(Originally published in The New York Beacon)
A day after my late father would have marked his 75th birthday anniversary, Ghana's Flt.-Lt. Jerry John Rawlings appeared before the country's National Reconciliation Commission (NRC). I make this allusion to my father's birthday specifically to highlight the fact that I did not expect the former military strongman, whom the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC-World Service Radio) once glibly described as a benign dictator, to furnish the Commission with any new or spiritually refreshing information regarding his sanguinary 20-year tenure. For those of us who studiously followed the first decade of his grossly untold misrule, Mr. Rawlings best fits the description of Jerry-The-Terrible, a veritable and vintage terrorist, if there exists any such phenomenon. For his reign was the bloodiest and shall likely continue to blotch the Ghanaian political landscape for the foreseeable future. And, on this score, it may be recalled that on June 30, 1982 three of the most distinguished Ghanaian high court judges were summarily abducted from the comforts of their homes and executed by some members of Mr. Rawlings' Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) junta. One of the trio was a pregnant woman by the name of Justice Cecilia Koranteng-Addow; her husband had served as Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice under the Acheampong regime. Legend has it that prior to her execution, Mrs. Koranteng-Addow had been brutally raped and had her abdominal contents exposed. She would be set alight together with her two colleagues, Justices Sarkodie and Agyepong. Indeed, so badly were their bodies conflagrated that these justices would later be identified by the markings on their respective wedding rings.
Their sole crime appeared to be the fact that being ardent believers in constitutional democracy, these justices had not overtly and vociferously demonstrated any interest or humor for Mr. Rawlings' PNDC junta. We would also shortly learn that these high court judges had met their untimely and grisly fate in the manner in which they did solely because they had duly presided over the anti-social case of a member of the PNDC earlier on; and that the latter, having been co-opted into executive membership of the PNDC shortly after Mr. Rawlings' unorthodox re-accession to power, had colluded with several others to exact what they evidently deemed to be condign revenge. The name of the culprit-assassin or suspect was Joachim Amartey Kwei, erstwhile workers' union leader with GIHOC – the Ghana Industrial Holding Corporation. It may also be recalled that a retired major of the Ghana Armed Forces, Mr. Sam Aqcuah (or some such name), who had also served as managing-director of GIHOC, was summarily executed alongside the three justices. Amartey Kwei had led an unruly pack of disgruntled government employees, protesting unfavorable conditions of service, to storm the Ghanaian parliament and vandalize expensive state property, including window-panes and chinaware used by the parliamentary food service in catering to the gustatory needs of the parliamentarians. Amartey Kwei and several of his henchmen would be discharged from their civil service jobs by a judicial edict sanctioned by the deceased judges.
To this day, it is quite unclear whether Mr. Amartey Kwei effected the callous and barbarous liquidation of the three high court judges and the retired army officer on his own accord or volition. A plethora of evidence gathered by various sources in the Ghanaian media, intelligence agencies and by friends and relatives of the slain, indicates that the expeditious prosecution and swift execution of Mr. Amartey Kwei only partly resolves the mystery surrounding the murder of the judges. And here also, one might appositely add that the entire sanguinary operation reeked much more of assassination than the crude and visceral act of murder. For it was patently politically motivated; and, perhaps even more significantly, Mr. Amartey Kwei was, as aforementioned, an executive member of Mr. Rawlings' Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC), an apparatus functionally akin to a presidential cabinet. Thus the suspect of assassination had the momentous ranking of a Minister of State. Consequently, for the PNDC to have so swiftly carried out the trial and execution, by firing squad, of the prime suspect in of itself glaringly reeks of the suspicious. One factor, however, almost certainly must have preponderantly determined the grim and expeditious fate of the late Joachim Amartey Kwei; and that was the ethnic factor. All three judges hailed from the Akan nationality, the largest ethnic group in Ghana. The Akan, it is worthwhile to note, constitute about 60-percent of the 22 million Ghanaian citizenry. What is also important to observe is the fact that the PNDC was dominated by the Ewe, who constitute a little under 14-percent of the country's population, and who are generally known to feel a modicum of political resentment towards the Akan, particularly members of the Asante sub-ethnic group. It is also interesting and significant to note that Mr. Rawlings' mother is of Ewe (ethnic) extraction; of course, he is also widely believed to be of Scottish paternity. In sum, the murder of the three judges, as well as the retired army major, also of Guan-Akan-Effutu extraction, brought the country to the dangerous brink of civic strife. And so, logically, if the PNDC were to survive as an administrative machinery, which it ultimately did, the proverbial scapegoat had to be found , even if one were not readily available, and promptly dispatched in order to diffuse an otherwise turbulent climate. In essence, this is exactly what most Ghanaians firmly believe to have occurred. That scapegoat, of course, became Mr. Joachim Amartey Kwei. A couple of non-commissioned soldiers, among them one by the name of Lance-Corporal Amedeka, were executed along with the aforementioned PNDC cabinet member. In retrospect, and in a perversely humorous sense – you may choose to call it white humor – the junior-ranked soldiers might have been executed more ritualistically than judicially in order to accompany their overlord or chieftain into the nether-world, if, indeed, any such place existed.
