12 September 1983, by Elizabeth Ohene
Talking Drums, The West African News Magazine
The song was expected to end when Joachim Amartey Kwei died by firing squad. But it is obvious that it is not only the melody that lingers on loud and clear, fresh stanzas of the song were being composed even at the stakes, and far from the silence, there are now, more questions than answers.
Over a year ago, three prominent Ghanaian High Court judges and a retired officer of the Ghana Army were abducted by armed men from their homes and their murdered and half burnt bodies were discovered two days later.
Within minutes of the announcement of this gruesome deed, the United Kingdom-based spokesmen and apologists for the regime in Ghana were putting it out that forces who want to give the PNDC regime a bad name were responsible for the murders, and they were quite vehement in denouncing those who said they saw the hands of officialdom in the events that had shocked a whole nation. The PNDC themselves suggested it could be the work of counter-revolutionaries.
So spontaneous was the show of the nation's revulsion that the PNDC was forced to set up a Special Investigating Board (SIB) to find out those who were responsible. Half way through their investigations, names in high places, dreaded names in Ghana were being mentioned and their interim report pointed hands to the very heart of the PNDC!
We believe, the SIB said, that Joachim. Amartey Kwei, (the then newly resigned member of the PNDC and, until then, the most vocal and revolutionary member of the ruling group) ex-Capt. Kojo Tsikata (Special Adviser to the PNDC and Head of Security) Sgt Akata-Pore (member of the PNDC who added fire and spice to the speeches) Sgt. Amedeka, the highly visible odd-jobs man for the PNDC, should be arrested for further investigations.
Kwei, Amedeka and three other soldiers, admitted even at that stage to be messenger boys and not to have been "part of the decision-making process" in the murder plot, were arrested, the regime's Attorney General Mr. Aikins was not persuaded that there was enough evidence to arrest Capt. Tsikata and Sgt. Akata-Pore. Cynics said there was nobody in the country who could have given the order for the arrest of those two at that time.
Soon the SIB found itself involved in a battle royal that could have provided a plot for a John Le Carré novel. Capt. Tsikata went on the offensive, the SIB had been infiltrated by the American CIA and other forces who want to overthrow the PNDC and by the Captain's assessment, the surest road to the overthrow of the PNDC was to overthrow the cornerstone of the regime, the good Captain.
The Guardian of London and its Ms. Victoria Brittain said the SIB was composed of members of the very class that the PNDC was fighting and had become one of the many forces trying to over- throw the regime.
The Ghana Press joined in the fray on the side of Capt. Tsikata and a besieged SIB threatened to give up the work it was doing. "Oh no, you don't" Attorney-General said, not after I have broken down publicly in tears at the funeral of the four miserable victims, I will not have you rob me of the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that I am part of an honourable process. Surely you gentlemen of the SIB ought to be able to take a bit of calumny from the likes of the Ghanaian Times and the People's Daily Graphic, as for the charges of your having become CIA puppets, well, it's up to you to clear yourselves, if you will...
In the meantime Sgt. Akata—Pore is arrested, nothing to do with the minor matter of four people being murdered, he was, or was he endeavouring to overthrow his own regime, the country was told.
Confession statements then are made by Amartey Kwei and Amedeka and the irksome chorus wouldn't go away, Capt. Tsikata, Capt. Tsikata... all the way until the final report is submitted to the Attorney-General.
Parts of the report and parts of the recommendations he accepted. Others, well, it was not the business of the SIB to make such finding and he quoted yards of eminent legal opinion to back him up, he did not take his orders from the SIB and anyway it should be clear to anybody who cared to look properly that there was no shred of evidence against Capt Tsikata and Sgt. Akata Pore — nothing that will stand in a court of law - that is.
Those who thought all the mystery will be cleared in court reckoned without Attorney-General Aikins' long and accurate memory - was it not the same Amartey Kwei who as the voice of the workers in the PNDC was always screaming that the normal courts of the land were no good and only the People's court could dispense justice? Well, to the People's Court Kwei shall go, the fact that members of the Bar were boycotting these courts did not make them any less able to dispense the justice of Kwei's dreams.
While the trial is in progress yet another of the now regular attempted coups takes place or was it simply a jail break, anyway at the end of the day, Sgt. Amedeka the field director of operations of June 30 1982, had broken jail and was on the run.
When the Tribunal handed down its sentences, four of the accused got death sentences and one got a jail sentence and since Sgt. Amedeka, one of the four was unavailable, three people, in fact got the sentences.
On August 18, it was announced that two of the three, Joachim Amartey Kwei and L/Cpl Johnny Dzandu had been executed by firing squad and the third person L/Cpl Senya was executed on August 31.
But for the fact that Sgt. Amedeka was on the run and still had the power of speech, it could indeed have been as was claimed by Ms. Brittain of The Guardian that the trials and sentences had broken the back of the conservatives who had been using the murders and investigations to fight the PNDC.
The discordant note, however, came from a most unexpected source in the person of Mr. Kojo Yankah, Editor of his renamed People's Daily Graphic when he published on the front page what must surely rank as one of the most bizarre stories ever in the history of journalism.
