This week marks 44 years since the second military intervention in Ghana’s political history took place. On January 13, 1972, barely two weeks into the New Year, soldiers, led by then Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong of the First Infantry Brigade, overthrew the democratically elected government of Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia.
Thus, in less than three years, the much taunted Second Republic came to an end. Ghanaians looked on in bewilderment as the second attempt at civilian rule fizzled out. The military was once again in control.
The coup that toppled the Progress Party government of Dr Busia on January 13, 1972 did not come to many as a surprise. Throughout 1971, rumours of an imminent coup filled the air.
In fact, on Saturday, June 5, 1971, Dr Busia, the Prime Minister, while addressing a Progress Party rally at Sunyani in his home region of Brong Ahafo, clearly stated that he was not deterred by any threat of a coup d’état.
Dr Busia was quoted by the Daily Graphic of Monday, June 7, 1971 that he knew what he was about, but if the people did not understand his government’s policy and overthrew him constitutionally, he would hand over the administration without any resistance.
He, however, expressed the hope that if Ghanaians opened their eyes to new things objectively they would not fail to appreciate what his government would achieve for them by the end of the first five years of the civilian rule.
Then on Saturday, October 9, 1971, Dr W. G. Bruce-Konuah, Minister of Labour and Co-operatives, during an exclusive interview with the Daily Graphic, assured the nation that immediate steps were being taken by the government to contain the clandestine moves by some trade unions to overthrow it.
He confidently declared; “The situation is under control and there is no need for alarm.”
However, what immediately triggered the coup of 44 years ago was the devaluation of the cedi in the last days of 1971.
This made the Deputy Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition, Dr G. K. Agama, lash out bitterly at the government’s economic measures, describing the devaluation as a policy of panic and despair.
Speaking to pressmen at Parliament House in an informal end-of-year chat, he asserted that the chaos on the world monetary scene did not justify the devaluation of the cedi.
Dr Agama claimed that the Progress Party had failed to do what they should have done to pull the country’s economy on a sound footing, adding that devaluation would not achieve the desired results because the decision had been based on wrong assumptions.
In a nationwide radio and television broadcast on December 31, 1971, Dr Busia warned the nation that 1972 would be especially difficult, explaining in particular that the cedi was devalued because “our balance of payments situation is very serious”.
In the wake of the devaluation, prices of commodities started shooting up and the ordinary Ghanaian was finding life difficult, only two years after the return to civilian rule.
Apart from economic reasons, the Apollo 587, when many public servants were sacked, the decision of Dr Busia to enter into dialogue with apartheid South Africa, which was contrary to the stand of the OAU, and the Aliens Compliance Order, which led to the exodus of thousands of West African nationals from Ghana, all contributed to making the Progress Party Government unpopular.
Then on Thursday, January 13, 1972, the military struck. What was surprising was that the coup was led by Col. Kutu Acheampong.
Rumours had it that the then “Brigade-Major” Acheampong, upon recommendation of former Head of State, General A. A. Afrifa, became not only a close pal to Prime Minister Busia but also to his ruling Progress Party.
Acheampong was regarded as a very influential Akan officer at the top of the military hierarchy who would always protect an Akan Head of State. But that could not be, as it was clear on the wall that Dr Busia would not survive 1972.
Col Acheampong himself was at hand to announce the takeover on January 13, 1972. He said in a radio broadcast: “I bring you good tidings; Busia’s hypocrisy has been detected. We, in the Ghana Armed Forces, have today taken over the Government from Busia and his ruling Progress Party. With immediate effect, the constitution is withdrawn, Parliament is dissolved, the Progress Party and all political parties are banned.”
One of the first acts of the new military government was to declare a total war on the economy of Ghana.
At a press conference in Burma Camp in January 1972, Col Acheampong said facts available to the National Redemption Council (NRC) indicated that Ghana was facing the most serious economic crisis in her entire history.
He said the ousted Busia regime lacked the courage and the will to inform the people adequately on the grave economic crisis and to act decisively on it.
On February 5, 1972, in a radio and television broadcast, Col Acheampong announced the nullification of the devaluation of the cedi which was then revalued by 42 per cent.
The popular refrain from that time onwards was that “the NRC was going to seize the commanding heights of the economy”.
It is significant at this stage to mention that all along, that is after the coup, Col Acheampong was perceived to be an Nkrumaist and the coup was staged to bring back Nkrumah from exile in Guinea.
The NRC was forced to come out with a statement on March 3, 1972 that the Armed Forces did not remove Dr K. A Busia with the aim of bringing back Nkrumah or anybody else to Ghana.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Nkrumah died on April 27, 1972 and the NRC announced “with deep regret the death of Dr Kwame Nkrumah, which occurred in Bucharest, Romania, yesterday morning at 8:40 local time”. The NRC then declared a national day of mourning and a public holiday for the funeral of ex-President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah.
In all honesty, the period of NRC (I) under Acheampong, who was promoted a General, was a very exciting one in Ghana’s political history. Never in the history of this country was a whole nation united under any government as was seen in the period from January 1972 to July 5, 1978 when General Acheampong was deposed in a palace coup by his second-in-command, General F.W.K. Akufo.
The most cited policies of Acheampong were the introduction and implementation of the change from the imperial to the metric system of measurement and the change from driving on the left to right hand drive dubbed. “Operation Keep Right”.
General Acheampong had a passion for agriculture, so his Agriculture Commissioner, Col. Frank Bernasko, sought to imprint development based on “Operation Feed Yourself”-self-reliance in agriculture in the minds of Ghanaians.
Acheampong’s regime is well remembered for its national reconstruction initiative geared towards employment promotion and skill training for workers. Projects such as reconstruction of streetlights and upgrading of stadia to meet global standards can hardly be ignored.
The Kpong Hydro-electric project, Dansoman Housing Estates and others in the regions were all initiatives of Acheampong.
He also introduced the Charter of Redemption and the national pledge to be recited in schools. His promotion of national unity is unparalleled.
Acheampong’s drive to make himself President for life through Union Government (UNIGOV) was his undoing. Once a people say No and you want to turn it to YES, you are bound to fall. That is why despite all the good things he did for Ghana, he was deposed and ultimately faced the firing squad alongside several former military stalwarts such as Afrifa, Akufo, Kotei, Amedume, Fell and Utuka. May their souls continue to rest in perfect peace.