Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine


Power From The People

When Flight-Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings screamed 'Power to the People' it proved to be a most intoxicating call, many people followed him, however, because this rallying call meant different things to different people and whatever interpretation they put to it, sounded good.

As it turned out, apart from the armed forces, all the other identifiable groups that followed the 'power to the people' banner have been disappointed. The students' disillusionment was the most rapid and the most total. If one could make out anything from the incoherent screams of those early days, Fit-Lt. Rawlings appeared to think that "people" was synonymous with workers and even more specifically, urban workers they gave him their support, and they were the 'suffering masses' and it was to this group that he was giving 'power'. If anybody was struck by the inherent contradictions, nobody was saying anything nor was anybody going to comment on the arrogance that would enable the Flight-Lieutenant to claim that he could give power to the people.

It is 'the workers' who are today more disappointed than anybody else because they are said to feel that they have been used. At the time those who tried to point out that it was impossible to give power to the people from the barrel of a gun, were shunted aside.

Doubtless, the people of the Philippines will have a few lessons to teach on the question of power. They have demonstrated and proved that real and genuine power lies with the people themselves. It certainly does not stem from the barrel of a gun, for when the crunch came, it was the people that gave protection to the armed soldiers and the armed policemen.

Even more spectacularly, the people proved that even armoured tanks can be neutralised by the sheer power of unarmed civilians. What a pleasant change from the supposed attempt to give power to the people which involves sending out armoured tanks into the streets to intimidate the people and then making pious speeches about wishing to save the people.

Again the question can be asked why it took the Filipinos 20 years to be able to exert their power; but then it should never be forgotten that Ferdinand Marcos was democratically elected by his people and they were ready to give him the opportunity to do the work he had been elected to do. However, like many third world leaders, he did not know when to stop and allowed absolute power to corrupt him absolutely.

It is educative that in all this time, the Filipinos never lost faith in the ballot box and that the impetus for the final ouster of Marcos came from the elections. In August 1983, Nigerians were widely praised for standing in the rain for hours to cast their votes for the leader of their choice, just as they had done in 1979 and Ghanaians had also done in 1979. When the entire exercise was thrown overboard by the intervention of the military, there were no voices raised against it.

The Filipinos kept vigil to ensure that their ballot boxes were not tampered with and they came out in their numbers to ensure that Marcos did not frustrate their will, and when Marcos ordered his troops into the streets, they poured into the streets to neutralise whatever danger they posed.

They voted for Cory Aquino and no other power on earth could be stronger than that and they were prepared to protect their choice. When tanks appear on the streets in West Africa, the 'people's choice (or at least the person the majority voted for) becomes, 'corrupt and inept'.

It is not likely that paradise will arrive in the Philippines now that Marcos has been forced out, but Mrs Aquino has one big advantage over Marcos and all other self-imposed tyrants, she can call on her people for sacrifices and they will willingly give. The people will feel part of the govern- ment without the need for any slogans and she would not have to tell them that she is giving them power.

Knowing fully well that her source of power stems from the people, Mrs Aquino will be responsive to their needs and their opinions and she will not be hostage to the Philippine armed forces since it was not their leave that she became President. It will not be lost on most Filipinos that the military were the last to throw in their lot with the people, nor will anybody forget that there are times when no amount of arms and ammunition can forestall the will of the people.

In the Philippines, there has been a clear manifestation of power residing in the people and it has reinforced the fact that the ballot box will triumph over crude force any day.

Better To Ignore Him

The External Affairs Ministry of Nigeria issued a most dignified statement in response to the reported uncomplimentary remarks made by the Ghanaian Head of State about Nigeria. In effect, the Ministry said it was not in the business of trading insults and that is how it ought to be. While trying not to sound in the same league, the Nigerian press have been demonstrating their rage that Flight-Lieutenant Rawlings should have dared to call Nigeria an "imperialist lackey".

A commentator on Radio Nigeria went to great lengths to recount Nigeria's progressive credentials and anti-imperialist stance; recalling the role played by Nigeria in resolving the Rhodesia crisis and in Angola. Some other Nigerian newspapers have tried to show that Ghana was more of an 'imperialist lackey' citing to prove this theory, the fact that Fit-Lt. Rawlings was under the thumb of the International Monetary Fund and other international capitalist organisations.

All very true, but unnecessary, we believe. Flight- Lieutenant Rawlings was not interested in a judicious evaluation of Nigeria's foreign or economic policy. Nigeria had stood in the way of Libyan ambitions at the abortive OATUU meeting in Accra and that was enough to justify any calling of names. The Nigerian radio commentator got it right when he said he believed Flt-Lt Rawlings was not speaking for Ghanaians and, indeed, he was not. Any further comment on the matter would necessitate being reminded of the Ghanaian tale about the mad man who snatched the clothes of a man who was having a bath and the man sprinted out naked following the mad man to retrieve his clothes - Those looking on might not know who among the two is mad.

talking drums 1986-03-03 Vatsa sentenced to death in Nigeria - Educating Ghanaian children in Cuba