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Atta Mills: ‘Asomdwehene’ was more than a merited title

BY: Magnus Naabe RexDanquah, the Ghanaian

Professor John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills’ humility and care for humanity perceived as his weakest traits are but what we need after Elections 2024 for Our Nation, Ghana.

THE University of Cape Coast (UCC) hosted a Memorial Lecture at its New Examination Centre to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the passing of the late Prof. John Evans Atta Mills, the third President of the Fourth Republic of Ghana.

The Lecture was organized by the J. E. A. Mills Memorial Heritage for the Central and Western Regions of Ghana on the theme: “The Man Atta Mills – Ten Years On” and addressed by Prof. Kwesi Aning of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping & Training Centre (KAIPTC), Accra to celebrate his life during his sojourn here on earth.

The event and story brought some nostalgia and remembrance of some shared events, sense of awe whilst he lived, respect, a big brother aura and observations, which I have harboured since his death and burial: moments, which to me, should define ‘THE MAN JOHN EVANS ATTA MILLS’ to the ordinary Ghanaian, painting the obvious characterisations, which many a time are taken for granted or go unappreciated.

I got to know the ‘Man’ severally, then Dr. J. E. A. Mills in the eighties, when I had been transferred to Accra to work at the Accra Sports Stadium. He was then with the Internal Revenue Department as a Commissioner of Tax; University of Ghana as a Lecturer and also at the then National Sports Council as the Chairman of the Board of Directors. He was also the Chairman of the Ghana Universities Sports Association (GUSA) and an ardent hockey player with the Veterans Hockey Club.

I also knew him quite closer as an ardent supporter of the ‘PHOBIA BOYS’ Accra Hearts of Oak Sporting Club, and later as one of the Directors appointed at a Congress organised at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), which I had the honour of organising for and on behalf of the Club’s Chief Patron, Oyeeman Nana Wereko Ampem II, Gyaasehene of Amanokrom and known in private life as Emmanuel Noi Omaboe.

I was a member of a 3-member National Steering Committee (IMC) of Accra Hearts of Oak Sporting Club in 1989 - 1990, with late Paul Kunke, a General Manager of the S. D. Karam & Company, a textile marketing company responsible for Operations, and Goody Van Lare, my senior at Mfantsipim (MOBA 1971), who was in charge of the Finances, whilst I was charged with Special Duties, including the organisation and hosting of a National Congress at GIMPA in 1989, as well as oversight of the registration of Chapters through the mobilisation of supporters nationwide.

The Congress was also to appoint five (5) non-elective Directors and the following were nominated, including Messrs. Amoako Mensah, formerly of the Bank of Ghana; Commodore Mensah, former PNDC Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, credited with the first Pork Show at the Efua Sutherland Park to promote its increased consumption; Ato Ahwoi and Dr. J. E. A. Mills, with the last remaining position without a nomination, I called Oyeeman Nana Wereko Ampem, who was then playing golf some distance away at the Achimota Golf Course, informing him of my predicament and to which he just said, “I nominate you, Rex as the fifth Director, especially as you have been in charge and organising the whole exercise”.

Startled, I confessed to him that I might be everything he said but “Nana, I don’t qualify to serve on the same Board or any Committee with Dr. John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills, even if I could be comfortable with the rest”. In my youthful age, I dreaded that and just couldn’t imagine or fathom the ‘impudence’ of it.

The rest of the Directors, including one more nominated plus elected were Paul Kunke, Asiedu, Affram, Bediako, Nettey, Attoh, Adjei, Lamptey of then Standard Chartered Bank and Madam Rosemary Ekwam.

That was how highly I held him in awe at the age, a father-figure that I couldn’t see myself serving on the same Board with, no matter the depth and or diversity of my skills, knowledge or talents.

Indeed, Prof. J. E. A. Mills was everything I wanted to be at that age: his gentle demeanor, humility, deep thought, steadfastness with the truth in all forms, standing up to what is or was right irrespective and God-fearing nature, ready to defend even his enemies, known to him or not because he recognised that we are a much better people as a nation, no matter our differences; and all these attributes or characteristics I learnt or observed, both from a distance and personal interactions.

If you have ever watched how obstinate I can be with regard to the truth in our body-politic and national life, particularly sports, then I observed and became it from one, whose sense of right is more read in books than lived.

I remember our days together at the National Sports Council, where he was the Board Chairman and I was the National Stadia Manager, he had given me an assignment to execute, compiling a National Assets Register of everything at all the ten (10) Reginal Sports Councils, including selected district offices and for lack of adequate logistics as well as funds to undertake the exercise, I had not completed the exercise ahead of Senior Staff Evaluations by the Board.

