Why we let the blood flow for 112 days
AFRC atrocities exposed ?the absence of human rights culture in Ghanaian society,? says NRC.
A necessary reflection by The Statesman
SUNDAY marked the 27th anniversary of the emergence of Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings and Major Kojo Boakye Djan on this country's leadership scene. But what the events of June 4, 1979 marked were the height of breakdown in law and order, unprecedented violent attacks on entrepreneurship and that combination of overwhelming national apathy and unexamined support for the promised ?house-cleaning? that turned dirty.
If we are to read anything meaningful into the fact that we are currently enjoying the longest, sustained liberal democratic rule in our country, then surely, it must be the national conviction, that never again would Ghanaians sacrifice multi-party democracy for any short, sharp, shock-revolutionary treatment that only makes worse what it threatens to cure.
The Armed Forces Revolutionary Council ruled for 112 days before handing over power to an elected government, President Hilla Limann's administration. ?The level of violence that was inflicted on both the military and civilian population in those 112 days was unprecedented, and left a permanent fear and mistrust of soldiers on the part of the civilian population,? says the report of the National Reconciliation Commission.
The NRC report makes a particularly disturbing finding: ?Considering the extent of the atrocities that took place during the short life of the AFRC, the absence of public condemnation of these atrocities and, therefore, quiet acceptance of such human rights abuses, was a clear indication of the general lack of awareness or concern about human rights among even the elite of the society.?
The report then draws the poignant conclusion that the national apathy was ?a clear illustration of the absence of human rights culture in Ghanaian society.? The NRC, from May 2002 until its final report in October 2004 undertook the task, mainly through the 4,240 petitions it received, to establish an ?accurate, complete and historical record of violations and abuses of human rights? in Ghana, specifically but not strictly limited to military regimes. Indeed, in looking at the June 4 'revolution', no single institution is excused condemnation by the Justice K E Amua-Sekyi-led commission. Lawyers, chiefs, religious bodies, trade unions, the media, politicians, and students are all criticised in the report.
Eight senior officers, including three former heads of state were executed by firing squad and there is no evidence that they were tried or had the opportunity to defend themselves before their execution.
There was no protest against the operations of the ?Peoples' Courts? that tried people in secret and awarded long prison sentences.
The report notes, the Ghana Bar Association ?was not known to have protested against the human rights violations and abuses suffered under the AFRC.? Also, it was only after the second batch of senior military officers were executed on June 26, 1979 that the Christian Council and the Catholic Bishops' Conference merely expressed the hope that the AFRC's ?house cleaning? exercise would be pursued without recourse to acts of vengeance and violence. The council of Muslims in Ghana, led by Alhaji Dauda, actually commended the AFRC on the revolutionary courts.
University students were more enthusiastic. Attracted by the youthfulness of Rawlings and his gang of AFRC members, they called ?Let the blood flow? after the execution of former military ruler Gen Acheampong and former Commander of the Border Guards Major-Gen Utuka.
The NRC reminds us that the students felt the ?house-cleaning? should not stop with the military, but should be extended to the civilian population. And, so, it came to pass. Many top public servants were dismissed arbitrarily and their assets confiscated either to the State or to the soldiers who undertook the exercise. Some were detained in military guardrooms and others in prison. Many businessmen and women did not survive the ordeal.
Hundreds of traders, symbolised by the August 20, 1979 destruction of Makola No 1 Market, lost all their stock and capital and were even lucky not to be caned naked in public as many others were.
?At this time, being wealthy became a serious crime, and all wealthy or successful people became targets of military aggression and victimisation,? states the NRC report.
The AFRC soon lost control over the soldiers, who went on a rampage. ?There was total breakdown of law and order, making it possible for arbitrary arrests, beatings, abductions, killings, detentions, and seizure of money and personal property to be carried out by soldiers with impunity,? the NRC observes. And, this was not strange considering the fact that the whole country fell either into a coma of silence or gave active support to the ?house-cleaning? exercise. The State-owned media did what they have always been good at, blowing with the tide of incumbency. Daily Graphic described the execution of the generals as ?A lesson to all Ghanaians.? Ghanaian Times wanted the ?house-cleaning? to go back to 1966. And, they got what they prayed for: Gen Afrifa was also executed. ?Even the Christian Messenger and The Standard supported the executions,? recalls the NRC.
In fact, the only two individuals cited for particular praise in the report on the June 4 'revolution' are journalists Elizabeth Ohene and Adjoa Yeboah-Afari, currently Minister of State and Editor of Ghanaian Times, respectively. The June 4 coup, staged mainly by junior ranks, ?was a reflection of the breakdown of discipline in the Ghana Armed Forces that had surfaced during the NRC/SMC period,? the report says.
In those gruesome 112 days, the newspapers ?gleefully endorsed and gave vivid accounts of the gross human rights abuses that occurred.? This is just one of the sad historical accounts of the period.
Surely, the senior officers who interfered with multi-party democracy caused this nation a great harm. But, what use was the June 4 exercise when the constitutional government that was handed power on 24 September 1979 was shortly afterwards taken out on 31st December, 1981 by the same Chairman of the AFRC J. J. Rawlings?
June 4 was supposed to be an end to military interventions in the governing of this country. Yet, instead of that 'revolution' becoming a permanent settlement, it served as a nursery for a future 'revolution' the eleven years of military dictatorship in the form of the Provisional National Defence Council.
As George Bernard Shaw, the famous playwright, once remarked, ?Revolutions have never lightened the burden of tyranny; they have only lifted it to another shoulder.?