BOOK REVIEW: Ogyakrom: The Missing Pages of June 4th

Author:  Prof. Kwesi Yankah

Publisher: Standard Newspapers & Magazines  (SNAM), Ltd.

This book, written by Prof. Kwesi Yankah, is a part-compilation of his Abonsam Fireman column in the Standard, the national Catholic Weekly. The volume covers the political periods of two military regimes and one civilian government in Ghana, namely

  1. the Supreme Military Council II (SMC II): July 5, 1978-June 4, 1979
  2. the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC): June 4, 1979 – October 1, 1979
  • the People’s National Party (PNP): October 1, 1979 – December 31, 1981.

The 55 Chapters of the Book treat evergreen politically sensitive topics only an “abonsam” (dare-devil) would venture to tread. The volume spans the repressive “culture of silence” period, when free expression was a taboo. Indeed, the major media outlets in Ghana, both private and state-owned, had resorted to “Afghanistanism (the journalistic practice of conveniently focusing on outside news, as against domestic issues, for fear of political reprisal). The new column changed it all. It immediately threw the modest Standard into stardom.

Prof. Yankah is an accomplished academic linguist. He has written several books and received academic awards, too numerous to recall: W.E.B Du Bois (GAW); the Gold Book Award (Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences). In 1986, he began writing another column “The Woes of a Kwatriot” in the Mirror.

The present volume: Ogyakrom: The Missing Pages of June 4th is a sequel to an earlier volume, published by the same author in 1979. The 1979 Book, entitled: The Last Days of Alhaji Blanket was a compilation of “Abonsam Fireman’s” column, written between 1977 and 1978.

The Abonsam Fireman column came as a welcome relief to discerning Ghanaians. The provocative issues, the scathing but veiled language and the satiric format all combined to draw readers to the column. With every publication in the Standard, the column grew bolder and bolder. For the ordinary person, Abonsam Fireman had become a messianic spokesperson, exposing matters, which otherwise might be buried; for the discerning reader, the column’s intellectual gratification offered much needed comic relief; for the few political leadership, the torturous writing nevertheless served a political agenda regarding what bothered Ghanaians most.

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Ogyakrom: The Missing Pages of June 4thre-lives most of the turbulent political times. The first 20 episodes were written during the rule of Gen. Akuffo, otherwise known as ‘Alhaji Kung Fu’. The next 15 episodes deal with the intervention of Flt. Lt. J.J. Rawlings. The last 18 episodes were about the rule of Dr. Hilla Limann.

The Book’s critical posture was both admired and feared. For those too young to know about the immediate past, the Book serves as a fresh political history textbook. For the elderly, too old to remember due to memory failure, the Book vividly recapitulates Ghana’s economic woes, military adventurism, greed, political ambition, authorized hooliganism, ‘kalabluleism’ (excessive profiteerism), empty party promises, military brutalities, political execution, Makola demolition, ostentatious lifestyles by politicians, inflation and labour unrest.

In the Book, Abonsam Fireman dares to describe Gen. Akuffo’s military as: “soldiers whom courage and spiritual discipline had deserted and whose ability and stamina are suspect; whose voluminous bellies can be mistaken for pregnancies”.

And this is how Abonsam Fireman described Dr. Limann’s demeanor a few days to Rawlings’ handing over to him in October 1979: “As Obiba Lee stood under the shea-butter tree waiting, and watching the foot-works of ‘Red herrings’ as well as his pronouncements about him (Dr. Limann), Lee’s thumping heartbeat was overhead in all the nearby houses, pam-pam-pam-pam, as if a fufu-pounding contest was on. An ‘Ogyakrom’ doctor on applying his stethoscope to Lee’s head recommended for him a salt-free omo-tuo diet to decelerate his heart beat and lower his blood-pressure”.

About Rawlings and his colleagues, Abonsam Fireman had this to say: “For it did come to light that not only were some of the ‘bow and arrow men’ (soldiers) extorting cowries from ‘Ogyakromians’ and duping others in various ways, some of the very arrow men in whom ‘Red Herrings’ (Rawlings) had enough confidence as to appoint as his auxiliaries, were caught in the ‘noble’ act of collecting ‘cola’ from potential culprits;…and if that was true, was the ‘Herrings Monarchy’ (AFRC) not as corruptible as those of ‘Alhaji Blanket’ and Kung Fu? ”

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The present volume displays Prof. Yankah’s linguistic masterly: “land of long noses” (overseas);  “Nairaville” (Nigeria); Hinduville” (India); “Cocoyam suburb” (Brong Ahafo Region); “Okro-soup suburb” (Volta Region); “Kenkey suburb” (Central Region); Glasscutter suburb” (Northern Region); “Batakari suburb” (Upper Region); “Copra oil suburb” (Western Region).

The Book also preserves some of our precious, local vocabulary or literal expressions: “nika-boka”; twakoto”; “plain face” trousers (clothing designs known to villagers); “oyiwa”; (typical Akan exclamation for “so you heard it”); “wato nkyene” (a large popular, mummy truck in the 1970s); “going to small” (attending nature’s call); “animal tree”, literally ‘aboa dua’ (insult for a fool); “wa som mu ye den”, literally ‘your ears are too hard’ (headstrong person); “your hands are worrying you” (euphemism for thief); “do them, before they do you” (pre-emptive strike); “tomorrow too… looking at something, you will you go near it” (… serves you right; next time, you will exercise caution!); “the doctor should feel you” (medical examination).

Contemporary titles have been appended to all of the Book’s 55 Chapters or episodes to unmask the issues Abonsam Fireman makes fun of, while provoking thinking. What is more, a glossary is attached to breakdown Prof. Yankah’s ‘ogyalinguistics’, which richly flavours every page of the book.

Prof. Yankah invites the reader into how the present reflects the past. It is both an aide memoire and a heritage. It is a compelling reader, difficult to put aside, once you start reading it. The younger generation especially will treasure this rich source of Ghana’s immediate political history.

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