A Leopard can't change its skin: PNDC versus Rev. Charles Palmer Buckle, NDC vs Rev Martey & Otabil
The Catholic Standard, before it was banned by the PNDC government of Jerry John Rawlings in 1985, was Ghana’s oldest private newspaper, owned by the Catholic Church of Ghana. The editor of the Catholic Standard during the PNDC era was Reverend Dr. Charles Palmer Buckle, the present ArchBishop of Accra.
It will be recalled that when the PNDC ousted Dr. Hilla Limann’s PNP government in 1981, the PNDC carried out several anti-democratic and human rights abuses against many Ghanaians including journalists, chiefs, traders, politicians, judges, university lecturers, ex-police and army officers, trade unionists, members of the clergy and ordinary citizens. For example apart from the murder of the three high court judges and an ex-army major in 1983, the regime also arrested and detained Kwesi Pratt and Kwaku Baako before being freed later on.
On 22 June, 1982, the publishers of the Free Press, Mr Tommy Thompson, his editor, Mr John Kugblenu, and Mike Adjei a senior writer of the paper, were all imprisoned without trial for penning editorials critical of the PNDC regime. After a year in detention the three were freed but John Kugblenu died a week after his release. In February 1985, the news-editor of the Pioneer newspaper together with Baffour Ankomah (the editor of Pioneer in Kumasi from 1983-6 and the New African magazine current editor) “were arrested and detained at Gondar Barracks in Accra accused of publishing ‘false reports’ about an assassination attempt on the life of Jerry Rawlings in Kumasi”. For their crime their heads were shaved. They were also tortured before being thrown into separate guardrooms. They were later released.
Fearing for their lives, several journalists, unionists, business people, politicians and army officers fled the country. For example the editors of Palaver and the Echo fled Ghana. John Dumoga, who edited The Echo, fled to Nigeria by means of a refuse truck. Baffour Ankomah later fled the country after his article ‘Ghana, Marxism and lies’ incurred the wrath of the PNDC apparatchiks.
In 1985 three union members of the Cocoa Marketing Board in Accra were arrested and sent to Gondar Barracks. One of them was tortured to death there. Another Ahmed Pobee, who was then 35 years, was seriously injured after a soldier violently stamped on his manhood. Pobee was freed but later escaped to Lagos in Nigeria after attempt were made to arrest him for the second time. Those journalists who stayed maintained a low profile, stopped writing anything political or branched into sports writing. These activities by the PNDC around the country, imposed what became known as the ‘culture of silence’ on the entire population.
However these atrocities did not go down well with the Catholic Standard and its editor Reverend Dr. Charles Palmer Buckle and many of the private press in the country including Free Press, The Palaver, The Echo, the Pioneer, The Believer, the Ghanaian Voice and many others. As a result the private press and particularly the Catholic Standard and Rev. Palmer Buckle became the mouthpiece of the silent majority. The Standard and its editor took it upon themselves to courageously fight for liberty and freedom for Ghanaians. For instance when John Kugblenu (editor of the Free Press) died in 1984, a week after his release from detention no paper was able to report it. It was Rev. Palmer Buckle and the Catholic Standard who mastered courage to report Kugblenu’s death.
Despite the threat to his life, Rev. Buckle did not budge. He actually developed a martyr’s complex, putting the interest of Ghanaians above his own life. He continued to highlight the brutalities of the regime while at the same time punching holes into the PNDC’s populist propaganda. As a result, Rev Buckle and the Catholic Standard became the target of the PNDC. In fact the agents of the PNDC became incensed and were more ever determined to eliminate the vociferous reverend minister. As Baffour Ankomah observed in his article ‘Ghana’s culture of silence’: “In November 1985, the same Catholic Standard [and Palmer Buckle] antagonised the government with a series of down-to-earth editorials. The editor, Revd Dr Palmer Buckle, became a target, but when government soldiers moved in for the kill, they mistook another priest for Revd Buckle. The priest’s body was found at the Choker beach near Accra the following morning.”
The killing of the priest by regime’s forces was not the first time a man of God, had been killed by the PNDC. Three years before that tragedy, a similar tragedy had happened in Kumasi.
According to Ankomah, the PNDC declared “February 7, 1982 a national day of prayer — every Muslim, every Christian was to pray and ask for God’s blessings on Ghana, especially for rains and prosperity which we needed badly. It was a solemn day. But it so happened that a major in the armed forces stationed in Kumasi, entered a church building where national prayers were being said to ask the congregation to come out to assist in filling potholes on the road in front of the church. A misunderstanding ensued. The major pulled a pistol. He was disarmed by a policewoman in the congregation who suffered a bullet wound in the face as a result. The gunshot so alarmed the congregation that they threw their Christianity out of the window and killed the major….When the news of his death reached the Kumasi Barracks, the Commander ordered his troops into town in pursuit of the fleeing murderers. A reign of terror was unleashed on the near one million residents of the city. For close up to a week, both the innocent and the guilty were arrested, several of them summarily executed, without trial. The pastor of the church was captured three days later and shot. The soldiers sadistically tied his mutilated body to the back of one of their trucks, dragged it along the road from the Barracks to the centre of town (some two miles away), left it to public view for more than eight hours, and finally set fire to it before the eyes of the bemused and frightened inhabitants. Some of the soldiers even ran to the hospital where the policewoman had been admitted. They found her in bed, having just come through a major operation. They shot her in the hospital bed, forcing all the other patients in the ward to flee for their lives. The soldiers then chased the surgeon who performed the operation around the hospital. Fortunately he was able to escape and flee the country. Later, the Commander of the troops came out publicly to say he had no regrets for the week’s incidents — the tyranny, the killing of innocents — and that if they had to do it again, they would.”
