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Opinion | Jul 22, 2012

DOWN THE MEMORY LANE IN POLITICS

THE ODYSSEYS OF A HEAD OF STATE - THE FALL OF ACHEAMPONG
General IK Acheampong
General IK Acheampong

My first setting of eye on General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong was in the last quarter of 1967. He was the reviewing officer for a passing-out parade of a group of soldiers that were passing-out after six-months training at the Armed Forces Training Center, Kumasi. As of the time, he was a Lt Colonel, Chairman for the Western Regional Committee of Administration. I was in my second year of training at the erstwhile Junior Leaders' Company (Boys' Company), Kumasi.

In his address to the passing-out recruits, a part of the address which later became one of the guiding principles in my military career, he told those passing-out that “no one charge a soldier, a soldier charges himself”. Honestly I was at a loss then. I asked myself, how could a soldier charge himself? Later in life the wisdom of that became clearer as I soldiered on.

In December of the following year (1968), I graduated from the Junior Leaders' after 3-year training and was posted to then Medium Mortar Regiment, Ho. Brigadier AK Kattah was the 1infantry Brigade Commander to be succeeded by Brigadier HD Twum Barima and later, Lt Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong.

Until his appointment as 1 Bde Group Commander, Lt Col IK Acheampong had remained in Western Region. In October of 1971, Lt Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong was appointed Commander, 1 infantry Brigade. Barely two and half (2½) in Command, Lt Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong led a bloodless coup d'état to oust the government of Prime Minister Kofi Abrefa on 13 January, 1972. A military government set up, the National Redemption Council, with Lt Col IK Acheampong as Chairman and promoted Colonel.

The military junta enjoyed the good-will of Ghanaians. However, as initial euphoria started to dissipate, the NRC came under intense public scrutiny and this led to the re-organization of the ruling military junta in October 1975. The Supreme Military Council (SMC I) replaced the National Redemption Council. The re-organization was at instance of the Service Commanders who felt maligned.

On October 9 1975, the NRC was replaced by the Supreme Military Council. Its composition consisted of Colonel Acheampong, the chairman, who was also promoted straight from Colonel to General. The others included the military hierarchy consisting of Lt. Gen. Akuffo the Chief of Defence Staff, and the army, navy, air force and Border Guards commanders respectively.

Notwithstanding the initial economic progress made by the NRC, it soon faced enormous problems which plunged the country into an economic crisis.

The socio – economic situation started to suffer and the year 1975 proved to be a critical turning point, in the administration of General Acheampong led government and by 1977, the economic difficulties had turn out to be damaging. The banks were no longer extending credit to the state, because of the state inability to service the credit.

Production had shrunk and there were scarcity of basic supplies, in the same way the activities of smugglers had soared. Despite the fact that the courts were ready and willing to help out and to arrest the state of affairs, no more than a tip of the iceberg reached them; and in penalizing these persons a great deal, the courts made mockery themselves as the most terrible guilty parties got away. In an instance, a Circuit Court at Denu jailed a 69 year old woman to two years six months for smuggling 4 gallons of kerosene to the Republic of Togo in 1977. In May 1978, an Accra Circuit Court jailed Gladys Ayettey - 26, four years for selling Palmolive soap at 4.00 instead of 87 pesewas and one packet Omo at 4.00 instead of 46 pesewas. Korkor Addo - 22, was also jailed four years by the same court for selling two tins of mackerel at 1.40 each instead of 37 pesewas. Normally the punishment would have brought a degree of respite to the hearts of Ghanaians, if the big-time smugglers and corrupt officials were also arrested and brought before court to receive sentences befitting their crimes; however this was not the state of affairs for the reason that these persons had dealings with the administrative system. Repugnant and revealing Official figures available at the end of 1978 have it that, the country lost some £50 million as a result of smuggling of local goods to neighboring countries.

As a way of fixing the deteriorating system, the government put into operation the 'Chit' system. The taking up of the 'Chit' system with a view to control the supply of the existing stock of basic commodities further exacerbated the situation for reasons that, a few were able to manipulate the system to collect large supply of goods purposely to sell them at very high prices to the already disadvantaged masses.

