1 August 2012

Nigeria: John Atta Mills, 1944-2012 - Farewell, Black Star


The passage to eternal glory of Ghana's president John Atta Mills from the infamous "cardiac arrest" may best be described as shocking. A state of grief and perplexity enveloped the country so much that even opposition elements decided to mark a period of national mourning by suspending electioneering for this December's elections.

Nobody expected that throat cancer would get him; many times, he had been treated in South Africa and, lately, the United States. He gave up the ghost, two days after his 68th birthday, in a military hospital in the capital city of Accra. His death has certainly changed the political permutations of pundits for the country's next presidential election.

Mills, a law professor, was one of the two vice-presidents to former President Jerry Rawlings in the National Democratic Congress (NDC) government before he was presented as presidential candidate in 2000 and 2004. Mills was defeated by the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) candidate John Kufour in both elections.

He, however, won in his third attempt in 2008 with a slim margin. The election spilled into January of 2009 with reruns in some parts of Ghana. Mills claimed Prophet TB Joshua of Nigeria had told him that he would win the election at the third contest.

But beyond the grains are his giant strides and monumental contributions to state welfare, public discourse and discipline as well as economic resurgence in the country once known as Gold Coast. Under him, Ghana struck oil, the black gold, in commercial quantity.

Ghana, as an oil producer from the Jubilee field discovered off its coastline, with Mills in the saddle, provided a contrast to the waste and corruption indelibly linked with his country's neighbour, Nigeria, in the management of this valuable commodity.

Mills never really emerged from the shadow of Jerry Rawlings who, like him, is a black star. He set example in his political life to Africa with the manner in which he gained and sustained himself in power. He took defeat with equanimity and was magnanimous in victory after defeating the ruling party's candidate in a knife-edge election.

It was a perilous moment in African politics: Zimbabwe , a few months earlier, had suffered appalling bloodshed after President Robert Mugabe lost the first round of a tight election only to bludgeon his way to a hollow triumph in the second ballot. Kenya had been torn apart by tribal violence after the disputed election of December 2007; at least 1,500 people lost their lives.

Born on July 21, 1944, in the town of Tarkwa in what was then the British Crown Colony of Gold Coast. His country became the first colony in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve independence in 1957 as the new nation of Ghana. Mills was, at heart, an academic rather than a politician.

After graduating in Law from the University of Ghana in 1967, he spent most of the 1970s in Britain, studying first at the London School of Economics and then taking a doctorate at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He returned to Ghana in the 1980s and became a political ally of Jerry Rawlings, often called the father of modern Ghana.

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