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The 1979 Executions; Recollecting Memories 45 Years After

Every now and then one could hear the rat-tat-tat of gunfire from somewhere within the military complex. Life had changed. Fear, anger and loathing were stalking the streets and alleyways. You could smell death in the air.

June 26 marked 45 years since six top military officers were executed by firing squad under the command of Flt Lt J. J. Rawlings’ Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) after a coup toppled the ruling Supreme Military Council (SMC) II under Lt Gen F. W. K. Akuffo.

They were: Head of State Lt-Gen Fred Akuffo; former Head of State (retired) Lt-Gen Akwasi Amankwah Afrifa; Major-General Robert Kotei, Rear Admiral Joy Amedume, Colonel Roger Felli, and Air Vice-Marshal Yaw Boakye.

Two officers – former Head of State General Kutu Acheampong and former Border Guards Commander Major-General Edward K. Utuka, had earlier been executed bringing the number of those executed to eight.

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Since the incident, institutions and individuals have had diverse opinions on what many see as “much ado about nothing”.

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Below are samples of what they say:

MEMORY LANE For the record: My June 4, 1979 story – a trilogy

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Adjoa Yeboah-Afari Native Daughter Jun – 04 – 2022, 10:47

Today, June 4, 2022, on the 43rd anniversary of the Revolution led by Flt-Lt. Jerry John Rawlings, which witnessed the execution of eight senior serving and retired military officers, I think I need to put on record that this column took a stand against the abominable killings, even before they took place.

I take special pride in the fact that I was the first journalist in Ghana to write condemning the threats of a firing squad for officers who had been accused of corruption and abuse of office.

In the terrifying mood of the time, those baying ‘let the blood flow’, evidently saw execution as the only response to the allegations about abuse of office and corruption.

The events that marked the three-month rule of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), led by Flt-Lt Rawlings, so scarred the nation, that today’s mention of ‘June Fourth’ doesn’t even need the qualifier, ‘1979’ for the reference to be understood.

Notably, the term ‘June Fourth’ encompasses a whole range of experiences and events, which for many people were mostly traumatic and tragic.

Taking a trip down Memory Lane, the following are three abridged companion articles from this column, published that June, comprising my plea for no executions, a reader’s abusive reaction and my response.

The column of Friday, June 8, 1979: had the heading ‘A SPECIAL PRAYER’:
My prayer and plea in these times is this reminder: there’s nothing so frightening as a revolution gone wrong.

Accountability there must be but care should be taken that things are kept under control. We don’t have to reach into history for proof of the necessity for caution.

There is the present Iran example, where it got to a point where the person who started it all, the Ayatollah Khomeini, was pleading for an end to the massacres.

The single, outstanding chilling fact of the present situation is that everywhere there is this openly expressed, gleeful feeling – ‘Oh well, it’s between the soldiers … As long as they’re killing themselves it’s okay …” Very sad. Soldiers, too, are fellow Ghanaians.

The point is not that some people have “chopped” and must pay with their blood. The point is that killing them will not solve the problem. For when it comes to real blame-sharing not many of us will have a clean slate.

Those found guilty of charges should be given prison terms and the illegally acquired assets seized. Any punishment, apart from death.

We all want food, peace and stability. The way to these is surely not by the carnage. Let us all contribute to the restoration of calm for justice to take its course.

True, as the late Chinese leader, Mao Tse-Tung said, a revolution is not a tea party. But it shouldn’t be a slaughter party, either.

Column of June 22, 1979, ‘TOLERANCE, PLEASE’

Miss Yeboah-Afari, I was stunned by your article, ‘A Special Prayer’.
I would like to tell you that we the honest Ghanaians had our nerves stretched to breaking point when corruption was at its peak and no one raised an eyebrow.

Now that we (have) a Saviour in the name of Flight-Lieutenant JERRY JOHN RAWLINGS who had laid (down) his life to save us from total collapse, I do not expect a columnist of your category to educate us as to what is good and what is not.

If you are among those young girls who received posh (cars) from those corrupt officers, then you had better shut up and leave us alone to see how best we can find solutions to the numerous problems facing dear Ghana.

Yeah, JERRY JOHN RAWLINGS, those found to have tainted hands, make them wriggle like worms. They must pay until the last hair on their wicked heads falls off.


Fred Aboyer,
P.O. Box 02180

***Dear Mr Aboyer,
Even if you disagree with me, why insult me? There was no need for personal insults to make your point: that there SHOULD be capital punishment.

Sorry to disappoint you, but I do not own a car and never have. And even if I did, would that disqualify me from expressing a view on a national issue – as you are doing?
People must allow the expression of opposing views if the country is to progress. It is because there had never been room for opposing views that this country is at the stage where the only thing that will satisfy some people is BLOOD.

Obviously, you have a very low opinion of “a columnist of (my) category”, but if you read my piece again, you will notice that nowhere did I try to force my views on anybody. It was a “prayer and plea”.

You may be angry but I don’t think that gives you licence to disregard facts. It is not correct that “when corruption was at its peak no one raised an eyebrow”. Perhaps you are a new reader of this column, but surely you remember the protests of students, churches and professionals?

You and I are both entitled to our views. Why then be so rude? How can we ask for economic freedom, and freedom from ‘kalabule’, while trampling on freedom of expression?
If you think it is a crime just to express a different opinion, why are you worried about the other ills in our society?

Thanks just the same for writing – and to all others who wrote similar letters. Without letters like yours, it would be very hard for columnists to know whether their articles are read.

I would rather provoke a reader – whether for or against – than leave a reader indifferent.
Yours sincerely,
Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

On June 16, 1979, former Head of State General Kutu Acheampong and Major-General Edward K. Utuka, former Border Guards Commander, were executed by an AFRC firing squad at the Teshie Military Range, in Accra.

A second batch of executions took place, on June 26: Head of State Lt-Gen Fred Akuffo and former Head of State retired Lt-Gen Akwasi Amankwah Afrifa; Major-General Robert Kotei, Rear Admiral Joy Amedume, Colonel Roger Felli and Air Vice-Marshal Yaw Boakye.

***Back to 2022: Did the executions eradicate corruption and abuse of office?
Four decades on, how I wish I could get an answer from all those who wrote to attack me for my June 8, 1979 column!

[email protected]


New Regime in Ghana Executes 2 Ex‐Rulers And 4 Senior Officers
by Reuter; June 27, 1979

ACCRA, Ghana, June 26 — Two former Ghanaian military rulers, Lieut. Gen. Frederick W. K. Akuffo and Lieut. Gen. A. A. Afrifa were publicly executed by firing squad today on orders of young officers who seized power in a coup earlier this month.

The two were shot with four other senior officers in front of a large crowd at a military firing range on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean near Accra, the capital. They were accused of economic sabotage, abuse of power to amass wealth and misuse of state funds.

Eight senior officers now have been executed since General Akuffo, 42 years old, was overthrown three weeks ago by officers led by Flight Lieut. Jerry Rawlings.

Purge of Corruption

The new Armed Forces Revolutionary Council led by Flight Lieutenant Rawlings has pledged to purge Ghana of corruption before handing power over to civilian politicians by Oct. 1.

The four men shot with General Akuffo and General Afrifa were Col. Roger Felli, a former Foreign Affairs Commissioner; Cmdr. Joy K. Amedume, a former Labor Minister; Maj. Gen. Robert Kotei, a former Chief of Defense Staff, and former Air Vice Marshal George Boakye.

General Afrifa, 43, was Ghana’s head of state in the late 1960s after helping to lead the coup that overthrew President Kwame Nkrumah in 1966.

General Akuffo’s predecessors as head of state, Gen. Ignatius K. Acheampong, and Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Utuka, a former Border Guard commander were executed for corruption on June 16. diplomats for his dynamism, his political skills, and his democratic views.

After the overthrow of President Kwame Nkrumah, he became, at 31, the country’s Minister of Finance. His modest style of living and outspokenness in urging Ghanaians to seek “nothing short of decent democratic rule” made him one of the most popular leaders in Ghana.

Upon becoming head of state in 1969, he lifted a ban on political activity and urged a return to civilian rule.

A former journalist of the Ghana News Agency, Joss Aryee, publishing his witness account in the Statesman of 9th November 9, 2001, has this to say of the days after the June 4, 1979 coup.

“At the time I was a young reporter with Ghana News Agency and attached to the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) secretariat at Burma Camp.

Those were dangerous and giddy times and every morning when the office vehicle came to take me to work, I would say a prayer that I return home safely, for you never knew what the next hour would bring. Then tension at the military camp was as thick as a two-day-old palmnut soup.

Sullen-faced soldiers, itchy-fingered, trigger-happy and armed to the teeth, were everywhere, beating up men and women, old and young, so-called nation wreckers, traders, hoarders, ‘kalabule’ people, foreigners and God knows whom. And they did this without mercy; it was as if we were at war!”

According to him, “The Fifth Battalion parade grounds looked like Heathrow Airport car park, filled to the brim with seized cars.

Every now and then one could hear the rat-tat-tat of gunfire from somewhere within the military complex. Life had changed. Fear, anger and loathing were stalking the streets and alleyways. You could smell death in the air.”


