Today in History, exactly 41 years ago, On June 16, 1979, Ghana’s former head of state, Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, was executed by a firing squad after being convicted of squandering Government funds after a short trial by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) which had seized power under the leadership of Flt. Lt Jerry John Rawlings.
Ignatius Kutu Acheampong led a bloodless coup d’état to overthrow the democratically elected government of the Progress Party and its leader Dr. Kofi Busia on 13 January 1972. He became Head of State and Chairman of the National Redemption Council (NRC), which was later transformed into the Supreme Military Council on 9 October 1975, with Colonel Acheampong (promoted to General) as its chairman.
However, in 1978, General Acheampong was accused of economic mismanagement and forced to resign by a group of army officers led by General Fred Akuffo.
On May 15, 1979, less than five weeks before the national elections, the then- Flt. Lt Jerry John Rawlings was arrested after he led a group of junior Ghanaian army officers in an attempted overthrow of the military government of General Fred Akuffo and the Supreme Military Council.
On June 4, 1979, Ghana was ushered into its morning life with an announcement on radio by Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings of a change in government by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC).
A new leader named Flt. Lt Jerry John Rawlings, who had been sprung from a prison cell where he had been concealed since leading an abortive coup a few weeks earlier, was installed as the leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC).
The AFRC immediately made clear its intention to hold to account those it considered responsible for Ghana’s economic woes and proceeded with what it described as a ‘House Cleaning’ operation. Ignatius Kutu Acheampong and a number of other high-ranking military officials including two former Heads of State, General Fred Akuffo and General Akwasi Afrifa, were apprehended and placed in detention.
During his detention, Acheampong was interrogated about his activities while in power. Then on Wednesday, June 13th he was allowed to give a press conference in Accra. The reason for this, a spokesman for the AFRC explained, was not to afford Acheampong the “opportunity to exonerate himself from the allegations made against him”, rather, it was to openly demonstrate to all, particularly to former high-placed government officials, that Acheampong in his statements to his interrogators had been “persistently shifting blame away from himself to other people” in a bid to “save his own skin”. The AFRC’s statement ended on a warning note:
“The Council wishes to assure the public that Mr. Acheampong’s professed support for the objectives of the revolution will not deter the Council pursuing relentlessly, its stated aim of punishing severely, the selfish pillage of the nation’s wealth by past regimes”.
Acheampong was treated to a last dinner of fufu brought to him by his 25-year-old daughter Elizabeth Nana Serwaa. His last words to her were “Tell everybody I was a good man and pray for me.” The next morning, Ignatius Kutu Acheampong and General Edward Kwaku Utuka, the major general who had served as the Commander of the Border Guards, were driven to an Anglican Church situated in Camp Burma, the seat of power for successive Ghanaian military governments. Both men prayed for a short period before being taken to the firing range in Teshie that was to serve as the place of execution.
Ignatius Kutu Acheampong smiled and waved a white handkerchief to the reporters as he was driven off to his death. He and General Edward Kwaku Utuka both had red hoods drawn over their heads before being shot.
Acheampong and Utuka were shot two days before scheduled elections to return Ghana to civilian rule for the first time since 1972.
Afterward the bodies were taken away for burial in a prison cemetery at Nsawam, north of Accra.