History has ‘absolved’ me! (1)

As we go about our day-to-day business, it may not often occur to us that important as the pressing matters of the moment might be, worrying about them would probably have evaporated by the time we wake up the next morning; a new day, a mere 12 hours away.

On the other hand, did we but know it, maybe what we had done — or omitted to do — some` years ago, could rise up, after such a multitude of sunris­es, to enhance our self-esteem, or rob us of any we might have fondly cultivated in the privacy of our minds, over the years. We are our own worst judges sometimes, are we not?

“Obi nnim nna!” (say the Akan sages, meaning: “No one knows what another day may bring!”)

This train of thought arose in my mind through a casual remark made to me by a friend one day. We were talking about a politician who had recently passed, when this friend asked me, “By the way, have you read the autobiography of Joe Appiah?”

I had to admit that I wasn’t even aware that Joe Appiah had published an autobiography be­fore his death, let alone read it!

So, I answered: “No! Why do you ask?”

“Because Joe Appiah wrote that when General Acheam­pong overthrew Dr Busia, and he, Acheampong appointed Joe Appiah, as an Ambassador Extraordinary, Acheampong gave Appiah a copy of a “secret “letter” he had found in the papers Dr Busia had left in his desk, before travelling to the UK on the trip during which he was overthrown!”

“Oh! What was in the secret letter?” I asked eagerly. “Who was it from”?

My friend smiled. He said (rather sadistically, altogether making it sound like he was doing me a favour!) “It will be better if you find out for yourself from the book! I don’t want to spoil the pleasure – and excitement — of getting to know about it, for you!”

Well, doubtful “favour” or not (I thought) if that was the position he wanted to adopt, so be it. I would get hold of Joe Appiah’s book as soon as yesterday! First bookshop I saw, it would be my most important purchase.

But in the meantime, I felt slightly resentful that General Kutu Acheampong had not shown the Busia letter to me, but had given a copy of it to Joe Appiah. My resent­ment was based on the fact that everyone knew that I’d had the mother of all politi­cal quarrels, in 1970, with Dr Busia, about his policy of carrying out “dialogue”-with apartheid South Afri­ca, over the heads of the country’s African population.

The confrontation with Busia had, in fact, led to my being dismissed from my job as Editor of the Daily Graphic! I was not surprised by the dismissal, for some people believe that if the State “owns” a newspaper, the paper should slavishly sup­port every Government policy. Maybe Dr Busia was one of them. Certainly, his press secre­tary, Emil Adzimah, behaved as if he thought so.

My own attitude was that the Government only owned such newspapers as the Graphic on behalf of the populace and that the citizens of a country had the right to form and impart opinions on all matters affect­ing the public. The state-owned newspapers, more than any others, should therefore subject governmental measures to a thorough, disinterested exam­ination, because only the papers in private ownership, they were not circumscribed by any com­mercial or sectional interests.

In the particular case of my argument with the Prime Minister, I felt strongly that his policy was mistaken and would (as I shall demonstrate later) bring shame upon his own head, as well as that of Ghana. But, of course, some people thought that I was being reckless in confronting the Prime Minister on, and that I was courting “career suicide”. To that argument, I said, “Bollocks!” I would do what my conscience told me was right.

Luckily, informed public opinion suspected that the Prime Minister had a vested interest in the “dialogue” policy. They were right. My own view was, “I operated as a freelance journalist before I joined the Daily Graphic. I am not scared by the prospect of not earning a regular salary, as I do at the Graphic. So there!”

This disregard for my personal interest – a position of seeming “bravado” on my part – is a type of behaviour that hardly ever takes place in public life in Ghana. It was to make me an unwilling hero. But neither Joe Appiah nor Ache­ampong showed that they quite appreciated the importance of the debate on “dialogue”, either as it affected Ghana’s image abroad, nor its implications for freedom of the press in Ghana, and the principle on which I had sacrificed my job as Graph­ic editor.

The galling part of the story was that even as the two men were hiding the secret letter from me, I had made Acheam­pong very popular by broad­casting a news commentary on Radio Ghana in which I used the term, “YENNTUA!” after Acheampong repudiated some of Ghana’s external debts.

So, I would have expected Acheampong, no less than Joe Appiah, to try and please me in return!


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