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Opinions of Sunday, 27 May 2018

Columnist: Eric Bawah

The re-incarnation of 'soldier power'

File photo File photo

On 24th February, 1966, when the military, led by General Kotoka, took over the reins of government by overthrowing the government of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghanaians hailed them as “Messiahs”.

For the three years that they ruled the country, the soldiers did not molest any Ghanaian and their attitude towards civilians and the other security services was so cordial that there was no need for us to fear them even though they were also bearing guns. After handing over power to Professor Kofi Abrefa Busia, they retired to their barracks and had nothing to do with the affairs of the nation.

Barely two years after handing over power, the same military, led by Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, came storming into the political arena again and overthrew the government of the meek and mild Prime Minister, Busia. These soldiers too did not treat civilians badly since they concentrated their efforts at ruling the nation with the help of civilian technocrats. Because they did not threat civilians and the other security services badly, any programme that they introduced were seriously patronized by all Ghanaians.

The ‘Operation Feed Yourself’, ‘Operation Feed The Factories’, ‘Backyard Gardening’, etc. became very successful simply because civilians bought into those ideas. Seven years after being in Office, a palace coup removed Acheampong from Office and his regime was replaced by General Akuffo’s Supreme Military Council II.

General Akuffo lifted the ban on party politics and politicians formed parties to contest scheduled general election. Before General Akuffo could put his buttocks on the seat, another soldier called Jerry John Rawlings came storming like General Norman Schwarzkopf of the ‘Operation Desert Storm’ fame.

In a matter of three months, Rawlings and his drunken and drugged soldiers matched General Acheampong and his top five military officers and an ex-Head of State, in the person of General Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa, to the Teshie Military shooting range and shot them like criminals. After this murderous act, the junior ranks felt they had all the power to do whatever they wanted to do without any fear.

In the beginning, Rawlings told Ghanaians that he was doing ‘House Cleaning’ within the military hierarchy and so we the civilians supported him because in those days the top hierarchy of the military were corrupt and we thought after the ‘House Cleaning’, things would become normal.

Before we could blink, the soldiers turned their guns on us. Civilians and policemen were drilled in public and their hairs shaved with broken bottles.

Women were stripped totally naked and caned in the full glare of onlookers simply because they sold goods above what the soldiers called “Control Price”. As a student in Takoradi, I witnessed soldiers from the Takoradi Air Force Base who stormed the Takoradi Police Station near Asikafo Amantem No 2, beat up the policemen on duty, seized their guns and drove away back to their barracks. Nobody dared challenge them and they were not arrested either. After all, those who were supposed to arrest them were the ones beaten up.

For three months, Ghanaians lived in fear particularly when they saw a group of armed soldiers in town. By the grace of God, the soldiers lifted the ban on party politics again and politicians continued to campaign for votes. Dr. Hilla Limann of the People’s National Party (PNP) – an off-shoot of the Convention Peoples Party – won the election and Rawlings handed over power to the fine French Scholar.

In a matter of two years and two months into the four-year term of Dr Limann, the same Rawlings, who had retired and received all his benefits, struck again with more vim. He formed his own private battalion called 64 Battalion or Commandos. With Captain Kojo Tsikata leading the assault, these soldiers treated Ghanaians as sub-human beings. They could go to town and beat up people, including policemen, and drove back to their barracks. In fact, they could even enter your shop and collect whatever they needed without being challenged. For eleven years, Ghanaians suffered the pain of beating and disgrace until pressure from the IMF compelled Rawlings to lift the ban on party politics.

He took off his military uniform and started wearing smock. Unknown to Ghanaians, he had a secret agenda to form his own party to contest the election. That was how come the National Democratic Congress was formed.

Because the soldiers were still supporting him, he used them to bully Ghanaians into submission. He fraudulently won the election and still maintained his private army at the Blue Gate who were better fed, paid and armed than the main Armed Forces. For eight years, Rawlings ruled the nation with ‘iron hands’ until his tenure ended.

When Mr. Agyekum Kufour took over power, he did not disband the commandoes but rather he transferred them to other barracks and those who needed to be trained were trained. He made sure the Chief of Defence Staff rein-in rude soldiers and even introduced a day that all military barracks would be opened for civilians to interact with soldiers so that the idea that the soldiers were brutish could be dispelled. Even though some hot-headed soldiers played the buffoonery sometimes, they were punished accordingly and some were dismissed from the army.

I am recounting all these happenings for the younger generation to know the reason why some soldiers continue to misbehave to the extent that they could move armoured cars from their barracks in Tamale to beat up civilians and policemen at random simply because one of their colleagues was arrested for battering a taxi driver.

I want to take this opportunity to appeal to the President, Nana Akufo- Addo to wade into the matter and instruct the Chief of Defence Staff to take serious action against these soldiers so that this reprehensible action would not be repeated.

As the Commander- in – Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces, he has full control over the army and, as such, he should prove to these guys that he is in control. What happened in Tamale should be the last. If these soldiers who took part in the beating of the policemen were fished out and punished severely, this nonsense will stop and policemen will have the peace of mind to perform their duties.

As civilians, we should throw our weights behind the policemen because if you get any case you don’t go to the military barracks to report to the soldiers, you go to the police station instead.

And did I hear the Northern Regional Police Commander in Tamale saying he and the military officers have settled the matter? I can’t believe this! How can a criminal case be settled without investigation and prosecution? Is the commander waiting for a soldier to kill a policeman before he takes action on behalf of the dead policeman? If I were the one who beat up a policeman, would this man say what he has said? Anyway, are soldiers above the law?

If it is true that the Regional Commander really made those pronouncements, he should be sacked. Some of these soldiers have been going to peacekeeping duties outside Ghana and when they go to such duties; do they see soldiers battering policemen? And are they aware they will come on retirement to live with us? What if a civilian who has been beaten by a soldier decides to pay him back when he retires? People should think before they act!

During the wish-to-be-forgotten revolutionary days, a certain soldier who came from my holy village used to come to the village when he was on leave. Anytime he got drunk, he would gather and drill the youth without any reason. One day, he slapped an old man who was coming from his farm with a rat he had caught. He asked the old man to sell the rat to him and the old man refused because he said he was going to enjoy it with his family, hence the dirty slap. The old man did not utter a word but went home. A week after he had slapped the old man, the soldier went mad. Today he is roaming the village naked and drinking from the gutter. People should learn from this. It is not everybody that you can beat and go scot-free. Nemesis will catch up with you one day.

Perhaps you are not aware that the former President of United States, Barack Obama, started smoking during his teen years – a habit he returns to on and off throughout his Presidency. He stopped smoking in 2010 even though the rumour mill said he had fallen off the wagon. For now, occasionally, he chews nicotine gum. I would have preferred to be like Obama, chewing nicotine gum every day but since we don’t sell nicotine gum in Ghana, I have no choice but to continue puffing my cigar.

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