard University. We conferred a lot on matters of national interest. One day, I got a call from the President of a famous university to see him immediately. I responded to his call and on arriving at the rendezvous he intoned that he had just come out of the White House where he had come by some information that my president was to be prompted to have a go at Libya’s President Muamar Gaddafi at a forthcoming OAU summit. I was advised to prevail upon my president not to do the bidding of the US as by doing so would be exposing his presidency to unnecessary risk and when that happened my president could not count on the US to bail him out. This sagacious university president then went into history recalling such actions by some house niggers that imperilled the activities of the underground railroad movement for freedom and justice in the United States.
Although I passed on this privileged information to P.A.V. Ansah it did not prevent Limann from mounting the rostrum at that fateful OAU summit to deliver his broadside at his brother president and thus playing into the hands of the prowling coup plotters whose leader on handing over power to Limann on 24 September 1979 had warned Limann of a comeback. Limann’s needless castigation may have provided that pivot to the successful overthrow of an Nkrumaist regime by self-proclaimed adherents of Nkrumah on 31st December 1981 led by Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings and Captain Kojo Tsikata. (Rawlings and Tsikata who were apparently being harassed by government security were given refuge by the leadership of the northerners dominated caustic June 4 Movement all of whom liberal Limann accommodated to his own chagrin.)
Not soon after the OAU summit, Limann despatched a powerful delegation to Washington, D.C. led by the then Chairman of the Council of State, William Ofori-Atta, in the company of Prof. George Benneh and Prof. John Nabila, ministers of finance and presidential affairs respectively. I bumped into the delegation at the State Department diplomatic reception where they were waiting about on their feet to be announced and ushered in. I greeted them and went about my business returning after 45 minutes to find them still on their feet waiting. That set me on edge and I made a row there and then shouting` that my equivalent of Speaker Tipper O’Neal could not be treated with disdain and that they should be taken into a waiting room befitting their status. My open remonstrations had the desired effect and soon a deputy under-secretary of state appeared full of apologies to take them away. I shared the experience with P.A.V. Ansah and reminded him of what the sagacious university president had forewarned.
The PNP internecine warfare continued in intensity and had become an embarrassment. The open disrespect for the person and office of President Limann exhibited by his own leading party members seeped into public consciousness and the president and his wife became the butt of public ridicule and expensive jokes. The economy was not doing well and dry spells had affected agricultural production too. The students and trade unions were restless and the writing was appearing on the wall. P. A. V. Ansah and I analysed the political situation and I offered a solution which Ansah bought into.
I offered that an international exposure will resonate at home, lift up the president’s image and keep his internal critics at bay. This exposure could only be in the form of a state visit and being received at the White House would be a deserved payback and a fillip to his image at home. I had a convoluted approach to the task at hand and went to work lining up a network of contacts who would help deliver the expected outcome with the expert collaboration of Dr. Archie Buffkins, then director of Cultural Diversity at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and a former President of the Eastern Shore campus of the University of Maryland.
Dr. Buffkins was in a very discreet but powerful position as he organised functions at the White House and therefore he saw to appropriate seating arrangements and those who for one reason or the other wanted, at a particular instance, to be seated closer to the president of the United States would court favours from Dr. Buffkins. Some powerful personalities of the land were therefore quietly beholden unto Dr. Buffkins. Such was the sublime artistic power of Dr. Buffkins to attract the “chosen and elect” of the land to fill the Kennedy Center on set occasions as this: In addition to the political network of Dr. Buffkins I was privileged to be loved by a saintly spiritualist/clairvoyant of the White House who had served four presidents and likewise the pastor of the Church of the Saviour on 2025 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. who had a weekly prayer session with a group of powerful legislators on the Hill. I shared with them my premonitions about Ghana and the social and economic importance of a visit to the White House by beleaguered President Limann and secured their assurances to push the right buttons when the need arose. Also there was my teacher and guardian, Mother Jewel Mazique, a researcher who provided services to some powerful senators and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The anchor to the strategy P. A. V. Ansah and I had adopted was the empanelling of a Presidential Commission on Cultural, Educational and Technical Cooperation with the United States by the Ghanaian president on which both Dr. Buffkins and I would serve. This presidential commission would be an additional lever with which to pry open doors and be received and heard at the corridors of power at the White House and on the Hill after prior non-attributable quiet lobbying by those mentioned above. It became necessary for me to fly to Accra to sit down with president Limann and outline the strategy to him and get his approval. I did so early in October 1981. I returned a couple of weeks later with Dr. Archie Buffkins to fine tune and consummate the strategy. The presidential commission was duly set up and a duly signed and stamped attestation was given to Dr. Archie Buffkins to return to Washington, D.C. with. I followed up with two further trips to Accra after securing a provisional date for a White House visit for president Limann for April 1982.
