The purpose or the object of this article is to correct the impression that June 4th, 1979 was a “revolution”. June 4th event was an insurrection, rebellion and an uprising – refusal of obedience to the established order. It was an open resistance against the orders of an established authority. Which provoked a spontaneous reaction within the military and spilled over to the public. The early hours of a cloudy Monday morning heralded announcement of the release from prison custody, a group of soldiers linked with the May 15th, 1979 revolt, led by a unknown Flight Lieutenant of the Ghana Air Force.
Over a period of a decade and a half, the military had points in time faced various forms of agitation with the “rank and file” of its members. Varying levels of misconceptions and discontent was on the ascendancy, and has given rise to distrust about the officer corps, especially the seniors within their fold. The officer was seen by many of the enlisted as more of a problem than the former “British Officers”.
These Ghanaian officers who at some stage felt they could handle fellow Africans became very autocratic and in many instances despots. Most of the suspicion was caused by the fact of an almost illiterate enlisted corps, that could not stand the perceived arrogance and spiteful attitude of the “Blackman Oyibo” as the Nigerian will say. The discontent have simmered for a long, long while.
During the intervening years, most enlisted viewed the officer as more of a stranger than a compatriot, whose doings was inimical to their welfare. The underlying cause/causes could be attributed to the class identity. That’s the segregation within; the open biases by the media and the citizenry added to this hostile space, for the reasons that, all because all that was worthy was laid out at the doorstep of the officer.
The enlisted were called names. The enlisted was more of a caricature. They were ridiculed ridiculously with taunts from the Nigerian musician and songwriter Fela Okusun – with his notorious song, “zombie no go turn unless you tell am”. Even the officer whom the enlisted was to find some sympathy were more often than not, the worst offenders.
The truth is, the running of the military rest mostly on the shoulders of the NCOs, Senior NCOs and Warrant Officers. The are the backbone of the military, therefore the attempt to usurp their importance led to events where adventurists took opportunity to subvert authority.
It can be recalled, most officers during the military political era were blinded by the fact, that, suppressed anger when vented is very difficult to extinguish. It was exactly what happened. The genesis of distrust and misconception between the two sides starts with the relationship between a platoon commander and platoon sergeant, where a false impression or step can make or break a unit.
The relationship between platoon commanders and their platoon sergeants could be likened to arranged marriages. These two individuals don’t choose who to work with, but it is a responsibility, they must accept the relationship and it shows work, not only for the platoon they oversee and command, but also for “the community”. The company they belong and the battalion or the regiment.
Most of the problems normally faced by the two sides starts with, by an inexperienced commissioned officer leading a much more experienced noncommissioned officer, could ignite tension, if the officer don’t recognize the importance of the Noncommissioned officer.
First, let me caveat by saying that officers by training go through a lot more leadership training in the beginning than enlisted personnel. So, no matter what the personality of the officer, there can always be something learned from them. Unlike the enlisted soldiers from erstwhile “Junior Leaders” most enlisted personnel don’t learn this leadership training until their later ranks. I say “most” because some pick it up at a lot faster than others.
Notwithstanding these pointers, often times officers don’t get this concept themselves. On occasions, you will have a junior officer who believes he or she is superior to any enlisted person just based off of their rank.
These type of officers usually learn later that, senior NCOs/Warrant officers know what is going on more and more so, than they do. As a former Regimental Sergeant Major I did experience instances where senior officers tell junior officers to listen to what their senior enlisted had to say. Any good leader would! And most senior officers have grasped this concept thoroughly. Any young officer with two neurons firing at once needs to learn – quickly – that senior NCOs are their best defense against ignorance, inexperience or other shortcomings.
As an offshoot from the erstwhile Junior Leaders Company (ex-Boy), I can only make this statement from my side of the yard, because it always struck me that, the quickest way to prove most of the young officers were ignorant and full of pride was not their failure and inability to listen or hear, but unable to recognize and act on solid advice.
In an earlier paragraph, I stated that by their training the Commissioned Officer go through a lot more leadership training. Notwithstanding the evidence, there was a situation where soldiers from the erstwhile Junior Leaders were given training parallel to that of officers from the Military Academy. The difference between the two groups was that, the ‘Boys’ had an extended period of 3 years program as against eighteen/twenty four months to get commissioned. The duration difference compensated for the requirement shortfall for entry and the training of each group.
Between the officer and the ex-Boy grouping emerged a kind of rivalry which eventually led to the underutilization school. To many it was a surprise but the fact of it all could be better deciphered, as being the collective minds of the officers and the enlisted personnel who go through a six-months basics, found the resilience and exuberance the ex-Boy exudes as offensive and tantamount of disrespect . The rivalry between the officer and the ex-Boy was due to the Ghanaian Commissioned Officer intemperate outbursts to accept the caliber of enlisted from the erstwhile junior leaders.
The animosity between the officers and the ex-Boys mutated into ugly arguments, distrust and sometimes open rebuff and other such situations. Many of such events during the periods of the 31st December 1981 epoch, eventually culminated in underutilization of the school. A situation that has robbed the military quality NCOs that earlier commanders enjoyed.
