Tue, 23 Feb 2021 Feature Article

Aftermath of the February 24, 1966 Coup. Nkrumah Description of events

Aftermath of the February 24, 1966 Coup. Nkrumah Description of events

24th FEBRUARY 1966
One of the first things I did after my arrival in Guinea was to establish an efficient communications system so that I could be kept fully informed of what was happening inside Ghana.

Almost at once I began to receive detailed eye-witness accounts of what actually took place on 24th February and in the dark days which followed the army and police usurpation of power.

At the same time there began a steady flow of Ghanaians to visit me in Conakry, to tell me about what had happened in Ghana and to express their loyalty. Some of them had walked all the way; others had found quicker means of travel. But all came at great personal risk to themselves and their families. Letters also began to pour in, and gradually the full, terrible story of violence and bloodshed took shape, and has since been confirmed to me over and over again by innumerable people who were there at the time of the military and police action and saw what took place.

Several of the eyewitnesses who came to me still bore the marks of the brutal attacks made on them. The true account of the seizure of power in Ghana by traitors and neo-colonialists does not make pleasant reading. But the facts must be faced and put on record so that the enormity of the crime committed against the people of Ghana can be accurately assessed.

I left Accra on 21st February 1966. I was seen off at the airport by most of the leading government and Party officials, and by service chiefs.

I recall the handshakes and the expressions of good wishes from Harlley, Deku, Yakubu, and others. These men, smiling and ingratiating, had all the time treason and treachery in their minds.

They had even planned my assassination on that day, though they later abandoned the idea. I remember shaking hands with Major-General Barwah, only to be murdered in cold blood three days later when he refused to surrender to the rebel army soldiers. I little thought then that l would never see him again, or that Zanerigu, Command of the Presidential Guard Regiment, Kojo Botsio. Kofi Baako and other ministers who were there at the airport, would be shortly seized by renegade soldiers and policemen and thrown into prison.

After a week of so-called "maneuvers," the operation began early in the morning of Wednesday, 23rd February 1 966 when the garrison at Kumasi, numbering 600 men, was ordered to move southwards to Accra.

On the way, the convoy of some 35 vehicles was met and halted by the two arch-traitors Colonel Emmanuel Kwesi Kotoka, Commander of the Second Tnfantry Brigade Group, and Major Akwasi Amankwa Afrifa of the Second Brigade.

Kotoka had only recently been put in charge of the Kumasi garrison, and I had not yet confirmed his appointment. Afrifa was left in command while Kotoka went to Accra to report progress to Commissioner of Police, John Willie Kofi Harlley and to find some soldier better known than himself to be the nominal head of the revolt.

The man chosen was Major-General Ankrah even though the conspirators had thought so little of his abilities than they had not previously troubled to consult him. He was, however, one of the few officers who had held even the rank of major in colonial days and had seen service in the world war if only as a quartermaster.

In the Congo he had shown some bravery and, at least, routine ability and I had decorated him for his services but essentially, he was of mediocre caliber. He held the post of second in command in the armed forces after independence through seniority, not ability. He would not have been appointed even to this post but for the death shortly before of another senior officer.

In 1 965 I retired him. Undoubtedly, it was his lack of understanding of what was going on around him which recommended him as a figure-head to those manipulating the 'coup'. The troops were then told that I intended sending them to fight in Vietnam and in Rhodesia, and that I had deserted Ghana taking with me £8 million. There was, they were told, no government left in Ghana, and it was their duty to assume control of the country to maintain law and order. Already, it was said, Russian planes were landing on a secret airstrip in northern Ghana. Furthermore, a secret tunnel had been made from Flagstaff House, the presidential residence, to Accra airport, and for days Russians had been arriving. The only way to save Ghana, and to avoid being sent to fight in Vietnam, the troops were told, was to take Flagstaff House. Several days after the military seizure of power, Kotoka and Afrifa appeared on Ghana TV congratulating themselves on their easy success. One remark stood out unmistakable and clear: "And you know, we didn't find any Russians at all not one! Nor could we find any trace of that tunnel." This was followed by peals of laughter at the poor soldiers who had believed their story.

The first object of the military operation was to force the surrender of Major-General Barwah, Army Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Defense Staff, who was in command of the Ghana Army in the absence from the country of the Chief of Defense Staff, General Aferi.

