By Dare Babarinsa
It is a good thing that at last, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, the former President of Ghana, has put some perspective to his relationship with the late Nigerian dictator, General Sani Abacha. In his exclusive interview with The Guardian on Sunday published July 10, Rawlings confirmed that two million dollars (about N600 million) was delivered to him at the Osu Castle, Accra, by Abacha’s courier, Ismaila Gwaizo, who was then the National Security Adviser.
After the death of Abacha in 1998, Nigeria’s new military ruler, General Abdusalami Abubakar made contact with Rawlings demanding explanation on the alleged five million dollars given to him. Rawlings said it was only two million dollars. Abubakar believed him. I do too.
Rawlings is famous for his candid rattling. Abacha considered him a good neighbour who was ready to play game at a reasonable price. Two other West African rulers were considered especially valuable by Abacha. These were General Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo and Charles Taylor of Liberia. Like Rawlings, both were said to receive regular support and encouragements from Abacha. Rawlings has now said he was paid only once. Both Togo and Liberia, like Ghana, were hostile to Nigerian political exiles especially leaders of the opposition National Democratic Coalition.
A notable exception was Benin Republic under President Matthew Kerekou who was lukewarm to the Abacha dictatorship. He allowed our people to operate more openly in Porto Novo, Cotonou and Ketou. Once, the NADECO leaders from the United States arrived in Cotonou to meet with a delegation of our leaders from Nigeria. The venue was Hotel Alejoh in Cotonou. The meeting had barely started when Beninois security informed our leaders that operatives of the Nigerian State Security Service, SSS, were on their way to swoop on the leaders. In clear violation of international laws and the sovereignty of Benin Republic, the SSS was prepared to arrest our leaders on the soil of another country. Kerekou was the unsung hero of our struggle.Such a meeting could not have taken place in Accra or any other Ghanaian city during the time of Rawlings. One thing that Rawlings did for us was that he allowed our leaders to travel freely through the Kotoka International Airport, Accra, without being harassed by security agents. You are safe in Accra as long as you don’t engage in any political activity.Abacha found Rawlings to be very attractive. Though Abacha looked at Colonel Muammar Gadhafi of Libya for inspiration, his ultimate model was Rawlings who was ruling a country with a similar history like Nigeria. When General Abacha seized power from Chief Ernest Shonekan in November 1993, Rawlings had been in power for 13 years. He had also succeeded in transforming into an elected president of Ghana, winning 58.3 percent of the presidential election of 1992.Rawlings was elected chairman of the Economic Community of West African States in 1994 and he was later succeeded by General Abacha. The Nigerian dictator realised that what he wanted, Rawlings already had.
Rawlings was born June 22, 1947 by a Scottish father and a Ghanaian mother. In 1979, as a flight lieutenant of the Ghanaian Air force, he was arrested along with some other officers, accused of plotting a coup. He gave an inspiring speech on live television which ignited a general revolt that led to the overthrow of General Fred Akuffo. Rawlings later ordered the executions of Akuffo and two other retired military rulers, General Kutu Acheapong and General Afrifa. He also ordered the execution five other serving generals. However, political pressure from Ghanaians and the international community would not allow Rawlings to remain in power for long. He handed over power to President Hillan Limann of the Peoples National Party, PNP.
Limann did not know what to do with Rawlings. Many Ghanaians were calling for justice for the executed generals whom Rawlings accused of corruption and of participating in earlier treasonable coups, including the ones that toppled President Kwame Nkrumah and Prime-Minister Kofi Busia. Rawlings would not retire from the Armed Forces as expected. There were call for a public probe of the Rawlings era, but Liman could not do anything about it until he was toppled December 31, 1981, ushering in the second coming of Jerry John Rawlings whom his supported lionized as Junior Jesus.
It was this second coming of Rawlings that Abacha found so attractive. Like their Ghanaian counterparts, the Nigerian armed forces toppled the elected regime of President Shehu Shagari on December 31, 1983. Ten years later, when it was the turn of Abacha after General Ibrahim Babangida and Ernest Shonekan have had their turns, Rawlings was still in power. He succeeded not just because of his works, some of which were considered remarkable, but also because he embarked on a comprehensive campaign of terror. Three Supreme Court justices; Frederick Sarkodie, Kwadjo Agyei Agyepong and Mrs Cecilia Koranteng Addo, were abducted from the sanctuary of justice and executed. More than 300 more Ghanaians including lawyers, journalists, intellectuals, human right activists and others suspected of opposition sentiments, were murdered or simply disappeared.
His success in transforming into an elected President was what made him attractive to Abacha who had wanted to remain in power for life. Following the intervention of the West and donor agencies, Rawlings was forced to accept a two-term limitation policy for the President. However, he succeeded in getting into the Ghanaian Constitution the provision that everything that happened during the bloodstained Rawlings era was done in the national interest. Up till now, nobody has been able to make a proper public enquiry about those days of terror and sudden executions.
Rawlings is a lucky man. Of the three men whom Abacha looked up to for inspiration in West Africa, he is the only one enjoying a good retirement. Charles Taylor of Liberia is now in a British Prison where he may likely spend the rest of his life. Eyadema is dead, though succeeded by his son Faure. Rawlings is enjoying a personal renaissance. In his country, he remains a cult hero among the youth who regards the killings and disappearances as necessary ingredients of the “Ghanaian revolution.”Recent revelations of mind bungling corruption in Nigeria, including those concerning highly-placed military men hiding million of dollars in soak-away pits, makes Rawlings remain a current topics among younger people. There is a nagging feeling that the court process; slow, tedious, expensive, uncertain and rigged in favour of the rich, cannot curb corruption. They believe the Rawlings approach may work once in a while. Despite his long years in power, nobody in Ghana has accused Rawlings of material corruption.I am sure Rawlings would consider the two million dollars he received from Abacha as part of his legitimate income for consultancy services to the late Nigerian dictator. No wonder when General Abdulsalami Abubakar asked him to refund the money, he refused to do so.
By Dare Babarinsa
Source : http://www.ngrguardiannews.com
The Guardian (Nigeria)