DRUM: June 1974
It was no ordinary subversion plot, as four leading Ghanaians schemed the downfall of the military regime of Colonel Acheampong. There was the weird `Man from the North`hired by one of the plotters to fortify them against bullets. There were the talisman, the forest oracles and the ritual of the white horse led to a blind man.
And after the packed court room in Accra had listened with growing astonishment to the unfolding tale, it collapsed in laughter when the `Man from the North` confessed he had been deceiving the plotters all along - and that the `captured spirit` of Colonel Acheampong tied up in a bag was nothing more than a dead fowl. DRUM attended the startling trial, and present here a blow-by-blow account of the fetished coup plot.
It was Wednesday, October 17, 1973. Press and public alike were searched as they entered Burma Hall, Accra. The atmosphere was one of curiosity, disbelief and high suspense. What was all this about? Who at all is this Imoru Ayarna? What would Kojo Botsio look like? Would John Tettegah, the old-time fiery trade unionist, still look his old self?
The president of the military tribunal, Colonel K. B. Osei-Boateg, the judge advocate, Justice George Francois, and the members of the panel were seated. Soon the accused persons were escorted into the packed Burma Hall by military personnel. They sat facing the panel members.
Alhaji Imoru Ayarna, the first accused, was in a smart suit. He looked a bit pale, otherwise his appearance remained unchanged. He must have realised that he was the star of the trial. His eyes were going round and round the court, yet resting nowhere. At one stage he tried to smile but the smile did not come.
Kojo Botsio did not look his old self - I think it was due to the advance in his age (60-ish). He looked very much like a deflated balloon. There was a dull look in his eyes.
John Tettegah appeared to still have the fire in his eyes. He had not changed very much. In his chair he looked like a contented village chief, though he was not in Kente cloth.
I had never seen Major Awuviri before, but he and journalist Albert K. Owusu-Boateng appeared very confident.
When all was set EN Moore, the attorney general presented the case of the Republic of Ghana versus the accused persons, each of whom were charged with three counts: conspiracy to commit subversion, subversion, and concealment to subversion. All the accused pleaded not guilty.
In his submission, the attorney general stated that between July and August 1973 the accused conspired to overthrow the government of Ghana by unlawful means. `Except for Major Awoviri and Owusu-Boateng, it was a case of the insatiable craze for power; that inordinate ambition which propels men to regain or seize power in order to secure a position of eminence regardless of the consequences,`the attorney general said.
It is common knowledge that only the army can overthrow a military government. The plotters knew this, no doubt, so in their search for an officer to stage the coup, they decided on Colonel Robert Kotei, Commander of the First Infantry Brigade. Colonel Kotei has very important units under his command.
Imoru Ayarna sought the assistance of Colonel Kotei in an age-old feud between the Kusasis and the Mamprusis. The Kusasis and the Mamprusis are two rival tribal groups in the Upper Region of Ghana who have been at each other’s throat since the days of good-old god-fearing Noah!
Ayarna must have assured himself that everything was moving according to plan, as he had seemingly won the colonel`s friendship and confidence, for soon enough Ayarna started to discuss with the colonel the gross incompetency of the ruling National Redemption Council government, and the need to stage a coup.
Ayarna told Colonel Kotei that if he agreed to stage a coup he would give him not only financial and moral support, but also, most important, spiritual support to enable him to go through the exercise unscathed.
Attorney General Moore told the tribunal that on July 16, 1973, after informing the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and the Director of Military Intelligence (DMI), Colonel Kotei accepted an appointment from Ayarna to meet him. At the meeting held on July 27, the plotters agreed that in the execution of the plot Colonel Kotei should use officers below the rank of colonel; that on the D-Day all commissioners and members of the NRC were to be arrested; that an amount of ¢30,000 would be made available three or four days before the D-Day so that the troops would not use the money on booze thereby loosening their tongues; that ¢2 million would be paid to all the men who would take part in the coup, and that a mallam would arrive from the north to fortify Colonel Kotei and his officers in order that they might have the courage and confidence to do the job.
If the coup had been executed, a Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) would have been formed. It was to have been composed of military officers, and would have embraced elements of all the major tribes in Ghana. Colonel Kotei was to head the SRC as chairman and head of state. When it was suggested at the meeting that Colonel Kotei should also head the proposed Executive Council which would be responsible for the daily affairs of government, John Tettegah vehemently objected. Tettehgah suggested instead that Kojo Botsio should head it as prime minister.
Over the next few weeks Ayarna and Kotei corresponded and met a number of times. According to Corporal Abdulai Kusasi, the link man between the two men, and the prosecution`s first witness, the number four is of some significance to Ayarna.