In the wake of the murder of the three judges and the retired army officer, which also prompted the resignation of army chief of staff, Brigadier-General Nunoo-Mensah, a cousin to Major Acquah, the Rawlings junta issued a statement vehemently denying that the government had any hand, covertly or overtly, in the heinous event. And so when it later came to light that a top constable in the pay of the PNDC was incontrovertibly implicated, the government mounted a vigorous campaign aimed at dissociating itself from this patently vile, dastardly and despicable deed. But what further complicated matters for Mr. Rawlings and his Sogakope Mafia was the fact that during the course of the aforementioned judicial proceedings that saw him sentenced to death by firing squad, Mr. Amartey Kwei had allegedly implicated the PNDC's notorious and widely feared National Security Adviser, Capt. (rtd.) Kojo Tsikata. The latter, of course, had promptly denied any involvement, though his long-standing notoriety had almost ensured, perennially or indefinitely, that a stygian pall of suspicion would hang over his head.
Interestingly, prior to his February 2004 appearance, by subpoena, before Ghana's National Reconciliation Commission (NRC), two witnesses and ace bona fides of Mr. Rawlings' had testified to the effect that minutes before his execution at the Teshie (Military) Firing Range – or wherever it was – Mr. Amartey Kwei had categorically confessed to Mr. Rawlings, on an audiotape which the latter personally handled, that Capt. Tsikata was not involved in the alleged conspiracy to liquidate the three judges and the retired army officer. For that matter, when the NRC subpoenaed the former military dictator and one-time constitutionally elected president to appear before its impressive panel of lawyers, scholars and investigators, it was with intelligible appreciation, on both sides, that Mr. Rawlings would tend in or tender the purported audio-tape confession. Alas, on the day of his much-publicized appearance, the longest-ruling dictator-president of Ghana could only claim that he “did once” have the Amartey Kwei audio-tape confession in his possession, but not anymore. Indeed, among the Akan, as one could aptly presume of other Ghanaian and African cultures, there is a maxim that: “It is [only] the liar who claims that his/her witness has gone abroad” (otrofo biara se n'adanse ni wo/ko abrokyiri) when confronted with culpable evidence. Then also arises the question of the circumstances under which Mr. Rawlings, then-chairman of the PNDC, drew Amartey Kwei's purported confession. On this score, this is what Mr. Rawlings told the NRC sitting in Accra: “I got the [audio-]tape myself and followed the [execution] convoy from wherever to the point where he [Amartey Kwei] was tied [to the stake]. I approached [reproached?] him that he had personalized an issue. I told him [that] he had hurt all of us by doing what he did. I asked him to let us have the ultimate truth before he meets [sic] his creator, restore some of my respect before you go [sic], to cleanse all of us and I was glad when he vindicated Kojo Tsikata.”
Perhaps, somebody had better warn the Sogakope Mafia capo that the search for reconciliation begins with unalloyed truth, not hearsay. *Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.