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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

JJ Rawlings; Shattering this Myth – Africa: Strong Institutions vs. Strong Men - 3

A dangerous fallacy has taken hold of Nigerians; the idea that Nigeria needs a ‘JJ Rawlings’ who through an orgy of killing and comprehensive slaughter of all the past leaders will deliver Nigeria from the clutches of rapacious looters that have cornered the commonwealth.

In the aftermath of Barack Obama's speech in Accra Ghana, wherein he denigrated the notion of an African strongman vis-à-vis, democracy, the infant terrible of African Politics, Col. Muammar Ghadaffi in direct refutation of the Obama thesis declared; ‘Rawlings Revolution’, not democracy saved Ghana'.

And when President Obama was castigating African coup makers during his speech to the Ghanaian Parliament, Rawlings was said to have muttered to his wife; “we carried out a revolution, not a coup”.

Part 4 of this Series will explore another delusion that the only path for Nigeria’s salvation is a “bloody revolution”. Meanwhile, let’s explore this notion that it was JJ Rawlings that saved Ghana.

In May 1979, a gaunt, fierce speaking Flt Lt of the Ghana Air Force burst unto the scene and the history and trajectory of Ghana was never to be the same. Blood, much blood was used to usher in the next phase ofGhana’s history and the man at the centre of it all was Rawlings.

He came with the firm belief (or disguise?) that corruption had permeated the very fabric of Ghanaian society and needed to be cleansed by blood. The streets of Ghana literally flowed with blood shattering lives and homes. Today, President Jerry John Rawlings has become something akin to folklore in the history and day- to- day lives of Ghanaians. Everyone seems to have an opinion about him. Whether the “Rawlings revolution” savedGhana, or whether Rawlings is a hero or a villain in Ghana depends on whom you are talking to.

To Rawlings admirers – which are legion - Ghana has been proclaimed as an exemplary African Nation because of its democracy but the relative success of Ghana as compares to other African Nations is not due to democracy, but rather due to the Rawlings military coup of 31st December 1981.

Ghana, like its counterparts in Africa was wallowing in corruption as a failed post colonial state - Mired in a cyclical coups and counter-coups. Western style Multiparty Democracy in Ghana was not of much help.

As with other African countries, post-colonial Ghanaian Leaders – both military and civilian could not lead the already failed states. Failed states bogged down by the colonial separation or forced amalgamation of territories of incompatible tribes not yet naturally ready to coexist, compounded with unfair power and resource sharing by the colonialists among the coerced union shortly before carving out the African nations and handing over power.

What rescued Ghana according to admirers was Jerry Rawlings’ military take over and his ruthless reform revolution, which included the prosecution of all Ghanaian’s who could not account for their source of wealth.

Indeed Rawlings on many platforms professed his hatred for multiparty democracy because of the past destructive years that multiparty system brought to Ghana.

However, not everyone shares this view:

According to his critics: when “the megalomaniac Gaddafi says the "Rawlings Revolution, not democracy saved Ghana" and that "Ghana…decaying in the annals of corruption as a failed post colonial state was rescued by Rawlings," This not only insults Ghanaian pro-democracy forces that laid down their lives to help restore democracy, the rule of law, human rights and freedoms after years of Rawlings self-seeking revolution that caused deaths, killings, exiles, fear, paranoia, harassments, threats, unaccountability and massive corruption.

In fact, many Ghanaians believe that the Rawlings revolution has more to do with the rot within the Ghanaian military itself than Gaddafi is aware of. Despite the Rawlings purported anti-corruption stance (that saw executions and destruction of property), the Rawlings regime/revolution failed to either strengthen anti-corruption institutions or establish new ones as Nigeria skilfully did with their Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

Described by the late Ghanaian President Hilla Limann as having "hegemonistic intentions," Gaddafi’s anti-democracy stance saw him help the emotionally disturbed Ft. Lt. Jerry Rawlings topple the constitutionally elected Limann administration in 1981.

Obviously, the advent of JJ Rawlings in the Ghanaian quest for an enduring political structure is a mixed blessing. depending on whom you speak to, Ghanaians have a wide range of opinion about the man; to some he is evil, who must be carefully watched before he does anything crazy, to yet a sizeable part of the Ghanaian population he is a hero, a charismatic leader whose fame and personality cult does not seem to diminish with time.

