I have always hated oppression of any sort. When we sing the national anthem, I feel my blood rushing when we get to “and help us to resist oppressor’s rule with all our will and might for evermore”. Oppression comes in many forms, shapes and colours. Whatever form it comes, whether with good intentions or not, it is oppression and it must be resisted.
I know I will receive a barrage of attacks for saying this – but anytime I hear June 4, 1979, or December 31, 1981, I cringe. Usually, when these dates come up, I simply attend to other things to distract myself because I find it difficult to relive the killings of those days.
This year, I realised that instead of the usual ‘light a torch’ ceremony, the Nungua grounds hosted the explosions with aplomb. I heard the youth making certain pronouncements. I heard words indicating that it is the killings of the revolutionary era that have enabled Ghana to be the country it is today. I heard words that suggested that we stand the risk of repeating history if the conditions that led to the June 4th uprising are not eradicated.
Who is going to tell the youth the truth? We do not want another coup d’état in this country. We do not want another ‘revolution’ in this country. Why are we slowly but surely allowing seeds of decadence to find root in the fertile minds of our youth? Young ones who never saw ‘the blood flowing’, who never saw their parents being lashed naked in public, who never had their loved ones executed by firing squads – making speeches on ‘blood flowing’ as though it was a game. These were serious matters.
Young men and women of Ghana, listen to me please! There was nothing glorious about JJ’s revolution. Those who lived in those times can assure you. You do not need a coup d’état to know that you must not be corrupt. You do not need a coup d’état to know that probity and accountability must be upheld. It is in our Constitution. It is in the laws of our land. It is in our cultural practices. It is in the norms and rules of our society. It is in the Bible. It is in the Koran.
You don’t have to be shot at indiscriminately before you realise you must not steal or misappropriate funds that have been put in your care, whether you are a public servant or not. You do not have to have your female genital organ pounded with a fufu pestle till you die (as happened in the days of the revolution), or be lashed stark naked in the market place, before you know that you must not engage in corrupt practices. Do what is right and when entrusted with public funds, manage and protect them with the last drop of your honour.
We don’t want a coup d’état! We will not glorify coup d’états! Coup d’états are illegal and unconstitutional. Period! They should not be glorified. If you want to talk about the ideals of the revolution – probity and accountability – do so, but remember that they were just ideals because when we look around today we realise that things are even worse than before.
As I ponder over the revolutionary past, something seems familiar. Then it hits me. It’s the feeling of the noose being pulled around our necks, suffocating us. It’s the creation of a culture of silence; the beating up and maiming of innocent civilians. Weapons everywhere; bullets chasing human beings and embedding themselves in their fleshy targets. Radio stations being shut down, at the whims and fancies of the powers that be. Hmmm! Isn’t that Akufo-Addo’s Ghana today?
Mr. President, is it true that you were sitting with a group of persons, when one of them commented that Radio Gold and Radio XYZ are becoming a thorn in the flesh? Mr. President, is it true that you simply flung one arm into the air and declared ‘then shut them down’. Mr. President, is it true that is where the directive to shut down Radio Gold and Radio XYZ came from? The wave of a magic wand? The king coughed and gnomes scampered to do the king’s bidding? Is it true? Hmmm! It is only a question I am asking please.
Journalists are being chased out, some are being killed, because they dare to put out the truth as they see it. Citizens are being ‘shut up’ because they choose to write articles or speak passionately on air. Dirt is thrown on them, they are sent to EOCO, their passports are seized, they are placed on bail, their pictures are splashed all over the papers. Is this your modus operandi? A spirit of oppression, once again, creeping out of the smouldering embers and threatening to overwhelm us? Is our self-proclaimed beacon of democracy following the militant footsteps of his new found friend, Papa J?
Mr. President, what happened to your democratic credentials? What happened to the kerchief in your sleeve, the spring in your step in the courtroom, and your rolling tongue as you stood for justice in the arena of law?
Goliath! Goliath!! Goliath!!! Why are you beating your chest and boasting in yourself. Why are you saying to David ‘come here and I will give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals’. Why are you tempting God?
A lot of people who admired you are now terrified of you and beginning to dislike you passionately. They are hungry, they are frustrated, nothing is working – yet you attempt to put them in a seeming revolutionary state of terror. What did Ghanaians do wrong? Even if we in the NDC Party are to be suppressed and terrorised, what happened to the 54% that are supposed to have voted for you? Should they also grovel in hell?
We are watching you. David is coming! With his hand raised he declares ‘who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God’?
We remember the pain and tears of JJ’s revolution. If there are lessons to be learnt, let us learn them, but we must not encourage its glorification. For what purpose were people’s fathers and mothers killed indiscriminately?
