Rawlings’ close shave with death
Unusually, Burma Camp was in the morning more silent than a cemetery but within that silence lurked death, unknowingly.
Acting on intuition, the tall, lanky and light-skinned flight lieutenant suddenly decided to jump down from the military pick-up in which he stood. Almost simultaneously, a bullet from an unknown source came whizzing through the spot where he stood and ricocheted to hit one of the officers that had flanked him.
The next few minutes, their vehicle would go through a spontaneous war zone, so chaotic and characterised by a host of flying bullets and pumping guns. But as he hanged on the side of the vehicle and the driver was making way for the rest of about 25 metres to branch left into the Camp Quarters, he noticed the bullets that were flying at them were rather hitting the lower part of the vehicle.
Next, he waited for “the appropriate moment” and jumped off the vehicle. By that time, soldiers – some even in their underwear – had come out of their bedrooms with their wives and children and fled like birds flying in formation. As they bolted from the bullets towards the Air Force Station inside the Camp, the flight lieutenant followed them, showing he equally possessed a clean pair of heels.
That was June 4, 1979. Fast forward to June 4, 2014 – 35 years after – the flight lieutenant recalls that “I was following them. We were all on the run. I was going to my station. But they were running away, I don’t know where to, but away from the bullets.”
Hitherto that moment of chaos, he had been standing tall all morning while the nation stood still. He had been rescued from prison by fellow officers, and accompanied to the Broadcasting House to make a famous declaration of the toppling of the government.
Then, flanked by other officers in the back of their military pick up, he had been chauffeured to the place he had always known as home – the Burma Camp.
These were “some of the interesting events” that took place on June 4, 1979 as were told by former Ghana President Jerry John Rawlings on June 4, 2014 at the 35th June 4 anniversary commemorative wreath- laying ceremony organised in Accra.
As he recounted the events that took place on that fateful day in 1979, he said “I don’t know why sometimes God decides to give us so many lives. At a certain moment, instinctively, I just felt a danger situation and I faltered out of the back of the vehicle, still holding unto the bar and at that split second a bullet hit where I was standing. No warning! But I’m just talking about sometimes the power of intuition.”
He told his listeners that after all the chaos when he realised that the soldiers and the airmen who were with him were all still alive he was convinced that “corruption had sparked the rage of this nation and the nation was in a state of anger.”
But there was more action to come. “I continued to go through the wire, got into the aircraft that had been prepared for me with the weapons on board. I took off that morning and I needed to check whether the weapons had been properly aligned so flew down to the sea and there was an old vessel that had been berthed in the sea sand for many years. That was what I used that morning for target practice just to check whether my weapons were proper
“So I fired a couple of shops into the middle of the boat; they were on target and then I headed straight to the Broadcasting House with the fighter aircraft obviously to counter the effect of the armoured cars which were going there.”
President Rawlings, who ruled Ghana for 11 years as a chairman of a military council, further recalled that the second interesting event that occurred on June 4, 1979 was when he decided not to open his fire on the armoured cars. “When that moment came and I was diving the aircraft to fire at an armoured car, at the last moment something put me off it. I lifted the nose of the aircraft away from the armoured car and fired shots beyond the wall of the Broadcasting House”
Intriguingly, “later that day, when we were hearing one another giving account of all that had been happening, can you believe, also, that the armoured car that I refused to fire on also had been given orders to fire at the soldiers but he didn’t fire at the soldiers. He refused to kill his fellow soldiers.
“The revolution had really been sparked and people were not going to shed the blood of their own,” President Rawlings added, indicating that there were more “interesting” stories to tell from the June 4, 1979 episode but “I will give those to you another time.”
While he awaits an opportunity to further recount his June 4 experience, he lamented:
“I wish so much that we had continued the progress that was initiated. The range of anger, the productivity, the integrity with which, you know, we held this country and governed this country.Unfortunately, that is not where we are”
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