President J.A. Mills and his legacy of ethical leadership

BY: The Mirror

“Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time”
— Henry Waddsworth Longfellow.

One of the great legacies President Atta Mills bequeathed to Ghana and the world is his outstanding example of “ethical leadership.” President Atta Mills was a principled, godly, servant leader. 

His life was marked with humility, peace, genuine love and care, integrity and persevering faith, he was not a perfect man, no; but he certainly was a godly man. He practised ethical leadership.

Dr Kayode Fayemi, former Governor of Ekiti State, Nigeria, gave the Third Annual Atta Mills Memorial Lecture on “Intellectuals in Politics and Governance: Lessons and Legacy of Professor John Evans Atta Mills”.

His remarks on the legacy of President Atta Mills included the following:

…he practised the politics of civility and was typically courteous to colleagues and rivals alike. He eschewed the intemperate jousting, discourtesy and ad hominem attacks that so many politicians favour these days and preferred to dwell on issues rather than personalities.

Mills’ calm temperament, maturity and emotional intelligence introduced a radically different dynamic into the presidency.

…he ran a remarkably successful government but dwelt more on allowing the work to speak for him.

Professor Mills was an optimist by nature and a man of deep faith.

As a man of faith, Mills also believed in the ultimate triumph of the right and just over every evil.

Professor Mills was calm and dignified but he was also a man of iron-clad convictions and proved to be dogged and persistent in the pursuit of his goals.
Professor Mills could be self-effacing and was totally unaffected by the trappings of high office.

Once asked to describe his political style, he said: “[I want to be seen as] someone who is trustful, humble, caring, hands-on and down to earth. I want to be seen as one of the people… I will not be in a 40-car convoy. I will be somebody simple, who follows the rules, who will not be vindictive, and somebody who eschews arrogance and who would be a unifier.”

Dr Fayemi, went ahead to state the following in the same lecture “…it is my profound conviction that Africa requires - today more than ever - enlightened, thoughtful politicians with character and integrity who are bold and broad-minded enough to consider things which lie beyond the scope of their immediate influence and benefit.
We need politicians willing and able to rise above their own power interests, or the particular interests of their parties or states, and act in accord with the fundamental interest of today’s humanity.”

He concluded his lecture with the following eulogy:

“Right to the end, ‘the Prof’, stayed true to himself and departed this world as he had lived in it. Like Saint Francis of Assisi, he displayed love in hateful circumstances; faith where there was doubt, hope in times of despair; light in darkness and joy in sadness.

“He was indeed an instrument of peace – the great Asomdweehenee, the King of peace. Public intellectual par excellence, advocate, guardian, leviathan, mentor, scholar teacher, servant-leader, incorruptible exemplar; a great son of Africa.

“Remembering John Atta Mills is not an exercise in nostalgia, it is an opportunity to bear witness to decency and decorum and to hold up an example of the sort of leadership that Africa needs and which younger African politicians should emulate.

“His passage imposes on us a duty of remembering and reflection upon his legacy. We must not forget him. We will not forget him.”

Mr Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, MP for North Tongu, paid tribute in Parliament to the memory of the late President.

His tribute included the following:

“It is my considered view that perhaps his most enduring legacy would be his exceptional style of tolerance, modesty, sincerity, humility, decency, sacrifice and non-vindictiveness by which he plies his trade of politics.

“He was a true statesman and a man who had deep respect for the people he served no matter their views or persuasions. “He may go down in history as the most vilified and taunted President, both from within and without his own political party and yet he was the one to smile to all, to embrace all, to love all and to bear grudge towards none.

“He was a true father for all who imbibed in us a true sense of patriotism. We remember him for his remarkable punctuality and sense of urgency. We will forever miss his presence; his candour; his compassion; and his great sense of humour.”

Earlier this week on July 21, President Atta Mills’ birthday, I summarised some of the spiritual aspects of his life with the following seven spiritual qualities he had:
• We testify of him as a man radically transformed by the power of the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

• I experienced him as a missionary President. He wanted his colleague Presidents outside Ghana and his team of ministers and presidential staffers to know the reason for his being - the power of the gospel and his relationship with the Lord Jesus.

• I observed President Atta Mills as a humble man; a godly man. Some describe humility as strength and power under control.

• I saw President Atta Mills acknowledge the supremacy and sovereignty of the Lord Jesus in all matters of both individuals and nations.
To him, the Lord Jesus was “tumi wura” (Almighty) and the source and end of all wisdom.

He was persuaded that he ascended the throne of president (presidency) of the Republic of Ghana primarily through the nod and sovereign will of Jesus. Jesus made him President, period!!

• I knew President Atta Mills as a man of faith. He was like, “I am trusting Thee Lord Jesus”… Trusting God for full breakthrough and victory over the challenges that confronted him.

• We saw President Atta Mills as a great patriot.

The Council of State powerfully observed:

“As President, Professor Mills gave his all for his nation through selflessness and dedicated leadership, his love for Ghana and passionate advocacy for peace and unity both at home and abroad raised the stature of Ghana to a high pedestal in the international community.

“He has indeed left an indelible mark in the political history of Ghana and his name will be written in gold in the book of that history as one of Ghana’s finest Presidents.”
• We all knew President Atta Mills as Asomdwehene. He was never arrogant and never vindictive. He had peace with God. He had peace within.
He was an instrument of peace in Ghana and beyond.

President John Dramani Mahama said of his predecessor “he was an empathetic, decent, incorruptible caring, intelligent selfless, thoughtful and God-loving leader who cared deeply about creating a better Ghana for all”.

Dr (Mrs) Ernestina Naadu Mills summed it all up crisply, “Fiifi, you were a blessing to me, Ghana, Africa and the world”.

(The author is a Leadership Development and Cross-cultural Ministries Consultant, an International, conference speaker and formerly General Director / CEO of Scripture Union Ghana. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)