Kusasi, Kotei`s bodyguard, told the tribunal that four days after a meeting in which Ayarna had broken some `bad news` to Kotei, Ayarna invited Colonel Kotei to another meeting at his Achimota Forest home. Four days later, Ayarna told Kusasi to invite Kotei to yet another meeting. Accordingly he passed the information on to Kotei and Kotei asked: `Has the man arrived from the north?`
When Corporal Kotei went to verify from Ayarna, he was told that the man had arrived. His name, the court was told, was Sidi, a mallam of great supernatural powers who was capable of rendering people bulletproof.
Upon receiving this information, Colonel Kotei went to Ayarna`s house where he met Mallam Sidi. The colonel returned from this meeting with a bottle wrapped in paper. The bottle contained something. That night, said Kusasi, Kotei told him he should remind him of a list of names to be sent to Ayarna the following morning for Sidi. Colonel Kotei also requested his bodyguard to ask Mallam Sidi which of the two days-August 21 or 27-was the lucky day. It would seem that this was going to be the day Colonel Kotei and his troops would strike.
It must be remembered that Ayarna had promised Kotei spiritual protection, above everything else, for the success of the coup. The names which the colonel sent to Ayarna were meant to be screened spiritually by the mallam. This was most vital because for the coup to succeed Colonel Kotei must either have had, or be made to have had, the fullest support of the men and officers under his command.
Kusasi told the tribunal that when he gave the list to Ayarna, Ayarna took him to Sidi`s bedroom, where he gave the list to the venerable mallam and asked him to study it. Mallam Sidi then took a piece of white paper and a slate, put some black liquid on the slate, and with a wooden pen wrote the names on the list in Arabic on the slate.
The names allegedly included Major Zumah, Commander of the Recce Regiment; Colonel Amoah; Major Charles S.C. Grant, Commander of the Mortar Regiment at Ho; Colonel Akwagyiram, Commander of the Fifth Battalion, and Colonel Robert Kotei himself.
After `screening` the names to his satisfaction through his mystical lens, Mallam Sidi was said to have asked Corporal Kusasi to convey the good news to his Kotei that all the officers, including Kotei, were `good men`, and that the lucky day was August 27.
And for the fortification against bullets, Mallam Sidi allegedly sent Kotei one waist talisman, one white breast talisman, a bottle containing some liquid wrapped in newspaper, and four pieces of white paper.
According to Kusasi, Mallam Sidi`s instructions to Colonel Kotei were that he should wear the waist talisman beneath his military uniform, the small talisman must be pinned on the breast beneath his uniform; the content of the bottle was to be drunk after a bath and some smeared all over his body prior to going to office. Regarding the four pieces of white paper, the colonel was instructed to drop one each in a glassful of water for four consecutive days, with a prayer that God should assist him in whatever task he set himself to do and then drink the water before retiring to bed.
After Kusasi passed the ritual items and the instructions on to Kotei, Ayarna asked him to tell Kotei to provide a white horse which would be given out as an `alm` to a blind man. However, Ayarna himself managed to procure the much-needed white horse. He accordingly invited Kotei and the other officers involved in the coup plot to his house for an important meeting.
Corporal Kusasi said, when at about 6:30 that evening, Colonel Kotei, Major Charles Grant and himself called at Ayarna`s residence they met Kojo Botsio and Owusu-Boateng. Kusasi said that he remained outside in the compound. Later, Ayarna and his master came out from the house. Kotei followed Ayarna to where a white horse had been tethered to a tree.
Ayarna instructed Colonel Kotei to put his hand on the white horse and ask God to help him to succeed. Kotei obliged, and after this simple but important ritual Ayarna asked Kusasi to collect the horse the next day and give it to a blind man.
Corporal Kusasi told the court, amidst laughter, that he felt that it was unbecoming of a soldier to walk the streets of Accra with a white horse in search of a blind man. So he went to the mosque at Nima, a suburb of Accra where he saw many Muslims at prayer. Issa, Ayarna`s son, was with him. At the precincts of the mosque Kusasi saw a blind man. He drove the blind man to Ayarna`s house. He untethered the horse and mentioning the name of Colonel Kotei said: “Blind man, this is your sacrifice.` Immediately the man responded: `May Allah bless the donor.`
Under cross examination, Corporal Kusasi told the tribunal that he did not know that mallams could make soldiers bulletproof.
Counsel for the defense, Mr. Zwennes: You said you have never heard in the army that soldiers could be made bulletproof by mallams?
Kusasi: I did not know, since soldiers are taught during training in the bush how to take cover to avoid bullets.
Colonel Robert Kotei, Commander of the First Infantry Brigade, was the prosecution`s second witness. Kotei confirmed to the tribunal that Ayarna has asked him to stage a coup to overthrow the government of the NRC and his lengthy evidence collaborated what his bodyguard, Corporal Kusasi, had earlier told the tribunal.
Colonel Kotei told the tribunal that Ayarna had `examined him spiritually` and had found that he had a strong aura around him. Said Colonel Kotei; `When he examined me spiritually, he told me I was well protected, by two wild dogs.` (Laughter) When Kotei asked Ayarna to explain, Ayarna told him that one dog was on his right and the other on his left - both barking.