Former President Atta Mills died on Tuesday, July 24, 2012.

The chemistry between a political party’s Presidential Candidate – the Presidential hopeful and his or her number two man or woman – matters a lot, and rightly so. The number two must know his or her place and time in history as a supporting pillar. Like the mythical Daedalus, he or she is allowed to fly, but must not fly too close to the sun, else could be destroyed.

Vice President John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills showed the way with his humility, intellect, wisdom and wit when he unexpectedly burst onto the political scene in 1996. Subsequent Veeps have walked in his noble footsteps even where and when they had stronger convictions on particular issues than their principals.

In essence Veeps must not be overambitious persons lying-in-wait to jump into the shoes of their Presidents. Following a careful assessment of Ghana’s recent political history, this appears to be the truism.

‘Soon’ versus ‘In due course’

On that day – 24th July, 2012, I understood this truism even better when President Atta Mills passed on just three days after his 68th birthday. My understanding developed around the word “soon” and the phrase “in due course”. I shall explain further.

Under the guidance of a high-powered meeting, chaired by Captain Kojo Tsikata (rtd) and supported by the late Professor Kofi Awoonor, Captain asked that I send a draft press statement to Vice President Mahama in his office for approval before it was issued to the public.

In compliance, I proceeded to the Vice President’s wing at the Castle, went through the necessary courtesies and entered his office. I doubt if he readily identified who had entered.

He was alone, motionlessly slumped in his chair, and with intense sorrow written all over his face as much as I could see from the distance. I informed him the meeting had asked that I send the draft statement to him for his approval prior to announcing Prof’s death to the nation.

He signaled, so I moved from the front of his desk and stood on his right hand side behind the desk and handed over the draft statement to him. He looked at it and it dropped onto his desk. His tears poured with increasing intensity with his neck still in a flexed position.

After a short while I said, ‘Sir my condolences but you need to okay the statement.’ He picked it up again, read it and asked that I cancel the part which read he will broadcast to the nation “soon”. I politely replied that it was necessary he did so and that according to the elders he didn’t have the luxury of choice. He was a sitting Vice President without a President.

He reluctantly agreed, crossed “soon” and replaced it with “in due course” and asked that I send it back to the elders for their consideration. The final statement read, “It is with a heavy heart and deep sorrow that we announce the sudden and untimely death of President John Evans Atta Mills. The death occurred at the 37 Military Hospital this afternoon while receiving medical attention after being taken ill a few hours earlier. Vice President, Mr. John Dramani Mahama, would broadcast to the nation in due course.”

The Constitution matters

Dr Benjamin Kunbuor, then Attorney General and Minister for Justice, had a completely different tribute to Prof. Even though Ghana’s constitution had
anticipated in Article 66 the replacement of a President by his or her Vice President, the Presidential Oath per the same constitution did not anticipate someone becoming President without going through elections.

In this index case, there had not been an election but the sitting Vice President was ‘assuming’ the position of President. Dr Kunbuor in the heat of the tragedy, had the presence of mind and made some contacts in Nigeria, which had also suffered a similar fate after the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2010, to compare notes.

In the end, with the Executive working together with the Judiciary, the Oath was amended. It read, “I, (name), having assumed the high office of President… on the basis of article 66 of the constitution…”.

“Having been elected” was replaced with “having assumed”. The Chief Justice worked together with Dr. Kunbuor, to surmount this legal hurdle.

Eulogies to President Atta Mills

President Mahama’s speech in Parliament was calm, conciliatory and rallying. He eulogized Prof. to the admiration of all – “…I’m personally devastated, I’ve lost a father, I’ve lost a friend, I’ve lost a mentor and a senior comrade. Ghana is united in grief at this time for our departed president.”

Also, President Barack Obama of the United States of America shared his fond memories of Prof., “… President Mills tirelessly worked to improve the lives of the Ghanaian people. He helped promote economic growth in Ghana in the midst of challenging global circumstances and strengthened Ghana’s strong tradition of

Furthermore, the United Nations General Assembly and many others paid tribute to him. But the prima donna of all the tributes was: “Fiifi you were a blessing to me, Ghana, Africa and the world. Rest peacefully in the bosom of the lord”, Mrs. Ernestina Naadu Mills, Prof’s wife.

Therefore, it is unsurprising that the GIMPA Law School and the University of Cape Coast, has adopted and institutionalized the J.E.A. Mills Commemorative Lectures as a lasting tribute to Prof. – the academic, sportsman, man of faith, family man and politician.

Atta Mills and the youth

Prof. was a very good man and passionate about the total well-being of the youth, sustainable development, governance and public policy. He must always be credited and commended for his farsightedness and also his decision to involve young people in governance under the Fourth Republican dispensation.

This conviction is manifesting in Ghana, Africa and the world at large. I was one of the many young people he entrusted with higher responsibilities at the national level and I remain eternally grateful to him for his foresight and confidence.

Rest in perfect peace Prof

24th July 2012, a day which had begun with President Atta Mills preparing to travel to Nigeria, hence having asked Vice President Mahama to represent him at the Brand Ghana event at the Accra International Conference Center, melted into intense grief and sorrow but in the end Ghana was very well branded because our democracy once again stood the test of time and became the envy of many.

The intense emotional roller-coaster of that day remains with every recollection and may take decades to recede from my memory. Like soothing rain to a thirsty earth, that was how Prof. Atta Mills was seen. That is how he was received. And that is how he lived and shaped the lives of millions in Ghana and in Africa.

Prof., – Man of Peace – you will forever remain in my heart. Rest In Perfect Peace.

This article was first published on 24th July, 2017 on the 5th Anniversary of the passing of the late former President John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills.