As a normal Ghanaian, I have since the death of H. E. Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings, former Chairman of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, former Chairman of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) and former President of the Republic of Ghana, been wondering if I could also be able to write something for the impact he made, might or could have made on my simple life.
The first encounter was when Rex-Image Foundation, the charity wing of our agency, then Rex-Image Associates and later RICS Consult Limited was organizing the 1st Pan African Fair for Arts and Music (PAFAM 90) in collaboration with the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the Centre for National Culture (CNC) from 1988 to 1990 when the event took place at the Trade Fair Site. In the years to this event, I had bursted onto the local newspaper publishing scene with a certain perceived attitude which seemingly appeared obnoxious to other players: the argument was I hadn’t schooled at any school of journalism and therefore I couldn’t be doing what I was accused of doing. The long and short of it was that there was a veiled attempt to boycott and blacklist any activities we hosted and organize, including the PAFAM 90.
Worse, we were then also expecting Jermaine Jackson, brother of Michael Jackson, who was expected to receive a PAFAM Global Award on behalf of his brother. He was arriving via British Airways with Louis Farrakhan, heir apparent. I was able to pull this coup off with the support of Akbar Mohammed, the official representative of the Nation of Islam for Africa with an office in Accra.
Apparently, the late Head of State visited the then Golden Lily Chinese Restaurant a lot on Sundays with his kids; and on this particular Sunday, after the Opening Ceremony by PNDC Member, late Ebo Tawiah the Friday before, had been wondering what was going on at the Trade Fair site. He was briefed about the Fair and he asked why he hadn’t read anything about it in the newspapers or seen any footage on GBC-TV?
The following Monday by noon, there were several journalists from GBC Radio to GBC-TV to Daily Graphic to Ghanaian Times – State Media – to grant interviews for stories on the Fair; whilst about an hour and a half later, there was a new set of journalists for another set of photo-shoots and interviews. This made me ask what had happened for this intense coverage: apparently, the late Head of State directed the Castle head of press, my mentor and my friend, Elvis Aryeh to deal with the matter hence the near-invasion. Indeed, Elvis himself followed up with a visit later in the evening to check if everything was well with me and for good reason, I would not recount the instructions he gave him and as he told me. In these days and ages that even mere party – power members wield so much power as to misapply to the detriment of the ordinary Ghanaian; where political appointees from MMD CEOs, Deputy Ministers and Ministers feel so different as to want to be ‘worshipped’, I wonder if anyone of these would have done what he did thereafter.
I was really baffled by J.J’s concern for what I was trying to do not so much for myself but for the nation, Ghana and the African Continent, with officials of the OAU and other regional bodies represented, that he would order the media coverage for the entire duration of PAFAM 90.
But that is not even the real story – earlier in some discussions I had expressed interest in being allocated one of the seized vehicles to make it easier to convey procured items from the Timber market to set up various performance stages at the Trade Centre for different activities like Fashion, Musical, Cultural Shows and Workshops. I had also intimated that I wanted to set up the PAFAM Radio Station to use it to promote the Fair before – during and the meltdown period. Guess in short, they were just loose talk during our discussions.
The following day, Tuesday in 1989, I was called by the late Kofi Assafuah Jackson, the then Director-General of the National Communications Authority (NCA) and a friend, to come and see him. When we met he asked me who I knew at the Osu Castle, and I responded that I was sure there was nobody of significance I knew there. He then told me that he had been directed by the Office of the Chairman that I was to be given a Radio license to operate a radio station to promote PAFAM 90 event and therefore presented me with the authorization letter.
The second incident was a call from Lt. Col. S. B. Baryeh (RTD.), then Chief of Staff to the Office of the PNDC Chairman, also directing me to see him at his office at the Burma Camp. When I got there and was ushered into his office, after all the courtesies he asked me the usual “WHO DO YOU KNOW AT THE OFFICE OF THE PNDC CHAIRMAN?” because he had been ordered to give a Mercedes Benz Van for our PAFAM 90 operations.