Some may remember the revolution days as glorious days but I do not. I was then in form five at Achimota School, studying hard to get through my ‘O’ level examinations – studying ‘last minute’ as usual with feet placed in buckets of water and drinking coffee to stay awake, like it was going out of fashion.
I remember it as a time of pain, tears and fear. We were afraid to leave our houses. Any knock on the door was greeted with scuttling and whispers of fear because soldiers, and sometimes policemen, would enter your house and drag you out. Where to? Only God knew.
I remember the killing of Major General Odartey-Wellington, the father of my friend. We had an exam to write that day so our task was to keep his daughter from hearing the news on the radio till she had completed her paper. A difficult task as the ‘konkonsa brass bands’ would never give us that chance. I will never forget the days that followed as I looked on helpless as his daughters huddled together in raw pain. How could I take away their pain? Hugging and comforting them seemed so woefully inadequate.
I remember June 16th when fathers of my friends were executed by firing squad. The silence was deafening. We spoke in whispers and hushed tones, even though no third ear was listening. There was no social media to send round pictures, as today’s youth are inclined to do, no matter what pain the pictures provoke. We trembled in fear as we listened to the radio. We thought of Barbara and Sylvia and our hearts broke. Who was safe from this torrential force that was being unleashed – man against man?
In September 1981, I entered the University of Ghana. In January, after the 31st December coup d’état, we were greeted with a new syllabus – all university students were to bag cocoa to be sent to the port or pack sand in bags. Universities were closed for a year, so we spent four years instead of three years doing the under graduate law degree. We bagged so much cocoa, only to find out that it was left to rot and was never exported. With a father like mine, you know you would not be allowed to stay at home when all students were supposed to report for cocoa bagging or sand packing. Indeed, a threat had been issued by the new government, that any student who did not join the ‘ground forces’ would be denied re-entry into the university when it was re-opened.
When, after my own ‘investigations’, I realised that the cocoa we were tediously bagging were being eaten by maggots, I found ways (having roped in my brother) to leave home early in the morning patted on the back by ‘father dear’ and return in the evening looking and acting very tired after ‘bagging all that cocoa’. Please don’t ask me any further questions on this matter :).
These are some of the things I remember about the bloody revolution. I was alive. I was very inquisitive wanting to know and learn everything. Those were terrible days!
A few of years later, I remember when Dr. Nyaho Tamakloe, Kokuvie Tay and others were arraigned before tribunals. I was then at Law School, doing an attachment in chambers to get some experience. I sat in court wondering whether the chairman of the tribunal was taught by the same lecturers who taught us in law school. I tried hard to understand the logic but could not. I made up my mind to read a lot more than I was doing.
One day in court, Lawyer Amarteifio asked me to approach Kokuvie Tay (accused person) to clarify a date that was needed. As naive as I was, I quickly approached the wooden bench where the accused persons were sitting, only to be yanked back by some soldier. His face was so much ‘in my face’ that I thought he was going to bite off my nose. I could smell his breath.
He shouted at me asking why I dared to approach the accused person. In my smallest voice ever, I tried to explain. I was not allowed to complete my sentence. I was dragged to the prison cells at the base of the court-house and kept there the whole day. Naniaama! Sosket! Man pass man!
Indeed, great was the fear in the air that all the older lawyers who I had followed to the courtroom went home after the sitting and did not dare to ask where I had been taken to. There were no mobile phones in those days, so it was each man for himself and God for us all.
I sat alone in that cell wondering why I bothered to go to law school. Planning to remind my father about how I wanted to be a pilot or a mathematician, and how he had coolly manipulated me towards law school. It wasn’t till after 6pm when the chairman of the tribunal came down to talk to someone and saw me there. I heard him asking one of the soldiers who I was. He asked them to release me. If he hadn’t come down before going home, I have no doubt I would have spent the night in the cell and – who knows – maybe a few more days, months or years. Those were unpredictable days.
I got out of the court-house and went towards my car, the only car left in that parking lot. Everybody had left. I was always accused of driving very fast when I was young. Well, you can imagine how I got home that day. Lightening could not have caught up with me if we were racing. My worried mum said ‘don’t go there again ooo’. I said contritely ‘ok mummy’. But of course, I went.
Even at that young age, I knew we could not allow the system to just swallow us up, even though most of the time there was nothing much we could do about it. The gun ruled and some of us did not have guns, neither did we know how to shoot.
Never again should such a calamity befall this land. Never again! Whether through a coup d’etat, or through a ‘machiavellian’ democratic dispensation, we will stand by the words of our national anthem and we will ‘resist oppressor’s rule’.
David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and overcame him.
May God help our nation Ghana. May He forgive us and heal our land.
They say I am for war, but the truth is …
I am for peace … Shalom!
By: Dr Valerie Sawyerr