The June 4, 1979 Uprising aka June 4th Revolution arose spontaneously in response to corruption, bad governance, economic hardship and frustration experienced within the general population in addition to high levels of indiscipline within the Ghana Armed Forces.
JJ Rawlings as a young Flight Lieutenant in the Ghana Air Force, together with some soldiers had attempted a coup d’état on May 15, 1979, to overthrow the then military regime led by General F. W.K. Akuffo, and had been arrested. They were on trial when June 4 happened during which they were freed.
Major (Osahene) Kojo Boakye Djan, one of the main architects of the uprising, has in recent times stated, however, that there was an additional political agenda to the Uprising to emancipate the whole of Africa.
He has explained that after several secret meetings with JJ Rawlings, a secret movement known as the Free Africa Movement (FAM) was established to drive the uprising.
Osahene Boakye Djan noted that although Kwame Nkrumah fought for the liberation of the whole African continent, Africa was still under the rule and control of the colonial masters and though Ghana was independent, the country was not free enough to determine the prices of cash crops such as cocoa and other commodities, hence the movement.
On Trial Day
Sgt. Alolga Akata-Pore in his article titled “Marking June 4? A memorial, a celebration or what?” stated that when JJ Rawlings was on trial, he the latter said that the motive of the coup was to overthrow a system which had made ordinary people poorer and which had rather encouraged the take-over of the economy by Lebanese and Syrians.
Rawlings was emphatic that he wanted to elevate the people from the state of lethargy in which the ordinary people had sunk and help institute a situation of equal opportunity for the ordinary people.
Akata-Pore noted that the message resonated so much with ordinary people throughout the country, as well as lower rank soldiers in the armed forces. Those lower rank soldiers thought that such a person, who at the time, had gained so much goodwill from ordinary people, including themselves, should not be allowed to be sacrificed and killed by the military government.
“That was how come, other-rank soldiers from the 5th Battalion Infantry, led by then Lieutenant Baah Achamfuor, Lieutenant Agyeman Bio, Cpl. Tasiri, Cpl. Atiemo, Cpl. Sarkodie-Addo, Cpl. Owusu, Pte. Adu, Cpl. Amartey Tetteh and others fought their way to overthrow the Akuffo military administration and subsequently released Flt. Lt. Rawlings from military custody. For these soldiers, they were inspired by what they had heard Flt. Lt. Rawlings say during his trial.
For these people, they never imagined that this event would eventually lead to a situation whereby Flt. Lieutenant Rawlings could manipulate the state of affairs to fabulously enrich himself and his family, casting aside the ordinary people, as well as the soldiers who saved him from certain death in June 1979.”
The trial of Rawlings and the junior officers took place at Burma Hall in Accra. On the day of the trial, thousands of civilians trooped into the hall to witness the event. The president of the military tribunal was Col. Aninful and the prosecutor for the state was Flt. Lt. Atiemo.
Rawlings was asked if he wanted a separate trial. His response was “I want to be with my men,” a comment which sparked wild applause in the hall.
Rawlings was found guilty by the tribunal and was imprisoned in a “guardroom”. It was during this time that all his ten fingernails were said to have been allegedly damaged, but Captain Nkrabeah Effah-Darteh has debunked those long standing rumours about Rawlings’s fingers.
A key point during the trial was when Jerry Rawlings began accusing the government of massive corruption. He demanded that his colleagues charged with aiding him in the treasonable act be set free, insisting that he was solely responsible for the attempted coup.
June 4, 1979
On June 4, 1979, the announcement of the government overthrow was made at Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), Accra, by JJ Rawlings who had been released by the separate group of insurrectionist soldiers Akata-Porre mentioned, who had overthrown the Supreme Military Council (SMC II) government that was trying Rawlings et al.
By several accounts Rawlings was made to speak because his oratory skills had won him public admiration, and to also allay fears of his death as had been earlier rumoured, since frankly nobody knew who the June 4 insurrectionists were, nor their motive.
The alleged role played by Major-General Odartey Wellington, then Army Commander, namely, that he entered an armoured car and single-handedly shot for three continuous hours at GBC has been debunked by a lady member of his family.
The family member explained in a TV interview only recently explained that there are credible eye witness accounts that the army commander arrived at the GBC reception with his aides de camp, and besides military commanders do not carry guns around, yet he was killed in cold blood by the insurrectionists.
