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Opinions of Friday, 15 January 2010

Columnist: JusticeGhana

Quashigah And The Ghana Armed Forces

Since January 5, the name Major Courage Quashigah (rtd) has once again surfaced under media focus and attention but this time, with a shocking disbelieve- Asante Fordjour at the JusticeGhana.com, takes a classified stock of the trials and triumphs of a man whose career image and courage, radiated perhaps not only a threat to his admirers and critics but also, a promise and aspiration to most (young) soldiers that he either instructed or commanded.

* The OmanbaPa Research Group

For most civilian population, probably the name Courage Emmanuel Kobla Quashigah, burst into our ears on June 19 1983 when as a Chief Operations Officer at the Headquarters of Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), Gondar Barracks, led a small group of "loyal troops" to foil a fast successful coup led by one Lance/Corporal Halidu Gyiwa, whose panting voice, had dominated our national airwaves, and for some hours, been indicting leading members of the 31st December 1981 putsch, including Chairman Jerry John Rawlings.

In an announcement that sought to counteract the coup and its associated accusations against the ruling PNDC, the then Captain Courage Quashigah demonstrated perhaps not only his spirit of courage and adventurism but also, a sense of foresight, loyalty and leadership when with force of authority, aired something which roughly read like this: "At about 3am this morning, a small group of dissidents managed their way into our national studio and made false announcement to disrupt the activities of the PNDC. I Captain Courage Quashigah, on behalf of the PNDC, want to assure the nation that the situation is under control and that those dissidents should report themselves to the nearest police station- or anyone seen in track-suit, entering military installation, should be fired on sight."

These summarily directives, came under stringent scrutiny as it could have led to many innocent deaths, especially, around the vicinity of El-Wak Stadium, 37 Military Hospital and to a larger extent, Congo Junction, known for its military presence and morning endurance work and physical training. For this reason, the triumphal Quashigah had to qualify his orders with a phrase:"....should be called for identification and questioning". In seeking journalistic insight, into how Courage and some of his Revolutionary Action Troopers (RAT), managed their way into the Broadcasting House, Courage declined clues. He is alleged to have stated boldly that the tactics might be used again in future, when it becomes necessary. According to “military historians” who spoke to JusticeGhana.com, this generated a huge discontent and a haunting omen, against the then Ranger Captain “CEK” Quashigah.

It might not be an exaggeration to speculate that his (in)actions set not only many falling jaws and wailing tongues within his own PNDC political leadership that Gyiwa&Co, had described in a hasty message as liars and murders but also, from within the military hierarchy. Gyiwa&Co appealed for national support for a regime change, through the barrel of the gun, that bitterness and retributions became their flag. Thanks to Ranger Quashigah and his gallant men whose courage and selflessness, saved our country from yet another possible blood-bath on that unfaithful Sunday. Thus without them, today, there could have been certainly, no ruling political party, calling itself National Democratic Congress (NDC).

So, to most Ghanaians at the time, probably, Captain Quashigah became one of the most popular soldiers after the then deserted Sergeant Daniel Alorga-Akatapore in the 1980s. Yet, to the barracks girl, this admiration was far from the truth as Courage’s military assertiveness and shadow were greeted with mixed-feelings within the Ghana Armed Forces that he held so much to his chest but which, following his alleged complicity in an attempt that sought to topple the PNDC in 1989, was prematurely shown the exit in the early 1990s. It could be recalled that this came after the Major Quashigah, together with some officers and men, had been summoned before the Sanhedrin of the Ghana Armed Forces and subsequently, pushed over to the operatives at the Bureau of National Investigations, who with the support of media trial, dumped them in their dungeons without a charge. In the process, the “system” appeared broke as the sweeping suspicions, arrest and detentions of those who had career links with Courage, became revolutionary haunting and blasphemous.

We at JusticeGhana.com have little insight and can only puzzle over the then physical and psychological state of Major Courage Quashigah- the then immediate-past commanding officer of the Force Reserve Battalion (1986 to 1987), whose son and wife, were offered “limited visit” while in BNI custody. So could be told of what he might have felt about the media reports that his professional friend- Flt-Lt Dome, who has also been napped in the similar circumstances and is being interrogated for possible trial and execution over his alleged involvement in a hatch that he is said to be its leader, had committed suicide in his BNI cells. The US-trained Ranger, might have revised his memos, beliefs and thoughts about the cliché that “revolution swallows its own men and women”, at least, on learning that those set up to thwart the tiger’s likely escape, are predominately, his own “products”?

Courage, whose military career nearly came to an end as Lieutenant in the mid 1970s but was compromised with a step backwards, might have appreciated how the “system” works. A story is told about how the CEK Quashigah who we mourn today as colleague and brother, is said to have accompanied the then Head of State- Colonel I.K. Acheampong as flag officer in a function at Aflao, in the Volta Region but was at large when the row was called for the beginning of the ceremony. The smart-looking Lieutenant might have illustrated his joy and pride in having the privilege of being part of the entourage to his home region and probably, might have felt naïve and childish over the consequences of the anxious rush to showcase his military achievements to Kedzi, where the untiring custodian of customs and traditions, has his umbilical cord buried, when he was happily brought to world on 9 September 1947.

