Flight-lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings is a household name in Ghana and even beyond her borders. He made history when in May 1979 as a radical military hot-head he had organized a violent coup d’etat following the economic decline and impoverishment in his country. But the putsch was aborted and the young man was arrested and tried and condemned to death.
Behind bars awaiting execution (having had his finger-nails crudely removed) Rawlings was sprung from custody on 4 June 1979 by a group of young soldiers who were on the verge of executing another brutal change of government.
Claiming that the then military government led by General Fred Akuffo was corrupt beyond redemption and that a new leadership was required for Ghana’s development, the freed Rawlings led the group in a bloody coup to oust the Supreme Military Council led by Gen. Akuffo. While standing trial following his unsuccessful first coup Rawlings’ anti-corruption social-emancipation rhetorics had gained ground attracting followers and sympathisers.
With him uneasily perched on the saddle in Accra the Ghanaian political landscape changed for good. Summarily establishing the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) by military fiat he proceeded with the execution by firing squad of eight military officers including Generals Kotei, Joy Amedume, Roger Felli, and Utuka, as well as the three former Ghanaian Heads of State — Generals Acheampong, Akuffo, and Akwasi Afrifa.
Rawlings became the only strongman standing having cleaned the messy Augean stable in an unprecedented brutally violent fashion. But majority of Ghanaians expressed their support for the deadly move aimed at stabilising the hitherto chaotic polity. Yet the economy of the west African Anglophone country had been bastardised by the successive military interventions.
Faced with this grim economic situation many Ghanaians fled their country for neighbouring countries like Nigeria where they became economic refugees. In Lagos and other major cities in Nigeria they could be found on the streets as artisans, prostitutes and gatemen. Nigeria was prosperous then with the oil boom and Naira was more valuable than the Dollars! Today the reverse is the case: Nigerians are pouring into Ghana as economic and political refugees as Buharism muddles up everything.
Jerry Rawlings was a special breed given his physical attribute and academic brilliance. He manifested early this uncommon experience in pilotage of air-force jets winning laurels for himself.
Born to Victoria Agbotui, an Ewe woman and James Ramsey John, a Scottish chemist Rawlings could be described as a ‘blessing’ to his generation! Without his murderous intervention in Ghanaian politics perhaps Ghana would have been worse than Nigeria today.
Last week the sad news went round the world that the great man who transformed Ghana had kicked the bucket following health complications linked to COVID-19. At 73 Rawlings, ‘the redeemer’, could not have been said to have died prematurely or untimely given his extremely violent power-grab adventurous antecedents. The average life expectancy in Ghana is in any case approximately 50 years old!
Ghana was thrown into national mourning as the news went round eliciting good and bad, bitter and sad memories. Tributes came in torrents in honour of a man who sacrificed everything towards determined efforts of freeing his people from the brutal clutches of military dictatorships.
Rawlings was both a dictator and a democrat embedded in one. He ruled dictatorially initially and later democratically. When he came in he was a dictator but he left the stage two decades later as a democrat!
As Head of State he demystified power by siding with the people, the downtrodden. On memorable occasions in the streets of Accra he could be seen flagging down his convoy and leading a traffic decongestion efforts. Or alighting from his official car on sighting some street boys cleaning up the gutters and joining them! Or boasting truthfully that he had no foreign accounts.
With his Scottish parentage JJ Rawlings was more of a white man than a black man. If it were to be in Nigeria he would not have claimed to be a Nigerian. While Ghana constitutionally recognises motherhood as the fundamental basis of nationality otherwise is the case in Nigeria.
If the late Jerry Rawlings were a Nigerian, however, there was every possibility that his revolution would not have happened or succeeded given our peculiar nationhood. Issues of ethnicity, region, religion (or even his ‘colour’) could have led to his (mis)adventures coming to nought. In the military a lot of Judases would have sold him or his ideas for a kobo. The endemic corruption in our national institutional space would have made sure he paid the supreme price for his effrontery.
Adaka Boro and Gideon Orkar tried it in ‘Naija’ — just a little of what Rawlings did in Ghana — and in the end they were overwhelmed by the rot in the system and the desperation by the militaro-civilian scoundrels in power whose stock-in-trade remained the continuation of the path to national perdition.
Alas ‘Junior Jesus’ came, saw and conquered the Ghanaian leadership odds imposing his patriotic revolutionary will on the people. Today, majority of Ghanaians are happy that he succeeded in transforming their country leaving an evergreen legacy despite the initial misery and ‘persecution’.
Fare thee well, Jerry John Rawlings! You remain an enigma (even in death) in your home country and beyond. You led by example!
Author: Ozodinukwe Okenwa…
Articles published in our Graffiti section are strictly the opinion of the writers and do not represent the views of Ripples Nigeria or its editorial stand.
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