Thus many have sought to define the legacy of President Rawlings; to some he is about the worst leader Ghanaever had, to others he is only comparable to President Nkrumah.

Legacy, rapid rise to power and Undeniable Accomplishments

One of the most abiding achievements of Rawlings stems from his background in the security apparatus ofGhana; in matters of safety and security of persons.

With his strong and charismatic personality he prevented Ghana from going the way of other West African countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Togo and Guinea Bissau. These countries have been plunged into unimaginable chaos and brutalities, civil wars and strife.

President Rawlings stabilized Ghana. Under Rawlings there was no successful coup. Another accomplishment would be the low rate of crime under his tenure. Under Rawlings’ in the 1980’s crime was minimal. But now with the alarming crime rate and more troubling violent armed robberies, Ghana could go the way of Nigeria.

Some will however argue that those years cannot be compared to the recent explosion of the population, migration of people to urban centres which have become the hotbeds of violent crime.

Rawlings to some extent did the best he could to avoid tribal sentiments from taking roots like they did in some other African countries like Rwanda and Burundi though charges of nepotism and favouritism were rampant.

Rawlings also fully absorbed the Ghanaians who were deported from Nigeria at the height of the Ghana-must-Go episode. Large chunk of Ghanaians were integrated into the society without any major adverse social imbalance and the ensuing chaos that results from such culture shock.

Isn’t it funny that what goes around comes around, where we have Nigerians fleeing the "giant of Africa" to find peace and safety in Ghana.

What a twisted turn of events. Perhaps, Rawlings greatest accomplishment was the decision to turn Ghana from an autocracy to a democracy: From the referendum on the 1992 Constitution, to it’s adoption by a landside majority of Ghanaians, to the slow building of the pillars of democracy; free press, independent judiciary, divorce of the security apparatus from the political process, these are Rawlings true legacies.

Yes it may have been forced on him. Yes, Ghanaians stood up against his desire to elongate his tenure. Yes, it may have been forced on him from the "powers that be"; he decided to metamorphose from army camouflage to Agbada and suits (he hated suits), Rawlings can still lay claim to Ghanaians democracy vision which has the potential to lift the masses from misery.

Rawlings planted but President Kuffour took Ghanaian democracy to a whole new level. President Kuffour did more than just advance the cause of democracy in Ghana; he set the tone that was not threatening yet persuasive. Rawlings laid the foundation, Kuffour erected the structures.

Bloody and dark side of President Rawlings

For all his bright spots there was still a dark, deadly and bloody side to Rawlings whole personality. This is the side his fierce loyalists, the NDC activists and foot soldiers would rather not talk about. They would rather sweep it under the carpet with the general excuse that it happened in the past and under the "revolution".

His 31st December "revolution" was and still is a military coup, and it was unconstitutional, the Ghanaian courts have ruled so.

President Rawlings murderous rise to power, the killings of innocent men and women all in the name of the ‘revolution" will forever be a stain on his legacy.

Those were days of terror. Men and women were dragged from their homes and from their loved one and just "disappeared "into thin air. This reign of terror of the 64 battalion, the Commandos are a bloody stain on the conscience of every active participant of the "revolution" and chief among them was a gaunt, fire breathing leader called Flt Lt J.J Rawlings.

The name J.J became synonymous with brutalities, rape, abduction; unlawful seizures of lawfully acquired properties, destructions of families. One of the lowest point of Rawlings is his classic failure, the sheer stubbornness to admit his role in the cowardly slaying of the Army officers in the June 4th uprising. ("June 4", the date of the military uprising that shot him into power in June 1979. The uprising by young officers against the SMC military government was led by the then Capt Kojo Boakye Djan. But it has since become the central plank in Rawlings life even though he played almost zero per cent in its actual execution as he was in detention for an earlier failed coup attempt on 15 May 1979).

He ordered the killing of the following officers and countless innocent Ghanaians; General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, Air Vice Marshall George Yaw Boakye, General Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa, Lt. General Fred W.K. Akuffo, Rear Admiral Joy Kobla Amedume, Major General E.K. Utuka, Colonel Roger Felli, Major General Robert E. A. Kotei and “the man of valour”, Major General Neville Odartey-Wellington, Ghana’s “Alexander the great”.

