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THE MAKING OF 31ST DECEMBER,1981…..my widow’s might(l)

How time flies! In less than one week, it will be 40 long years since the events of 31st December 1981 took place. Unfortunately, the architect and the principal character, Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, is no more. The same goes for some of the unsung heroes who were mostly junior officers of the Ghana Armed Forces and some civilians. There are some who are still alive but are quiet in their little corners around the country and abroad.
I don’t intend to play hero with this piece but rather to tell just one of the many “behind the scene “ stories leading up to the actual event of 31st December.
The other reason is to put to rest, the numerous calls and suggestions that I should put together my memoirs in the form of a book. I will do no such thing because the legend himself didn’t leave anything concrete behind in the form of a book. After all, I didn’t fire a gun on that day. The real heroes who fought, some of whom are walking hungry in the streets of Accra and elsewhere in Ghana are quiet. So why should I make noise about my insignificant contribution? It is to such individuals l dedicate this piece.
The 31st December 1981 event was to have taken place earlier around 23rd or 24th(Christmas eve)to coincide with Christmas. However, it leaked along the line and some suspected soldiers were arrested at both the Takoradi and Accra Air Force bases. The operation was, therefore, suspended and the ‘boys ‘were dispersed. I had to host a couple of them for two days in my small room at Nungua. One of those was (my very good friend ) Joachim Amartey Kwei( he was later executed by firing squad for the infamous abduction and murder of three high court judges and a retired army officer in 1982)
Amartey Kwei was not a soldier but he was responsible for coordinating the activities of some of the ‘boys ‘ and the storage of some light weapons meant for the operation.
It may be recalled that one of the strongest branches of the June 4 Movement was in Nungua, which branch had a farm at Katamansu. I, together with a couple of friends, were the founders of the branch and very often met Jerry Rawlings at his residence( the UTC flats on Independence Avenue) near the Ako Adjei interchange.
Jerry first told me about the move to launch a revolution in August 1981. As a young reporter with radio Ghana, l had other plans to further my education abroad. Fortunately, my immediate senior brother was a citizen of the US living in the Bay Area of San Francisco. He had gotten me admission to two universities. One was in the State of Idaho and the other was the popular Beckley university. Both institutions had sent me the student visa forms, the I-20. As the time for the visa interview was approaching, l had gone to inform my friend, Jerry, about it so it didn’t surprise him.
It was at that meeting that Jerry told me about the plans to make a ‘move soon ‘. He further explained that l was one of the people he was counting on. With that explanation, I burnt the Form I-20 before his eyes.
From then on it was one task after another. I produced many sketches of the main Broadcasting House. I also ‘smuggled ‘ into GBC a few guys who were going to participate in the move. I did that on the instructions of Jerry. They included Amartey Kwei, Cpl C C Adai, and Cpl Albert Gbafa .
From then on, l virtually lived in the flat with Jerry, his wife, and two kids. At the time, the MP for Klottey Korley, Hon. Zanetor was about two and a half years old while as a toddler under one year, her junior sister Yaa Asantewaa was learning how to sit and crawl.
I think due to the earlier events of June 4, 1979, Nana Konadu was no longer working with UTC. As a graphic designer, therefore, she occupied herself with work in a small studio on the compound of her mother’s kindergarten. The school was called Tiny Tot. My duties in the house were helping out the couple so they could have time to carry out their respective jobs. I, therefore, babysat Asantewaa, and other times too, I accompanied Zaneto to Tiny Tot. There was a car in the house so I just sat back to watch over the kids. Those frequent visits to the Rawlings gave me the opportunity to know some of my close friends and family. For example, I got to know both parents of Mrs. Rawlings, Mr. J O T Agyeman, and the wife, Madam Agbotui, Jerry’s mother, some members of the Tsikata family. The friends included Madam Sherry Aryeetey, Madam Joyce Aryee (then with the Ghana Standard Board as the PRO), and Dr. Mercy Bannerman ( daughter of Dr. H S Bannerman, the MP for Ashiedu Keteke in the 3rd Republic).
One incident that shook me to the core in those days was when the Limann administration decided to arrest Jerry for interrogation. That morning, l was off duty from the GBC and decided to spend the day with Jerry. Around 9 am, the police headquarters sent a verbal invitation to Jerry. On his part, Jerry sent word to his lawyer Mr. Tsatsu Tsikata about the invitation. While waiting for the arrival of Tsatsu, a police vehicle announced from a distance, that if in a couple of minutes the former head of state didn’t come out, the house was going to be bombed. Jerry didn’t mind them until Tsatsu arrived. He came into the company of one of his student lawyers Saakwa Agambilla. For about an hour, there were exchanges of correspondence between the police and Jerry until Tsatsu took the decision to go with him to the Police Headquarters.
That day, I slept on a sofa in Jerry’s sitting room because we were hoping he would return the same day. But no, he didn’t return.
By 10 pm, several people had visited the house because word had gone round about the arrest and detention of Rawlings. Early in the morning, the following day, a close civilian friend of Jerry called Apianim came to inform Mrs. Rawlings that her husband was driven to Aburi the night before so she should accompany him(Apianim) to go visit him. But Nana politely refused. She was surprised when I volunteered to go with Apianim. The two of us were, therefore, the only visitors who dared visit him at Peduase lodge where he had been kept. After subjecting us to all kinds of searches we were allowed to see him briefly without allowing us to talk to him. We only managed to wave at him.
We returned home to Accra shaken to our bones. I reported to Mrs. Rawlings who told me to wait for lawyer Tsatsu Tsikata. When Tsatsu finally arrived, it was almost midday and he informed us that he had been assured that Jerry would be released after interrogations. He rushed back to the police headquarters and returned with Jerry about 4 pm.
My next episode will give details on my role on the 31st night.
See y’all.

(by Eric Bortey, journalist, formerly with the GBC and NCCE)
Sunday, December 26, 2021

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