There are many ways to miss one’s daddy, especially so if he is your biggest inspiration who suddenly passed on to the world beyond. For young Samuel Kofi Atta Mills, the phone calls he no longer can place to his late father, Prof. John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills to seek his counsel on any issue; the birthday greetings from dad that will no longer bell the phone; and in fact the ‘little, little things’ he no longer can share with him are among the most he will miss.
For some strange reason he did not go to work on the Tuesday morning that the president died, and he had decided to go to Osu to get something for himself after a good morning chat with dad. Then the call came announcing the sad news. But when God calls you, what else can one do really?
“Such is life I guess”, Kofi Sam told Accra based Radio Gold 90.5 FM on Friday morning, when asked how he took his father’s demise.
Sharing his fondest memories of his late father for the first time on radio when he granted what was thought to be his first public interview to Radio Gold, Kofi Sam said not only was his dad his biggest inspiration, the late President J.E.A. Mills was also fond of him and told him how much he loved him.
Below are excerpts of the interview Kofi Sam, as he is affectionately called and who had his primary school education at the University Primary School in Cape Coast, granted Obuobia Darko-Opoku who hosted the programme.
What was he like, was he a very strict father? Was he one that would pull you in your place when you go wrong?
I wouldn’t say he was very strict but he was definitely a man of principle. I mean he wouldn’t have to tell you that this was wrong and stuff, I mean even by him just looking at you and the kind of person that he was, he kind of instil that value in you like naturally so you k now … what to do and what not to do. We got along very well and all those values and stuff make me who I am at the moment.
As you moved to the UK to continue your education you took one week off to come and live with him in the Castle while he was the president of Ghana, how was that period for you?
I hadn’t been to Ghana for a very long time and in 2011 I decided to come down because I wanted to come down and also learn a bit more about the country and stuff so I spoke to him, we had a very good talk about it and he said why not, actually he was literally imposing it on me to come down because I was two ways about it so kind of, persuaded me to come. So I came down, I started work here, I studied Construction Management so I worked in the construction industry, and yea I stayed in the Castle with him as a father and son.
Every morning we had devotion like from 6 to 7, and we had breakfast together, I mean we did everything together so until I went to work, it was just me and him. The weekends were really great, because, like we didn’t have devotions at the weekends but in the mornings we would talk, we would discuss my difficulties, I also asked him questions because I heard people talk about some of the things that happen in the country and I also wanted to learn more about Ghanaian politics and also like the country as a whole so I used to asked him questions that I found difficult to answer and also get to know about some of the societal norms and cultural values and stuff. We had a really good time and I really enjoyed my stay.
How did you feel as you stayed for a year went by your normal duties, listened to the radio, saw the newspaper headlines and all that, how did you feel, did you sometimes wished that he didn’t choose to be the president of this country?
Oh never that, I mean he wanted it and he pursued it and I was really happy for him because he inspired me for his choice. Fortunately for me a lot people didn’t actually know me because I hadn’t been out publicly or in the media so people could talk to me without even knowing who I was so it was easy for me to kind of manoeuvre around, I could take a taxi and all and I did take a taxi a few times because sometimes you really don’t want to be involved in a lot of things you know, so I just go around my own business, it was as a great experience. I had fun being anonymous and being who I am as well.
I want to know, on a normal day when you woke up with all these headlines that clearly weren’t very interesting, that you didn’t even want to see, sometimes you wish that that day never came, how do you feel about it?
I was young, well I am still young but I wouldn’t necessarily approach it the way he went about it. Sometimes I would be a bit furious and I be like why would you allow people to talk to you like that or why would allow people to insult you being who you are I’m sure you have some level of control and you could kind of put some measures into place that people will not talk in certain manner and that kind of stuff, but I was young, I thought young, he had the experience and he was a very intelligent person and he knew the best way in dealing with the people and also whoever wanted to criticise him whether it was negative or positive, he just knew how to deal with the situation. He had a lot of patience and he was very tolerant to a lot of things so just used this knowledge and experience to deal with them and I learnt a lot from that.
Let’s go back to your father as the flagbearer of the National Democratic Congress, he lost two elections, he took a decision to give it a try for the third time, how did you feel when he announced that decision to contest again for the third time?