Rawlings should be courageous to admit his role in what has been proven to be innocent killings some with his direct orders and others under his rule. He needs to expunge this bloody stain on his conscience and the conscience of Ghana.

It was not only military leaders and generals that were killed without due process of law under Rawlings; even High Court judges were not spared. In fact three judges were murdered in cold blood.

Rawlings denies his role in these killings.

But his role was exposed when the searchlight of the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) fall on former President Jerry John Rawlings.

President John Kuffour set up the NRC to shed light on the heinous atroctites that preceded his government.Rawlings' accuser was Corporal Marthew Adabuga who told the NRC that he was the "brain behind" the 31 December 1981 coup that brought the PNDC and Rawlings to power.

Adabuga told the Commission it was Rawlings who ordered the abduction and killing of three high court judges and a former army major in June 1982. A highly controversial issue at the time, the national anger over the murders seriously threatened the survival of the PNDC for several months.

But Adabuga told the NRC that Rawlings celebrated the extra-judicial killings with a drink of champagne. His revelations shocked Ghana as they sharply contradict the findings of a Special Investigations Board set up by the Rawlings’ PNDC in 1982 that blamed the killings on other people but not Rawlings.

Adabuga told the NRC: "Later, I got to know through the perpetrators of this heinous crime (he mentioned their names] that it was Flt-Lt Rawlings who asked them to kill the judges and the retired military officer."

In his typical rumbustious style, Rawlings dismissed these allegations and on
4 June 2001, (The 24th anniversary of the 4 June 1979 uprising that first brought him to power, at a lecture in Accra to mark "June 4", the military uprising that shot him into power in June 1979. Rawlings has become so emotionally attached to "June 4", that years later when he formed a commando, unit to guard his person as a civilian president, he called it the 64th Battalion -- 64 standing for June (the 6th month) and 4 (the day), June 4. Thus, when parliament under the Kuffour government abolished the celebration of "June 4" only a day to the event, Rawlings felt sorely. To him, June 4 is the central core of his being, without which he is diminished as a person, soldier and politician) Rawlings addressed his followers in Accra and lashed out at President John Kuffour government that set up the NRC, saying he would never call Kuffour ‘president’, "so long as Kuffour regime continues to fabricate convincing lies using little viable and corruptible minds in the media, bishops, judges and generals who have no conscience and sense of right and wrong”. (This was in apparent reference to the NRC whose membership includes a bishop, a judge and a retired general).

Ghanaians everywhere must have listened with dismay, when former President Jerry Rawlings warned of a possible coup if the new government that replaced his, continued with the "harassment” of former members of his government, which he said, was politically motivated.

Rawlings, in several pronouncements, who warned that current events could lead to a coup, said the new government of President John Kuffour did not have the support of the military and threatened: "Things of this nature can degenerate”.

In what appeared to be a veiled threat, he told his party loyalists that the Kuffour government was making the same mistakes that led to the uprising in 1979.

As expected, condemnation of his remarks came thick and fast from all sections of Ghanaian society. The military immediately issued a statement reaffirming its support for Kuffour government, saying "nobody would be allowed to play the military against the current government".

Even Rawlings' former deputy foreign minister, Dr Ibn Chambas, said his former boss did sink too low in making the remarks.

But that is Rawlings stock in trade. He also snapped against the Limann government. Limann's People's National Party government was inaugurated on 24 September, 1979 and lasted between 1979 and 1981. Rawlings eventually overthrew Limann in the coup of 31 December 1981 -- the same Limann he handed over power to in September 1979. (even today he still snaps at his stooge, President John Atta Mills)

On this occasion, Rawlings outbursts had been triggered by a number of things -- the new government's replacement of his commando bodyguards with a police detail, the corruption trials of some of his ex-ministers, charges by his
NDC National Democratic Congress party and members of "harassment" by the new government, and the recent dismissal of certain people who served in state enterprises under his rule.

Rawlings past frightens many people. A three-time coup maker, his psychological profile makes it difficult for many Ghanaians to take his threats of an upheaval lightly. (Till date he still commands loyalty among a large section of
Ghana’s security apparatus and militant youths)

“To the outside world, Rawlings is a hero, but to us Ghanaians, he is a disgrace”, one Ghanaian told me. “In the last years of his 20-year rule, widespread corruption marred his legacy”, he added.