What kept me bemused in all of these, was how a certain ‘hand’ under the unseen influence of the late former President, Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings was opening all these doors of opportunity for me, without me physically meeting him – that should a very special person, possibly seeing himself in me as I grappled with a seeming media boycott over the PAFAM 90 event.
Then came the arrival of Jermaine Jackson with Louis Farrakhan, Jnr., a trip facilitated for me by Akbar Mohammed of the Nation of Islam; in steps my assumed ‘godfather’ in the person of the late Flt. Lt. J. J. Rawlings to order that the pair be housed at one of the official residences. We also had an allocation of State Protocol vehicles allocated for the use of our invited guests from the OAU and other African countries.
One of my several ‘godmothers’ in the country, Madam Veronica Addae-Mensah gave me an assignment of organizing the Ghana part of a 10-nation African tour, including Ghana, by a group of students from the famous WHARTON BUSINESS SCHOOL of the University of Pennsylvania, USA. The over 30 students flew in from Zimbabwe and we hosted them to a dinner at Hinlone Chinese Restaurant, so I visited to listen to their expectations and what they had missed in the other nine countries that they wanted so much.
One complaint that stood out most was the failed promises of the various hosts in the other countries to organize a courtesy call on any Head of States or President of those countries they had visited. I then asked if they wanted to call on our Chairman of the PNDC and Head of State, the late Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings and they cried out loud in unison that ‘YES’; I then asked what time and added tomorrow morning. The following day. This made them raise their voices that even in those countries that they had adequate notice of months, they weren’t successful, how much more just overnight?
With a brave face, if they wanted the visit in the morning or not as if to dare ‘them’ and they replied: ‘YES’ but not as loud as before. I intimated that I had to leave the dinner instant to go and organize the visit. In fact, when my godmother asked if it was possible, I said that sure but will try and that I had never physically met the late President, much more know him to perform such a MIRACLE.
As soon as I left the restaurant, I sat in the car and called Ambassador Victor Gbeho, the then Director of State Protocol about the courtesy call request by the students and he told me point blankly that, “But Rex, you of all people should know better than this, and that even a week’s notice at these times would have been difficult and then you call me by 8.30 pm and make such a request”, I thanked him and called off.
I then made another call to a friend, told him the story and he assured me that it was possible and we both agreed on 11.00am the following day. I called them back and informed them that they will be picked up by 9.00am with a dispatch rider.
When we got there, the PNDC Chairman’s Office had organized a tour of the Osu Castle, including his personal bedroom.
When we finished the tour and got to the Castle Gardens, the place had been set up and I was most glad. The late P. V. Obeng, the Chairman of the Committee of PNDC Secretaries was the last but one to arrive after we had been served tea and some biscuits.
When the Head of State and Chairman of the PNDC arrived, we all stood up and then he asked us to sit, beaconing Mr Obeng to welcome us. Then he called me, “Yes, Abeiku, you are the linguist of the delegation, please speak”, and for a moment I froze: that isn’t a common name anybody knew me by, not even my very close friends, and how much more the Head of State I had never gone before him, and worse know me by a name, very close relatives and friends do not even know.
My godmother called me a ‘LIAR’, because if I say I had never met him, how could he have known me by such a close name.
But such is quality of the person, we have lost; he knows the extra, extra mile to know everything about the people he served as a Head of State and President; I guess what happened at the Trade Fair Site about the PAFAM 90 event, provided the unique opportunity to know a simple Ghanaian, who would otherwise have not known; and such the CHARM he has to make him stand out amongst his peers.
I will definitely miss you, FLT. LT. JERRY JOHN RAWLINGS, as I have learnt the many lessons your life as a person, a Ghanaian and as a Head of State and President of our 4th Republic has afforded many of those who witnessed the days from June 4th, 1979 to days of the PNDC and the NDC; and for me particularly you taught me that I do not need to know a person intimately to assist that person in any way, and for this I am grateful.