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Papa J goes home today

BY: Rosalind K. Amoh
Late former President Jerry John Rawlings

The four-day state funeral for the late former President Jerry John Rawlings, affectionately called Papa J, reaches the final leg today with a burial service at the Black Star Square, to be followed by burial, with full military honours, at the new Military Cemetery at Burma Camp.

Last Monday and yesterday, the body was laidin state at the foyer of the Accra International Conference Centre (AICC) for Ghanaians to pay their last respects.

 Today, the body of the former President, who died on November 12, last year, aged 73, will be conveyed to the Black Star Square, where Ghanaians and the rest of the world are expected to gather to bid a final farewell to the man who, on two different occasions (June 4, 1979 and December 31, 1981), staged successful coup d’etats to become the Head of State, before metamorphosing into the first President of the Fourth Republic after winning the presidential election of November 1992.

Dignitaries

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia and former Presidents John Agyekum Kufuor and John Dramani Mahama are expected at the funeral.

Some African leaders and dignitaries from around the world are also expected to attend the event to say their final farewell.

Among the dignitaries who have confirmed their participation are the Liberian President, George Weah, and the Sierra Leonean President, Julius Maada Bio.

Other dignitaries from the subregion, as confirmed by the Ministry of Information to be in attendance, are the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel, Dr Mohammed Ibn Chambas; The Gambia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mamadou Tangara, as well as delegations from the ECOWAS Commission, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria.

Members of the Diplomatic Corps will also be at the burial service.

Black Star Square

Significantly, the Black Star Square, which was the venue for the inauguration of Mr Rawlings as the first President of the Fourth Republic on January 7, 1993, is the same venue where his body will lie for his compatriots and the rest of the world to bid him a final farewell before his remains are returned into the bowels of the earth.

While his inauguration was celebrated with pomp and circumstance, today, the mood at his funeral will be one of sombreness, emotions and tributes.

Ceremony

With strict compliance with the COVID-19 safety and preventive protocols, the programme for today will start at 6:30 a.m. with the arrival and sitting of members of the public for the service to start at 9:10 a.m.

The officiating clergy for the burial service includes the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church, the Most Rev. Dr Paul Boafo; the Leader of Action Chapel International, Archbishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams; the Catholic Archbishop of Tamale, the Most Rev. Philip Naameh, and the Methodist Bishop of Accra, the Rt Rev. K. Osabutey.

In support will be the clergy of the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF).

Full military burial

The GAF have not given details as to what is involved in “full military honours” for the fallen national hero, who began his career as an Air Force pilot and ended as the Commander-in-Chief of the GAF.

However, among the standard events, the casket bearing the remains of the former President will be draped with the Ghana Flag, while a guard of honour will be mounted for him, as well as a 21-gun salute.

After the burial service, the hearse carrying the casket is expected to drive slowly from the Black Star Square to the final resting place, the new Military Cemetery at Tse Addo, behind the Burma Camp.

National mourning

The four-day funeral began last Sunday with a Requiem Mass at the Holy Spirit Cathedral and a vigil at the Air Force Officers Mess in Accra.

The body was then laid in state at the AICC from last Monday to yesterday for various interest groups and members of the public to have an opportunity to pay their last respects.

Last Monday saw the heads of the security agencies, leaders of political parties and the public file past the remains of the former President.

Yesterday, President Akufo-Addo, Dr Bawumia, former Presidents Kufuor and Mahama, as well as the Speaker of Parliament, Mr Alban S. K. Bagbin, and former Speakers, also paid their respects.

Later in the day, traditional and customary rites were held at the foyer of the AICC as the family prepared for the burial.

On November 12, 2020, when President Akufo-Addo officially informed Ghanaians about the death of former President Rawlings, he also declared seven days of national mourning and directed that all flags fly at half mast.

Happening at the time campaigning for the 2020 general election was ongoing, the President and the Vice-President, as well as former President Mahama, suspended their campaign tours.

President Akufo-Addo also announced that the government would work closely with the family of the late Rawlings on arrangements for a fitting state funeral for the man he described as “a great tree”.

“A great tree has fallen, and Ghana is poorer for this loss,” President Akufo-Addo had described Rawlings’s death.