President Muhammadu Buhari has condoled with the government and people of Ghana over passing of the country’s former President, Jerry Rawlings, aged 73.
In a condolence message by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, in Abuja on Thursday, Buhari affirmed that the entire African continent would sorely miss the sterling qualities of the great leader.
According to the Nigerian leader, the passion, discipline and moral strength that the former Ghanaian leader employed to reposition his country over many years continue to reverberate across the continent and beyond.
The president noted, with commendation, the unique role the former president played in strengthening political institutions in his country and Africa.
He lauded him for stimulating the economy for sustainable growth, and vociferously championing the African cause by urging many leaders to work towards interdependency on the global stage, especially in areas of competitive advantage.
He assured that the ideas that Rawlings postulated, particularly for development in Africa and his sacrifices in working in various countries as an envoy for peace and democracy would always be remembered.
The president prayed that the Almighty God would grant the Ghanaian leader eternal rest and comfort all his loved ones.
Despite his numerous achievements in restoring Ghana to the path of socio-economic sanity for about two decades as the country’s leader, it would seem some Ghanaians still remember Jerry Rawlings more for his high-handedness even as he breathed his last on Thursday.
In Ghana, the citizens saw the former military cum democratically elected president as one of the most ruthless presidents ever (although his demeanour changed when he became a democratic president).
While several Ghanaians have expressed shock and shed uncontrollable tears at the news of his death, some ‘black sheep’ have made silly comments about the former military ruler, and others have berated him for his high-handedness as a military ruler.
The former president died from COVID-19 complications at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, the Ghanaian capital.
Professor Anthony Kila, Director of the Centre for International and Advanced Professional Studies (CIAPS), Lagos, described the death of Jerry Rawlings as a rude shock to him, other Nigerians and Africans.
Prof. Kila said Rawlings, who was a living reference to Nigerians, would be sorely missed.
Prof. Kila noted that in all the former Ghanaian president’s “greatness and flaws, a lot of Africans, particularly Nigerians, saw him as a very good example of a leader in the African continent”.
While describing Rawlings as a symbol in Africa, Prof. Kila added: “He was an example of what can be in the sense that he took his country from tatters to greatness.
He did it by identifying evil and confronting it. In a way, a lot of people see him as a symbol.”
Noting that in Nigeria, Rawlings was always used as a reference point as a leader who could right so many wrongs, the don said: “In fact, Nigerians always used to say we need a Rawlings in the nation as a leader; he was a popular figure that showed possibility.”
Kila added: “There is also an uncelebrated side of Rawlings, which is the fact that he was the first international president Ghana had.
“He was of a mixed race and a Ghanaian by choice. He will be missed because, unlike other African leaders in his country, he is still loved. He was very well respected.
“Nigerians will miss him because we see him as a figure of possibility, he was a living reference to us. Now that he is gone, he is, indeed, gone.”
Born on June 22, 1947, Rawlings was a military ruler who later became a politician and ruled Ghana from 1981 to 2001.
He led a military junta until 1992, and then served two terms as the democratically elected president of Ghana.
A flight lieutenant of the Ghanaian Air Force, Rawlings first staged a military coup as a young revolutionary on May 15, 1979, five weeks before scheduled elections to return the country to civilian rule.
When the coup failed, he was imprisoned, publicly court-marshalled, and sentenced to death.
After initially handing power over to a civilian government, he took back control of the country on December 31, 1981, as the chairman of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC).
He then resigned from the military, founded the National Democratic Congress (NDC), and became the first president of the Fourth Republic.
He was re-elected in 1996 for four more years. After two terms in office, the limit according to the Ghanaian constitution, Rawlings endorsed his vice-president, John Atta Mills, as presidential candidate in 2000.
Some people have described him as a “wicked man” while reacting bitterly to his death.
While a section of Ghanaians mourned and showered praises on the late leader, others, obviously bitter based on history and past experiences, slammed him.
In a few comments monitored on Twitter, some people expressed excitement over the death of Rawlings because of some of the horrible things written about him in books.
These commentators believe that Rawlings committed a lot of atrocities during his reign as president and that he deserved whatever happened to him.
Despite his alleged atrocities, which were reportedly aimed at shaping the nation, some critics have also claimed that he should be remembered for some of the major developments that have occurred in Ghana.