By J E Solomon
The June 4, 1979 uprising in Ghana was the outcome of a spontaneous outburst of anger and disenchantment nurtured by junior military officers toward the then Akuffo-led Supreme Military Council. It brought an end to a corrupt, inept and insensitive ruling military hierarchy that had plunged the country into a state of economic and social chaos.
The malice of the junior officers and men of the Ghana Armed Forces toward the military leadership was so deep-seated that when the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council succeeded in taking over power, the junior ranks publicly executed eight senior officers including three former military heads of state. Not surprisingly, huge crowds of Ghanaians erupted with chants of “let the blood flow.”
General Akuffo had removed General Kutu Acheampong, SMC I, from office in a palace coup and
his SMC II government was preparing to return the country to civilian rule. The leadership
of the uprising assured the nation that they had not come to hang on to political power and
that theirs was a house-cleaning mission. And truly it was.
That the insurgence was inevitable could not be doubted. Events leading up to the successful
execution of the whole plot, when analyzed, made one to suggest that Heaven had ordained the
event in order to bring sanity into Ghanaian politics in particular, and the society as a whole.
A young flight-lieutenant, Jerry John Rawlings and a handful of other ranks of the Air Force were
being held in security cells for their role in a failed mutiny on May 15, 1979. Ironically, it was
their trial that generated the momentum and inspiration for junior officers, led by Captain Boakye
Djan to plan another mutiny.
It was a revolt, the plot of which was leaked out to the authorities several days before the
eventful day. It was even reported that some of the alleged plotters were rounded up and put behind
bars on June 3, 1979. But by a combination of neglect coupled with complacency on one hand, and
divine favor on the other, battalion soldiers gradually rallied support to finally launch the operation.
On the fateful day, Flt-Lt Rawlings and his band of previous mutineers along with the arrested
coup plotters were let loose from their locked cells after attacks on their guards. Rawlings’ early
morning broadcast to the nation announced the overthrow of the ruling SMC II government by other
ranks. But loyal soldiers, led by then Army Commander, Major-General Odartey-Wellington
attempted to quell the revolt and succeeded in reaching the guarded national studio to announce
that the coup had been foiled. Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued at Burma Camp, the military
barracks, and sounds of sporadic gun shots and mortar shelling were heard in the capital.
As Air Force planes flew menacingly over the city, enthusiastic rifle-wielding soldiers in military
trucks and ordinary vehicles took to the streets firing shots into open air as their whims could carry
them. Road blocks were mounted to track down targeted senior military officers who might try to
escape. Major streets of the capital became desolate and a deep silence fell over the city of Accra
and its suburbs. Bullet shells and pellets littered some of the city’s streets as others landed
dangerously in some homes amid panic and hysteria.
Later in the day, Lt.-General Joshua Hamidu, then Chief of Defense Staff, and a member of Akuffo’s
SMC II government, broke the silence with a very short message to the nation, proclaiming that the
government of General Akuffo had been toppled and that further announcement would follow. In
spite of his announcement, fears lingered and many still trembled as gun shots and explosions
continued to be heard. By the end of the day, when Rawlings came on the air again to address the
nation, it became crystal clear that the uprising had succeeded.
The days and weeks immediately following the eventful day could aptly be described as the blood
and thunder days of the uprising. The AFRC’s first publicly viewed killings involved General
Acheampong and Major-General Ukuta who were executed by firing squad at the Teshie military range in Accra on June 16. Then followed the executions on June 26 of six more senior officers, namely General Akuffo and General Afrifa, both former heads of state, Major-General Kotei, Rear Admiral Amedume, Colonel Roger Felli and Air Vice-Marshall Yaw Boakye.
Meanwhile gangs of young soldiers with literally no ranks, had taken to looting and willful
destruction of stores and warehouses owned by prominent businessmen and ordinary hard
working citizens they accused of hoarding and profiteering. Senseless public beatings and
military-style drills of civilians became a daily orgy for indiscipline soldiers and an unwelcome
specter for the general public. In one such incident, a woman who could not hide her sympathy for
a brutalized victim and yelled out in protest sadly, however, got a dose of the drill in a lesser
Many misguided soldiers had fun beating alleged pick-pockets and so-called nation wreckers,
some of whom were hair-shaved with broken bottles and made to roll on the ground in the
scorching sun. It was mayhem, panic and fear across the country as the days went by. Some of the
brutalities were too distasteful for description in this article. There were too many painful
stories about the revolution that will remain indelible in the minds of those who happened to be
witnesses or victims.
But the excesses notwithstanding, June 4th really changed the national psyche and halted the
declining social ills that had hitherto engulfed the fabric of the society. It did not last, though.
Today, as Ghanaians remember June 4th, there are still many who think that the country’s
politicians and public office holders did not really learn any useful lessons from the house-cleaning
exercise. Corruption, greed and nepotism had remained serious problems in high offices
government after government.
The reason for this backslide is obvious. After too many coup d’etats, Ghanaians have become fed
up with self-serving military adventurers, and will definitely not welcome any unconstitutional
change of government. The politicians know this and now feel comfortable enough to indulge in
corruption and the same malpractices that inspired the coming of June 4th. Too sad to say, but
admittedly the lives of those consumed by the uprising and the sacrifices thereof all now seem to
have been in vain.