Is it possible for a person of high moral fiber and solid personal accomplishments to exit high political office with their integrity intact and their work done?
The high-profile launch of the Memorial Heritage to consolidate the legacy of President John Evans Atta Mills clearly reignited deep convictions among those that knew him personally. It evoked patriotic sentiments among those who witnessed it. And hopefully, it inspired a younger generation to believe in the possibility of ethical and principled leadership. Overall, it sharply reminded me of Tsatsu Tsikata’s coinage of the phrase, ‘Mills’s charisma of integrity.’
I was first introduced to then candidate Mills by Dr. Christine Amoakoh-Nuama. Later, in February 2012, President Mills appointed me to serve on the foundational Interim Council of the University of Health & Allied Sciences (UHAS). In my mid-30s, I was highly honored to serve in the company of Prof. Kofi Anyidoho – Council Chair, and Togbi Tepre Hodo IV, Justice Agnes Dordzie, Dr. Yaw Adu-Gyamfi, Prof. Ernest Aryeetey and Vice Chancellor Prof. Fred Binka. Today, it is a source of pride to see UHAS stand tall as a proud academic citadel in service of the vision to become the pre-eminent health research educational institution dedicated to community service. In citing Prof. Mills’s accomplishments, UHAS cannot be forgotten.
On the campaign trail in 2008, President Mills pledged to “shock” Ghanaians with young appointees, to demonstrate his faith in the youth. He followed his words with deeds, appointing then 28-year-old Hon. Samuel Okudzeto-Ablakwah as a Deputy Minister of Education among many others.
Sadly, everything will come crashing on July 24, 2012, with his sudden passing in office. Ten years on, comrades, family, friends, and academics are rising to remember him through the establishment of an independent nonpartisan John Evans Atta Mills Memorial Heritage. Of a truth, this Memorial Heritage is not the first such attempt at preserving Mills’s legacy. It is about the fourth or so. It may also not be the last. As to which of these legacy organizations will thrive and attain preeminence, deeds and impact over time will be the best judge.
But on the night when the Memorial Heritage was launched at Legon, sponsors of the legacy project got everything right – quality of speeches, guests’ profiles, general attendance, Mills’s family involvement, logistics and programme coordination etc. Well, except one thing which I will come to in a moment.
All the speakers were most compelling. The three thematic speakers – Prof. Kofi Abotsi on Mills’s legacy as a legal scholar, Prof. Francis Dodoo on his legacy as a sportsman and Dr. Esther Ofei-Aboagye on Mills’s legacy as a politician and servant leader – were completely off the charts. Weaving unforgettable stories of their lives with Mills into life lessons learnt, they then skillfully elevated the discourse into implications for modern Ghana as a democratic state striving to do good by its citizens. Speakers managed to leave us with the unforgettable feeling that as individuals, as citizens, as politicians, we could all do so much more to put the country first before our personal interests.
For the first time, President Mahama publicly recounted his experiences on the day Mills passed. In the end, so powerful were the feelings he evoked, reminiscent of that sorrowful day, that he himself all but broke down in tears. “Prof dead? How. How can Prof. Mills die?” Prof. Francis Dodoo obviously set out to tell us a story about ten life lessons he had learnt from a life in sports with President Mills. He ended up telling us much more as he shared an even more compelling personal story about a lifetime of mentorship and faith and sportsmanship. What Prof. Kofi Abotsi and Dr. Esther Ofei-Aboagye lacked in a mentor-mentee relationship, they more than made up for in highly erudite speeches on significant scholarly pursuits as a tax expert and life in political leadership respectively. Prof. Mills got his PhD at the age of 27 and today, is widely acclaimed as the only Fulbright Scholar to be elected President of any country.
Frankly, I don’t recall the last time someone, anyone, used the power of questions, rhetorically posed, to such powerful and elegant effect. On this, Dr. Ofei-Aboagye was dynamite. Situating our current national context against Mills’s character, principles, and actions as President, including an attempted reform of the 1992 Constitution, she provoked us. “What will Prof Mills say?” Indeed, if her aim was to leave a memorable quotable quote, then she more than succeeded.
Just when I thought the temperature could get no higher, there came Akora Mr. Kwame Pianim, Mills’s senior in Achimota and friend. As only an elderly statesman who has seen it all and earned the right to speak his mind freely could do, Pianim totally ripped off the roof, calling for men and women of courage to pursue excellence while speaking truth to power. Politically Mills’s opponent, Pianim portrayed Mills as a selfless President, driven by nationalistic fervor, untainted by corruption, and totally inert to the poison of discriminating against well-deserving Ghanaians on account of partisan political coloration, real or perceived.
Clearly, this was pitched at a very high level. Indeed, a retake of the speeches will be worth it. The one blemish on the night was the huge disservice done to the gender agenda. Out of ten eminent Advisory Council members, only two were women – Prof. Agnes Attia Apusigah and Dr. Esther Ofei-Aboagye. This is an almost unforgivable failing that bears correcting at the earliest opportunity.
Is it possible for a person of high moral fiber and solid personal accomplishments to exit high political office with their integrity intact and their work done? Yes, from what I heard of the example of President John Evans Atta Mills.
Is the Council Chairman of the Centre for Social Justice, an Accra based centre-left think tank
24th February 2022