JJ Rawlings, Nigeria and Corruption

On 29 November 1999, Nobel Laureate; Nigeria’s Prof. Wole Soyinka urged the retrieval of Abacha's loot from JJ Rawlings. Soyinka said: Nigeria’s loot recovery efforts should be boosted with a formal probe into and retrieval of a $5 million sum allegedly given to the Ghanaian President, Jerry John Rawlings by the late Gen. Sani Abacha's administration for image laundering.

Speaking at the second anniversary lecture in memory of the late nationalist, Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin in Akure, Ondo State, Soyinka said: "I challenge President Olusegun Obasanjo to use his anti-corruption crusade in repatriating our monies looted by the military regimes and the money given to President Rawlings who joined hands with General Abacha in embracing the culture of corruption which has tainted Nigeria as a nation."

Just last month, June 2009, There were calls on the Governor of Rivers State, South-South Nigeria, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi to account for how his administration spent appropriated funds totalling over Five Hundred Billion Naira about $3.6billion in the last two years.

According to credible sources, part of the money that Amaechi is struggling to reconcile in the books may have actually gone into providing funds for the ruling party in
Ghana, an alleged contribution to the election of incumbent Ghanaian President, John Atta Mills.

A whopping Four Hundred Million, about $3.5 million was allegedly transferred to facilitate the process in
Ghana. Former Ghanaian dictator, Flight Lt. Jerry John Rawlings (Retired) has been identified as the alleged conduit through which the huge sums were transferred to the ruling party in Ghana. Rawlings had been a regular visitor to River State.

During the last
Ghana election, Rawlings got upset because one Victor Smith has directed a NIGERIAN financier who wanted to give money to Rawlings for NDC campaigns, but Victor Smith told the Nigerian to give it to the MILLS campaign team. This made Rawlings to fire Smith by text message, telling him to seek employment at the MILLS campaign team.

One Ghanaian said: “THEY ARE ALL THIEVES. Rawlings killed people for borrowing fifty thousand cedis and yet this idiot is running around the world coning people”.

On Friday 17 July 2009, Mabey and Johnson, a UK based company pleaded guilty at Westminster Magistrates Court in London, UK, to ten charges of corruption relating to contracts in Ghana, Jamaica and Iraq between 1993 and 2001.

The international bridge building firm is accused of seeking to corruptly influence politicians and officials inGhana between 1994 and 1999 to land build-bridging contracts.

This bribery allegation was allegedly linked with JJ Rawlings and his government. Five of the firm's eight directors have already resigned their positions as a result of the UK Government's investigations into a range of alleged corrupt practices by this company, including dealings with Saddam Hussein in Iraq in breach of UN sanctions.

Today, the NDC - Ghana's ruling party, (JJ Rawlings party) is doing all they can to suppress this story in Ghana(widely reported in Ghana’s STATESMAN, through information fed them by a friend of mine here in the UK).

One Ghanaian Newspaper wrote: Former President Rawlings has always used the slightest opportunity to preach the virtues of instilling probity, accountability, integrity and ethics into Ghanaian politics. But this case of a British Company A little-known family who became one of the richest in Britain - accused of making excessive profits, by building what their critics call "bridges to nowhere", charged with corruptly influencing Ghanaian politicians and officials between 1994 and 1999 to gain bridge building contracts in Ghana, is a sudden twist of events.

The first major British company to be prosecuted for paying bribes abroad for contracts awarded.

The paper continues: The history of bribery among NDC officials is legendary. In 2002, the former Managing Director of Ghana Rubber Estates Limited (GREL), Mr. Etienne Arthur Marie Popeler told an Accra Fast Track Court that he gave monies to Dan Abodakpi, the former Minister of Trade and Industry, Sherry Ayittey, Treasurer of the 31st December Women’s Movement and Mr. Emmanuel A. Agbodo, (former Executive Secretary) of the Divesture Implementation Committee (DIC) under the previous NDC Administration to influence the divestiture of GREL.

