His Excellency, former President of Ghana, Flt Lt (rtd) Jerry John Rawlings, was twice head of state of Ghana. In this no-holds-barred interview with EMEKA ANUFORO, he speaks on a range of issues, including Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari, corruption in Africa, his country, Ghana, and the way forward for African countries.
On things that destroy the moral fabric of societies
In the first place, I think that things have gone astray since the collapse of the bipolar world. I keep talking about Pope John Paul II castigating the dominant Western economic philosophy when he called it the savagery of capitalism.
The conduct of affairs internationally has pretty much gone out of hands. But some of us appear to be immune to it or appear to be getting used to it. All the things you don’t expect to happen in a healthy government, in a democratic context, are happening: the greed, the impunity, the selfishness being displayed. And it is even worse with us in the so-called developing world in terms of the monetisation of values. The very moral fabric of integrity is broken. I am saying that there was a dramatic moment when this turning point could actually be felt.
That was when George Bush Jnr moved into Iraq. That cynical moment turned a very important human value upside down in the sense that, from that moment, as they stepped in and decided to just move into the capital and literarily destroyed so much human life and natural habitat, I told the world in one sentence that, the right of might now supersedes the might of right. So, others began to take a cue. I do recall that when Bush and Blair made their presence felt, like ‘this is going to be a new world order under our leadership’, I think they attempted to crack a whip on Africa because ‘things are not going well on this black continent either.’
President Mugabe was to be their first victim, if you remember. His name was the one poisoned the most. Two people were sent down there to go and ask him to get out of office: Obasanjo and Kufuor, who were then in office. The Southern Region leadership told them to get out. Fantastic, beautiful!
They needed a culprit. If they couldn’t have Mugabe, then someone else. That was how Charles Taylor was picked up. I am not saying that Charles Taylor to an extent didn’t deserve what he got or completely ignorant of the Liberian brutalities. But Obasanjo had gone to the US at that time for whatever reason, but not even the State Department would receive him unless he produced Charles Taylor. Remember at that time, Charles Taylor was living in Nigeria and he set off, attempting to go to another country, when he was arrested at the border and handed over.
Now, generally speaking, and you know, a whole lot of nasty things were going on following the Bin Ladin’s insurgency on September 11 with his allied Taliban forces. That moment brought another face in the history of humanity across the globe and has reshaped the America’s home security and international policy. All of a sudden, America decided to start chasing people up.
They erred in some ways. Instead of chasing, arresting and bringing to justice, they used the words: ‘We would hound and kill’. The word ‘justice’ was lost and it appeared every statesman or woman had to use the same language, otherwise they would lose their political influence. If a world like that is going to talk about pursuing people, so-called terrorists, and kill them, without justice, we also take the cue. I am saying so much went wrong, so much impunity. The world is still in search of true Justice.
It is no surprise President Carter, many years down the line, should castigate the US and say America had lost its moral standing. That is why the world at that time, even the USA, was so excited that the world simply wanted, was craving for some international political morality with such a passion. If you remember, the world held on to people like Mandela. But that was earlier.
When somebody like Obama emerged, didn’t you see how the world was excited about him? He clearly represented the new spirit, the refreshing spirit that the world was looking for, and especially to be a leader in the US. He has been doing his bit. But the point is that the wrongdoings, the manner in which things have gone astray since the collapse of the bipolar world, much of that has taken a life of its own in various ways.
On Ghana and corruption
Not too long after I left office, I was giving a talk in Tanzanian and I said the world was going to see an exponential growth of terrorism. I had left office and the western media and western governments were desperately whitewashing the image of Ghana in spite of the atrocities and the corruption that was going on in my country after we had left office.
Ghana had become a captive state, being whitewashed. You see how they orchestrate things? This is what I want you to wake up to. Now, it might interest you to know that, while they were whitewashing, making these claims and things were also falling apart, as late as just a few months ago, BBC now claims that terrorism had risen by 84%, creating a false impression at that time. This is the power of the Western media.
They kept whitewashing the image of my country in order for it to serve as the role model for the rest of Africa. It is shocking and mindboggling to know that, some perceived celebrated companies in Ghana and Africa with so much media hype and political patronization, were just nothing but a package of mirage. It is no wonder Ghana is so corrupt today.
Remember when I said the world would see a multiplier effect of terrorism, I knew what was going on in Ghana; I knew what was going on in Africa: the way the global situation was affecting us; our country was suffocating but leadership seemed immune to the realities.
Meanwhile, I am repeating what the Pope says about the savagery of capitalism. Where is it going to lead to and what was going on for him to describe this kind of scenario? Corruption could get worse. Even as a party, we used to win elections with the force of conviction. The one who came after I left office just capitulated and decided to use the money factor.
On Nigeria’s decision to change things
Out of this growing darkness, Nigerians of all people seem to have decided that enough is enough and they voted for a man with the qualities to deal with the problems of Nigeria. For me, this is one of the greatest gifts that your country has offered us. Hold on to it and support it to restore the foundation of integrity in your national affairs. You can do things the corrupt way. But I believe it is better to do things the non-corrupt way. The non-corrupt way is healthier, more stable and takes away anxieties. It can achieve a lot more; even take you to the moon.