This visit was not to be as the prowlers pounced on 31st December 1981 and overthrew the beleaguered elected president whose ruling party centre could not hold. The first Northern president was overthrown by a combination of factors including the xenophobic antics of some southerners (mostly of Akan extraction) and anti-establishment effusions of leftist academics and student radicals (mostly of northern extraction) who could not bring themselves to accept Limann’s rule. President Limann’s rule was cut short and he was subjected to such penury, humiliation and psychological torture by the Rawlings/Tsikata regime until he died.
It is this bitter experience of this incorruptible and candid Dr. Hilla Limann, collectively felt and shared by his compatriots, that characterised and defined as well the birth of the People’s National Convention (PNC). The pains of rejection, discrimination and utter abuse triggered flashbacks of the years of perceived servitude in agricultural plantations and mining centres of the South that some of us believed the election of Dr. Limann as state president would have healed and laid to rest this bitter past and bridged the divide.
And it took avowed Nkrumaists to tear the scars and open up the wounds of the past, undermine and undo what Nkrumah stood and fought for – the ideals of ONE PEOPLE, ONE NATION, with a COMMON DESTINY. The PNC therefore came to be formed as a protest movement seeking unsaid emotional and unquantifiable material reparations for years of incalculable damage done to the psyche of those classified as Northerners from the colonial period to the modern era.
The PNC also set out to right the wrong and straighten the records. The emotional joy of “Our Time Has Come” was cut short and the PNC was to restore that singular honour of hope and just restitution for a people otherwise made to feel as castaways in their own land by the accident of history. The wedge of mistrust sits deep in the disbanded Nkrumaist family and it will take a remarkable stroke of ingenuity and a large heap of luck to heal and bridge the festering divide and assuage hurt feelings and cleanse or rather exorcise the haunted house.
The thought of how compassionate and self-sacrificing icons of the North like President Limann and neurosurgeon Mustapha were handled and treated by southerners who wielded such absolute state power and could have made a well-deserved difference in their lives but wickedly refused to do so and left them to die in penury still haunts me as an individual and how much more those who bear the brunt of such discrimination and rejection?
When I left Washington, D.C. in the autumn of 1981 to Accra to see President Limann, P. A. V. Ansah cautioned me that President Limann could be headstrong as his yes was yes and no was no. I was well received and within 15 minutes of my audience the President had bought into our overall strategy. He paused and called in Prof. Nabila and Prof. Benneh and duly instructed them to work on a draft outline of the proposed presidential commission. He was quick and decisive.
At my first meeting at the Castle, I did cast my eyes around to check the walls and they were spot clean. I did so again at our subsequent meeting at the Peduase Lodge and the walls there too were spot clean. At Peduase, I also observed some of the attendants and staff avidly reading books written by founding President Nkrumah. The irony of it all was that the person and character of President Limann was spot clean. The corrupting hands of the old Turks of the CPP sought to stain President Limann but in my estimation they failed. President Limann shall forever remain a spot clean icon with a moral compass worthy of adulation. I can see his aura rising up in the horizon casting a message of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Akyaaba Addai-Sebo
Peacemaker and Independent Consultant on National Interest
Tel: 0246390024