Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Ghana's present and future a personal statement (1)

by Dr. A. B. Assensoh

"From all indications, therefore, one may in retrospect state that the Limann administration seemed to be on the threshold of building a truly democratic society under which there was to be fair-play and rule of law."
In a recent interview with the legendary and intellectually astute Dr. C. L. R. James in his Brixton home, he made it profoundly plain to me that one of the greatest faults in black people is that many of us tend to spend too much precious time to brood over and, also, to live in the past, often forgetting that any amount of time uselessly spent is never easily regained.

As an example of his contention, Dr. James cited the fact that, even today, he still comes across individual blacks who have axes to grind with what Marcus Garvey did in the 1920s, instead of dwelling on the problems of the contemporary black world and circumstances. This fault, as the Trinidadian-born philosopher and political commentator sees it, unfortunately rests squarely in the very soul of countless number of Ghanaians in their past, present and future aspirations.

Although this personal non-partisan testament is on my native Ghana, I still find it appropriate to draw on Dr. James' observation because, on many counts, the author of Nkrumah And The Ghana Revolution is very relevant to Ghana's ongoing socio-political and economic trauma which, in the profound words of deposed President Hilla Limann in Democracy And Ghana**, has brought to Ghanaians "thirteen years of deprivation, economic decline and individual humiliations and indignities". Apart from being the author of the very readable book on Nkrumah and Ghana, Dr. James was acknowledged by the late President Kwame Nkruma in his 1957 autobiography - as one of the influences on his formative years.

Additionally, the late Mr. Ignati Kutu Acheampong of the NRC-SM fame with all his known an imagined military-cum-political flaws - in a dawn broadcast which aped Dr Nkrumah's own April 1961 dawn broadcast, told his fellow Ghanaian that he who quarrelled with the past did not only lose the present, but the future also. In spite of the fact that some of us, as journalists and out of 'blind' patriotism and even idealism endeavoured to take ex-Genera Acheampong's policies to task in our editorial writings, I still harbour the feeling that, out of historicity, the publicly-executed Chairman's statement, embodied in the broadcast was both prophetic and profound for once.

Late President Nkrumah

In retrospect, an objective appraisal of contemporary events in Ghana suggest that most of the actions taken by previous and present leaders of the mundanely impoverished West African nation, Ghana, have been based on past ills or mistakes which could easily have been forgotten and, in the poetic sense, tampered with 'patriotic' mercy dropping like the gentle rain from Heaven. On second thought, some times, one wonders if the settling of personal and partisan grudges with brutal fists and crude measures in Ghana, since independence in 1957, has contributed anything useful to the social, economic and political circumstances of the citizenry.

For example, every unbiased Ghanaian knew that Dr. Ignatius L. Ohene-Djan, the once Sunyani-based lawyer, was a publicly avowed critic of the Acheampong regime and the seem- ing Ashanti dominance of his kith and kin of the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana. Apart from the fact that some of us, as journalists at the time, spent hours upon hours listening to and interviewing Dr. Ohene-Djan in Kumasi and, also, in Sunyani, it was surely an open secret that, in his legal capacity, the then Sunyani-based law practitioner served as an adviser to the fast-growing Brong Ahafo Youth Association (BAYA) in its national and tribal interests.


Therefore, when Dr. Ohene-Djan was accused of murder by the Acheampong regime and being tried by an Accra Court, some members of the rul ing NRC, reportedly, ordered a 'special' pen from abroad solely for their leader to append his signature to the executive order which was to sanction the lawyer's hanging if found guilty of the murder charge.

Knowing better than the military leadership and, also, out of sheer professional luck and expertise, Dr. Ohene-Djan was able to plead guilty to a lesser charge which drew only a term of imprisonment instead of waiting to be surely found guilty of murder and to seek an executive pardon from his very stubborn military opponents. After spending some years in jail, he is reported to be now free.