At the same time, Brigadier Hasan, Head of Military Intelligence, and Colonel Zanerigu, Commander of the Presidential Guard Regiment, and Owusu Sekyere, former head of the C.I.D. and in charge of the Special Branch. were to be arrested.

This stage of the operation was badly bungled. Hasan was arrested, but Zanerigu, when confronted, escaped through a window of his house and drove to Flagstaff House to warn the Presidential Guard Regiment.

Barwah could not be intimidated. Woken from his sleep in the early hours of the morning of the 24th by the arrival of Kotoka and some 25 men, he courageously refused either to join the traitors or to surrender. Thereupon, Kotoka shot him dead at point-black range in cold blood in the presence of his wife and children. The seven security officers who were stationed at Barwah's house were also murdered on the spot on Kotoka's orders.

Kotoka subsequently boasted of his killing of Barwah but said because he was protected by a "juju" he was able to catch the bullets which Barwah fired in his defense and to throw them back at him. When the counter coup of April 1967 took place Kotoka's "magic" could not save him. Unlike Barwah he surrendered without protest or struggle to those who had captured him at his headquarters. His "juju" did not prevent him being shot in his tum.

Barwah's murder was one of the most disgraceful and ghastly crimes ever committed in Ghana's history. In an attempt to wipe the blood from their hands the so-called "N.L.C." gave Barwah and the security officers a military burial a few days later. What a mockery, and what hypocrisy! Yet these terrible, cold-blooded murders were only the first of many which occurred on 24th February and during subsequent days. They set the tone, as it were, of the whole operation which was characterized throughout by cowardice, bloodshed and criminal stupidity.

By 6 a.m. on the 24th, the Accra police, acting on Hadley's orders, had rounded up most of the ministers and other key political figures, and fighting had broken out at Flagstaff House between members of the Presidential Guard Regiment and rebel army units. There were about thirty members of the Guard Regiment at Flagstaff House when the alarm was raised. These were soon joined by others who managed to slip in by a back entrance to reinforce their comrades. Although heavily outnumbered they successfully held up the rebel detachment sent to seize the Ghana radio station a short distance from Flagstaff House. Only eight of the 124 detailed for this operation managed to get through. These captured the radio station, apparently without incident, and at 6 a.m. Kotoka arrived to broadcast that the army and police had taken over the government of Ghana.

The announcement was premature. At 7 a.m. resistance was actually increasing at Flagstaff House, as the defenders, less than a hundred of them, fought fiercely back against some 600 rebel troops. By this time a battalion in Accra under Ocran had joined them, not knowing what the fighting was all about.

Thus, the rebels were able to gain control of the airport, cable office, radio station, and all the approach roads to Accra. Kotoka had established a combined HQ. with the police at Police Headquarters, and from there the order was given for the 2nd Battalion to go into action at Flagstaff House.

The Guard Regiment fought on. though their position was now hopeless. The outside walls of Flagstaff House had been blasted open, and the defenders had retreated behind the second gate. Still, they refused to surrender. It was only after the rebels threatened to blow up the family residence at Flagstaff House in which my wife and three young children were sheltering that they finally gave in.

The fierce fighting at Flagstaff House at this time was in striking contrast to the failure at the time of the April I 967 counter-coup of Kotoka's body guard to defend his headquarters. He had made Flagstaff House into a strong point from which he commanded the army. Yet when it was attacked by a small detachment of some 25 men the garrison immediately surrendered as did that of the Broadcasting Station which was also only attacked by a force of similar size.

Again, a small group of soldiers, not more than 50 in all, were sufficient to capture the Castle at Osu from which the "N.L.C." conducted their government. Ankrah 'the Chairman' of the "N.L.C." was the first of its defenders to run away, jumping over the Castle wall, plunging into the sea and wading down the shore.

What followed the fall of Flagstaff House on 24th February 1 966, has been concealed from the world. But the people of Ghana know, and will never forget. It may be explained in part by the fact that the soldiers who had carried out the 'coup' were frightened men. They had been told that there was a great store of arms beneath Flagstaff House and a hidden Russian army was concealed there which would suddenly emerge to attack them. They were jittery and fired on anyone on the slightest suspicion. They so frightened officials of the Japanese Embassy that they put placards on all their cars saying "We are NOT Chinese". There was also potential indiscipline.