So, a lot of these things just destroyed the moral fabric of our societies. For me, it is just a sweet sensation to think that Nigeria came out of that construct, showing us that that kind of corrupt environment that seemed to have solidified can be turned around, can be reversed. I am just hoping that it can inspire the rest of West Africa. I’m not saying is a single effort of an individual but rather a sense of responsibility of every individual to take ownership of integrity and accountability but somebody must take the lead. We had a taste of that.
On his relationship with Abacha
It is unfortunate that Abacha should also be caught up in such practices like a few of his predecessors. But he was one hell of a nationalist and very patriotic. Abacha saved the country. Some of you may not know this. But I also had my fingers on things. Some may not want to hear it. But the departure of that gentleman called Abiola, the one who passed away, saved Nigeria from a probable explosion.
Shonekan couldn’t handle the situation and Abacha stepped in. There is also something else we shouldn’t lose sight of. When I am talking about the possibility of an explosion, it’s about the circumstances and the personalities involved. Abiola plus Shonekan (who was a man of integrity) could not even be seen to hold it. Does it surprise you that Nigerians, I think either through some national instinct or wherever the perception came from, some think that they needed retired generals who cannot be intimidated by the military? That was how come characters like Obasanjo could come back or for that matter, this gentleman, President Buhari, who cannot be intimidated by the military.It has its value, but I think it is a transition that we are all going through or you are going through.
On his anti-corruption and alleged $5million ‘gift’ from Abacha
The point I want to make here is around that period, we were preparing for constitutional rule. We needed funds for some activities and we got contributions from few places. The interesting thing is that I never went to, or asked Abacha for any contribution. And this is something that impressed me about the man. I didn’t ask him for a penny. But he obviously understood certain situations, our situation, and graciously sent me a small suitcase of money. I think there were two cars or three that came to the Air Force station to look for me. I was going for fly at that afternoon.
So, I was at the Air Force Station when a gentleman came over there and when he said he had a message from Abacha, I cancelled my flight and they set out to wait for me. I drove after them to the caste. As we got out of the car and we were about to move up, this elderly gentleman, Gwarzo he is called, had one of his assistants try to bring out a suitcase from the boot of a car. I had an idea of what it could be. So I said: ‘Leave it, shut your boot and let’s go upstairs first and talk’. He said he had brought something from Abacha. I said two things: ‘I hear you people don’t provide assistance without the world hearing it with a twist’.
He just kept quiet looking at me. I said two: ‘Don’t think that when you bring this, whatever it is, that would shut me up from criticizing if I think you are wrong, or if I disagree.’ He then opened his mouth and said ‘Sir, we need you more than you need us’.I am quoting him. He didn’t speak much. He was a very noble, quiet looking and elderly man. He was respectable looking. In fact, what he said simply disarmed me. So I said it was okay. He could send for the parcel. His assistant then went and brought in the parcel: 2million dollars: new notes packed in plastic bags, fairly heavy. We left it in the sitting room.
We finished with some niceties and he left. I informed some of my close comrades of the parcel from Abacha. I gave away about 350,000 dollars to two people for urgent disbursements. One of our senior colleagues who was in charge of an exercise drew down certain amounts.We went on like this until the suitcase was exhausted. Later when Abacha died and your country instituted an investigation into his assets, I read in one of your newspapers that Mr. Gwarzo, this fine gentleman, allegedly said that he brought me 5million dollars. I am glad I still have that suitcase. It shocked me a bit that such a fine respectable man could make such a claim. The amount he mentioned shocked me. That he could tell such a lie.
My colleagues knew about it. I didn’t know why I should be keeping these things secret. Moreover, I didn’t have any personal account to be putting these things into anyway. Besides we needed to use them for some national needs.
But lo and behold! Many years down the line when I fell out with some of my colleagues and they decided to get poisonous, two of them wrote a book on district assembly elections and the decentralization programme, and inserted in somewhere, when it was absolutely not necessary, something about Gwarzo’s supposed $5million just to poison my name. I just feel sad that Gwarzo should do this. I am prepared to be subjected to polygraph test. May be that’s what he needs also.
When General Abubakar took over, I told him to watch out. That that report in the papers about $5million was $2million and not $5million. He didn’t make any comment. He didn’t say anything. Obasanjo took over I thought I should straighten it out with him. The comment he made was: ‘Yes, that is how they behave. When they are given something to take somewhere, they will take the majority, the bigger share.’ That was the comment Obasanjo made.
I wasn’t used to those things. Otherwise, I could have called Abacha. I don’t even think I even called him over that. Maybe I should have called him to say thank you for the $2million and then he would have called his people to order. You see what I mean? I wasn’t used to money being thrown up and down. Money was not my thing. Yes, we were poor enough as a country, but we were working day and night to making sure we put the country on a solid foundation for economic explosion. We had our pride and our dignity was not out for sale.
I recall that in the early days I didn’t have any money in the account and somebody gave me a million dollar cheque. I just threw it on the workshop table. Eight years later, one of our comrades reminded me about the cheque and said we would need the money for something and I asked him to go look for it.
