On June 4th, 1979, a major upheaval occurred on the Ghanaian political scene. Some junior officers of the Ghana Armed Forces, seized political power in a bloody coup de’tat, perhaps akin to the first coup of 24th February, 1966 that toppled Ghana’s first president, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
The highest military rank in the successful insurgent was a Major. They took the bull by the horn and ended the reign of the Supreme Military Councils 1 and 2. In contrast, the two military administrations, were dominated by Four and Three-star Generals of the Ghana Armed Forces.
But the shocker of the day was not only the bravery act of the junior officers. It was the history making epoch of how a man standing trail for similar act on May 15th, 1979, broke jail to lead the insurgent and eventually became the Head of State from June 4th 1979, to September 24th, 1979.
Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings had staged an abortive coup on the said date, which was just five weeks to the scheduled elections to usher Ghana into a Third Republican order.
Rawlings was arrested together with his other accomplices, imprisoned, publicly court marshaled and was supposed to be sentenced on June 4th 1979. The general consensus was that Rawlings was awaiting his death warrant to be signed by the military tribunal.
The tribunal was headed by Colonel Joseph Ennigful, a former Commander of the Support Services of the Ghana Armed Forces. Then came the shrilled familiar voice of the man on possible death roll, announcing that junior officers of Ghana Armed Forces had taken over the reign of power.
Rawlings had been part of an underground movement of military officers who planned unify Africa through a series of coups. They were known as the Free Africa Movement (FAM). So after the Ghanaian coup, Captain Thomas Sankara also staged the Burkina Faso version of the planned unify Africa through coup agenda.
The making of Rawlings through May 15th 1979 abortive coup
Rawlings’ popularity soared tremendously at his court-marshal. He spoke the minds of many regular Ghanaians who expressed their angst against the growing social injustices, which according to Rawlings, prompted his abortive coup.
Rawlings’ May 15th insurgent was curtailed by a detachment of troops from the Fifth Battalion and the Recce Regiment led by Major Seidu Mahama, who mobilized troops to arrest Rawlings.
One account has it that Major Mahama seized Rawlings’ pistol, hit him on the head with it, and told him: “You don’t stage coups with a pistol”.
JUNE 4 1979: The resurgent of Prisoner Rawlings
Captain Kojo Boakye-Djan who Rawlings had unsuccessfully courted to join his (Rawlings’) abortive May 15th uprising and other junior officers, who were inspired by Rawling’s action, some 20 days earlier, staged what was later considered as the continuation of the May 15th uprising.
Boakye Djan’s team released Rawlings from jail to lead the June 4th coup. It was bloody because the senior military officers in the SMC 2 put up a stoical resistance. In the process, Major General Alexander Neville Odartey-Wellington, who had joined the Supreme Military Council 2, as the Army Commander was killed.
Others who died in the process included Col. Emmanuel Enningful, the president of the Rawlings’ court-marshal; Second Lt. J. Agyemang Bio, Corporal William Tingan and Lance Corporal Sokpor.
Others included Trooper Samuel Larsey, Trooper Emmanuel Koranteng Apau, Lance Corporal Gabriel Folivi and Lance Corporal Mahmudu Khalifa. They were buried with full military honours.
Eventually, the junior officers won the day when a top army officer of the ruling junta, Lt. General Joshua Hamidu, appealed to his colleague officers to lay down their arms to avoid further blood-shed.
General Hamidu had been re-called from diplomatic duties in the Zambia to become a member of the SMC 2 and the new Chief of Defence Staff. Some of Acheampong’s trusted allies in the SMC 1 were also retired from the Armed Forces.
They included former Army Commander, Major General Robert Ebenezer Abossey Kotei and then Inspector General of Police Ernest Arko.
The SMC 2 had replaced the earlier Supreme Military Council 1, headed by General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, who toppled the 2nd Republican civilian administration of Prof. Kofi Abrefa Busia.
Almost every member of the SMC 1 fell out with Acheampong when he refused to hand over power to a civilian administration and instead tried his model Civilian-Military administration. He termed that concept “The Union Government” (UNIGOV).
The novel idea was subjected to a referendum which outcome was rejected by civil society and other professional body groups.
The growing tension that resulted from the disputed UNIGOV referendum, compelled Acheampong’s colleagues to force him to resign on 8th July, 1978 and put him in house arrest
The SMC 1 was thus reconstituted into SMC 2, headed by Lt. General Frederick William Kwasi Akuffo, then Chief of Defence Staff and member of Acheampong’s SMC 1 administration.
General Akuffo’ SMC 2 quickly drew a time-table to hand over power to a civilian 3rd Republican administration. However, the planned handing over in July of 1979, had to be pushed back to 24th September, 1979 by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC)
The AFRC was established by Rawlings and his colleagues after the successful overthrow of General Akufo’s military administration.
Members of the new AFRC administration were Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings; chairman; with Captain Kojo Boakye-Djan as the official spokesperson and also the vice-chairman of the Council.
Others members included Major Mensah Gbedemah, Major Mensah Poku, Lt. Commander H.C. Apaloo, Captain Kwabena Baah Achamfuor, W/O Henry K. Obeng, Staff Sergeant Alex Adjei (Alan Cash), Corporal Owusu Boateng and Leading Aircraftman John N Gatsiko.
The rest were Lance Corporal Peter Tasiri, L/C Ansah Atiemo, L/C Sarkodie Addo, Corporal Shiekh Tetteh and Private Owusu Adu. Captain Henry Smith, one of the architects refused membership of the Council, but accepted the position of Special Duties and Foreign Affairs.
The AFRC started off with what they termed a house cleaning exercise which import was to purge the Ghanaian system of thievery, corruption and the restoration of a broken social order.
The single most hit casualties of the exercise were some of the top brass of the military where three former heads of states- General Kutu Acheampong, Lt. General Akwasi Amankwaah Afrifa and General FWK Akuffo were executed by firing squad.
Some five other senior military officers were also staked by the sticks and shot. They included Major General Emmanuel Kwasi Utuka, a former Border Guard Commander; and Real Admiral, Joy Komla Amedume, a former Navy Commander.
The three others were former Army Commander, R.E.A Kotei; Air-Vice Marshal George Yaw Boakye and former Foreign Minister, Col Roger Felli.