It was something that I also learnt a lot from because he never gave up. There were times that I … we would talk and then I would say daddy are you going to continue to do it and you know sometimes too as a child you have peers and then they would give you a lot of pressure, oh so your dad is going to stand again and all that kind of stuff so it’s like, I was a bit concerned as he being my father, as a son I would be like oh are you seriously trying, I mean they rejected you twice are you really going again but he showed that, don’t give up go the extra mile you never know what’s ahead of you and I’m very sure that he had the vision because as the person that he was and as a man of God he always sought God’s opinion first so if God said to him that go the extra mile and other people were doubting him, like myself, doubting the possibilities then definitely, whatever his decision was I felt like he knows what he is doing so definitely I supported him.
I know that during the campaign you came down, you went on some of his campaign trips with him, how did you feel when he went from house to house talking to people, getting to people’s homes, kiosks and all that?
It was crazy, it was a very big highlife for me. I had never experienced something like that especially like African politics-wise. I remember in 2008 I came down for a week and then went to Cape Coast and some parts of the Central Region and we went to like, the very remote areas you know, you driving in like bushy or muddy areas and there will be like a little village somewhere and he went to that extent and the way the people were just jellying up to him and just like, you know, appreciating his presence and, it’s like they had never seen anyone of his calibre come to that area and stuff so he stood very low to reach the grassroots. It was very interesting because I had never seen anything like that before, I was really happy about it. I hadn’t really gone to those areas in Cape Coast before. Obviously my dad comes from there and nit was really good for me to see that part of Ghana…, it was really good and I really enjoyed it.
He eventually won the elections, did it change your life in anyway, was it a turning point for you so far as your life is concerned?
Of course it did, [he laughs] it had to.
How did you receive the news?
I actually followed it for the first, I followed it and I think I was old enough to understand bits and pieces so I actually followed it online and we were communicating as well… I remember they did a round-off elections as well so I followed it, I was actually in the UK when the whole thing was happening and like the first round, he was just a bit behind, they went for a second elections and he came up on top and won the elections and I was overwhelmed of cause. You know at the first round point I thought men, this is it, you always get to this point and this is it so I mean…
Did you give up at that time?
Yes, one had doubts. I did have doubts. I gave up at that time. But you know God being so good, the people chose him and he won the elections. I was very happy about it. I remember I went to see him and I woke up the following morning and I was the son of the President.
Did you change your lifestyle? Did you do things differently?
I tried not to do things very differently but have a normal life because I didn’t want to change too much for people to talk about it. I didn’t want people to have a negative perception so I received a lot of advice from him as to how to carry myself.
So how was your first phone call to him when he became President? How did that conversation go?
Hello Mr President, how are you today? He told me to just call him daddy, he was still my father. I said yes but I have to now share you with the whole of Ghana. I was really excited because it was like a long battle and he won and could finally put his feet up and relax and think about what to do.
I went back to school to continue my education. I came back during the inauguration. They swore him in, I spent the night with him and we spoke a lot. He shared some of his experiences with me and I had to go back but even when I left we kept in touch.
We spoke about certain things, I kept up with the news about Ghana. When I came across things I didn’t really understand I called him and said Daddy what’s up? He also kept in touch with me education wise and did whatever he ought to do to support my education.
Were you a problem child?
I wouldn’t like to think so. I don’t think I was.
Did you sometimes give him problems?
I mean I was his son. There were times you would want to go out and do some things but because of his calibre you can’t really go out and sometimes you have to be rebellious. I wasn’t a problem child but I had my moments.
Who was the Professor Mills you knew, I will call him Professor Mills you will call him Daddy, how would you describe him?
He was for me my biggest inspiration. I’ve met a lot of inspirational people. You know some people have mentors and that kind of stuff but for me, my dad was my biggest inspiration. He had achieved a lot that I couldn’t think about, I mean people used to always say to me that you need to be greater than your father, I mean every child is supposed to do much more than their parents ever did and I always used to ask them how can I be bigger than the president, he has acquired the highest seat of the land I mean how do you go beyond that, but you know it’s not about going beyond that power but how do you then obviously use what he’s teaching you to build upon your life and become who you want to become. So he was my biggest inspiration and I still learn a lot from him. I find myself listening to some of his speeches on you tube…
Do you have political ambitions?