The 51-year old Belgian said he paid $1 million bribe to the 31st December Women’s Movement (31st DWM), an NGO run by Rawlings’ wife, for his French company SIPH to secure GREL. Sherry Ayitey is back under the Mills-administration as Minister for Environment and Science.

Another bribery and corruption scandal hit the Rawlings administration in 1995/96 when CHRAJ conducted investigations into allegations of corruption and illegal acquisition of assets made against four ministers of state and some senior government officials. The case involved Col E.M Osei-Owusu (Rtd), a former Minister of the Interior; P.V. Obeng, Presidential Staffer, Ibrahim Adam, Minister for Agriculture and two others from the Agriculture Ministry and Adjei Marfo, Chief executive officer of a state owned company.

The Commission made adverse findings against the three of the officials and exonerated one for lack of evidence. Rather infamously, the government presided over by President Rawlings at the time issued a White Paper contesting the findings made by the Commission.

“To the outside world, Rawlings maybe a hero, but to us Ghanaians, he is a crook”, one Ghanaian Insisted. To my question: “is Ghana’s successful democracy because of Rawlings or in spite of him”? He said, “Rawlings despises democracy, but as a result of local and international pressure he had no choice but to step aside”.

Towards the end of Rawlings reign, Ghanaian economy was reeling under heavy debt, high inflation and large budgetary deficit. Ghana needed IMF/World Bank Loan to survive. (Even till date, a large chunk of Ghana Budgetary needs is still met through international aid). Rawlings was told in no uncertain terms, that Ghana must democratise.

Immediately after Obama’s speech to Ghanaian Parliament, Rawlings was interviewed by Komla, journalist.Mr. Rawlings who has become known as the accuser of everyone else except himself, said Ghana’s strides in democracy was nothing to write home about.

When given the opportunity by Komla to shed some thoughts on the visit of President Obama, he used the opportunity to lambast everyone from President Mills to Ex-President Kuffour. The Western countries from George Bush to Tony Blair were not left out.

During 'Ghana Decides 08' when Baroness Amos from
Britain led a Commonwealth delegation to his house, He lambasted everyone and even questioned the essence of democracy.

When Rawlings gave a speech at Oxford this year, he questioned the use the rule of law and principles of democracy in governance.

Of course, a man that overthrew a constitutional government in 1981- which is treason; murdered military leaders and generals without due process of law; killed three civilian high court judges and engaged in rampant corruption must have no regards for constitutional rule.

Today, there is stable democracy in Ghana, but that is in spite of JJ Rawlings and not because of him. Ghanaians know what they went through to get where are currently.

They also know that the reality in Ghana is not exactly as portrayed by the outside world. Those that actually follow events in Ghana know that elections are still marred by violence. Violent crime is endemic. Drug gangs are on the prowl and corruption is widespread.

But their military have been severely weakened and kept busy by peace keeping activities outside the shores ofGhana – especially during Kofi Annan’s tenure as the UN Secretary General.

Moreover, Ghana is essentially a peace-loving Nation; their Hausa/Muslim population is a minority and thus kept in check. There is healthy rivalry between the major ethnic groups.

To the proponents of a ‘JJ Rawlings’ for Nigeria, my question is this:

Let us suppose Sani Abacha had killed Moshood Abiola, then went ahead and killed Olusegun Obasanjo and Oladipo Diya, then annihilated Babangida and Buhari for their later day opposition to his antics, sprinkled in the killing of some opposition Supreme Court Judges and courageous journalists.

Meanwhile he had killed Musa Yar’Adua, Rewane, Kudirat and Ken Saro Wiwa.

He then proceeded to get himself nominated by his “5 fingers of a leprous hand” political parties in 1998 as their consensus presidential candidate and “won” an election against himself.

Let us also suppose that in 2009, ten years after, a combination of local and international pressure, fed by mass demonstrations and fightings for democracy eventually forced him aside. Then Afterwards, Nigeria insists on democracy that lasted for the next decades, no matter how imperfect; Would you consider Abacha a hero or a villain?

So what do you, think? Rawlings, hero or villain, join the debate here

Read also Africa, Strong Institutions versus Strong Men

and Nigeria Needs Strong Institutions Not Strong Men

Written by Daniel Elombah, with contributions from Mr. Ebenezer Hayfron-Benjamin, Kofi Akosah-Sarpong and Chris Leigh

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