Hoarding, profiteering as a means of survival reached such heights that the term kalabule was invented to refer to economic malpractices. Corruption was everywhere as it enjoyed official sanction.

It was a public secret that General Achcampong, the Head of State, was deeply buried in the violent destruction of the economy. The famous green ink (pen) was all that mattered; with a stroke he ordered Directors of the Ministries of Trade and Finance in particular to issue out import licenses to his favorites, mostly young girl friends and mistresses, with no reference to the Bank of Ghana for advice.

Through official connections import licenses worth millions of cedis were issued to people supportive of the National Redemption Council and girl friends of members of the government.

Many of the state enterprises premises became the assembly grounds involving army officers, corrupt management and private merchants who feasted on from the nation's coffers. Out of smartness, Ghanaians invented the term "bottom power" to illustrate the sensation with which a number of young women were able to access 'Chits' with ease. The outrageous aspect was that the recipients were not even the industrious market mammies, but simply 'girls' fresh from school or university.

The new trademark representation of economic power turns out to be the VW Golf instead of the traditional mammy wagon. A lot of businessmen resorted to under-invoicing which led to the loss of huge sums of revenue (in the form of taxes) to the state. Evidence of official involvement in corruption was on a high increase.

Members of the ruling council also allocated large sums of money to themselves despite the ailing economy. They received 'special allowance' of 9,000.00 cedis every six months. This indicated that a member of government of the rank of Colonel received a tax free allowance of 18,000.00 cedis per annum asides other additional benefits. This amount at the time was about three times the annual net salary of a Colonel in the Ghana Army.

From March to April 1977, the Consumer Price Index jumped from 964.5 to 1,128.7 per cent and this caused the sudden rise in cost of locally produced food. Workers were not capable to come up with the money for their basic food such as plantain, yam, corn and cassava. Those with enough money bought yellow corn even though they expressed shame at eating what was more often than not used for animal feed.

In response to these hardships of the workers in the public sector, strikes became common feature. Most of the strikes, as expected, centered on calls for improved working conditions. On the whole, the number of strikes increased from a total of 8 (in 1974) to 11 (in 1976) 10 (in 1977) and 23 (in 1978).

The most serious and biting of the strikes was the Ghana Registered Nurses Association (nationwide) 25 days strike and the Ghana Oil Refinery 11 days strike both in 1978.

The educational sector was also seriously affected as teachers in both first and second cycle schools left the country to seek greener pastures, especially in Nigeria. The universities were not spared either as a number of the academic staff also joined the 'exodus' to escape the unbearable economic situation.

The negative result from the trend on the country's manpower development can well be imagined. Industries had their turn of the negative developments and because of lack of raw materials many were forced to either close down or produce below capacity, at about a quarter of production capacity. In an attempt to break even at this ridiculously low production level, most of the industries laid off some staff. The effect on the individual, his family and the society in general was alarming and disastrous.

General Acheampong intransigent to accept particularly good expert advice on economic and fiscal policies, tried to find answers to the increasing economic problems by printing more money to off-set the rising budget deficit. The excess liquidity caused inflation to move up in 1977. By July 1979 the country's resources to service her short-term loan repayment had weakened to the extent that it had fallen into arrears. Consequently, further credit lines were blocked. The effect pointed to a dying economy that had seriously impacted, in the standard of living of the majority of the people. General Acheampong's “Odyssey 1” was on-going when he ushered in “Odyssey 2”, the “political suicide” agenda.

In the face of increase ill-feeling and disaffection among Ghanaians over Acheampong's carelessness, that had resulted in the suffering of majority of the people, he ripped open the nerves of Ghanaians further with his “political suicide” by mooting and putting forward proposal for a "Union Government" - a non-partisan system of Government composed of the military, the police and civilians.

It can be easily speculated or reasoned through that, Acheampong had the thought of continue in office by holding on to the seat, as Head of State, through this political arrangement. To push through his plans, he formally outdoor on 10 January, 1977, an Ad-Hoc Committee on Union Government with Dr. Koranteng-Addow, Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice as its chairman. The purpose of the Ad-Hoc Committee was to collect and collate ideas on Union Government to ensure its effective implementation.