Despite the fact that Ghanaian armed forces in the Congo were regarded as the best of the African troops stationed there, the habit of drug-taking and excessive drinking which some of the soldiers had acquired there led to a mutiny in one battalion in which the Commanding Officer was so badly injured that he was left for dead, and in which the mutinous soldiers took over for two- or three-days complete control of the camp. In order to restore discipline, it had been necessary to disband this battalion. The officers who organized the "coup", having deceived their men, were now in no position to discipline them. Rebel troops, many of them almost mad from the effects of Indian hemp which had been issued to them, others intoxicated with alcohol looted from ransacked houses and trigger-happy, carried out the most cruel and senseless attacks on innocent men, women and children.

Thousands of pounds worth of damage was done to government property, and valuable historical documents and records were destroyed. At Flagstaff House itself, troops dashed from one room to another, smashing windows and furniture, tearing up papers, ripping telephones from desks, and destroying anything they could lay their hands on. My own office was singled out for special treatment. The full extent of the loss of books and manuscripts I shall discover on my return.

I am hoping that by some miracle the precious notes I was compiling for a history of Africa may have been spared. If not, years of work will have been wasted, and the labor of collecting and sorting material and writing it up will have to begin again from scratch.

The stupidity of this needless destruction of government property, and the failure of the rebel officers to exercise any control over their men, demonstrates the quality of their leadership.

In the six-roomed two-Storey house where I lived with my family, troops were allowed to run riot, seizing clothes and other intimate personal possessions including rare old books and manuscripts. My wife and children, although not physically harmed, were not permitted to take a single thing with them when they were turned out of the house and forced to take refuge in the Egyptian Embassy.

My mother, 80 years old and almost blind, who was staying at Flagstaff House, was forcibly ejected and told to go "where you belong". I understand some friends took her to Nkroful where I was born. Later, the actual house in which I was born was burnt down on "N.L.C." orders. My mother was forced to appear before a 'commission of enquiry' with the idea of making her admit that I was not her son and indeed was not a Ghanaian at all. I am proud to know that she resolutely refused to say anything of the sort and conducted herself with the utmost dignity.

From Flagstaff House, the troops went to Kanda Estate where many security officers have their quarters. There they hurled grenades into the compounds, broke into houses and flats, tossed furniture out of the windows, and carried off radios, refrigerators and other property. Anyone who resisted them was brutally shot. Women, children and old people were driven out into the streets. Many of the women were raped. Even young children were hit with rifle butts.

A woman with a child on her back was shot, and both mother and child were thrown to the ground from a three-Storey window.

The rank-and-file police who had taken no part in the 'coup' were horrified at what was taking place and did their best to restrain the soldiers and this led in some cases to actual fighting between the two forces. Meanwhile, the soldiers had been reinforced by a new element. It was part of the propaganda against Ghana abroad and internally that my government had detained thousands of individuals. There were, of course, political detainees but their number, for state security, was fortunately small. Most of these detainees under the Preventive Detention Act were the so-called "criminal" detainees.

As industrialization developed in Ghana so. as in all countries. organized crime increased and at one stage in the immediate post-independence period we were faced with a situation which, if we had not dealt with it, would have resulted in the country being terrorized by organized criminal gangs. The view of the police was that it was not possible in many cases. any more than it was in the United States at some periods of its history, to secure convictions in courts of the gang leaders or of their supporters. The Preventive Detention Act was therefore extended to cover habitual criminals suspected of gangsterism. If the rebels had only released the genuine political detainees the total would have been so small as to discredit them and in any case, they required the prison accommodation occupied by the criminal detainees in order to lock up anyone suspected of being a C.P.P. member or supporter.

In the days following the 'coup' the criminal detainees were not only released but were able to represent themselves as "the heroes of the counter-revolution". By day they joined. naturally, in the demonstrations against my government and at night returned to their old activities to such an extent that even the strictly controlled "N.L.C." press demanded that they should be returned to prison. Accra was handed over to lawless elements which the rank-and-file police had no means of controlling.

Bar owners were forced at gun point to sell free beer to soldiers and to the "heroes of the counter-revolution", the criminal detainees. These people assaulted women, thieved, and looted. It will be only after the return to legal government in Ghana that it will be possible to assess exactly the number of those who died in fighting against the rebel soldiers or were subsequently killed in the looting and robbery which followed.