That is a short history of the PNDC and the Clergy in the 1980s. The PNDC became the NDC in 1992.
Fast forward to 2010-2016 and the story is almost the same except this time the names of the perpetrators (NDC) and the victims (Rev. Prof Emmanuel Martey of the Presbyterian Church and Rev Dr. Mensa Otabil) have changed.
In the last five years or so, the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, Rev Martey, and the founder of the International Central Gospel Church, Pastor Mensa Otabil, have taken on the mantle of leading the LORD’s sheep spiritually as well as ensuring their socio-economic well-being, something which is in line with the Gospel of Christ.
Both reverend ministers have constantly urged past and present governments to administer the country prudently to ensure that Ghana does not remain marred in poverty and underdevelopment. They have also criticised the governments for putting the interest of their parties’ elites above that of Ghana and Ghanaians especially the misuse of public funds and corruption. Their admonitions and criticisms have not sat well with the NDC elites who are the beneficiaries of the economy. The anti-clergy forces, anti-development forces, and pro-corruption forces in the NDC have mobilised against the reverend ministers with the same venom as those who attacked Rev Palmer Buckle under the PNDC.
Recently Rev Otabil asked Ghanaians not to be happy with minimals but rather strive for better things: “We can’t just be happy because a road has been tarred. We can’t just be happy that we didn’t have electricity now we have electricity. We can’t be happy with minimals…citizens must have an appetite for better”. He added “We have to wrest the nation back and control it as citizens of this country and that is the challenge I want to put to you. You have to dare to dream to take our nation back…We have to battle, we have to fight, we have to wrest the destiny of our nation from incompetence and from people, who have determined to run us to the ground…I’m not saying take it back from one party to give it to another party; I’m saying the citizens must take their country back and run their own country” the Pastor said.
These comments made Solomon Nkansah, the National Communications Officer of the NDC, to go ballistic. He accused Rev Otabil of anti NDC bias and inciting Ghanaians against the government and said the reverend is a threat to Ghana’s security. “Under the guise of the Bible, he says all sorts of things against those he is not in support of. But you know what; God is bigger than him and so whenever he says such things people don’t listen to him. I am ashamed and scandalised as a Christian that a man of God can speak like Pastor Mensah Otabil has done…These are the men who are a threat to national security and co-existence. Because you don’t support the NDC government, you are inciting the public against the government. During the NPP regime he didn’t preach this way, he rather preached with the Ghana flag, why is he preaching this way now. The last time it was generational thinkers, today it’s about revolt against minority rule. We can’t continue to countenance such worrying conducts of this Pastor.”
Rev Martey has also come under fire from the NDC elites for saying politicians have tried to buy his silence with money and position. “Politicians had tried all means to muzzle me, to get me but they can’t, they come with bribes, fat envelopes, $100,000…You cannot get me with corruption…Never ever should any politician or political activist go to a pastor or minister with money in order to influence him; if you do that you’ll be in trouble.”
Koku Anyidoho (NDC deputy secretary) and George Loh (NDC MP for North Dayi) have been verbally assaulting the reverend, accusing him of being an NPP apologist and a corrupt man of God. George Loh said “there is something wrong with the Most Reverend and we have to take a second look at him” implying that the man of God is mentally sick. Anyidoho castigated him and said he would deal with him.
It seems Anyidoho, Nkansah, Loh and those castigating the men of God have not learnt from the past mistakes of the PNDC which gave birth to their party the NDC. Such treatment of the men of God by the elites in the NDC does not augur well for the party. The men of God are Ghanaians in the first place. They pay their taxes as Ghanaians. Also government policies whether good or bad affect them, their families and their congregation. They therefore have every right to praise or criticise any government. Asking them to shut up will not help them to fulfil their calling as pastors.
In the Bible Elijah took on King Ahab and his wife Jezebel after they led a corrupt lifestyle and seduced the people of Israel to worship Baal. Jeremiah criticised Kings Zedekiah and Uzziah and warned them of the consequences of disobeying God. Isaiah, Ezekiel and many prophets criticised the kings whose corrupt lifestyle displeased God. When they did not listen, God punished the kings by allowing them to be carried away into captivity. For example God used Nebuchadnezzar to punish Jehoiachin King of Judah by carrying him into captivity. Nebuchadnezzar also punished King Zedekiah whose children Nebuchadnezzar killed right before his eyes. He also put out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in chains and carried him to Babylon. God used Jehu to destroy the entire household of Ahab and Jezebel. He also used Pharaoh Necho to dethrone Jehoahaz and took him to Egypt where he died there.
The NDC elites should not act like Ahab and Zedekiah but must strive to build a better relationship with the men of God and God.
By Lord Aikins Adusei
Email: [email protected]