Memories of the 1979 executions of three of Ghana's former heads of state and some top military officers came alive again at the weekend in Abuja as the ex-president of Ghana, Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings (rtd), said though the killings were regrettable, there was no way his Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) junta could have avoided them.
Rawlings also said Nigeria under President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua was capable of bringing out the best not only in the country but also in Africa because according to him, Yar' Adua “is displaying an admirable level of integrity.” The ex-Ghanaian president, who spoke at a News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum, said the executions were “very painful and regrettable, but there was no other way out.”
Ghana's AFRC headed then by Rawlings executed eight senior military officers on June 16 and June 26, 1979 for alleged corruption and embezzlement of public funds.
He said if the executions had not been carried out, the rank and file of the Ghanaian Army would have slaughtered the officer corps.
Rawlings cited the example of a military formation in Takoradi where, he said, the soldiers had rounded up some 200 officers and were taking them through their final prayers before execution before he intervened.
“We were able to address that but another six were executed ten days later. It was another sad moment. I attempted to prevent it and sent an officer but the firing squad shot the officers before their commander could give the order,” he said.
Rawlings said the initial idea was to execute only former head of state, Gen. I. K. Acheampong and Gen. Utuka who was the head of the border guards to assuage the feelings of Ghanaians.
He said: “We had no choice than to sacrifice only two originally. But you must understand our country was in a state of rage then, not different from what Russia was when it had its revolution.
Rawlings admitted that he became a hostage to the situation, explaining “I was a partial hostage to that situation. I had no force. The authority that I enjoyed was my moral authority with the people. Their action (the execution of the senior officers by the boys) was to curtail the anger of the nation.” Rawlings also urged the Nigerian government not to be neutral in happenings on Africa's political scene, saying Nigeria under President Yar' Adua was capable of bringing out the best not only in the country but also in Africa.
He said: “Your president, in spite of situations, is displaying an admirable level of integrity. I appeal to Nigerians and your government to keep an eye on what is happening in Africa.”
He said that Nigeria as the giant of Africa should be responsible to other African countries by checkmating them to avoid a crisis situation on the continent.
He advised Yar' Adua to leave behind an enduring legacy by using his presidency to bring out the best in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. “You do not have to send troops or soldiers with ammunition to any country, your words can make great impact, especially now that political morality is returning to your country'' he said.
He blamed Britain and the U.S. for the escalating crisis in Africa, saying “The crisis in Africa is a consequence of the damage the world has suffered during the leadership of Britain's Tony Blair and America's George Bush.”
He said the crisis in the continent came as no surprise to him. Specifically, he said the invasion of Iraq by U.S. and Britain in 2003 had undermined “international political morality and the judicial consciousness of the public. Seven years ago in an interactive session with former heads of states of the world, my constant song was the damage the world had suffered under Blair and Bush.
“I told them (the former heads of states) that soon we would see the consequences in about three and five year's time, particularly in Africa. Today I have been proved right,'' he said.
In denouncing the approach to the war on Iraq, Rawlings said: ``Blair and Bush were in a haste to demonstrate the power of the new world order and the manner they went about it undermined fundamental ethical values.” Rawlings also denounced the trial outside Africa of former Liberian president Charles Taylor on war crimes at the International Criminal Court at the Hague.
“I would have wished, my black dignity would have been preserved, if Taylor was being tried on the black continent and not in the white man's land,'' he said.
Rawlings also did not rule out external influence in the trial of Taylor. Rawlings was twice Ghana's head of state and was the first president of the Fourth Republic of the country.
He first appeared on the Ghanaian political scene on May 15, 1979 when he led a group of junior officers in the Ghana Air Force in an unsuccessful coup d'état that resulted in his arrest and imprisonment.
He was court martialled in public and sentenced to death.
But Rawlings won the love of the rank and file of the Ghanaian military and the public due to his bravery at the court martial.
Before he could be executed, another group of junior officers within the Ghana Army overthrew the then military government of Gen. Fred Akuffor on June 4, 1979.
The coupists released Rawlings from prison and installed him as head of the new government - the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council. On life after retirement, Rawlings said it had been a mixed grill.
“On the one side, it's been hell; on the other hand, one could say that I have been caught in between,'' he said.