Major Courage is a fascinating story-teller, who usually amused his listeners, especially the youthful audience, who have their doubts about the promises of African ancestral veneration and worship, with a painting legendary of the old good days. One of the most memorable tales, it is told, was about a local fetish priest who used to dive deep into the sea with his wooden stool to mend broken or stacked fishing nets. The old good days that he illustrates with seriousness, were where the gods of our lands were the true protectors of our flocks and souls, rather than volumes of international treaties and Acts of Parliament that we care not to breach/uphold. By this the Ketascodian attempted to interpret our current Christian/Islam generation as an ungrateful and selfish lot, determined to triumph at the horseback of others, no matter the pains, humiliations and the price that it might cost. Most critics and admirers of Quashigah describe him as one who speaks the way he sees it and that despite his unquestionable fortitude, becomes sometimes, emotional in his beliefs.

Perhaps, it is against this reason that the Ranger appeared not only “lonely” within PNDC that he gambled his live and that of others, to defend against “well-known dissidents” but also, as haunting ghost to himself and the Ghana Armed Forces. JusticeGhana is less informed about how Quashigah fared with the NPP. Because of this argument, there are those who might have thought that young Courage, who became a promising soldier after being enlisted into Ghana Army in 1969, should have stacked to his youthful career in pupil teaching which should have earned him a renowned position in the academia, rather than soldiering and political preoccupations that he entangled himself in the latter part of his life.

For instance, there is a school of thought within the Ghana Armed Forces which still profess that as a regimental soldier, the then Captain Courage Quashiga should have radioed Army HQ with the situation report (sitrep) after lodging Gyiwa & Co out of the Broadcasting House, rather than making that self-proclamation on behalf the PNDC whose fortified fortress on that tempting Sunday, were probably in disarray. Thus for some, the putschers abandoned their post and authority long before Captain Quashigah and his troops stormed the Broadcasting House so, there could be no heroism-making about it? Thus, when the situation subsided in favour of the struggling PNDC, various theories were propagated into the infiltration of the national studio, where Gyiwa & Co, who said they had Lt-Col Ekow Denis in their support, had declared fatawa on the leading personalities such as the National Security capo- Captain Kojo Tsikata and his vice, the then Lt-Cmdr Baffour Asasie-Gyimah.

Yet the Major Courage Quashigah, who among others, graduated from the Ghana Military Academy as second lieutenant in 1971, together with top-military brass such as the late Brigadier Frank Mensah-Yawson- formerly of 1 Infantry Battalion, Michel Camp, and Major-General Odor-Tey but trailed in his promotion, survived these frivolous arguments. The Atlanta-Georgia trained Ranger made no undue haste- he remembered where he was with this graphic quotation: “Whether the dissidents were there on arrival or had left a recorded playing tape and bolted away, they were aware and indeed know the determination and the fighting spirit of Courage Quashigah… they were all once with us here at Gondar Barracks..,” said the former PNDC Chief Operations Officer, whose military career began at 1 BN, Tema.

Indeed, everywhere the Quashigah did go, his unceasing motivation, fairness and frankness, not forgetting his ability to adapt at all levels, especially, his positive concerns about the ordinary, which often change misfortunes to fortunes, earned him the non-negotiable co-operation and sympathy and the willing to sacrifice for his leadership and all that it stood for. In 1975, the 2 Lieutenant Courage Quashigah was posted from his mother unit to Boys’ Company- otherwise known as “Junior Leaders” in Kumase as Number 3 Platoon Commander. The late L/Cpl Sakordie-Addo, who became member of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) in 1979 but was captured later in a coup plot and killed in 1984, not forgetting the Adabugas, Atiemos, Dzandus, Senyas and Tekpors, were all some his products at Boys. Thus, it matters not to Courage which challenging areas within the army that he will be assigned, he ensured that best standards are realistically achieved.

It came as no surprise that Major Courage Quashigah’s career map leaves diverse footprints in a well documented military landscape and archives, waiting record-breaking or repeal. From his said tactical redeployment as Chief Ops Officer to the military police outpost at El-Wak, that sparked speculated power threat and “political severance” with Chairman Rawlings, Major Quashigah’s professional astuteness, sound judgements and passion for soldiering, trimmed falling hedges and rising lawns of the Military Police. There, the Tiger’s motivational spirit, that seemed to be his trump cards, and probably the source of his numerous military awards and accolades, overturned the tables. With scissors and mowers, Courage’s presence at MP (1984/85), salvaged its fading morale that was at its lowest ebb.

