Last week’s incident on the national anthem, when President Akufo-Addo fumed seeing a chief sitting and not standing as the national anthem was played at a state function, sent me rummaging through my archives with the help of my ancient ‘goggles’ (a nice word currently corrupted as ‘google’); and I panicked discovering the above-captioned article I wrote some three decades ago (December 1991), published in the Mirror.
It is reproduced here in two parts, lest the young ones get bored, and start throwing stones!
He was not in prison cells when I talked to him. That would have meant a trip to the Upper East; for it was into a cell at Bawku he was bundled on the orders of Chairman Rawlings, on December 10, 1991.
John Akparibo Ndebugre was released on December 18, having spent nine days in a Bawku cellar for his indifference to the national anthem of Ghana, at a durbar of chiefs.
That charge would be ironical for anybody who knows Ndebugre’s political past. 1982, PNDC Secretary for Northern Region. Same year, appointed Upper Regional Secretary; 1984, Secretary for Agriculture, and later posted to PNDC Secretariat. He resigned in October 1985, and in 1987 and was detained for a period of eight months by security forces.
Certainly a man you want to talk to. At least you would want to know the secret behind his non-responsiveness to anthems so you could borrow his “we no go stand up” when the need arises. And is it surprising for somebody who has resigned from a “we no go sit down” government to adopt a “we no go stand up” attitude.
As for national anthems, I am glad our obligation to them stops at standing up when they are being played, and does not extend to singing also. There would have been mass arrests. To date, it is not clear how many anthems Ghana has, how many versions of each, and what the words exactly are.
Watch closely the lips of players at the Africa cup tournament in Senegal when their national anthem is being played. Many pretend they are singing the silent version.
But Ndebugre’s arrest on the issue of the anthem can hardly be seen in isolation. Against a background of his current political leanings, the strong anti-PNDC sentiments he advocates either on his own or as part of the stance of the Movement for Freedom and Justice, the issue may assume deeper significance.
I asked Nde if differences between him and the PNDC Government were such that he had to swing to movements opposed to Rawlings. But Ndebugre is not sure he is in a completely opposite camp.
“I won’t say they are opposite camps; because when I left in 1985, and even before then I was already working with elements within Kwame Nkrumah Revolutionary Guard. We were working long before the 31st December Revolution; and while I was Secretary, I was still in contact with them, and we were discussing problems confronting the Government and the way the Rawlings regime was unable to ultimately address them. It was just then that I resigned, I was free now to join whatever group espousing principles I shared,” he said in earnest, frowning.
But I sensed it might be significant to touch on the kind of rapport he had with the man who ordered his arrest in Bawku. Was he close to the Chairman while he served in the PNDC?
Not as close as others thought.
“I am not too sure I will describe him as a friend; I just worked with him, and in working with him we worked closely together. He respected my opinion, and there were lots of things that he wanted to discuss with me before he did them. Because we worked so closely, it created the impression that we were very good friends; but I will not describe him as a friend, for I never, for instance, shared a bottle of beer with him in his office. Of course, in the early days, anytime we worked so hard we got tired, he ordered some kenkey or some yoke gari and we ate together, but I won’t say he was my pal.”
Even if it is not a question of love turned sour, the fact remained that the two are currently not the best of friends – political adversaries if you like.
But under what circumstances would political rivals clash on the same durbar grounds? Did Ndebugre anticipate Rawlings’ visit to Bawku, and plan a fitting confrontation that weekend?
A coincidence, he said. “The Kusasi people in the Bawku area where I come from, were celebrating what they call the Samanpiid Festival, a harvest festival. I am very closely associated with that festival. The festival used to be celebrated in households, but when I was the Regional Secretary, I thought we should try and upgrade it, so we now have one that is performed by the paramount chief on behalf of the whole area.
“Because of that I have been monitoring the progress of the festival. We started it in 1983. I have not been attending it, for financial reasons, but this time I thought of attending it. Indeed, I did not know the Chairman was going to be there. It was when I got to Tamale that I heard he will be at the festival. That was the night before the festival, and I had to get there on time to be at the festival”.
What went on in your mind when you heard the Chairman was coming to the festival?
“What struck me was eh…. ‘there is likely to be a problem’.”
“The problem I envisaged was different. The paramount chief happens to have some respect for me, and has some respect for the Chairman also. I knew the chief would want to promote some peace between me and Rawlings. But I was not sure the Chairman or I were in the right frame of mind to engage in peace talks….especially me, since I have no personal grudge against him, but I belong to organisations that have principled positions against the Government’s policies. So I was uneasy, for I thought I would find myself being compelled to take a position that may contradict the position of my groups. For if he had said I should have a chat with him, I don’t think I would have refused.”
Had the paramount chief tried this earlier?
“Yes when I was released after my first arrest in 1988, and I travelled home, he was very desirous that the Chairman and I should meet and patch our differences. But I explained to him, I have no personal differences; the point is there are policies I don’t agree with; and you don’t need to love or hate somebody before you disagree with him.”
Whether the two liked it or not, opportunities prevailed for them to meet eyeball to eyeball. The Chairman was a guest of honour at the Bawku festival and Ndebugre was sitting in close proximity with the chief. But was John Ndebugre part of the official entourage to the Bawku chief to justify such proximity?
“I was not a part of the entourage. The whole thing arose out of the seating arrangement. The chief was sitting almost directly opposite the official canopy where the Chairman sat, and we formed a large cirlce. The chief was sitting there with his elders and people, including those considered of high standing in the area; so they gave me a seat in the front row.”
This conspicuous position Ndebugre occupied was to play a part in the unfolding drama.
“Shortly after that, the Chairman arrived, and everybody got up on his feet – including myself. The Chairman walked straight to the Paramount Chief, the Bawku Naba; and he shook his hand. He started shaking people anti-clockwise around the circle. When he came to me, he did not shake my hand; he did not shake about three or four others to my right, but then continued. He then proceeded to sit down”.
Did this omission prepare the ground for what was to follow? In any case, was Ndebugre aware that the Head of State sometimes does not shake every outstretched hand, for reasons of sheer practicality? I asked.
“No, that was not the case in this one.”
Nde looked convinced from the withdrawn smile originally playing on one side of his lips. “In that kind of situation, there is often a stampede but there was no such stampede, not where I was standing. We were standing in a neat line and he just passed me”.
But was Nde disappointed in the handshake that never came? Was he anxious for it?
“No, I am normally not anxious to shake hands with anybody.”
Were you disturbed?
“No, except that it showed. The manner in which he ignored me showed that there was likely to be trouble”.
Do you think he probably did not want to create an incident?
“I don’t see how he could have created an incident by shaking hands with me”. Later everybody was seated. Then came the national anthem to which everybody was supposed to stand.
Did Ndebugre get up too