Tuesday July 24, 2012 started as a normal day for Ghanaians with the usual hustle and bustle at every facet of the country. As usual, there were heavy traffic flows in certain parts of Accra. Nothing seemed unusual. I remember going to the Accra International Conference Centre that very morning to see someone and ended up seeing then Vice President John Dramani Mahama who was there to address an event.
Nobody gave a hint or the augury on what was lurking in the air at the time. In fact, there was nothing from any quarters to Ghanaians that in a matter of hours during that day, the whole country will stand still with a heart-breaking news.
But there was something that I vividly can recall on that day. Just around 11 am the weather in Accra became very dull. The sun suddenly disappeared. I could sense that there was something in the air. I could feel something but could not lay hands on anything. I felt some butterflies in my stomach but had no clue of what was in store or going on.
I also remember telling a very good friend of mine that I’m not happy with the sudden change in the weather and do not feel my normal sense. My friend who agreed with the sudden flatness in the weather however dismissed my feelings by stating that such instances happen once in a while, but there is nothing to worry about.
But I was still very worried and heavy hearted until we hit 12 noon. Just around 1 pm the heavy dose of uneasiness in me intensified and hit the roof when I went to another friend’s office at Cantonments. It was there that those at the office also expressed similar feelings and even amplified it to mean that something strange was probably going to befall the country. But strangely enough nobody talked about the President.
As we were chatting about other issues, for some strange and unbeknown reason our conversation will occasionally dart towards the unfamiliar weather. It was not long that another friend came to the office with a very strange look on his face. I immediately sensed danger and asked what was amiss. He refused to talk about what was wrong but started pacing up and down. In less than 10 minutes a lady that I know very well came in crying all over and pulled me aside and told me in blunt language, “Maggie, President Mills is dead.”
I immediately asked the lady if that was a joke. She replied by asking me if I see her as someone who could play that witticism. I had felt very uneasy all day long and have been complaining about the weather and the heaviness in the air, yet when the terrible news was broken to me I jumped up in protest. That portrays how mortal I am.
After crying a little bit we started making some phone calls for confirmation, but whoever we called will say that it was a rumour. But a trusted friend we called told us bluntly that, “What you heard is true, we lost him.”
All of us at the office then decided to tune in to the radio for confirmation. The solemn music being played on the radio also did not help matters, until we heard the formal breaking news. I remember hearing, “It is with a heavy heart and deep sorrow that we announce the sudden and untimely death of the President of the Republic of Ghana, His Excellency, Professor John Evans Atta Mills.”
A statement signed by Mr Henry Martey Newman, Chief of Staff stated that “The death occurred at the 37 Military Hospital this afternoon while receiving medical attention after being taken ill a few hours earlier. The Vice President will broadcast to the Nation in due course.”
We have heard enough and the sudden sorrow and cries that engulfed my friend’s office was beyond measure. I have never seen anything like that and perhaps I may never see anything that equates to that spectacle. We cried uncontrollably. We were like babies. Nobody could console anyone. We were all in it together! Everybody felt the pain! We came together to share our grief.
As we were crying and sharing bits of news about what President Mills stood for, little did we know that similar sentimentalities were being shared all over the country. When we finally decided to leave the office to our various homes that was when I saw how Ghanaians loved President Mills.
The traffic was huge. Everybody wanted to go home. It seems the offices, market and other places have become scary spots. Perhaps everybody wanted to go home and grieve. Even those who normally sell on the streets were gone for that day.
I saw some people wiping their tears whilst driving. I wept all the way home. I wept for Ghana because we had lost a gem. All the radio and television stations suddenly changed their programs to explicate the goodness of President Mills. Ghana came together on that day. We saw nothing but the flag of unity.
Professor John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills who was born on July 21, 1944 and had celebrated his 68th birthday just 72 hours earlier with some selected orphanages in the country passed on to eternity at 2:15pm on that day, and became the first sitting President of Ghana to die in office. Ghanaians have never seen anything like that and that also pushed a heavy load of uneasiness on the whole country.
The outpouring of grief both in Ghana and by the International Community was very telling.
News of President Mills’ demise spread like bushfire with people discussing the blue event. Suddenly, messages of condolences started pouring in from all quarters. We heard messages of commiserations from the Christian Council, Catholic Bishops Conference, Ghana Bar Association and the National Chief Imam.
So many things happened on July 24, 2012. It was in the midst of lamentations when then Vice President, John Dramani Mahama was sworn-in by the Chief Justice, Theodora Georgina Wood at Parliament House, Accra in the evening under Article 66 of Ghana’s Constitution to serve the remaining term of late President Mills.
Many people have still not recovered from President Mills’ death. Suddenly the pains that many people went through are back on the burner. As we celebrate one year of his passing today, it becomes a time of reflection. Ghanaians need to expound on the good things President Mills stood for.
The humility of President Mills is very well-known across the borders of Ghana. Even those who hated him to the hilt could not fault him on his humility and simplicity. Those who saw President Mills sleeping in a small room with a leaking roof at the Osu Castle, the former seat of government, could not comprehend how he could do that as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces.
Ghanaians need to be humble and count their blessings. We always want to count our pennies other than our blessings, which is why most people are not satisfied with anything that is not money. And it is this attitude which is killing the country softly. We seem to have drawn the conclusion that money is everything and that the only way we can praise and count our blessings is when we have money in excess.
To quote the bible, what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? The late President Mills stood for inclusiveness, respect for other people, love for his country and forgiveness. These are the key ingredients that define his legacy.
No wonder the day President Mills died, Ghana stood still. Even those who did not like him were sad because they realized all too soon that they can no longer flog him. He’s gone! And as he smiles from heaven, may the Good Lord teach Ghanaians to count their days so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
God in His own infinite wisdom sweep people away in the sleep of death. We are indeed like the new grass of the morning. In the morning, we spring up new, but by evening we dry and wither. Let the peace of God therefore reign in our hearts!