Bola Tinubu: Atta Mills walked the walk of a democrat

by Bola Tinubu

Sadness descended on Ghana and the rest of Africa on the sudden passing of President John Atta Mills. Much was said of this great man and all that was said was good. A man devoid of personal vanity, Mills would have been embarrassed by the torrent of encomiums. He would have protested that he was undeserving of the eulogies. This would have been one of those rare moments that he was mistaken. What was said upon his departure has been fitting but also inadequate.

Mills was a man with a profound, comprehensive intellect. Unlike many individuals whose public carriage as a politician diverge in a negative way from their private persona, the private and public morals and practices of this man were undifferentiated. There was no seam dividing the public official from the private man. He was guided by a moral compass that did not waver according to the circumstance. He did not change his beliefs by the situation. Instead of bending his principles to fit the situation, he exercised the moral fortitude and courage to make the situation subservient to his principles and beliefs. Here was a man, the leader of a nation, who did more than talk of democracy. He did not support the way and means of democracy only when they served his interest. He cherished democracy to the extent that he saw it as an end in itself. As such and to his last breath, Mills walked the walk of a democrat — in all that he did and how he did it. If for nothing else, we owe him a debt of gratitude.

Moreover, we owe it to ourselves to reflect on the life of this man. Mills was more than a kind and gentle leader. He was a subtle, yet innovative pioneer in the arena of African democratic politics. As such, he was and continues to be a guiding light for all of us. If we seek to be anything close to wise, we should direct our gaze toward that light in order to reclaim the path to the type of democratic governance and equitable development we desire for our nation and the rest of Africa.

Mills was an outstanding leader and a sentinel of democratic governance. His contributions to the advance of political justice and economic development in Ghana and throughout the continent were understated yet immense. Because he was so humble and subtle, most people do not appreciate the fact that cast a mould for new breed and style of African leader. We never know the truth of a man until the moment he tastes power or money. Until then, he may act humanely and friendly because his weakness affords no other choice. Thus, many seem to be caring populists or fine princes as they begin the climb to power. Once the person reaches the peak, the hopeful public is disappointed to learn that the object of their support is a toad. Many politicians are dictators in democrat’s clothing. The higher they climb, the more arrogant and authoritarian they become. When they attain the power they sought, the only thing they want to hear is their own voice. The only thing they want to see is the rest of the nation nodding in mindless agreement at their statements.

That he kept ambition in check had deep, salutary repercussions. Because he saw himself as an employee of Ghanaians of all stripes and social station, he devoted his time and energy to the issues that shaped their collective well-being. Since he did not see political office as an avenue to accumulate power and money unto himself as if he were an ancient potentate, he never followed the detour most Africa leaders take. Mills never tried to finagle his nation’s governmental institutions to perpetuate his stay in office. He saw the Ghanaian constitution as something inviolate, a noble document to be left untampered by the wiles of personal ambition. Due to the example he helped to establish, no one dared manipulate the constitution toward an improper outcome upon his untimely passing. The succession of the vice-president into the presidency occurred according to the rule of law, without intrigue or question. This is how it should be everywhere but not how things are in most of Africa.

The late president’s very style of leadership nurtured democracy. He was a collegial chief executive. He never flexed the muscle of his authority so that appeared larger than life or law. Because he was wise, he never considered his word to be gospel. He had no desire to appear omniscient in all matters. Instead, he was eager to listen and learn. The late president understood that the true objective was not for him to appear to be the supreme leader but for his administration to derive the best policies for the nation.

Thus, Mills was disinterested in surrounding himself with an ensemble of political journeymen chirping the song they thought he wanted to hear or jockeying to mirror every move he made. Instead, he sought to surround himself with the best cabinet ministers and advisers he could nab. His self-confidence was such that he could afford to dispense with the ‘yes men’ and pantomimes that crowd around the council tables of too many governments.

He rebuffed the tactic of feeling big by surrounding himself with the petty. He enhanced his leadership by surrounding himself with people of capacity and stature. In this way, he did not promote himself. He promoted able governance and then let able governance promote him. Because of the example he and others have set, Ghana stands at the forefront of African nations in terms of democratic governance and policies encouraging sustainable economic development.

Although the sun too quickly set on his life, what he stood for and what he accomplished continue to shine brightly. What he did, he did as man. This means that those currently in positions of leadership or who seek to be in the future have the ability to emulate him. The question becomes do they have the courage and love of the people to do it? Those who do shall join Mills in the Hall of Fame. Those who don’t may enjoy themselves for the moment. But their profit shall prove fleeting and their names shall be written in the Hall of Shame. It is a manner of choice. Mills has done his part by showing the way. We must now decide if we have the fortitude to follow.

Fare thee well, President John Atta Mills. We shall miss you.

This article was first published in Punch.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.


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