The mischief that our people get involved in hurt me. When I was a kid my grandmother used to say: ‘A liar is more dangerous than a thief’, and we could never understand it. It didn’t make sense to us, because as kids we were always denying something or telling fibs about something, and nobody gets hurt or anything. But you get whipped for stealing and more. When you grow up to my situation today then you wake up to what my Granny was saying, how liars are the most vicious and cowardly creatures. They can destroy a whole image and reputation.
That was why Chinua Achebe’s counterpart, Ayi Kwei Armah, wrote ‘The Beautiful Ones are Not Yet Born’. When I grew up, I realized he was wrong. The beautiful ones are born. They are there, but the platform is so dirty they dare not step on it to campaign to be leaders, because they would be slammed down with some of the nastiest fabrications. Nobody wants to have their name spoilt, so politics becomes a monopoly. No wonder he said the beautiful ones were not yet born.
But no, when I got in, I said no way. I brought the beautiful ones all on board when I came back the second time. That was how come we succeeded so beautifully. We provided a leadership of credibility and integrity. These are the hallmarks I stand for.
How to strengthen institutions to keep beautiful ones alive
A lot depends on the leader, his sensitivity, his will, his strength and determination, because the vast majority of the people are suffering from the decay. They want to see a change for the better. I think that the number one should be bold enough and identify the right people to take over and move to those institutions in an effective and efficient way. Put your foot down, because those institutions are manned by human beings; and if those human beings lack the character, the strength and the spirit to be able to defy that which is wrong, then we cannot defend freedom and justice. The leader has to give a clear signal, sense of direction and the passion to drive the change. When I was in office, I spent 30-40 per cent of my time watching out for corrupt or corruptible indications or behaviour or lifestyles. I wouldn’t tolerate it. It is so easy. It brings the best out of your people. They would do 70 per cent of the work for you.
I can understand Buhari’s style. It is okay. Let it be. My style was to provoke the needed consciousness and invite the involvement of our people so that you had moral outrage from the general populace. So, even in your villages and workplaces, you can’t misbehave and get away with it. I don’t have to have a policeman there. We don’t have enough policemen. But the moral outrage of the society is dynamite. It is a weapon waiting to be used and utilized. The people were policing themselves for the just course. Do you get me? Do you get me, my brother? “That’s what I meant by positive defiance”.
Some may end up being intimidated by it, sadly. But no, it is there to help you. After all, that is what you have in those countries, those developed countries. They have not destroyed their moral outrage.
Halting Ghana’s slide on the corruption table
All I can do is speak up. I find myself in a situation where I have moral responsibility and no executive authority. I would have wished that my moral authority could have the same influence. But that is not the case, corruption has infiltrated our institutions and their leaders so badly today that they use some kind of lens to demonstrate that you can keep your moral authority, but this is executive power at work.
So all I can do is to critique and advocate for my people. I can’t hide it. And I believe that was how I won the respect from the larger populace, from both sides of the political divide. I have remained principled. My wife is still standing where she is, cut off from our party that she was very responsible in building up because it became corrupted from Mills’ time.
We now fight on the terms of the opposition or the main opposition party. Fortunately for them, they have a leader who is not known for messing around with material things. The situation is so bad. So unfortunate! This is why Buhari has to alter things. You have got to make it. He doesn’t have much time and can’t afford for inertia to set in or for the momentum to go down.
On remarks by Kofi Annan that some African leaders were tempting the military
The point is that in waging a campaign in the international community, bringing pressure to bear to keep the military in the barracks, our hope was that the quality of democracy would also have improved.
I like to think that you can use good governance to prevent military intervention. Quite frankly, our parliaments do not appear to be strong enough to impeach Presidents who are getting out of hand. That is one way of preventing a coup. That is a legitimate way of doing it, an institutional way of doing it. But too many of us appear to have been compromised and our principles also compromised. So we seem unable to make a move against an erring government and a government that is becoming very corrupt and endangering situations. So I am not surprised he said what he said. I am not surprised at all.
We left behind an exemplary institution or institutions – the Armed Forces. But they made sure they corrupted it in order to survive because they could not measure up to the standards that we left behind. That is as far as that is concerned.I could have said this, but if I had done so it would seem that I was calling for it. People would misinterpret it. Now that Kofi Annan himself has said it, I hope people will see through the situation.
Corruption has warped our development process and programme. I am not just taking about the materialistic or monetary corruption, but the extent to which your very culture, the moral standing of a society can be so.A few months ago I said in one of our universities that it appears you cannot get ahead by doing the right thing anymore. When you have to do it the right way, you won’t succeed. Instead, you should be prepared to cut corners, offer bribes or do some foolish things before you get along. I’m glad some of our local companies got blacklisted by the UN and other donor agencies for such unhealthy moral practices. When you have reached that stage, that level, then you know that things are bad. I don’t want to create the impression of no hope because things are bad.That is why, for me, I am holding on to you people, Nigeria, to turn things around. Buhari is a godsend.
- By EMEKA ANUFORO