That explanation sounds very plausible and gives credence to the befitting burial given Odartey-Wellington by the insurrectionists who established the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC).
When Rawlings was head of state in the 1990s, he once explained that General Odartey-Lamptey was not corrupt, was a gentleman, and that was why they the forces that prevailed carried his coffin on their shoulder as a sign of respect for their army commander.
From GBC, all military installations were searched and senior military officers who were on the side of the SMC II administration were killed.
It was on the same day that Col. Aninful, the president of the military tribunal that tried Rawlings et al for the May 15 coup was killed. His wife and children who were also in the same room with him were shot.
Many sympathizers of the SMC I administration of Col. Isaac Kutu Acheampong and the SMC II administration of General Frederick William K. Akuffo fled the country to seek asylum elsewhere.
The successful coup plotters/insurrectionists who established the AFRC were:
Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings – Chairman
Captain Boakye Djan – Official Spokesperson
Major Mensah Gbedemah
Lt. Commander Akpaloo
Warrant Officer Class 2 Obeng
Private Owusu Adu
Corporal Owusu Boateng
Leading Air Craftsman Gaktipo
Lance Corporal Ansah Atiemo; among other persons.
After the insurrection, the AFRC introduced what they termed a “House Cleaning Exercise” aimed at fighting corruption. That was when the mantra “probity and accountability” was born.
Three former military leaders of Ghana, Lt. Gen. Afrifa, Col. I.K. Acheampong and Lt. Gen. Akuffo were all executed by firing squad together with five other senior officers deemed by Special Courts set up by the AFRC administration to had been corrupt.
This led to the now infamous slogan “Let the blood flow”, a rallying cry civilian used in calling for more of the corrupt military and civilian politicians to face firing squad.
The wishes of the mob civilians were granted by the AFRC, and eventually the “House Cleaning Exercise” was extended to some entrepreneurs whose assets were confiscated by the government.
There were high levels of indiscipline amongst the junior ranks toward the senior officers and civilians. The AFRC lost total control of the military and soldiers went on rampage.
There was total breakdown of law and order, a situation which led to arbitrary arrests, beatings, abductions, killings, detentions, and soldiers seized monies and personal property of entrepreneurs who were not politicians.
The AFRC ruled from June 1979 to September 1979, and handed over power to Dr. Hilla Limann in September 1979 following general elections which were being supervised by SMC II; the AFRC did not stop the election time table; their mission was purely a “House Cleaning Exercise” – soldiers in barracks against soldiers in politics.
But JJ Rawlings betrayed the spirit of June 4, when he staged another coup d’etat on 31st December 1981, overthrowing the Limann administration and closing down Parliament.
Rawlings went on to rule as Head of State and Chairman of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), for almost 11 years, and handed over power to himself on 7 January 1993 after he had won civilian elections in November 1992.
He handed over to himself again after he won the December 1996 elections, and finally left office in January 2001, after 19 years in office – from an initial mission of a “House Cleaning Exercise” aimed at stopping the military from taking part in politics and civilian administrations.
Chairman Rawlings who in civilian years became President Rawlings made June 4 and 31 December public holidays – celebrations that brought a lot of pain to people who either lost loved ones, lost businesses or had to flee the country for their dear lives.
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Akata-Pore has alleged that Rawlings in the 1980s used to force his opponents to watch films of the executions of some of his victims such as Cpl. Giwa, Awah, Aliu, Sarkodie-Addo, Sgt Malik, Pte. Tanti, Amartey Kwei, Maj. Nana Akwasi, Dzandu, Tekpor, Sgt. Yaovi Anku, Maj. Twumasi Anto, Baba Shaibu Ibrahim, Sgt. Joseph Issaka, Maj. J.A. Ocran, WOII Charles Aforo, Yaw Brefo Berko, Kyeremeh Djan, Godwin Mawuli Dra-Goka, Pte. Charles Koomson, Samuel Boamah Panyin, Cpl. Martin Adjongba, Pte. Henry Obeng, Cpl. Edward Offei , Mustafa Bruce, Godfred Nyavie, Atta Bruce, Moses Akrong, Eric Addo, Vincent Ayivor, Zakari Salifu, Issah Isahaku, Kwame Nkansah, Kweiper Yartey, Yaw Medagodzi, Benjamin Mireku, Samuel Akiti, Odartey Aryee, one Ahmed, Abu Hasiru, Kofi Kodua, Mohammed Ali and John Kudjo.