Paying no attention to advice, choosing to intimidate, and single out for punishment people who opposed the Union Government idea, a referendum was held on 30 March 1978 to find out the desires of the people on the issue.

In the course of making public the results, the Electoral Commissioner, Justice I. K. Abban gave up his place as Electoral Commissioner, went into hiding owing to threats on his life, for his refusal to rig the results. He later emerged from his hiding place on April 3,1978, reported himself to the Castle in the company of His Grace John Kodwo Amissah, Archbishop of Cape Coast, Rev. Hilary Senoo of the Catholic Secretariat and Rev. C. Awotwe Pratt of the Methodist Church. He was relieved of his post as the Acting Electoral Commissioner and A.M. Quaye was appointed Commissioner in his stead.

Notwithstanding the volatile environment the government went ahead to appoint a Constitutional Commission, composed of people from different backgrounds, to draw up proposals on what was referred to as a 'National Government', to be composed of civilians (i.e. politicians), some members of the Armed Forces and the Police.

People became more incensed, and, in the face of the scorched intimidation, detention of people through the Preventive Detention Decree, civil unrest became widespread. Professionals like the Ghana Bar Association withdrew their services for a while - April to July 1978. The Catholic Secretariat, the Christian Council, and some traditional rulers bluntly disapproved the dictatorial disposition of the government. Lots of eminent public figures teamed up, the Association of Recognized Professional Bodies - ARPB, the Front for the Prevention of Dictatorship - FPD and the People's Movement for Freedom and Justice - PMFJ to oppose the Union Government proposals.

At an inaugural press conference held on 27 January, 1978 the PMFJ objected to the proposal for a Union Government type of political system and, reading on behalf of the leaders of a ten-point statement, Lt. Gen. A. A. Afrifa, supported the position that "Union Government would be at variance with human rights". The next dissent to follow was the ARPB also, which voted in favor of a resolution on 30 March, 1978 asking Acheampong and the SMC to step aside, hand over power to the Chief Justice, Justice F. K. Apaloo, who should act as the Head of State and in consultation with the Council of State, appoint an interim government to administer the affairs of the state. The interim government was to begin a process to return Ghana to civilian rule by 31 December, 1978. All these while protest marches and protest rallies by university students became a recurring affair.

In actual fact, the country as of the time had a disturbed and a restless political climate. To put off the acceleration of further civil disorder and to put back national life to normalcy, the army staged a "palace coup" d'etat on 5 July, 1978, removed Acheampong from office. Lt.-Gen. (later General) Frederick William Kwasi Akuffo assumed headship. He had been Acheampong's deputy and Commander of the Ghana Armed Forces. According to Akuffo the action was taken "in the interest of the unity and stability of the nation".

By 1977 it was alleged a plot had been hatched to oust Acheampong. The plot was to be effected on the last day of an Armed Forces Exercise Code-named “Exercise Trojan Horse” that took place in Volta Region. Somehow Acheampong outwitted the plotters.

After he had been ousted from office and under house arrest at the Amedzofe Rest, he narrated the events that led to his difficult, unpleasant, and embarrassing situation from which there were no clear or easy way out.

General Acheampong's security whilst under house arrest was charged to the Medium Mortar Regiment (66 Artillery Regiment). I was among those who formed the security detail for the General's safety. The early days of his ousting had a deep psychological disturbance on the General. He ranted and cursed himself for not acting decisively. However, as days wore on he became sober and started interacting. He told us it was Air Vice-Marshal George Yaw Boakye that betrayed him.

He said he had earlier realized that his deputy, Lt Gen Akuffo and others were undermining him, so he invited AVM GY Boakye, discussed with him what he intends to do. Those involved were to be retired to pave way for re-organizing of the SMC. He complained that Boakye leaked the information to rest Council Members. During the period of confinement we realized how easygoing his nature was. We empathized with him. He accepted that it was his leniency and sympathy that had mutated into the situation he found himself. In spite of all, the Gen Acheampong had the belief that he will be reinstated.