This was at the time the nucleus of the Forces Reserve Unit, as the 64 Infantry Regiment was originally known, was seeking inroads into the military map with its infuriating Macrow pistols, dangling around waists- boasting that the Cuban-trained Special Forces- otherwise known as commandos, are not subjects of the armed forces higher command. Yet, we are told that besides its regular officers and men, the 180- men group, which appeared on the scene in the late 1984, was originally drawn into the force by Enlistment Officers such as Major Sarpong-Addo and Staff-Sergeant Akuamoah-Boateng in September 1983. In this context, Lt-General Arnold Quainoo- the then Forces Commander, might have been right in his anger and prophesies that special forces, if not well catered for, could be ‘monstrous’ not only to themselves but also, to the public as well as to the government that raised them?

Indeed this was a period characterised by what our sources describe as sporadic armed forces durbars, confrontational clashes and arms-twisting over regimental number, rank, name and unit between the commandos and the opposing forces, especially, from the youthful-looking military police unit, that Major Quashigah, was its commanding officer. It was amid these frustrations and future uncertainties that Major Quashigah, appearing like the patriarchal Joseph- imprisoned for his loyalty, was remembered to the FRU in 1986. Taking over as Commanding Officer from Lt-Colonel Wallace Mensah-Gbedemah, CEK Quashigah, the said brainchild of the of the special force unit, raised many chins and heads. Thus it is speculated that following the mass desertion on the 23 November abortive coup that had the characters such as Colonel Abitos and Lt. Achanas, not forgetting the said June 19, Courage saw the need for a formidable standby force for the then struggling PNDC.

However, it is unclear to JusticeGhana.com why Ranger Quashigah, who between October/December1983, briefly detailed the group’s job description during its pre-selection training at Afienya, was refused its pioneering leadership when the commandos returned from Cuba in 1984. Yet, the late arrival of the Sandhurst military graduate with a distinguishing fellowship with Akyem Akyease Jungle Warfare School, untie the knot. The once intelligence officer at 2 Brigade HQ, Kumase, begun his debut with a familiarisation joint-exercise that saw some members of the FRU in a role-play in the pre-selection training into the ranger corps which Ranger Major Quashigah and Captain Ranger George Pattington, were some of the leading assessors. This was followed with series of capability/refresher training programmes that took the commandos to Jungle Welfare School, Teshie/Bondase shooting range not forgetting military skirmishes that saw them ran for their lives from the zenith of Amedzope Training College to the pinnacle of Holy Cross at Amedzope Mountains.

By early 1987, the image of Major Courage Quashigah is said to have eclipsed both the FRU and MP units, not only as “commanding officer” but also, widely seen as uncle, brother and friend. Thus Tiger’s strategy paid off: it built bridges and vanquished the rather unnecessary suspicions, misconceptions and fear that have been sown by politics of deception and hypocrisy which they had been obviously, innocent victims. With this outstanding achievement, Major Courage sailed further to the corridors of power by mending the broken and indeed the disjointed patches of the PNDC frontline forces that we are told, comprised the “Old Guards” at Gondar Barracks, the Personal Security Unit at the Castle and FRU that had its bases at East Cantonment and Asutuare Camp. For this reason, Quashigah is still seen as “godfather” of the 64 Infantry Regiment. Under his leadership, FRB went into the world of introspection vis-à-vis its operations that tend to strain its rapport with the masses.

The most memorable lessons, OmanbaPa Research is told, was his unpreparedness to use show-of-force in coercing the TUC to submit to Labour Secretary Ato Austin’s intention to abolish Leave Claims that had it not been PV Obeng’s intervention, would have thrown the Congress in black and red band on their heads and arms into our streets. It is told but without verifiable source to JusticeGhana but still investigating that Major Quashigah also became infuriated, when without his “knowledge”, some troops under his command, as showcased on Togolese national television, gambled in an alleged abortive invasion to topple Eyedemah in the mid-1980s. So was Quashigah perhaps, quizzed with a Canadian course, paving the way for one Major Ahaji, to take over as CO in the last-quarter of 1987?

Well, Quashigah marched on to attract another military fame in his senior officers course, when in an exceptionally organized award winning parade that was reviewed by a retired Brigadier Katar, on behalf of the Head of State of the Republic of Ghana, became an outstanding officer alongside one Major Oppong-Kyekyeku, at Staff College. As we mourn Courage Quashigah, our special thoughts are with his family and countless students he inspired through his enviable career that was obstructed in the media war against his image in the said coup of September 1989 that he had no public audience. With the scope of his knowledge and a touch of humour, Courage led many through the meandering routes of future uncertainties with real life experience. So, the NPP could be the final authority to document why the Courage preferred Agricultural and Health Ministries to that of Defence?

Yes, the sacrifice of Rangers is well established. But like the Thomas Sankaras, the death of Quashigah and the reflection on his sporadic postings in the latter part of his military career, seems to remind us of the risk soldiers face for being at forefront in revolutionary politics. JusticeGhana is honoured and proud to be part of this special compilation for a man who will continue to be a great influence in many lives- Efo Kobla, Babaname, Damirifa Due, Due…

Credit JusticeGhana.com/The OmanbaPa Research Group