Dele Momodu: An epitaph for President Atta Mills

by Dele Momodu

Fellow Africans, please permit me to pay this special tribute to our departed hero, a great son of Africa, world scholar, seasoned administrator, experienced politician, humble and transparently honest leader, eloquent and articulate speaker, decent manager of men and resources, respectable and respected statesman, father of the nation and above all a God-fearing soul, Professor John Evans Fifi Atta Mills who died on Tuesday, July 24, 2012, at the 37 Military Hospital in Accra.

At a time it seems Africa is overwhelmingly polluted by reckless and careless, insensate and insane, corrupt and corruptible, incompetent and unproductive, disgraceful and shameless leaders, it was re-assuring and definitely rewarding that President Atta-Mills stood out and sparkled like a million stars amid the gloom that had enveloped our notorious continent for so long. His was a veritable example that it was still possible to have African leaders with the pre-requisite intellectual grounding and clear-headed vision needed to propel our countries forward. Prof, as we loved to call him, was a simple administrator who did not see power as an end in itself but as a means to a positive end.

He was a man who saw himself as a mere servant of the people given the privilege to steer the wheel of state and not the authority to grind the nation to a halt. He was a careful driver who appeared too cautious to take foolish risks.His critics could call him Mr Slow but could never call him a pen robber like most of his infamous colleagues that litter many countries of Africa. He lived a simple life that was difficult to imagine for one of the most influential countries in West Africa and the new gateway to Africa. Prof was very conscious of the fact that Man brought nothing to this world and that he shall take nothing with him when the appointed time comes to re-join his creator.

He was a philosopher king who knew the treasures imbedded in a good name and a worthy legacy. He did not suffer the inferiority complex of many leaders who saw power as only the means to making up for deprived youths. His country was kind to him, gave him so much and he knew much was expected of him. He did not misappropriate the nation’s wealth for personal aggrandizement. Even if there were disciples who messed up under his nose and did not share his vision of humility and selflessness in power, he did not condone them and everyone attested to his visible integrity.

Had he not been a scholar and administrator, perhaps, President Atta-Mills would have been a priest or preacher or both. He was never tired about preaching the virtues of honest leadership. He was ready to open up his private life and accomplishments to public scrutiny. His booming voice resonated with the common man every time he spoke with a passion and deep conviction about the responsibilities of a good leader. He would always be fondly remembered as one serious-minded leader who refused to waste public funds on frivolous projects. He would be loved eternally as a man who was ready to sacrifice personal comfort for the common good of all.

Prof did not carry himself with the arrogance of a monarchical President. He did not intimidate nor harass his fellow citizens with the appurtenances of power. No member of his family was unnecessarily loud or irritating. They kept an enviable low-profile and allowed the man to concentrate on the job he alone was employed to do. We did not read of his wife thundering down the streets like a raging caterpillar. Prof did not disturb the peace of his neighbours in the housing estate where he lived in his private home even as the President of the Republic of Ghana. There was nothing extra-ordinary about the cars he drove. His convoy did not shut down the city. He did not buy up properties all over the place to flaunt his awesome powers and freshly-acquired wealth. 

His mien and composure often reminded one of the late Tanzanian leader, Nwalimu Julius Nyerere. His intellectual capacity brought back memories of those days when Africa was governed by true intellectuals and not academic pretenders who could never articulate their vision in life. 

A cursory peep at Professor Atta Mills resume would reveal a man of impeccable pedigree, well-educated and well-exposed to international standards. Here was a man who was born on July 21, 1944 and attended the famous Achimota School where he completed his A-level in 1963. He studied Law at the University of Ghana and graduated in 1967. He proceeded to the prestigious London School of Economics & Political Science for his post-graduate studies. He bagged his PhD in Law at the School of Oriental & African Studies at the    University of London. He wrote his doctoral thesis in taxation and economic development. He later returned home to take up teaching appointment at the Faculty of Law, University of Ghana, and other institutions, where he spent about 25 years cumulatively.

Professor Atta Mills was so brilliant that in 1971 he became a Fulbright scholar at the Stanford University Law School in the United States of America. He was also a visiting Professor at Temple Law School, in Philadelphia, USA, between 1978 and 1979 and again at Leiden University in Holland from 1985 to 1986. He authored many publications and he was a respected authority on taxation. For several years, he was Acting Commissioner of Ghana’s Internal Revenue Service and became the substantive Commissioner from 1993-96 when he became Vice President to President Jerry John Rawlings.

He was the presidential candidate for the National Democratic Congress at the December 7, 2000 elections but lost to the candidate of NPP, Mr John Agyekum Kufuor. Professor Atta Mills contested and lost again in 2004 to the then President Kufuor who ran away with victory a second time. His third and final battle came in 2008 when he faced and defeated the NPP candidate, the effervescent Nana Akufo-Addo who was widely tipped to win after a hell of a fight. 

I had little but powerful contact with Professor Atta Mills before his last election which saw him become President. He was clearly a man of destiny. I really don’t know how else I can describe him. Months before that controversial election, not many people gave him a chance to win. First his party had been out of power for eight years. Two he was not a rich man by any standards and he did not seem to know how to cultivate the friendship of Africa’s rich and famous.

