A REVIEW of THE TRIAL OF J.J. RAWLINGS: A Revolutionary Moment in Post Colonial Ghana by Kojo Yankah
This book was first published in English in1986 as The Trial of J.J.Rawlings: Echoes of the 31 December.
Although there are many books, which have appeared on Jerry John Rawlings, almost all of them derive their main content from this book published first in 1986. The one book that depended on his own material Working with Rawlings its material contested by Rawlings himself. Anyway, it is an auto-biography of Mr. Ahwoi published in 2017. Another book, interesting in its format of a comic book of action, Changes: The Dawn of a Revolution by Dr. Kwame Addo published in December 2020 uses the narrative provided by Kojo Yankah.
Three dates are of importance for the story of the actions that The Trial…has to tell. These are The Actions of 15th May, The Actions of 4th June, and Actions of 31st December. The minor action of 24th September of handing over power to a civilian government is important since it was a rare example of its type. It is usually written as part of the actions of 31st December.
In the forward to the book written by Nana Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng Chairman, National Media Commission and President, Ghana Association of Writers (2018), “It has come to light recently that some vital information on the early Rawlings era cannot be traced through the media or other archives.” (p.13). It is possible to say that this can be explained by the unwillingness of the major players in the actions to reveal details of their activities. This is what Rawlings said to the author concerning this issue: “You see, we cannot at this stage expose all our past activities because some of the modus operandi are still being used but…I could give you another example.”(p.165). This reviewer was a victim of this rigorous practice.
The trials began on 15th May 1979 when JJ Rawlings appeared before a court marshal accused of planning to overthrow the government of General Akuffo, especially when it is clear that Rawlings intends to hand over power to the civilian democratically elected government on the 1st of October 1979 as General Akuffo was planning. Rawlings’ defence was sophisticated and was devoid of ideological jargon. “Here we are going back to barracks tainted, very much so, without any dynamic, drastic, radical attempt to purge and punish state criminals who have reduced us to this indignity…” (p. 32). The indignity of hunger, high inflation and economic collapse. Rawlings gave examples of deprivation and abject poverty in the society while officers lived in luxury, senior officers who had made enormous money stealing the money of the state. Rawlings mentioned the culture of the army where you obey first before complain made it impossible for junior officers to question the behaviour of senior officers misbehaving. Rawlings admitted his guilt and absorbed his fellow accused of lower ranks. The packed hall began to clap for him as if this was a stage performance! The judge had to threaten to clear the court if the cheering of Rawlings continued. “For me, anything, even death, is better than to be emasculated,” he said. (p.32).
When the session ended that day one had to wonder if this trial would last. The campaign went ahead.
Parties formed, candidates emerged and the elections went ahead. Hilla Limann became president and Chairman of AFRC Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings handed power to the civilians as promised, not on 1st October because it coincided with Nigeria’s hand over but on the 15th September 1979.
At first, the president had no idea how to use Jerry Rawlings. He asked his advice on things he wanted to. Then he sacked him and his colleagues from the army. In no time at all, senior army officers were landing contracts in millions of cedi. This is what led to the re-launching of the Revolution on the 31st December 1981.
There was a time in Nigeria when the army had disgraced themselves in power and were ready to hand over to civilians. But they handed to themselves as civilians. Corruption and other forms of abuse of power has continued in Nigeria. JJ Rawlings continued as military head of state and then as a civilian head of state for two terms. The example that Rawlings set in Ghana was definitely better for the people of Ghana than the one that the civilian soldiers set for the people of Nigeria.
The Rawlings era had a moral strong point to make. They did not misuse power. They stood by the constitution they put in place for the country. They obeyed the laws of the land. The effect in each country has been obvious to the peoples of the country.
Even General Obasanjo, who ruled Nigeria as the soldier and then as the civilian, boasted !!! the other day that Nigeria was drifting towards being a failed state!!! In the last ten years, international companies and some offices of the United Nations have sought substations in Africa. They have settled for Ghana or Kenya. In his eight years that the first ever black man was president of the United States of America, President Barrack Obama did not visit Nigeria.
Every year, hundreds of young Nigerians risk their lives footing it across the Sahara and, without being able to swim crossing the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. Many of them perish in the desert and drown at sea, young men and women of ambition.
Maybe we should take heart from a man who was sometimes called Junior Jesus: “We should not nurse in our hearts too much sorrow, for there is every indication to assure us of a better tomorrow.
The frustrating tide shall by all means, be yielding place to a period of smiles propriety. But I believe that the long-expected salvation should come through the people – the people of Ghana themselves.” It is impossible to give up on a people, even a people as happy as Nigerians!!!