Well for me at the moment no, I don’t, a lot of people associate me with politics because of my father but for now I think, I mean we are both different people, yes he’s my dad but I think in the future and God reveals to me and says this is what I want you to do then, I mean you don’t really have much to do about it but at the moment I just want to focus on my career path and just further my education to the best I can get to and just you know see what God has in store for me?
Let’s talk about his last days. I know it is going to be a difficult one but we need to get through this. Did you know he wasn’t doing too well?
Yes, I can’t be ignorant about that. The last few months, we used to wake up very early in the morning and take a walk through the castle drive and Independence Square. I really enjoyed that. We met the neighbours and he sometimes had conversations with them and it was really good. It showed that he was a very simple man.
A few weeks before he passed away, he wasn’t feeling too well so as a normal person you would want to take some time out to relax and rest.
I remember on his birthday, I saw him in the morning with a very good friend of his and even on that day someone had written a horrible article about me and my dad. I was really fuming. I went upstairs and I was like daddy, how can someone write such a story on this day and he explained to me, let them say whatever they want to say, we know the truth.
He sat me down and we had a good talk and he told me how much he appreciated me coming down (from London) when he asked me to. He told me how much he loved me as a son. I could never have taught that Tuesday would ever come.
On Sunday we went to church but he didn’t actually come. A lot of the Ministers were there.
On Tuesday morning I woke up very early in the morning because I thought we’d go for the walk. I went upstairs and he said he was going to relax for the day and that the doctors are going to come around.
For some strange reasons I didn’t go to work that day even though I was supposed to be at work. I didn’t even call my boss and I chose to stay at home. I just walked around the castle and decided to go to Osu to go get some food to eat.
When I was leaving, I thought he was going to travel because I saw they were getting the convoy ready.
When I was in Osu, I received a phone call from a close person to him and he said he was gone. Initially I thought he was gone to Nigeria and then they broke down the news to me. I didn’t even know how to take it.
I said hold on, I spoke to this man this morning and we had a conversation and all that. But hey, if God calls you, it doesn’t matter what your health situation is like, you can be the strongest person or weakest person on earth, such is life I guess.
What was your reaction?
It was a difficult and tragic news and it was hard to take. My dad was my best friend especially when I was here. He talked to me a lot about himself and his school, Achimota.
In the evenings we sat in his room and he spoke to me about his time growing up in the farm. So for me, thinking about going to miss all these, the Saturday and Sunday mornings and evenings.
How did you move from your location and where did you head towards?
I went home and locked myself up in my room. I didn’t know whether to cry or get angry or sleep and wake up pretending it was a dream, I didn’t know what to do.
Did you think that he had sacrificed his life for this country?
Definitely. I mean, we have emotions but he did take a lot in. A lot of people could not have had the patience to take in what he did. He sacrificed a lot for this country. You have to be in his shoes to understand. So he wanted it and he got it and he dealt with it.
Do you think he did not deserve the way he was treated by his opponents and sometimes even within his own political party?
For me I’ll say he didn’t deserve it. He is my dad and I love him so much. He knew what he was getting himself into and he went for it. So he knew how to deal with it and to my knowledge he dealt with it the best way.
Do you sometimes feel he could have reacted to things differently than he did?
Yes I would wish he handled it differently.
Would it have made any difference?
He knew best so he knew where the impact of his actions would have ended him, so he did the right thing in my opinion.
Let’s talk about the funeral
I think the funeral went too well, I was really happy with what the planning committee did. It is the biggest thing I have seen in this country. Especially I remember going to Cape Coast and seeing drivers with red bands on their cars, people he didn’t even know and the way the political parties came together peacefully. I was really happy about it. I could not have done a such a thing on my own.
Do you think Ghanaians should have celebrated him while he was alive than when he died?
Yes, but you know, he hadn’t finished with what he was going to do. So there was always going to be the positive and the negative side. There was always going to be that division. Now that he has completed, I see as he has completed what he wanted to do, it is right for people to look back and say: ok, this is what President Mills started and this is what he has done. Does he deserve to be celebrated or not? And for me, Ghanaians chose to celebrate him.