It is an accepted fact that the officer lead soldiers, but the NCOs/SNCOs run the Army by their experience. It takes years to mold or form professional soldier and a good one. Officers are breed (or made at) at the officer cadet school over one or two years period, and a parchment gives them Command no matter the experience, the NCO or SNCO takes years to gain experience and respect through the ranks to learn the job.
The problem that still confront the Ghanaian officer is his inability to recognize the crucial importance of the NCOs. Who are they or who they are?
The NCO corps can be grouped into three groups: Junior NCOs, Senior NCOs and the Warrant Officers. At the base of the hierarchical triangle is the junior category – Lance Corporals and Corporals; at the intermediate or the middle belt level are – Sergeants and Color or Staff Sergeants; the senior level of hierarchical triangle are the – Warrant Officers and Quartermaster Sergeant Majors (WO2). Then at the pinnacle of the tree are the Regimental Sergeant Majors (RSMs) Warrant Officers Class 1 (WO1).
Many outside the military have very little knowledge of what should be or the relationships that functions in the institution. There are many several ways of describing the “role” of the NCO and the place they hold in the military. The role the officer/NCO play in the military is complex but lets simplify the complex role in a very simplistic terms- the commissioned officer per his commission leads, command and directs – the NCO on the other hand organizes and administers – the soldier executes. The relationship is not easy to analyze. A belief held by the majority of the general public concerning image of NCOs, oftentimes represented in the media, and which continues in modern soap is a mistaken view or shortcomings of a wrongly held opinions, and far from the truth and the reality of soldiering in our contemporary times.
It is of great significance for the media and the public to understand the officer – NCO – soldier triangular relationship is an impressively complex educated issue to discuss. Each part of the triangle is an equal in the context of the team in which they operate. This is so for the reasons that, the way in which all work have effect on each other, and the relationship revolves on demonstrated mutual recognition of each, that’s trust and respect. In specialized units the officer/NCO relationship could be better described as not visible, but still not quite.
What many outside the military fail to grasp is that, modern soldiers who are well educated and resourceful can think for themselves and have their own clear opinions. Every segment of the military chain of command have distinct and overlapping roles. When the groups are well connected having the same object and concepts through a well oiled training, mutually understanding and trusting each, oftentimes a complete absence of direct orders in the old fashion sense will be non existing.
The aspect that sets the officer apart is that NCOs in general terms, do not command soldiers. Nonetheless, they are absolutely critical in providing tactical and technical expertise, administration and discipline through the ranks. It was this absence and recognition that became the propellant undercurrents that exploded leading to the June 4th, 1979 rebellion against the military itself.
The failure of recognition coupled with varying levels of abuse of inferior; cruel and disgraceful conduct and the hypocritical, scandalous abuse of power were enough of munitions to set the stage of the ‘revolt of May 15th 1979 and finally June 4th, 1979 “insurrection” and its attendant events.
The June 4th, 1979 was not a ‘revolution’ in the real sense. It was an event of a sudden urge or better still a spontaneous reaction from the rank and file of the Ghana Armed Forces which spilled over, and affected the general conscience of the people. A sympathetic affectations to a supposed “bravado” of an unknown Flight Lieutenant, the leader of the May 15th 1979 revolt. He had told the Court Martial to hold him solely accountable for the revolt that the soldiers acted on his orders.
In concluding, what historians should bear in mind is that the insurrection or the rebellion was directed to, and in opposition to the Supreme Military Council by young officers and the rank and file. It was a mutiny, a rebellion against the military itself. It was an in-house event that somehow caught up with, and found favor with the general populace. The June 4th, 1979 was a violent mutiny within the Ghana Armed Forces which did upset the ruling military hierarchy though it brought a change in the country, in reality it was rebellion.
As stated earlier, at the root of all, was a brewing discontent among the rank and file, and a disconnect between the top and bottom, due to a combination of indiscretion and corruption, lack of discipline and frustration especially in the military.
The June 4th, 1979 insurrection, though illegitimate as it was, overthrew an equally illegitimate military junta that has also hoisted itself on the country. It was the military that felt the brutal brunt of rebellion. In the wake of the ensuing events, eight (8) Generals were killed. Seven (7) out of the eight (8) and a Colonel were tied to the stakes and executed by a firing squad, whiles the other General, Gen. Odartey Wellington lost his life in action. Several other officers were also sentenced to long prison terms. Although some civilians suffered, it was purely a supposed house-cleaning that change the perception of the officer in relation to the officer-NCO-soldier relationships.
Finally, here is some advice that I proffer to the officer. You can demand respect or you can earn it. The uniform demands certain protocols. But would you rather prefer that the enlisted salute you do so because they have to, or because they admire you and respect you. Let me state it bluntly, you can be a leader or you can be an a..hole. I still remember from nearly five decades ago the ones I admired and respected and still do to this day. There are both officers and enlisted I would like to put in their place if I ever saw them today.
Respect and trust is earned. You can demanded it but won’t survive the test of time.
Once A Gunner Always A Gunner.