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Col. Winfreid Annor Odjidja

Farewell, our brother Annor Odjidja
E. Ablorh-Odjidja

Edmund Burke, the 18th century British statesman once asked how we could expect to be honored when "no man could know what would be the test of honour in a nation, continually varying the standard of its coin?"

He wrote this in 18th century England. His statement could apply to Ghana and the man we are about to bury, our brother Colonel Annor Odjidja.

Annor was a man of honor and integrity. There are people around today who can attest to this statement’s validity. They know Colonel Annor Odjidja’s story very well.

In 1981, there was a military coup in Ghana. He was then the Director of Military Intelligence under a civilian government. When that government was toppled, he went into exile. He was sentenced to death in absentia by the military regime that had illegally snatched power from a constitutionally elected civilian government.

Even when he was down and out from the circles of power that he was used to, Annor maintained a lifestyle of quiet and solitude at his sanctuary in Milton Keynes, UK. He could have written books, been on the radio telling the whole world what happened and lamenting about his fate. But he took it all in a stoic manner. He chose silence and retirement with dignity.

I started with a quotation from Edmund Burke because his name often came across in our conversations; George Orwell of Animal Farm fame being the other.

Our conversations on the phone were usually lengthy since we were separated by thousands of miles. The conversations usually evolved around current issues, books and articles read and how these reflected present day realities.

I had once asked him a hypothetical question: As a soldier, I said, could he have led a coup?

To ask Annor a question was either to invite a respectful answer or see a frown; it all depended on the nature of the question. But, certainly you got a frown, if the question was stupid.

For the question about a coup, there was a pause, and my mind raced back to times in the past when I had approached him with queries that I found out later to be silly.

The occasion was in 1966. I had gone to see him a week or two after the February 24 coup. Annor was the officer in charge of the Flag Staff House, the deposed president’s residence. There were rumors about that residence and Nkrumah and I was curious to know the truth. One said Nkrumah had dug a long tunnel for escape from the Flag Staff house to the sea, a distance of some 5 miles, in case of trouble.

“And where did all the sand and dirt and stone go during the excavation, did you see those in the street too?” he asked rhetorically. The look on his face was one of a deep frown.

But back to the question I asked earlier, would he have led a coup?

After a short pause, Annor said clearly and in emphatic language.

“No…. Coups are wasteful. They accomplish nothing. It is not about bravery, since cowards can also kill.” He said.

For me, the response was about lessons learned; the difference between life of a chicken and that of a human being and the failure to know the difference. Annor knew the difference.

Then he quoted Edmund Burke.

“There is a manifest, marked distinction, which ill men with ill designs, or weak men incapable of any design, will constantly be confounding – that is a marked distinction between change and reformation…”

For Annor, a coup would promise innovation and deliver misfortune. He would rather prefer maintenance and reform within the frame work of the national constitution.

Ladies and gentlemen, we were a family of six siblings – from a larger Presbyterian family of pastors, educationists, catechist, and Basel Missionary trained fathers and forefathers. We grew up surrounded by cousins some of whom were and are still more than brothers and sisters to us.

As kids, we grew up nurtured in respect for the elderly and developed an ingrained respect for proper authority. Apart from ordinary childhood pranks, we stayed within family guidelines of deference for established institutions. Annor could not have thrashed a constitution constructed by a democratic process.

Tekpetey (T.T), our senior brother, is at least 5 years older than Annor. As such, he was out of our play circle. We conveniently called him Old Joe.

But Annor was accessible to me. Years later, we would describe our childhood associations as “Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn” days, after reading that book. Last year, I had my first grandson and we named him Annor, after the Colonel.

Certainly, there were some aspects of our brother’s life that we as family members knew nothing about. He was an intelligence operative and a soldier. His brothers in arm, some of whom are still around today, can declare who Annor was - as a friend, a soldier, as a patriot, about his sacrifices, and as a defender of the constitution of his nation Ghana.

Annor, in his time, was perceived as powerful. He had an aura of command about him. People told us of his exploits and confirmed at the same time his extraordinary intelligence.

