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Opinions of Friday, 14 August 2020

Columnist: Dela Coffie

Rawlings/Amissah-Arthur aircraft incident - Lack of discipline left Rawlings frustrated and dismayed

What is there that is left to be said about the controversy concerning President Rawlings' removal of the late former Vice-President Amissah-Arthur from the presidential aircraft in Tamale?

Absolutely nothing. And so, it surprises me that the tabloids and their trusted partisan falcons smuggled this matter back on to the front pages. I don’t blame them. The real culprit is once again Kwamena Ahwoi!

Well, as this incident goes, it was, at worst, a very small matter of indiscipline that needed to be cured by the then President.

The story is told in a moving narration that the constitutional Head of State of the Republic of Ghana in 1997 thereabouts sent his Vice-President, Prof Mills on an assignment to the Northern regional capital, Tamale. It must have been a political campaign event and Mills' entourage was billed to meet some chiefs.

The chiefs had waited for hours to meet up with Prof Mills but surprisingly, his staffers refused to alert him about the presence of the chiefs.

Amissah-Arthur who happened to be one of the junior ministers on the entourage walked into the hall where the chiefs were seated and his attention was drawn to the situation. He was not bothered as it were, and even a common courtesy and decency was never extended to the chiefs. Amissah-Arthur walked past them and went straight upstairs. One would have thought he would inform the good Professor to at least come down to meet the chiefs. But no.

The news about the apparent mistreatment of the chiefs spread quickly like harmattan fire and got to Madam Faustina Nelson, who in turn passed it on to President Rawlings in Accra.

This unfortunate situation — which consumed not only Amissah-Arthur but the entire entourage — left Rawlings deeply frustrated and dismayed, said people familiar with the situation. The episode also underscored the difficult challenges that the President faced in instilling a sense of order around him.

Well, the President—who's a model of discipline, rectitude and integrity — immediately truncated his daily schedule and got on board the Presidential aircraft heading to Tamale to bring back the entourage.

The plane landed safely in Tamale and as protocol demands, everyone lined up to exchange pleasantries with President Rawlings. He calmly shook hands with each and everyone and quietly took his seat in the presidential jet. Having boarded the plane, President Rawlings politely asked Amissah-Arthur to disembark.

As inconveniencing as this was, Amissah-Arthur, in the opinion of President Rawlings was an honest man.

But he just couldn't understand why a man of his calibre could descend into such levels. The disrespect and disdain shown the chiefs was absolutely unacceptable to President Rawlings, and he has eloquently articulated this to time without number. As a matter of fact, Rawlings was enraged simply because the chiefs actually congregated at the instance of the state, and they ought to have been treated with utmost respect.

No one would have thought much about it. Had Amissah-Arthur simply apologized for it as an unwitting error, that would have been the end of it. Apologizing and cutting your losses is what smart politicians do when put in such situations. Not Amissah-Arthur on that occasion, says a source familiar with the situation.

Another PNDC operative and unofficial Mills adviser was more definitive, saying that no matter how respected or talented Amissah-Arthur may be, that singular action demonstrated an essential truth about him.

And as Rawlings bluntly put it:

"I took the action to remove Amissah-Arthur from the plane to restore some sanity. These chiefs were invited for the event, and for them to be treated the manner it happened leaves much to be desired."

And, crucially, Rawlings reminded Ghanaians that the politicians and the government entourage were impetuous, bottomlessly undisciplined, almost chemically inattentive, while the chiefs were seasoned, protective of themselves and their institutions. They knew where the levers of power lay and how to use them or prevent the politicians from doing so.

President Rawlings later praised Amissah-Arthur for his fortitude.
He said he paid his full dues to Ghana with love and commitment.

"Nevertheless, Paa Kwesi’s calm disposition hid a confident interior that I believe earned him his role in our governments and allowed him to rise in other roles outside government.

During a trying period in the PNDC days, our former Deputy Minister of Finance bailed us out of a difficult troop situation in his capacity as Acting Minister. That was when I recognized that he was no personality to be regarded lightly.

As a partner in the trenches of the PNDC and early NDC days, we had our challenges too and he took them in his stride even if there were some discomforting encounters," Rawlings concluded.

For most NDC insiders, Rawlings' dressing down of Amissah-Arthur and the controversy about the whole situation and the latest media twist to the situation is a perfect opportunity to lash out at Rawlings. But is the juice worth the squeeze?

The inconvenient truth or the real issue now is more about Amissah-Arthur’s conduct than it is about the issue. We already knew he was an instinctive political talent with an endearing demeanour. But the flipside to his impressive qualities is an undisciplined and self-destructive willingness to indulge his pet peeves that demonstrate that his primary characteristics are a thin skin and an overwhelming desire to snubbing others.

But then again, Rawlings, as we all know him, came into leadership clear-eyed and practical, with the goal of implementing discipline. He always had a stabilizing and organizing influence on his government and wouldn't tolerate such indiscipline.

The Rawlings era was a bright, shining interlude between successful attempts to right the pre-revolutionary era and it has now come to a close after a glorious run.