The story said that in a tape recorded conversation between Amartey Kwei and Leader of the Revolution Flt. Lt. Rawlings, Kwei told Rawlings, "Tell the Captain to forgive me". This was after the Chairman had asked Kwei whether Special Adviser Capt. Tsikata was involved in the conspiracy to murder the victims. Three times Rawlings asked Kwei: Tell me, was Capt. Tsikata involved in the conspiracy? And for the same number of times, Kwei answered ,in the negative. "No Sir".
After a brief spell, the command was - given and with' Kwei's vorce audible in the background, the shots rang out..."
The story concluded by stating that the tape was played in the conference room of the Ministry of Information when Editorial Board members of the various media houses met the Leader of the Revolution to exchange ideas on the performance of the press in relation to the on-going revolution.
The next day August 24, the Graphic front page carried a terse announcement which said the paper's Editor Kojo Yankah had been suspended indefinitely for professional misconduct, indiscretion and bad taste in publishing the previous day's story.
Ms. Joyce Aryee the Information Secretary said in her statement of censure that by "publishing the last words of Amartey Kwei, Mr.Yankah had reduced to the level of a cheap journalistic scoop, the last words of a penitent man."
The Ghanaian Times of the same day waxed poetic in indignation, Mr. Yankah had betrayed the Leader of the Revolution who had opened his innermost heart and feelings to a select group that he felt he could trust on a matter that made the Leader's heart bleed... after all it couldn't even be called a scoop, the Ghanaian Times had been at the meeting after all as had been other media houses... this had been a betrayal most foul!
The Ghanaian Times attempt to improve upon the discordant notes introduced by the Kojo Yankah story succeeded in making matters even worse.
Flt Lt Rawlings, the Times explains, in interviewing Amartey Kwei at the stakes, was not trying to vindicate the PNCD (had the PNDC ever accepted blame or responsibility for the whole disgraceful affair). It was an entirely personal affair, Kwei had been a longstanding friend and colleague, the ties of friendship demanded that J.J. Rawlings kept vigil with Amartey Kwei, his only concern was that even if his comrade should die, he would at least die with the truth on his lips.
Obviously the Times is satisfied that Kwei, was a penitent man when he died and the truth was on his lips. This, in spite of the fact that, at no time since June 30, 1982 had he uttered one word of regret in abducting and having murdered innocent Ghanaians, not even during the trial, not even during his vigil with his comrade Head of State.
The comrade Head of State himself has not offered any explanation as to why he had to tape record the last words of his long-time friend nor why he had to play the sacred words of a personal friend to a group who could not all possibly have been personal friends.
Or could it be that he expects Ghanaians to be impressed that he has been magnanimous enough to have executed his best friend and long-time comrade and therefore we should be satisfied that he has extracted retribution for the murders?
Some of us "not-so-smart-Ghanaians" still find it implausible that one member of the ruling body could have decided by himself and asked Sgt Amedeka to abduct three High Court Judges and a retired major and kill them with the help of three lowly soldiers who nobody has accused of having been part of the decision-making process.
When is an action of a member of the PNDC an individual matter and when is it a matter for the Council?
Since Mr. Yankah has not been accused of fabrication, one can safely assume that his story was true, he erred in betraying a confidence (off the record interview) and therefore questions based on that story must be asked. Are executions now carried out in the Flt. Lieutenant’s backyard or did he accompany the squad to the firing range since his conversation apparently took place seconds before the shots rang out "with Kwei's voice still audible..."
Was Flt. Lt. Rawlings serving as a priest confessor for Kwei? Condemned men usually are given priests of whatever faith they believe in to attend them in their last moments before death, and why did he feel a need to record the conversation if not for posterity or is it vindication of the Captain?
Why on earth did Flt. Lt. Rawlings want to ask Kwei such questions? Is it possible he still had some doubts after the exhaustive SIB investigation, Attorney-General Aikins' learned dissertations on the matter and the Captain's own strenuous and consistent denials that he had anything to do with the murders?
Surely the place to resolve such doubts is in the law courts?
Was Rawlings already satisfied in his mind about the reasons the murderers had for killing their victims even if he himself was not involved? Why did he not ask Kwei WHY the conspiracy?
The Guardian says even though no reasons were given for the murders, all the victims were prominent conserv atives. The inference obviously being that being conservative makes you a candidate for murder in present day Ghana.
What was so reprehensible in pub lishing the last words of a self confessed murderer if those words cleared the name of a public official who had been wrongly accused?
One had started to hope that some of the honourable tradition in the Daily Graphic would rub off Mr. Yankah and we would make a journalist of him yet, and one is almost tempted to sympathise with the hapless Yankah that his first act of journalism has landed him with indefinite suspension!
What is difficult to understand is how Joachim Amartey Kwei managed to become a penitent man whose last words deserved to be treated with reverence.
Had he repented because he was asking for Captain Tsikata's forgiveness or did he manage to send some word to the families of the people he had killed also? Obviously it looks like the gates of heaven will open to you no matter how many people you have murdered so long as you manage to whisper into a tape recorder held to your mouth while you are tied to the stakes a message to Captain Tsikata apologising for having taken his name in vain.
The lucky thing in this episode is that the Leader of the Revolution managed to escape from the bullets that killed Kwei, obviously the Leader is still very fast on his feet.
A pity though that he went to all that trouble to get and tape a conversation to silence all whispers and doubts about his mentor Capt. Tsikata, only to succeed in raising the chorus louder than before.
Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink..... do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field
— Reflections the Revolution in France - Edmund Burke
See also: Close Encounters and June 4th