When it got to my turn, he just asked if I had finished the assignment, he did not even look at my Appraisal Sheet; and when I shook my head, he just pronounced the ruling as this: “Rex, you of all people should understand that because of the relationship between us, I would be harsher with you. My ruling is, you will have your promotion when you complete the exercise and submit to the Chief Administrative Officer, who in turn is directed to issue the letter forthwith without recourse to him or his office.” I was not hurt because I recognised that I shouldn’t take his affection for me for granted but to strive for higher standards always so that I am not seen as taking advantage of the relationship, whilst living up to, not his standards but high calling of my potentialities.

As a typical Accra Hearts of Oak SC supporter from my youthful days, from as far back as my days at Mfantsipim School to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in the seventies, I recall the late Ohene Djan, the first Director of Sports at the then Central Organization of Sports (COS) in later years become an advisor to my friend, Simms K. Mensah, the then flamboyant Chairman of Kumasi Asante Kotoko Sporting Club. I had also developed a close relationship with the Late Tommy Thompson, a contemporary Chairman of Accra Hearts of Oak SC and from this, I saw the late Ohene Djan, without proper appreciation and contextualisation of his exploits and contributions to the growth and development of Ghana Sports, as perceived ‘Against’.

After reading extensively on Ohene Djan’s contributions after his death on 26th March, 1987, I realised he deserved more than he had been accorded by Ghanaians and therefore sought the permission of his Nsawam family to institute the Annual Ohene Djan Memorial Lectures with the inaugural scheduled for the year 1989.

After contextualising the concept, I was left with the choice of the appropriate person to deliver the first Lectures, with the proper credentials, both in academia and sports, to ensure a befitting tribute to the late Ohene Djan. I approached Prof. George Benneh of the University of Ghana and a family friend, with the intention of getting him to accept and deliver the debut lecture on “The Man Ohene Djan”.

Prof. Benneh, politely rejected the invitation to be the Speaker and rather offered to chair the event, pointing in the direction of the late Prof. John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills, who incidentally was not only the NSC Board Chairman but a champion athlete in his days at Achimota School and a hockey star in his own right. This was during the tenure of Hon. Kwame Saarah Mensah, former PNDC Secretary for Youth and Sports and my senior at the Department of Land Economy and Estate Management, KNUST, Kumasi.

What a right choice it turned out to be, indeed.

Living up to his credentials as one of the youngest Professors of Law at the University of Ghana, the late J. E. A. Mills took the lecture as a ‘World Cup’ with the depth of research, including the sporting genre of Ghana’s President of the First Republic of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, a talented athlete, a champion runner during his school days at Achimota School and proper plans executed by Ohene Djan with absolute support of his President.

I will never forget how proud I felt at the Inaugural Ohene Djan Lectures in 1989 at the British Council Hall, where Prof. George Benneh, himself also delivered another edition of the same lectures from a different perspective – Schools and Colleges Sports as a Tool for Building a Nation.

The late Prof. J. E. A. Mills lived and technically ‘ate’ Hockey, as we would say in ‘Sekondi Fanti’.

Whilst I was an employee of the National Sports Council, I started a sports weekly ‘SPORTS COIN’ as the editor, whilst I was also the HOST of the weekly TV sports magazine programme, ‘SPORTS DIGEST’ on GBC-TV. I had also started a PR & Sports Marketing agency, REX-IMAGE Associates, counting amongst my clientele Bamson Company Limited and Ghamot Company, accredited agents and distributors of Toyota vehicles in the country.

The triangle relationship of Prof. Mills, Ato Ampiah, then Managing Director of Ghamot Company and my agency bore a fruit of the inauguration as well as the sponsorship of the ANNUAL TOYOTA HOCKEY LEAGUE, managed by my agency and sponsored by Ghamot Company. This witnessed the refurbishments as well as branding of the Theodosia Okoh and 37 Hockey Pitches for the league.

This feat brought the relationship of Prof. J. E. A. Mills and myself closer still and saw him accept an invitation as the SPECIAL GUEST OF HONOUR at the opening of a new Toyota Showroom on the Graphic Road, where the ‘TOYOTA’S MOST EXCITING FOOTBALLER AWARD’ was presented to the maestro Abedi Ayew Pele, in another event organised and managed by my agency.

The relationship blossomed over the years and in 2009, Ghana was awarded the rights to host and organize the AfHF Hockey Africa Cup of Nations Championship (Ghana 2009) under the theme: LET’S BEGIN TO DREAM AGAIN’ and which included the refurbishment of the National Hockey Stadium.

Prof. J. E. A, Mills had been elected the third President of the Fourth Republic of Ghana and had commissioned the refurbished National Hockey Stadium on 6th July, 2009.