When an in-law was told that Annor was gone from us, he said metaphorically that “Annor was indestructible.”

True, Annor wasn’t destroyed, as he would have been in 1982. God took him away in May 2009, some 27 years later.

As an elder brother, he was a good playmate. Annor served as a convenient shield and took the hit for any mischief that went wrong.

One day I humorously told his son, Tettehwayo, in Annor’s presence, that his father had caused me a lot of trouble when we were growing up.

Annor laughed and simply said “Look at who is talking,” knowing full well that I was the source for much of the trouble.

But there was one memorable experience that Annor instigated himself. I tell this childhood story now to put a human face on our brother whom many had often described in epic terms.

We were kids, in our “Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn” days, when it occurred to Annor to find out why a chicken would not fly like a bird. He promptly decided to investigate the mystery. His plan sounded like fun and I followed his instructions.

The exercise involved a massive military like operations. First we had to acquire enough chickens. My father raised ducks then, but we thought it would be much safer to collect free range chickens.

In no time we had enough chickens under a basket, like soldiers would round up victims in a coup.

The operation required a platform for launching the birds into space. There was a carpenter’s bench nearby and we went there. We brought along a couple of kitchen stools to help the elevation. Then we went to work.

We enlisted our sister Elaine of blessed memory’s help as nurse in case of casualties – for the chickens, not us. We brought along Judith, the youngest, for insurance against punishment. In case things went wrong, she was the one most likely to win our father’s sympathy and forbearance. Our elder sister, Willie, we all agreed should be kept out. She would tell on us.

By the way, Sister Willie still carries around the latest birthday card that Annor had sent her, ready to show it off as trophy Judith as well as our other brothers and sister, Sheila, Dudley, , and Alpheus, are currently displaying superhuman strength in the face of our loss.

Our experiment was a total failure. Not a single chicken flew, no matter how hard we tossed them into space. All we launched came back, severely and some fatally wounded. The consequence also came fast and furious.

My father got the news the same evening. Judith, our insurance policy certificate, was spared, but failed to protect us from our father’s anger. Elaine was also spared on the strength of the suspicion that I had dragged her into it. The punishment came proportionately heavier on Annor.

 

Again, lessons learned about the preciousness of life, any life.

Now, back to Edmund Burke. In 1982 Annor was sentenced to death by the PNDC regime of Ghana. To this day, family members, friends, and colleagues are still wondering exactly what he did wrong.

Annor knew that he had done right by his country. But as Edmund Burke reminded us, in a country with shifting field of standards, rarely do true heroes get honored in their life’s time.

No one could have changed who Annor was, like as kids we couldn’t teach chickens how to fly. So we shouldn’t now allow revisionist stories about this soldier to overwhelm the true measure of the man as he was - a veritable patriot.

Military traditions call for steadfast honor. For those who have served with Annor, as brother and comrade in arms, you truly know who he was. Our family would wish that you would amplify that reality to those who don’t.

Colonel Annor Odjidja was a soldier’s soldier and a patriot.

He was born Ghanaian, of a true Ga-Adagme parentage. His late father, Winfried Tettehwayo Abladu Odjidja’s home town of Korletsom, Krobo Odumasi will miss him. And so should Ghana.

Special thanks are due to those members of the family in the UK who with their presence, resources and tremendous sacrifices have helped to bring Annor’s body to its final resting place; Bernard Odjidja, Mrs. Augusta Tay, Mark Odjidja, Ms. Diana Aryeetey and son, Rev. Gerald Thompson, and Mrs. Mandy Awkesi-Baah.

Annor’s wife Oye and children, the entire Baarmiyee House of Korletsom, Odjidja, Wilson, Brown, Aryeetey, Mohenu, and Ablorh’s families of Ghana have asked me to thank you for this honor and the respect that you have paid to our brother, father, uncle, cousin and friend . May the Great One reward you for your presence with us today.

And may the Good Lord also rest Annor in peace.

E. Ablorh-Odjidja






 

 

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