The casualties in the fighting were certainly heavy. The number of civilians killed; it is more difficult to estimate. Two members of Parliament certainly lost their lives and a number of people in no way connected with politics died. Among those shot dead near Flagstaff House was an air hostess on her way to the airport. In all, the total was probably around 1 ,600 dead and many more injured. So much for the "bloodless coup"!

One thing is clear. Never before in the cherished history of our new Ghana had citizens, defenseless men and women, been assassinated in cold blood by their own soldiers. Not a single Ghanaian life was taken during the whole fifteen years of my administration. There are few, if any, governments in the world which can say as much.

Yet here was this handful of traitors at one blow spoiling our proud record, and dragging Ghana's name through the mud. In the days which followed the insurrection, hundreds of patriotic Ghanaians were thrown into prison. All ministers. M.P.s, officials of the Party and of all its subsidiary and associate organizations including the trade unions were arrested and detained. The same applied to branch-officers throughout the country. In fact, the entire leadership, except for the few who managed to escape or go into hiding, was at one swoop rounded up and thrown into prison.

The prison authorities, with some exceptions, continued to act in the humane and considerate way which we had insisted upon in the prison service, since the establishment of independence. The Director of Prisons, in particular, saw to it that no one, insofar as he could prevent it, once inside the prison, was ill-treated. It is significant that subsequently he was pronounced by the "N.L.C." to have become insane and taken to a lunatic asylum where he died, mysteriously electrocuted.

Professor Kojo Abraham, Fellow of All Souls, Oxford, and a former Governor of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, was mercilessly beaten when soldiers 27 arrived to arrest him. He was flung unconscious into the police van. Abraham, at the time of his arrest, was an M.P. and Acting Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana. His only crime was that he was a leading member of the Party. The manuscript of a new book he was writing was among the first of a pile of papers and books publicly burnt. Nazi-style, by the mutinous soldiers who arrested him.

Geoffrey Bing, Q.C., a distinguished British lawyer, and one of my legal advisers, who had come to Ghana at Government invitation to help in our legal and constitutional work, had his clothes and shoes torn off him and was made to walk up and down barefoot and to stand up and sit down in repeated succession without being able to use his hands. Bayonets were stuck into his back, and it was not until a Commander of the Ghana Navy arrived on the scene that they stopped torturing him.

Typical of the sort of thing which happened was the wounding of the Deputy Manager of one of the hotels in Accra. He was being driven by his driver on hotel business but suddenly was shot by a soldier. The explanation subsequently given was that as he was sitting at the back of the car the soldier thought he must have been a minister in my government. These are only a few examples of the countless acts of brutality carried out within the first week or so, by the traitorous renegades and cowards who seized power in Ghana on 24th February 1966.

The people of Ghana were stunned. Nobody outside Accra knew what had happened, or was happening. In some cases, particularly in the remoter districts, it was days before they realized what had taken place. Even then, the full implications of the army-and-police action dawned only slowly as they began gradually to see through the lies poured out over the radio and in the press, and saw with their own eyes the way in which the independence and progress of their beloved country was being destroyed, and its assets sold to foreign interests.

In Accra, military police and soldiers in full battle dress and armed with sub-machine guns patrolled the streets. In such circumstances, and with all the Party leadership arrested, it was not surprising that there was no immediate and open resistance. But secret, underground resistance began at once. It grew by leaps and bounds. While a number of the ministers hastened to ingratiate themselves with the rebels, others remained firm. Nothing for example has been heard of N. A Welbeck, Minister of Information and Party Propaganda who resolutely refused to make any cringing retraction of his past political activities. And the same is true of other ministers such as I. K. Chinebuah, Minister of Education and former Headmaster of Achimota School.

The most heartening demonstration, however, came from the resolute attitude adopted by many of those in the intermediate and lower ranks of the Party. The journalists, regional commissioners, district commissioners and party secretaries were imprisoned in the central block of Ussher Fort prison. Almost from the first day of their imprisonment onward they were singing in chorus Party songs so loudly that they could be heard well outside the prison and this despite the fact that their block was patrolled by armed soldiers.

Ghanaians are not a timid people as has been suggested in the foreign press. Far from it. They may be slow to anger, and may take time to organize and act. But once they are ready, they strike, and strike hard. It pays no one to tamper with Ghanaian freedom and dignity. Ghana is out of the gambling house of colonialism, and will never return to it. The American, British and European press has made much of the "demonstrations" which occurred in Accra in celebration of the 'coup'.