My argument, at this juncture, is not about the merits and demerits of the legal issues involved in the eminent lawyer's case and, additionally, it is not to suggest that if a person commits a clear-cut murder, that person should be set free to commit much more havoc to society. Nay, never so! However, it becomes an evil wind that does not blow anybody any good if the leaders of a nation would stoop as low as to become emotionally involved in petty tribal issues and, as a result, to pray for the opportunity to sanction another citizen's death by the stroke of the pen.

On many occasions, some African leaders either absent-mindedly trample on or, maybe, deliberately close their minds to the fact that once a person is dead-whether by execution, hanging or even by natural causes - there is no way of resurrecting that person from death. On this score, one realises that many developed and civilised societies have scrapped the death penalty from their statute books. After all, if, in future, the deceased person is vindicated by fresh evidence to allow for a rehabilitation, it becomes impossible, more so since the one victimised or accused wrongfully had previously been done to death.

In this connection, I had wished - as a bona fide citizen of Ghana - that Ghana's ruling PNDC, headed by Flt.-Lt. Jerry J. Rawlings, would, in 1984, end the blood-bath that characterised the first coming. The relevant reason in the situation of the PNDC, on the foregoing score, is that a few months ago, the PNDC graciously began to allow the review of AFRC convictions; but what may be recalled today is that these same 1979 trials and convictions sent many Ghanaians to jail terms and others to their deaths by public executions.

Again, my interest does not border on the merits and demerits of the charges which sent the victims to the firing squads, but it is really unfair that, for them, there can never be any meaningful review of their trial records, conviction and the punishment meted out to them since they are dead and buried forever.


As a fully-fledged citizen of Ghana, however, what perturbs my national pride and conscience is the fact that our nation is more than ever divided these days on various grounds: tribal, ideol ogical-cum-political, personality, socio-economic and, above all, individualistic interests. It is upon this basis that I have always wondered if it would not be a noble act for all the political factions including the CPPists, UPists, militarists, capitalists, socialists-cum-communists and social democrats to sink their mundane and petty differences in order for all to stand up to be counted as citizens of one race, one nation and of a singular or common destiny.

This contention, of course, reminds me of the late President Nkrumah's crucial exhortation to exchange students from Swaziland and other southern African nations in the early 1960s: in his tape-recorded address to these students, Dr. Nkrumah stated categorically that he would consider a great portion of his Pan-Africanist task completed on the day that an African could use his or her skin as a passport to enter any part of the continent without let or hindrance!

On recent reflection and, also, in retrospect, it is no gainsaying to assert that, probably, Dr. Nkrumah is still endeared to the hearts of many meaningful Africans, particularly Ghanaians, not on his ideological stance but by the fact that he proved, in many pragmatic and even traditional ways from his student days to his death in 1972, to be a dedicated nationalist and Pan-Africanist. To take a lesson from history and practical politics, it is hoped that Ghana's present-day leaders of the PNDC should be prepared to go down in history not as diehard ideologues and slogan-peddlers but, essentially, as serious nationalists if not Pan-Africanists. Otherwise, in the end, history may judge them very harshly instead of absolving them.

As every patriot of Ghana may know by now, our society is not very much popular with the spilling of human blood by executions of those termed 'contras' and 'saboteurs'. Even for sacrifices and festivals, only the throats of animals or birds are slit for their blood to be used in pacifying the various earthly gods some of our homes keep. If bloodbath is the order of the day, at least to the extent that all opponents were to be either hacked to death or summarily executed after few minutes of show-trials, then Ghana, today, would not have the Rawlingses, Tsikatas and others who were often accused of subversion under the PNP regime of Dr. Limann.

In fact, when the Ghana Military Intelligence, headed by Colonel Odjidja and under the PNP regime, reportedly, persecuted retired Captain Tsikata and his friends, especially when it appeared to be an anti-Ewe exercise, some of us, as journalists, dangerously did stick our poor necks out to condemn such intelligence activities. I still do, vividly, remember spending a whole night to write on the issue essentially to vindicate Tsikata and some Ewe friends for publication in the London-based West African magazine and elsewhere. I spoke my mind and damned the consequence because I felt at the time, and I continue to feel so now, that NOBODY is more Ghanaian than others.

