“…I don’t know why God decides to give us so many lives…” [Rawlings narrating the events of June 4 on its 35th commemoration]
Perhaps the exact thoughts of the Former President informed this article. Having had no encounter whatsoever with this ‘defining’ event of our history, as a young inquisitive person I cannot but help muse over what our country could have become if events did not unfold as we know it today.
Perhaps the very popular 2006 science fiction thriller ‘Deja Vu’ that featured Hollywood’s most celebrated, Denzel Washington, has had so much influence on me. But as one discovered like my generation that read ‘Things Fall Apart’ did, we are much aware of how canny destiny is.
Current Speaker of Parliament Rev. Prof. Aaron Mike Oquaye is one of many who hold the view that with or without Rawlings, there would have been change anyways. He explains the high economic mismanagement coupled with the reputation of the military at the time that had come into disrepute were enough recipe for the bloody coup that eventually befell the country in 1979.
This is the story as I have come to know it.
That at just 22 years, the winner of the coveted ‘Speed Bird Trophy’ award for being the best cadet in flying and airmanship; becoming a Flight Lieutenant at age 31 in 1978.
Rawlings with six others, who shared similar views that there was high levels of injustice and moral decadence, decided to take matters into their own hands on May 15, 1979. A poorly organised coup d’état resulted in their arrest and subsequent court marshal on May 28, 1979 when they were charged with mutiny and sentenced to death.
The exciting story is told of how on June 4, a day they [Rawlings and six arrested colleagues] were to appear in court, Rawlings was sprung from custody with support of both military and civilians.
Note, however, Rawlings is on record as describing a near death experience moments after his jail break and announcement on radio just at Burma Camp, where a just pure instincts caused him to vault from the back of a pick up just about the moment a stray bullet hit where he was standing a few moments before in the pickup vehicle, he was standing.
This is where my day dream begins.
What if June 4 did not happen and Rawlings with his six compatriots he famously asked to be let go were executed?
This is what I know for a fact will not have happened:
Eight senior officers, three former heads of state would not be executed without trial.
Kangaroo trials that gave lengthy sentences to ‘innocent’ civilians and military officers, a situation that has changed the trajectory of many families till date, would not have.
Many families who lost their livelihood because of the confiscation of businesses and their owners will not be.
People who became maimed and developed complications that led to their death due to corporal punishment meted out to individuals in the name of instant justice would not have been.
Three judges could have lived to see their ‘natural’ death.
The harrowing stories as told before the National Reconciliation Commission perhaps could all have been avoided.
And of course some will say we will not have the country we have now if not for Rawlings.
But for so many of us who have lived by the various divided stories told of the events that led to June 4 and the 19 years of JJ Rawlings, some of which we experienced, the jury is still out there as to whether Papa J, as most refer to him, is the defining factor of our failure and retrogression as a country or the start of new beginnings that birthed the 4th Republic.
By Cyril Dogbe
The writer is a journalist with Media General (TV3, 3FM, Onua FM, 3news.com, Akoma FM & Connect FM)