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09 July 2017

Why did Rawlings sack Graphic Editor?

Martyrs’ Day is June 30. At dawn of this day in 1982, some men with close connections to the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), including Joachim Amartey Kwei, a member of government, abducted and burnt to death three judges and a retired military officer.

It was reported that there would have been no remains of the dead, except their ashes, had it not rained (only at Bundase) that night. The rains preserved the underwear of the only lady judge among the slain. Their charred remains were found on  July 3, 1982.

The murder bruised the conscience of blood-fearing Ghana.

Crime

What was their crime? All three judges had sat on cases in which they had ordered the release of persons who had been sentenced to long terms of imprisonment during the rule of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), headed by Rawlings.

The retired Major, as Administrative Manager of GIHOC, had once upon a time, meted out punishment to Amartey Kwei who, until he became a member of the PNDC, was a staff of this state-owned company.

A Special Investigative Board (SIB), set up by the government, found Amartey Kwei guilty and sentenced him to death by firing squad. Throughout the subsequent trial, Amartey Kwei implicated retired Captain Kojo Tsikata, a member of the PNDC.

A night before the execution, Amartey Quaye was visited by somebody (some accounts name this visitor). In a conversation, the condemned prisoner is said to have made a confession exonerating Captain Tsikata. This midnight visitor taped the confession.

Meeting

At a meeting with journalists on August 19, 1983, Flt Lt Rawlings, as Head of State, played back Amartey Quaye’s confession tape. I was one of those journalists.

The atmosphere was eerie, hearing the last words of a dying man. The tape continued to run after his words but there was no voice. Then a gunshot rang out in the distance – the shot that released the bullet that went through the heart of the condemned Kwei. As the bullet hit him, he cried out, ”Ow, my father”. As a writer, I could imagine that having thus cried out, he bowed his head and died.

For me, as a young sub-editor on the Ghanaian Times, the confession was news. I remember it like it happened yesterday. In those days when we used to “break a few bottles” every lunch break, a handful of us, Ghanaian Times journalists, gathered around green bottles at a drinking bar at North Kaneshie on that Sunday.

To a man, everybody agreed that the confession was going to be the front pager for Monday’s paper. In our alcohol-fired imagination, several headlines suggested themselves.

People’s Daily Graphic

True, on Monday, August 22, 1983, the confession story was out on the newsstands. But not in the Ghanaian Times. It was in the People’s Daily Graphic (so was the paper called at the time). Over lunch that Monday, we crucified our Editor, Christian Aggrey, for allowing the ‘Graphic’ to scoop us so! Some of our seniors had gossiped to us that the story was vetoed by him.

Of course, we had no way of checking the veracity of the gossip, but we believed our seniors. The brave ones among us swore that they would bring up the issue between 6p.m. and 8p.m. – when Christian Aggrey, after finishing his editorial for the day, would visit the sub desk (the reporters having closed for the day). In his singlet, he usually came with an incentive gift – a bottle of whisky or gin.

The confrontation was not to be. By the time we got back to the newsroom that Monday afternoon, the news was all over: the Editor of the People’s Daily Graphic, Mr Kojo Yankah, had been fired for publishing the sacred confession of a mortal who had made peace with his creator.

Confession

This year (2017), as I listened to radio reports on the Martyrs’ Day observance, a thought struck me. Why did Rawlings play back the confession to journalists if he considered the words sacred? Why would a Head of State record a conversation with a dying man, even if that man was a pal?

One of the accounts (online) names the man who did the recording. This man must have been known to Kwei enough for him to utter the confession. What was the nature of the conversation? Was there a question that elicited the confession? Did Joachim Amartey Kwei make the confession on the promise of a last-minute pardon?
Why have I written this article? Nothing.  Just thinking aloud.

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