By Emeka Obasi
Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings put Nigerian military generals in deep blue funk when he assumed office as military ruler in Ghana 41 years ago. His country was preparing for elections just like Nigeria.
Rawlings escaped death by a whisker as other ranks released him from maximum confinement where he awaited execution. His Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) sanctioned the elimination by firing squad of three former Heads of State, service chiefs and a couple of other top officers.
Having sent shivers down the spines of corrupt Ghanaian officials, Rawlings looked the way of Nigeria and without mincing words passed a scary message.
He said : “ While you ( Nigerians) content yourself at the Bar Beach by watching the execution of maladjusted labourers, mechanics or clerks, we in Ghana have killed the jumbo size robbers- call them generals or brigadiers- whose going leaves the world smelling sweeter”.
In Accra, Generals Akwasi Afrifa, Kutu Acheampong and Fred Akuffo faced the bullets. All had ruled Ghana before the young Air Force pilot landed at Osu Castle. Service Chiefs, Admiral Joy Amedume and Air Vice Marshal George Boakye were not spared. AVM Ebenezer Kotei and Foreign Affairs minister, Col. Roger Felli also faced execution.
In 1979, Ghana was a shambles while Nigeria swam in petro dollar. General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over to a civilian President Shehu Shagari and left with his head intact.
That was in October.
Rawlings later handed over to a civilian, Hilla Limann. On December 31, 1981, there was another coup. The young officer returned to power. Shagari apparently did not read any meaning to the date. A reminder came in 1983.
On November 12, 2020 the Ghanaian strong man passed on. Nigeria today is worse than the Nigeria of 1979. Forty One years ago, Ghanaians were escaping harsh times to Nigeria, now Nigerians are running to Ghana for better life.
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I will liken Nigeria to one dinosaur named Diplodocus. It was as heavy as two elephants but the head was like that of a goat, so the bigger it grew, the more stupid it became. With a population of about 200 million, Nigeria has become a global object of ridicule.
Rawlings had every reason to look towards Nigeria. All Nigerian leaders before Shagari had lived in Ghana. Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi worked there as an NCO. Gens Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed and Olusegun Obasanjo were at the Military Academy, Teshie. Rawlings also passed out from there.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe mentored the first president of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, in the United States. Zik got married in Ghana and also worked there as a newspaper Editor.
Gen. Muhammadu Buhari first struck on December 31, 1983, exactly two years after Rawlings returned to power. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida had AFRC like Rawlings, the only difference was Ruling for R instead of Revolutionary.
Buhari and Rawlings did not get on well in 1985. At the ECOWAS Summit, Ghanaian Foreign minister, Dr. Obed Yao Asamoah tore the Nigerian government to shreds for sending away fellow West Africans especially Ghanaians.
It was during the years of young revolutionaries. It did not matter to Rawlings that Kofi Busia had sacked Nigerians from Ghana with the Aliens Compliance Order of November 1969.
Rawlings also forgot that Shagari had expelled more Ghanaians in January 1983. That was what led to the introduction of Ghana Must Go bag. Much later, Nigerian politicians started banking with the jumbo bags.
Some of the men executed during Rawlings’ tenure were not given fair trial. What coincidence that Kotei was like Emmanuel Ifeajuna. The Nigerian won his country’s first Commonwealth gold medal. The Ghanaian bagged that nation’s first Commonwealth medal, a bronze. Both were High Jumpers and joined the military.
Rawlings later fell in love with Nigeria. I spent time at the La Palm Royal Beach Hotel, Accra in 2001 and again in 2002. One Ghanaian friend whispered into my ears: “ This is Nigerian money, do not say I told you.”
The gist was that the hotel belonged to Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings before she sold it. And the money came from a Nigerian dictator who was looking for international support, no matter how little.
Rawlings’ mother was Victoria, the same name Ironsi and Gowon’s wives bore. She died on September 24, 2020. Her son gave way to Limann on September 24, 1979. Rawlings cleared Jumbo size robbers in Ghana. In Nigeria, he dined with some jumbo size robbers.