“My father was killed out of fear”
26 June 2008 4:00am

Okatakyie Henry Amankwaa Afrifa, son of the late General Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa, on Wednesday, expressed his appreciation to President John Agyekum Kufuor for releasing the body of his father for a fitting re-burial. He said this would at least enable him to know where his father’s mortal remains are.

“In June every year, I experience sad memories of my father who was shot at Teshie Military Range with other gallant soldiers some 29 years ago today.

“Not giving prominence to the celebration of June 4 has reduced if not faded away completely the sad impact of June 26, 1979, when he and other gallant soldiers were executed”, he said.

He said he was of a strong belief that his father was killed out of fear by leaders of the June 4 uprising. Okatakyie Afrifa,

General Manager of Dynamite FM, a community radio station based at Tarkwa, said in a statement issued at Tarkwa that his father’s contribution to Ghana’s politics could not be wiped out even after his death. He said the late General Afrifa was a great man and it was sad for Ghana to lose him.

To him, “Gen Afrifa had an extraordinary charisma which he used for the emancipation of the oppressed at the time.”

Okatakyie Afrifa appealed to Ghanaians to vote for NPP because “when NDC wins it will celebrate the June 4 that will bring back sad memories of my father’s death. All those who staged the 1966 coup d’etat died natural deaths but my father alone was arrested and shot. Why?”

Source: GNA


3 Heads of State Killed In 1979 Remembered

A solemn memorial service was held at the Christ the King Church in Accra yesterday in remembrance of eight senior military officers who were executed in the heat of the 1979 Uprising.

There were no tears at the service, which was anchored on the theme: Love, Forgiveness and Thanksgiving.

List of generals
Among the generals were Akwasi Amankwa Afrifa, Ignatius K. Acheampong and F.W.K. Akuffo, all former military Heads of State.

The others were service commanders: Major General Robert E.A. Kotei (Chief of Army Staff), Air-Vice Marshall George Y. Boakye (Chief of Air Staff), Real Admiral Joy Amedume (Navy Commander), Major General E.K. Utuka (Border Guards Commander) and Colonel Roger J.A. Felli (Foreign Affairs Commissioner).

The event marked 35 years (June 16 to June 26, 1979) of the shooting of the eight senior military officers at the Teshie shooting range after what many now agree was a rather hurried trial.

The church auditorium was filled with worshippers clad in white, made up of family members, friends and well-wishers.
Overflowing worshippers sat under canopies outside.

Preaching the sermon, the Parish Priest of the Christ the King Catholic Church, Rev. Father Andrew Campbell, lauded the families of the deceased soldiers for taking the bold step to forgive.

“Forgiveness is not human. Revenge is human. Forgiveness is divine. The more we love, the more we forgive, and the more we forgive, the more we move forward”, he told the congregation, which included Ms Samia Nkrumah, the daughter of Ghana’s first President, Dr Kwame

Nkrumah, and Chairperson of the Convention People’s Party (CPP). Samia’s father was overthrown in a coup led by General Afrifa.

“People have hurt us, insulted us; many have hurt our hearts. It is hard to forgive and forget, but forgiveness is a decision. It is not a feeling or an emotion. Don’t ever say I have forgiven but will never forget”, Rev. Father Campbell advised.

The generals were tried on charges of corruption, abuse of power and treason by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, led by Flight Lt J.J. Rawlings.

The remains of the eight military officers were exhumed in 2001 from unmarked graves near Nsawam and reburied following a petition from their widows to have their bodies handed over to them.

The nation has been divided over the execution. While some contend that the action was to curtail the anger of the nation, others believe that the shootings were carried out because of seeming hatred.

Children of deceased
Thirty-five years on, the children of the eight soldiers, led by Mr Francis Felli, Colonel Felli’s son, said, “The service was a channel to demonstrate our love for all men, to forgive as the Lord has commanded us to do and give thanks to our Lord who has shepherded and protected us all these 35 years”.

Recalling the events of 1979, Mr Felli, who was surrounded by more than 20 children of the eight senior military officers, said, “35 years ago, under circumstances that are still despicable, our fathers, all eight of them, were taken away from us.”

He, however, stated that the service was apolitical and non-partisan and asked that nobody read politics into the event.

That notwithstanding, there were New Patriotic Party (NPP) gurus at the service, including its 2012 presidential candidate, Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo; the immediate past Chairman, Mr Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, and Dr Nyaho Nyaho-Tamakloe, a leading member.

Source: Daily Graphic

In an interview a few months before his death, Flt Lt Rawlings, Ghana’s former strongman, although accepted responsibility for the executions, tagged Lt Gen Hamidu as being responsible for Gen Afrifa’s death. The former president expressed no regret for the executions.

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