Whilst we were preparing to host all the nations who had qualified to participate in the 2009 Hockey Championship, we got wind of the fact that the 44th President of the United States of America, Barrack Hussein Obama II, the first African – American President and his wife, Michelle would be visiting Ghana around the same time of the continental event.

As if possessed, I rushed off to senior Oko Nikoi Dzane, the Vice Chairman of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) for the African Hockey Championship 2009 and asked, “Why don’t we ask the ‘Old Man’ (the late President J. E. A. Mills) the possibility of getting President Obama to perform the kick-off for the championship, especially as it would give the event the greatest push globally?”

The Opening Ceremony of the Hockey Championship was coinciding with their planned drive to Cape Coast. However, we were informed that the visit had been planned on the quiet for a while now for months and that possibly if we had made the request earlier during the planning stages it could have been considered, though long shot.

You see, such was the person, late Prof. J. E. A. Mills, very open to all sorts of ideas for the betterment of his nation.

There are quite intimate moments, which we shared, some through his campaign offices at Kuku Hill, Accra during the 2008 elections, which made his Campaign Assistants call me later to ask, “how did you know this?” and we laughed over the issues for the answers I advanced.

One of those Sundays that he used to visit various churches, he came to Royalhouse Chapel (Ahenfie) to worship and I found myself seated right behind him, when salutations with introductions were made and shared, he realised that I was seated right behind him so he got up as I did and shook my hand, asked me how I was and sat down: ‘WHAT A HUMBLE PRESIDENT!”, was all I could say to myself with this great lesson in ‘Humility 101’ learnt.

I remember, one of those days before the Opening Ceremony for the 2009 African Hockey Championship, when it became clear that he couldn’t accept to be present because of President Obama’s presence in Ghana, the LOC delegation had to go to the Osu Castle to see him and brief him on preparations thus far.

When he came in and scanned the room as to who constituted the delegation, he intimated that he was happy the occasion had forced someone who had dodged him since his elections to be present, as the person was obviously determined to keep away from him and his office. When he walked over to welcome and shake our hands, he asked when he got to me, “Why have you stayed away from me after the support you had extended to my election?” I smiled as always, and he walked on to the next and finally, when it was time to go, he asked me to find time and visit sometimes.

Unfortunately, that was not to be, as we lost him to death.

Yes, I miss him for who he was, a gentle heart, a compassionate soul, a nationalist to a fault, an unrepentant patriot, a humane Ghanaian, a true humanist and a through and through ‘PHOBIAN’.

His enemies had always preyed on his humility even in the highest office of the land; his care for humanity looked upon by his enemies as his weakest traits will always paint him as a different person, as these showcase the strength of his character and love for the ordinary Ghanaian.

Guess he never bargained for the High Office of the land but lived it as if he was born to be a President of this nation and sincerely, his humanness is definitely what this nation, Ghana needs after the 2024 National Elections.

We are currently too divided and most fractious as a nation, as if the next General Elections in 2024 will be our very last, seeing what the last six years have been, the depth of acrimony, depth of divisiveness, the quest to balance scores, the deaths associated with the last 2020 elections without the desire for inquests to punish the crimes, the seeming violence looming ahead of us towards coming elections; the deafening silences of our supposed ‘men of conscience’; the renewed ‘tribalisation’ of our people after 65 years of political independence into nationhood – “WHAT WOULD PROF. J. E. A. MILLS HAVE SAID AND DONE?” if he was still alive to be the next President of the Republic after the exit of current President?

I recall one serious infraction that characterised the 2004 General Election Results, when a 3-man New Patriotic Party (NPP) stalwarts, made up of late Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, Hon. Kwamena Bartels (my senior MOBA) and Peter Mac Manu declared their party the winners and there were agitations by some elements of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), believing their Party had rather won the elections; and especially more when the then Electoral Commissioner had delayed unduly to announce the winners.

What was just needed to plug this nation into flames and chaos was the objecting voice of late Prof. J. E. A. Mills; and here he showed his true nature, when he rejected the cry by insisting, “I don’t need the loss of the blood of even one Ghanaian to make me a President” – that was not the voice of a usurper or a pretender but true ‘Patriot’ in the mould of the Founder of our Nation, the Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of blessed memory and his avowed mentor.

‘WHAT WOULD PROF. J. E. A. MILLS HAVE SAID AND DONE?’ – if the people close to him or his relatives or blood brothers were perceived as the looters of state resources meant for the development of all, especially the vulnerable, the deprived, the orphans, the less endowed academically, the seeming dismantling of the well-intended and much-touted FREE SHS policy through not-well thought-out delivery of the feeding aspect, especially if he was to succeed the current President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo; knowing how much he desired equal opportunities for all, even for his political opponents, ever-forgiving the worst, most abusive insults from his worst enemies, including those who sat at his feet to be tutored into the law profession?