This was what led to our little interaction. I had received a call from Pastor Temitope B. Joshua one beautiful morning. It was not unusual to receive occasional calls from the man in The Synagogue, Church of All Nations. After exchanging our usual pleasantries, the man of God asked what I thought about the forthcoming presidential election in Ghana. I was surprised because I didn’t understand what his interest was in the matter. Innocently, I responded that it would be a straight fight between Nana Akufo-Addo and Professor Atta Mills but it seemed the great Nana had the upper hand.

To the best of my knowledge, Nana was getting some amazing support from his powerful contacts all over the world and money was not likely to be an obstacle to his dream.

Pastor Joshua must have chuckled at my temporal analysis but he operated at a different wave-length, perhaps. As cool as a cucumber, he told me Prof was going to win. He did not hesitate to give me his unequivocal prophesy at a time the prediction looked most unlikely. I said it was possible but money was going to be a major handicap to Prof Mills. Pastor Joshua then said everything was being done to introduce Prof to those who can help him and it was the reason he contacted me. At that moment he gave me the shock of my life. “Please, hold on for Prof,” Pastor Joshua told me without warning, and Prof joined us. I had no inkling the man whose chances we had analysed was with him.

I greeted Prof and his humility struck me from the very first sentence. “Chief, please, I need help to execute this election.” I told him he had gone to the right man who knew everyone who could be of assistance to him. He said the Pastor had been a great pillar and he had faith in God to perform a miracle. He picked his words carefully and I was deeply touched. 

Prof was really determined to win that 2008 election against all odds and he reached out to as many contacts as he could possibly do. I got a call from the then Governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu who wanted my analysis of the coming Presidential election in Ghana. I repeated the same analysis I had given to Pastor Joshua and he said Prof was coming to see him and he needed an expert opinion on it before he arrived. Prof later told me that he was pleasantly surprised my name always cropped wherever he went and he was sure my opinion on Ghana was much sought after and clearly highly respected. I felt flattered but humbled at the same time.

The last man to seek my opinion on the 2008 election in Ghana was Dr Jimoh Ibrahim, Chairman of Global Fleet and Energy Group. He asked the same question again about who I thought was going to win the Presidential race in Ghana and I responded it was going to be a close-call. He went further by asking specifically if Prof had any chance of winning and I said yes but it would depend on various factors and funding in particular. He confirmed the reason he was asking and said he wanted to back Prof heavily but wanted to weigh the risk. I encouraged him to go ahead. He asked if I could put it in writing and I said yes again.

I joked that you can never win the big jackpot if you can’t take the bigger risks. I am aware Jimoh Ibrahim provided significant support and resources to Prof for the election. The election held and, after several runs and hiccups, Prof was declared winner. What impressed me about Prof was that he remained his humble self.

He returned to The Synagogue to give thanks to God. I was happy Pastor Joshua remembered to invite me to meet privately with Prof. I was surprised the President of Ghana could fly all the way to a seedy side of Lagos to visit his spiritual mentor at a time he had gotten what he wanted. I was used to seeing leaders who instantly abandoned their friends on attainment of power only to return like penitent school kids when it is all over. Prof’s attitude was a breath of fresh air. I asked why he believed so much in the efficacy of Pastor Joshua’s spirituality when most Nigerians had serious doubts and regularly cast aspersions on him. He responded like the teacher that he was by lecturing on the bare facts of his encounter with the Pastor. He said the man had told him too many specific things that came to pass and I should know that as Professor of Law he dealt with only facts. He the final prediction that stunned him was how the man of God mentioned the specific date his victory would be declared after going three rounds, which was against conventional wisdom and protocol in Ghana. I could not argue further with him.

A lot of Ghanaians frowned at Prof’s decision to fly regularly to Nigeria to worship. The issue became headline news. But spiritual considerations are never straight-forward. Prof believed he could not jettison those who supported him in his hour of need. An example I will never forget was the night before his inauguration. Jimoh Ibrahim was to fly into Accra and I had received a message from my best friend Prince Adedamola Aderemi to make his former student comfortable in Ghana. I complied and met Jimoh at Kotoka International Airport with several cars for him and his entourage. Jimoh was humbled when he saw an aide of the President-elect on the tarmac and Prof even sent his personal car and outrider to meet Jimoh. I was deeply touched that an African leader did not suffer from the usual amnesia that comes upon them from the euphoria of victory.

Prof waited patiently for us to arrive at his campaign office in Osu and welcomed us with open arms like a true father. He thanked Jimoh profusely for his huge support. I excused them and they went into a very private meeting. Several months later, the President encouraged Jimoh to invest in Ghana and this culminated in the setting up of Energy Bank. The President personally declared the Bank open last year. I was proud to know such a man of honour. It is difficult to find many such leaders in Africa. Most break their promises even before they make it. They often forget that all is dust and will return to dust.

Now a good man has died. He has completed his mission on earth. The world is applauding the 68 years he lived on earth. According to Barack Obama, Prof was a man who made Ghana a “good news story.” We thank you Prof for your service to your nation and to Africa. You will never be forgotten because of the giant footprints you left behind.

You have done your best to make the world a better place. And you deserve to rest in peace. Adieu, Prof. Rest in Perfect Peace.

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