SPEAKING THE TRE TRUTH TO POWER (2)

I felt outraged when I heard of the death of Dr Hilla Limann, Ghana’s former President. I had known Dr Limann when he was a member of the Constitutional Commission in 1968-69. A mutual friend, a nice guy called Kambong, had introduced us and had told me in prophetic words: “This man is very learned. He will one day be Ghana’s President!”

When he became President in 1979, he invited a group of journalists to the Castle, Osu, to have lunch with him, and he and I had engaged in a surreal tête-a-tête! He obviously mistook me for someone else he had met whilst he was a student in Paris. I tried to correct him, but he was in full flow, disclosing examples of student mischief-making that shouldn’t pass the lips of a President, but which were a complete mystery to me! 

I had to be at my diplomatic best, not letting him lose face by exposing his possible lapse of memory and yet trying not to bask too much in the reflected glory he was directing at me. A journalist called Osei Poku asked me, “So, as for you, you know everyone?” I laughed.

I managed to cut Dr Limann short by saying, “Please, Mr President, make sure that your men don’t do anything that will embarrass you if I report it to the world as a journalist!” He laughed. 

But only a year after he had ascended to the presidency, he complained to me in public that whenever he was abroad, he was told that “Cameron Duodu has reported this….… Cameron Duodu has reported that!”

I retorted, “But was it not true, Sir?” He didn’t answer.

He was telling me that I had reported things that didn’t please him! I wanted to remind him of what I had told him at our convivial luncheon party in the Castle. But I restrained myself.

I have already told readers about an encounter with Lt-Gen Joseph Ankrah, chairman of the National Liberation Council (NLC) that replaced the government of Dr Kwame Nkrumah in 1966. (After the abortive abortive counter-coup on 17 April 1967 led by Lt S B Arthur (the “Guitar Boy” coup). Ankrah nearly bit my head off when I asked him a question he didn’t like, at an international press conference held to reaffirm that he was fully in control of the country.

That was not my only encounter with Ankrah. The dictator of Zaire, Gen Mobutu Sese Seko, visited Ghana during Ankrah’s reign and he held a press conference, with Ankrah presiding.

Mobutu described his efforts to make peace in Zaire with his rebel generals who tried to secede – he boasted that he gave them big jobs in Kinshasa! (This was a subtle hint about how General Yakubu Gowon of Nigeria could solve the Biafran secession problem, which was then the talking point in all Africa). 

I got the hint and asked Mobutu: “Sir, will you be sharing your experience with Gen Gowon? And if he doesn’t listen to you, will you recognise Biafra?”

Gen Ankrah immediately intervened. He exploded: “Don’t ask embarrassing questions!” he yelled at me. “He is not Gowon?” Everyone looked at me. They all thought I was a goner (as the military government of Ankrah army could detain anyone at will!) 

At the end of the press conference, the information attaché of a foreign embassy took me aside and said softly: “Cameron, remember you are living under a military regime!” I didn’t pay attention to this advice. Anyhow, Ankrah was removed very soon. Gen Akwasi Afrifa, a more liberal chap, became head of state. Afrifa told me that Ankrah’s inability to understand how journalists operated had made him “ashamed.”

Indeedd, Ankrah was a disaster all round. One of his military assistants, who travelled with him abroad, told me that that on a visit to Canada, Ankrah told the Canadian prime minister of the time, John Diefenbaker, that he thought the US should “drop an atomic bomb” on North Vietnam and end the war there! 

Ankrah’s military assistant guy said the Canadian PM was extremely shocked by Ankrah’s indifference to the loss of life that such a wanton act of brutality would cause. Diefenbaker sarcastically told Ankrah that when he arrived in Washington, he should tell that to the man in the White House – Lyndon Baines Johnson – who would be “very interested to hear that”. 

Ankrah’s aide said he felt ashamed to have been serving a head of state who was such a crass ignoramus when it came to international politics. Had he not heard of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Which American President would wish to repeat those barbaric mistakes?

But back to Limann. Shortly after the AFRC had handed power over to the Limann PNP Government, the Government’s “macho” and unpolished Military Intelligence unit, under Major Annor Odjidjah, arrested Captain Nkrabeah Effah Dartey and a few soldiers, on suspicion of planning a coup! That was in 1981, and I was the Accra Correspondent of the BBC. 

Now the announcement of these arrests, in a civilian regime, was bizarre: it was opaque to the point of being incomprehensible. So I commented that the omens for democracy in Ghana were not so good if “unnamed Ghanaian citizens could be arrested and tried at an unnamed location, by unnamed people, for an unspecified crime!”

After my dispatch was broadcast, Limann’s officials hit the roof. Special Branch officers came to my house.

They said their director wanted to see me, so I went with them. The director told me that the government was not pleased with my report. I replied: “Then the government should stop doing things that would make me send reports that didn’t please the Government!”

The director of the Special Branch said I could go. As I got up to leave, my professional instinct took over. I asked him: “By the way, what is the correct name of the captain who has been arrested?” He said: “I think it is Effah-LARTEY”. (“You think?” I said. In my head). Then I left.

Later, when I got to know that the correct name was Captain Effah DARTEY, I laughed. I wondered to myself: “If the director of the Special Branch (the political police) does not know the correct name of a person the Government he serves has arrested, then what sort of security service is being run in this country?”

We found out on 31 December 1981, when, although he was under 24-hour surveillance, Flt-Lt Jerry Rawlings was able to stage a coup and overthrow Limann’s government. The causes of that putsch were glaringly related to the sense of insecurity that Odjidjah’s outfit had created amongst the other ranks, many of whom still adored Jerry Rawlings at the time and didn’t want any harm to befall him. 

Other powerful people with whom I’ve interacted include: General Odumegwu Ojukwu, leader of Biafra, who died on 26 November 2011). 

TO BE CONTINUED

BY CAMERON DUODU

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