Six years since the passing Ex President John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills in 2012. It must be a surprising revelation to outsiders that a year after his death, Ghanaians are still so divided on the ultimate meaning of the presence and participation of Professor Atta Mills in our national life as our elected Vice- President from 1997 to 2001, and as President from 2009 to 2012.
The departed President still commands passionate love from his admirers even as those on the other side see his politics as a tragedy only mediated somewhat by his unexpected death in office. Perhaps those of us who were not his admirers see him as an uninvited interloper and a clumsy intermeddler in the meaningless games of partisan politicking we are accustomed to.
The few areas of agreement are so heavily barnacled by political considerations that it is next to impossible, as a Ghanaian, to be seen as offering an unbiased opinion of a person we all went to the polls to elect as our third President under the Fourth Republican Constitution.
Some oppose his acclaimed name of Asomdweehene [King of Peace] by pointing out he inherited a peaceful nation from President Kufuor in 2009, forgetting that inheritances are easily and wantonly dissipated by prodigals.
Some doubt the indices of measurement of phenomenal growth and expansion of our economy, and the low inflation rates which bespeak price stability in domestic household expenditures without providing alternative indices for performance measurement, because, indeed, and in fact, there are none other available.
One of the most intriguing of the contested claims about his legacy was the opposition to his ‘’Dzi wo fie asem’’ policy with regard to the Ivorian crisis. If a democratically elected leader refuses to fight his neighbour, what can be wrong with that? In my view, the adoption of a strident warmongering posture in foreign policy urged on him betrayed the attachment of some of us to jingoistic domestic politics that played out in the 2012 polls.
This short tribute, however, is not about the very public figure we all beheld as our President, friend and foe alike, but rather about just two personal recollections which nonetheless, key in effortlessly into his public persona as a person without a shred of vindictiveness and ill-will. And his humanity which seeps through every personal encounter you had with him when he was our President.
Way back in 2006, he requested to see my brother Kakra and I upon his return from a foreign trip. This was sometime after the death and funeral of Professor Adu-Boahen. We were ushered into his presence in his Regimanuel Grey house off the Spintex Road.
He picked up a copy of the funeral brochure of Prof. Boahen and asked me directly why my tribute was not in it since he considered it the best tribute for his friend Prof. Boahen, and that he suspects the tribute was left out because we were his friends, and the partisan funeral committee did not want anything to connect he Prof. Mills to the late Prof. Boahen in the brochure.
He vowed to issue a statement to damn the committee for disrespecting his friend Prof. Boahen in this blatantly partisan manner. My brother and I were, to put it mildly, absolutely surprised that he cared so much for the memory of a leader of a party which in government at the time, was very busy using the justice system to harass, intimidate and jail some functionaries of the past NDC government in which he was Vice-President! This harassment had extended even to his own wife! It took some dissuading to prevent him from issuing that statement.
The other personal encounter was two-and-half-years ago in his office at the Castle, when he was President. Thursday, January 13, 2011 to be exact, which happened to be the day before the funeral of NDC stalwart Squadron Leader Clend Sowu. I have forgotten exactly what was the point of the Presidential appointment where he preferred we sat by his sides so we could chat as long lost brothers.
As we got up to leave, he asked if we would be present at the funeral the next day. Why? Because as fellow Old Boys of Mfantsipim School with the late Sowu, he expected us to be present. We answered in the affirmative, and as we stood up, he began to sing the first verse of our school anthem. I don’t know the school song of any school in this country apart from mine, so we were initially intrigued because we knew he was a proud Old Achimotan.
From the laughter in his voice, we knew he was just teasing us. We were so disgusted by this brazen attempt at reviving old school rivalries that we got up to leave.
He ordered his ADC to block us as he sang the first verse to its last Alleluia and sauntered back very happy, to his sofa. The next day, at the funeral, as we sang the song, he kept on looking at us with a mischievous smile on his face, enjoying the ribbing he had given us the previous day.
As we sang the funereal tune used at funerals for these very words in church in Cape Coast last weekend, this human encounter came to mind. I am very sure the meeting we had with him that day was for a serious purpose but it is this last part that sticks in my mind, and comes to the fore when I recall our several personal encounters. He sought and succeeded in large measure to humanise the office he held by personal example. It was not forced, it came to him naturally.
His decency ensured not only the survival of the fourth attempt at constitutional rule, and his beloved NDC party. His restraint saved this country from the self-destructive politics of our post-independence past. By refusing to inherit partisan animosities and deploy his considerable clout to hound his opponents, he prevented extremists from within seizing both the political conversation and forcing opponents into a struggle that would have destroyed our current civilian dispensation.
It was not done not because he was not political enough, but because he believed in this country and its potential more than those who opposed him in party and those who provoked him in the opposition. It is this same passion for our country and its institutions that he believed and always preferred the public services to work out, institutionally, their problems, rather than the so-called reforms marked by meaningless dismissals and fanciful ideas to inaugurate new administrations imposed from above.
This is a continuing revolution in our governance that permits reforms to happen in a human way, not over the careers and graves of others.
The funeral that Ghanaians gave him last year was the biggest and most touching in the history of this country. It cannot be that ordinary citizens considered their own President a tragedy in our national life. What happened last week as we marked his first anniversary further cemented the view that his detractors are not only mean-spirited without the generosity of spirit that sad events like death naturally provoke, but are completely and blissfully ignorant of what made him so beloved by the people of this country.
The erection of the first-ever presidential library in his honour, already paid for in full by Ghanaian companies spurred on by his example of selfless leadership, is abundant proof that President Atta-Mills was the leader we needed at the time he was our President. Indeed, the election of his Vice-President, who succeeded him upon his sudden death, is further proof of the affirmation of the Mills style of politics in our country.
May he continue to rest in perfect peace.
By Collin Esamuah/Ghana