The State provided a chef but did not trust the Chef. He appointed one of the security detail Lance Corporal Kwadwo Ayisah as his Cook. Lance Corporal Ayisah had served under the General when he was the Commanding Officer 6 Battalion of Infantry. He was of the view that the chef to could be used to do something untoward on him. Therefore he lived virtually on the local diet which Ayisah prepared. His favorite dishes were “ɛbuɛbunu” soup with fufu or “kontomire” stew, not fried, however laced with palm-oil along with either plantain, cocoyam, yam or cassava. Snails abound in Amedzofe area. One needs not travel far to pick enough of it.

Immediately after the “palace coup” the General was sent to the Presidential Retreat at Akosombo and later transferred to the Amedzofe Rest House. From mid-July of 1978 to May 1979 the General was kept at Amedzofe. The third phase of his “Odyssey” was on 1 May, 1979. On 30 April, 1979, the security detail was put on 24 hour notice to escort the former Head of State Gen IK Acheampong to Accra. On 1 May, 1979 at about 1130 hours GMT, the second-in-command of the Unit (Mortar Regiment) then led the convoy en-route to Accra. General was immaculately dressed in a spotless cream “Political Suit” with a matching cream-like pair of shoe. As we drove along Acheampong wave his white handkerchief. I wondered, asking myself whether he was not hallucinating. It was bright sunny day.

Our route was Gbadzeme – Fume – Have – Kpeve, through Peki to Asikuma Junction. The convoy traveled through Juapong Township through the Adomi Bridge - headed towards 1 infantry Bde Headquarters, Kpeshie. The convoy arrived finally at about 1345 hours GMT. The convoy leader reported to the Brigade Commander, Col MA Abanah.

Some forty-five (45) minutes later, the Director of Military Intelligence then, Colonel Oddija arrived, to be followed immediately by the Supreme Military Council Members. Also present was Lt General Joshua Hamidu, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). All these persons went upstairs with no courtesy to the former Head of State General IK Acheampong. Later it became clear why they acted in that manner. Colonel Oddija escorted the General to go before the Sanhedrin of which he used to be head.

Whiles we waited we could hear Gen Acheampong's voice challenging whatever was been told him. Some thirty to forty minutes later we saw the Gen being heckled by the Director of Military Intelligence (DMI). The Colonel kept pushing the General, then at a point DMI tried push the General Acheampong into one the State vehicles. He started to resist then 'Lo and behold' Colonel Oddija started to physically assault on the General. It was really an eye sour. We could not believe our eyes as the DMI pummeled the Gen, in the presence of his former colleagues, he had elevated to those positions. It was such a nauseating spectacle. There were soldiers from 1 Recce Regiment with Amor Personnel vehicles present.

Since we were at scene of the incident we were assemble by Regiment's Second-in-command and to be addressed by the Director of Military Intelligence, Colonel Oddija that the incident which we witnessed should never be discussed anywhere. The directive was given by the CDS, Lt Gen Joshua Hamidu to be passed on. We were informed that the former Head of State was no longer to be addressed with any military title and had been barred from using any military insignia. We were made to understand he had been stripped of his rank and should be addressed as Mr. IK Acheampong from that day forward. At a point 2-i/c, could not hold his tears likewise all, who escorted the Gen Acheampong from Amedzofe in the Volta Region.

It had been and remained my saddest day and many colleagues who witnessed that demeaning incident of General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong.

Honestly, Gen Acheampong turned down many suggestions to have him escape from custody. It was easy from the location to transport him across the borders to neighboring Togo.

How dare for a Colonel to have assaulted a General in normal times had it not been politics, however in its practice dignity is relegated, irrespective of your social standing.

The saying that 'the evil that men do lives after them' is definitely true! His colleagues usurped his authority with a view, of portraying Acheampong as being the cause of the problems the country was experiencing, to attract sympathy.

Later, they all paid dearly for the problems they collective brought on the masses when the whirl-wind of change arrived.

Nana Akwah
Nana Akwah, © 2012

This author has authored 140 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author column: NanaAkwah

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