Indeed, the events of 31st December, 1981 seemed to have vindicated Colonel Odjidja and his intelligence colleagues in their conclusion that certain individuals were both dangerous and subversive; yet, I still stand by whatever I wrote in defence of the Tsikatas and other Ewes who were being haunted up and down, including my good friend of our Stockholm days, Dr. Yao Fiagbe of the Department of Pharmacy at the University of Science and Technology (the PNDC's first regional Secretary for the Volta Region).

Based on the foregoing events of the recent past, some of us still do question the wisdom which bordered on the so-called 'search and destroy' terminology of the People's Daily Graphic of 26th March, 1984; this obnoxious and un patriotic term was part of the day's reportage of the story captioned 3 Dissidents Are Executed. From all accounts, as soon as L/Cpl. Halidu Gyiwah, Sgt. Malik and Cpl. Martin Ajomgba, the three in question, were reportedly 'captured' by PNDC forces, it was obvious that their so-called 'dissident' and anti-PNDC operations had come to an end.

Therefore, it would have been much more helpful to all of us as Ghanaians if their said 'outstanding' death sent- ences were commuted to some form of imprisonment and kept in jail. Again, some of us, as Ghanaians, do not share in any measure of subversion either for or against the PNDC because we live too far away from Ghana to be able to appreciate the dimensions and intricacies of the ongoing socio-political processes, even though our knowledge of history may compel us to arrive at the painful conclusion that 'politics of or by elimination and destruction of human life' is not helpful to any society. After all, that is why, in our day, Stalin, Hitler and others are not easily considered role-models in any manner.

On the point of 'death to saboteurs', I was recently impressed by an assessment of the former Military Intelli- gence boss under the deposed PNP regime, Colonel Odjidja. At a recent chance-meeting, another African asked him for the reasons behind his department's reportedly overly friendly and even generous attitude towards Flt-Lt. Rawlings, retired Captain Tsikata and the others who were considered sub- versive. Bluntly, the question bordered on how and why the military intelligence leadership allowed such persons to 'live' and, subsequently, to function in the way they did.

The former intelligence chief, who seemed to be very reserved, gave various prudent and, on the Ghanaian level, even patriotic reasons, including the fact that retired army Captain Tsikata had been a friend of his for close to two decades and, therefore, he did not see any wisdom in sanctioning his death by murder if there were other avenues through which Tsikata could reasonably be persuaded to abandon his anti-PNP attitudes.

Colonel Odjidja, in retrospect, also added that his study of history at the University of Ghana, Legon, taught him that political murders often divided and destroyed but never built nations. Above all, in his own calculations, President Limann often asserted forcefully, as a matter of national policy, that if either Rawlings or Tsikata had subverted the then operating constitution and there were enough evidence, then, he should be arrested, officially charged and put on trial before Ghanaian courts of law.

From all indications, therefore, one may, in retrospect, state that the Limann administration in Ghana seemed to be on the threshold of building a truly democratic society under which there was to be fair-play and rule of law. Fortunately, I happened to know Dr. Limann, through Mr. Yaw A. Aidoo, when the former President served as a diplomat in the Ghana Embassy in Lome, Togo, and the former passport boss was, then, also serving as the First Secretary in the Ghana High Commission in Lagos, Nigeria; both of them worked for the Research Bureau of the Foreign Ministry, but I was a mere journalist hovering between Nigeria and Togo! Yet, I did not know that Dr. Limann was that much imbued with such quality democratic ideals as he preached in his leadership capacity. *Dr. James book, dedicated to the late President Nkrumah, was first published in 1962 and has since been reprinted in 1964, 1969, 1977 and 1982 This book, published in London in 1983 by Rex Collins L14, is made up of the collected speeches of Dr. Hilla Limann

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