He lived his Christian faith without shame and in the true spirit always opting to rather forgive as Jesus did when He said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing”.

Prof. Mills was not a ‘pretender’ as he lived his full life for his Maker in the full knowledge that there is more to life and living than all the lootings of state resources meant for all, including generations yet unborn by few ‘family and friends’.

I remember when he made his 2010 call that one week be set aside in a year to pray for the nation; and this call was accepted by the religious leadership of the nation. The leadership of the various Church Councils then designated 6th to 13th March, 2011 as a NATIONAL WEEK OF PRAYER, FASTING & THANKSGIVING with Isaiah 60: 1-22 as the Theme Scripture.

The ‘Theme Scripture’ was intended to launch the nation into a new dispensation with a call for the whole nation to ‘ARISE’ (from spiritual depression to a new life), shine (be radiant with the glory and brilliance of the Lord); for your light has come, and the glory and brilliance of the LORD has arisen upon you; believing when we reach that state nations will come to Ghana’s light, and Kings and other Presidents will also come to the brightness of Ghana’s rising.

For me, Professor John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills, was like King David in the Holy Bible, an unrepentant Christian, not to shy away from his open, unashamed nor undivided commitment to things of his Maker, prepared even to the point of abuse, insults, ridicule, humiliation and laughter lie prostrate to glorify the Lord because he owed HIM his everything and all, even the Presidency. Remember his appearance and worship at the late Temitope Balogun Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) and all the name-callings?

Again, for me and to some of his aides at the Kuku Hill Offices, who knew how intimately, we were on the blind side of many, especially my two Hearts of Oak FC supporters, you would be surprised to know, I still feel his admonishing hands on me always, that: “Rex, just let everything go because they are not worth the blunt of any anger!”

I guess at this juncture, I can share this personal story.

During the hugely successful CAN 2008 Extravaganza as the architect, someone I regard still as a friend and a brother of the NDC political persuasion, expressed an interest to supply the buses we required for the sixteen (16) teams participating in the fiesta as well as for the Secretariat.

Perceiving the possibility of a witch-hunt I could see ahead of me and especially where there was another interest from the ruling government then, I swerved both interests by renting buses from the Ghana @ 50 Secretariat and with the assistance of Hon. Anthony Akoto Osei, then Minister of State at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, paid them through a transfer from an official CAN 2008 Account with the Ministry into their account also with the MOFEP.

In the weeks thereafter, the drivers of the Ghana @ 50 vehicles raided our offices that they had not been paid because they are informed the CAN 2008 Secretariat had not paid them for the hiring of their buses; and worse they got the story published in the Daily Guide publication of the day toasting me. This was the least of my burdens because the revelation of the payment by a copy of the Transfer Notification silenced them.

However, in the early days of Prof. Mills’ administration after his swearing-in, I got a call from my friend, Elvis Aryeh, former Editor of the Daily Graphic and later of the Press Bureau at the Osu Castle, saying the CAN 2008 Secretariat had purchased some buses during the Tournament and they could not trace the payment. I told him that we never purchased any buses but rather rented them from the Ghana @ 50 Secretariat and also paid fully for their uses.

He asked whether I was sure and I replied that I had every record. I asked him where he was and he said, Osu Castle and then I added, I could bring him copies of the transfer and every documentation within fifteen minutes. Remember, the CAN 2008 Secretariat was situated at Ringway Estates, Osu.

I was there in lesser time and gave him the documents; he opened his mouth in awe and asked, “How could I think that way to protect myself?” I just told him that they were out of lessons I learnt dealing with the then new President, Prof. J. E. A. Mills on public life and how at each stage of our relationship, he never ceased to be the lecturer, he was born to be with the Presidency only a just reward for the thousands of people / students, whose lives he had impacted positively throughout his life.

Unfortunately, he never had the opportunity to see to the coronation of the next ‘Asomdwehene’ in 2025 before his death, ten years after or is it thirteen (13) years after but then who on earth could have foreseen such great loss for this nation, Ghana?

Truth be told, it is his kind and style of leadership and Presidency – FATHER OF ALL & FOR ALL, IRRESPECTIVE, that our nation, Ghana needs from 2025 onwards: this is not a prophesy but a caution from one, who will always stand afar, watching the lives of the great and mighty, the simple and unassuming of our leaders unfold, as they live their lives leading us into the future.


The writer, Magnus Naabe RexDanquah, the Ghanaian – is a Land Economist & Appraiser, Events Architect & Planner, SportBusiness Consultant, Social Commentator and an Author.