It is interesting, however, that even in the Ghanaian papers there were no reports of any such demonstrations in the villages or in the country-side where one would have expected them. if the revolt had been genuinely popular. It is understandable however that certain elements, particularly in Accra, should demonstrate in favor of the new regime. The criminal detainees naturally led the celebrations but they were joined by more sober citizens.

The intellectuals and the professional classes had always been against my government which they felt, quite rightly, was challenging their position of privilege. The lawyer and the clergyman thus found themselves joining in the same processions through the streets as the criminal. There was a section of the market women who had been exploiting the shortage of goods due to the measures which we had to take for the control of non-essential imports. They had been exposed by the Abraham Commission and they naturally were delighted that its Chairman should have now been thrown into jail. In addition to this there were at the start a number of people who were genuinely deceived by the revolt. The disastrous fall in the world price of cocoa had led to inevitable import shortages of consumer goods. These people really believed that the 'coup' would change all this, and so they joined the gangs in the streets. Others joined them out of curiosity.

Even so it was necessary for the army to force children from their school rooms and to dragoon demonstrators in order to make a satisfactory show. A small number of students from the university at Legon, wanting to demonstrate in favor of the new regime, asked for and were given police protection, so fearful were they of the reaction of the people of Accra. It was not until instructions were issued from police headquarters that the first street "demonstrations" took place.

Banners and posters, most of them prepared beforehand in the U.S. Embassy, were pushed into the hands of the unwilling "demonstrators". Many of the slogans and words used on them were quite foreign to the Ghanaian people, and in some cases completely incomprehensible. The same kind of thing was noticeable in the newspapers and news bulletins issued immediately after the seizure of power. Words and phrases were used which had never been seen in a Ghanaian newspaper before. The same discrepancy occurred on the radio as bulletins and news flashes were broadcast. The voice was Ghanaian, but the unfamiliar words and the glib expressions were foreign, and often caused the announcer to hesitate and falter. Clearly, the polished editorials, news bulletins and unfamiliar slogans had been devised by experts trained in the art of overthrowing "undesirable governments'', but who had not taken the trouble to familiarize themselves with the Ghanaian way of thinking or expression.

I understand that the Uganda government in its investigations following the abortive coup which took place in Kampala on 26th February, only two days after the action in Accra, discovered prepared news bulletins, posters and newspaper editorials which were strikingly similar in style and content to those actually used in Ghana. I leave the reader to draw the obvious conclusions.

In the Makola market, a woman who had a large picture of myself above her stall was shot dead by an army officer after refusing three times to hand it over for destruction. This kind of incident, not seen by foreign journalists, who obediently and very willingly photographed and reported only the staged demonstrations and rigged press interviews, was typical of many other pathetic but deeply moving acts of heroism performed by the ordinary men and women of Ghana during those dark days. Much publicity was given in the imperialist press and on T.V., to the pulling down of the statue of myself in front of the National Assembly building in Accra. It was made to appear as though angry crowds had torn the statue from its pedestal and had carried off chunks of it. But it was not for nothing that no photographs could be produced to show the actual pulling down of the statue; and the few women seen carrying away portions of the statue on their heads were photographed back view. In fact, when the statue was pulled down the Parliament building where it stood had been cordoned off by the military and no unauthorized person was allowed into the area.

All those who were there at the time had been those brought in by the military, who had closed to all civilians the whole of the High Street onto which the statue faced. When the statue had been pulled down about half-a-dozen terrified young children were forced to sit on it as it lay on the ground. Even the Jubilant imperialist press evidently saw nothing strange in publishing photographs of bewildered toddlers, tears running down their cheeks, sitting on a headless statue, while the same imperialist press extolled what it described as a "most popular coup".

Since even the women shown carrying away pieces of it on their heads were photographed from behind, it is impossible to be certain whether they were from a group of the market women condemned by the Abraham Commission or as was widely rumored in Accra, "soldiers dressed up as women''. There are many other incidents which could be recorded, but sufficient has been written to show the manner in which the military and police action of 24th February 1 966 was carried out.

Of course, there were some who were happy at the turn of events. In any country there are always elements glad to see a change of government, and the traitors among the army and police who seized power in my absence could not even have attained the degree of success they'd manage to achieve without support. The nature of this support, internal and external, I now intend to examine.