After his death?
Well, yes. I mean, they looked back to see what he had done and he did a lot for the country.
Do you think that if they had shown him the kind of love they did when he died he would have lived longer?
I think death is inevitable, to be honest. I don’t think it would have made any much more of a difference. If God says it is your time, it is your time. I don’t think human beings behaviour and perception would change anything.
Do you sometimes get jealous? Most of us called him daddy also. He had a lot of sons and daughters. He was loved by many. Did you have to compete with other people?
Of course not! I’m the only one that bears the last name (laughing). No. of course, he was the father of the whole country and one has to understand that there were people called him daddy because he was a father. They chose him to lead. He was a father for not just me but a lot of people. I’m really sure he inspired a lot of the young people and also the older ones. Everyone had the complete right to call him daddy or dad. Because to have that title upon you, it shows the kind of significance you have in other peoples’ lives.
One year on after the funeral, I know that you went back to the UK, how has life been?
It’s been ok. At the end of the day one has to swallow the bitter pill. So you just have to get on with life. I mean, it’s more or less a two way road; whether you want to get on with life and just move on and try to pick up the attributes that he left behind and use it to build your own legacy or upon his legacy or you can choose to just stay off the road and do whatever you like.
I just went back to bury my head in the books and just get things off my mind, pursue my career path and move on with life and see what God has planned for me.
How has help been like? Have people come to your aid? Who is taking care of you and what is your relationship like with those people?
My dad had a few genuine friends and obviously colleagues. Some of them have reached out to me. Some of them have offered very good advice to me. I love those that gave me the harsh reality check. That was really good because it’s better to tell me as it is than to beat about the bush. They’ve been really good to me and I really appreciate some of the things that most of his colleagues and good friends have done for me. I really appreciate it.
Apart from moving back and trying to get your life together, do you sometimes have memories of him? Have you been able to put a closure to that memory?
Somehow, sometimes, it’s quite difficult. You know, it’s just the little things like going through your phone to call someone and you go pass dad and the fact that you know you can’t just dial that number anymore. Or like my birthday will come pass and it’s like… Normally, I use to put my phone on silent but sometimes I know dad is going to call so I put my phone on loud so I don’t miss that call, you know… just knowing that that phone call will never come again and like… just the little things is what kind of hit you and you know…
Sometimes when I have difficult decisions to make, I can easily call him and I’m like: dad this is what happened and this is what I what want to do, what do you think? And you can’t do that anymore. I mean other people will render that service to you but it’s almost not the same.
Has it changed your way of doing things?
I think it has led to a new level of maturity. One has to realize that, you know… this is it. You have to make the best of it so you have to channel yourself in such a way that you don’t do things very differently. And what my dad stood for I kind of have to emulate that. You have to show your father in you, so, I mean… it’s definitely been a new level of maturity for me. I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve seen things and it’s made me a better person, I think.
Have you met his successor? What’s your relationship like with him?
His Excellency President Mahama, he’s been a father to me. I remember meeting him after my dad passed away, he took me in as a son. He’s ever been amazing. I met the current first lady, Mrs Mahama… she’s told me what my dad meant to her. She didn’t even say you’re my son. She’s just like: I’m your sister.
We’ve had that relationship and if I have any difficulties I can text her and she just text’s me back. She was one of the people that were on my back that I have to go back to school and go and study. She motivated me a lot. The president has been there for me. He’s been a very good father to me. The Vice President has been a very good uncle and an adviser. I remember him advising me on some decisions I wanted to take. They’ve been really good to me and I really appreciate it.
Are you married?
I’m not married. I think I’m a bit too young to get married at the moment. I actually heard last year that I was married with children. I was quite surprised. It was quite alien to me.
What are your final words?
I want to take this opportunity to thank the President and the Vice President and the some of the important people in my father’s party. Importantly I want to thank the people of Ghana for the support they rendered the family, through the funeral, everything that they’ve done, the messages, the advice, I’m really appreciative. I’m overwhelmed by the responses. There’s a lot for me to learn and I’m very sure I won’t let anyone down. Thank you very much and I love you all.