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Feature Article of Thursday, 16 August 2012

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

Prez Mills’ Final Salute

Savannah View: Prez Mills’ Final Salute

By Manasseh Azure Awuni

The reality seemed to have dawned on some of the mourners the very moment the well-drilled military cortege took the first step of their melancholic slow march out of the Independence Square.
The sea of mourners, who bathed the national ceremonial grounds with black and red colours rose to their feet and waved and wailed and chanted. Above the thousands of waving miniature Ghanaian flags rose shrill screams from those who could not hold it any longer.
Still high above the piercing shrills hovered a white military helicopter, while dozens of doves released from the Independence Arch sought to reinforce the legacy by the man whose name had come to symbolise peace.
Nearly four years ago, Professor John Evans Atta Mills was sworn in as the third President of Ghana’s fourth republic at this same venue where the nation, Africa and the rest of the world had converged to bid him farewell.
Between that period and now, he was usually the last notable personality to arrive and leave the Independence Square anytime there was an important national event. And today, he was the last to arrive and the first to leave. But that’s where the similarities end.
On Independence Day, or any other important national occasion, he reviewed parades and took salutes from school children and the security agencies. But today, he did not review any parade. Neither did he return any of the numerous salutes.
He often lighted the perpetual flame below the towering statue of the Unknown Soldier, but today that duty was carried out by someone else, President John Mahama, the man who took over from him.
And many still had memories of him waving to the audience in all directions with a miniature Ghanaian flag. Today, however, he never waved back. And he would normally leave the Independence in a convoy of vehicles with tainted windows and with the speed of lightning. Today, however, Prof. John Evans Atta Mills was not leaving in a convoy.
There was only one vehicle, an artillery launcher belonging to the 66 Artillery Regiment of the Ghana Armed Forces. His casket was draped in the national colours and led to his final resting place by senior officers of the Armed Force, of which he was the Commander-in-Chief. The cortege left in a slow march, as though a deliberate attempt to prolong the late president’s final two hours on the surface of the earth. And the crowd went wild with waling.
The last time such a crowd descended on the nation’s ceremonial ground was in 2007 when Ghana celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence from the Great Britain. But Friday’s crowd was unprecedented, as someone put it. Beyond the Independence Square, the crowed overflowed to the Ministries, the Accra Sports Stadium and the area around the Osu Castle, the seat of government.
“I’m highly impressed. I won’t lie to you,” Regard Mide Stevens, Head of International Operations of the Lagos-based Glitterati International Magazine, told me.
“I have never seen this before. In my country, people prefer to stay at home and watch TV. You don’t see involvement such as this,” he added. “This is a wonderful occasion, though in a sorrowful mood.”
He was particularly thrilled by the numerous cultural displays at the various locations of the Independence Square.
Another Nigerian journalist, Eshomomoh Imoudu, who works with TV Continental, explained that though Nigeria had lost two of its sitting presidents, the occasions could not be compared with that of Ghana. He said the Military Ruler Gen. Sani Abacha’s death was generally greeted with jubilation because of his suppression of democracy, particularly the fact that he annulled the popular June 12 election that was won by Abiola. He said Gen. Abacha was buried according to Muslim traditions and a funeral was held for him in his home state.
“The second one was a civilian president, Umaru Musah Yaradua,” Mr Imoudu continued. “Before his death there was a stalemate because certain powerful forces were said to have hijacked power from him when he was sick and was out of the country for a long time.” He said “the powers that be” did not allow his vice, Goodluck Jonathan, to take over and the country was on the brink of something nasty.
Mr Imoudu said when the president finally died, some people were happy not because they hated him but because his death ended the tension that was mounting in the country. He said a state funeral was performed for the late President in his home state of Katsina but said it could not be likened to what he was witnessing in Accra.
Like Stevens, however, he was impressed by what he was seeing. “The programme is orderly, there’s no chaos. Even from the State House, you find the military conducting activities with a lot of civility, even the crowd are not misbehaving.”
In fact, the death of President Mills was bad news but it ended up giving every well-meaning Ghanaian something to be proud of. For once, the highly politicised and polarised nation got united and apart from a few identifiable groups within the late president’s political party, there were no party colours at the funeral.
That Friday afternoon, the Central Business District of Accra was uncharacteristically empty as people held their own mini-funerals for the president with public address systems booming with dirges.
The organisation of the funeral was also one of the most orderly events one could ever imagine, and the Ghana Armed Forces once again proved to the nation that they are still a force to rely on even if all sectors of the nation fail. The Funeral Planning Committee, also deserves tonnes of commendation for overseeing the successful planning and execution of an event of that magnitude.
Many African heads of states and the US Secretary of States, Hilary Clinton, were there to bid President Mills farewell and there could not have been a better way to reinforce the goodwill Dr Kwame Nkrumah bequeathed us than to tell them that when it matters most, Ghanaians will lead.
“I don’t know whether they showed him that much love when he was alive, but from what I’m seeing, it means Ghanaians really love their president,” Regard Mide Stevens concluded.
It is no doubt that the two Nigerian journalists I spoke, like other visitors, would leave Ghana with very positive impression. And it is no doubt that the late president would rejoice in his new home at the Asomdwe Park. But Ghana has another opportunity to prove to the world, as we approach another crucial election, that “the black man is capable of managing his own affairs.”
This will not only give meaning to Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s high hopes in the African continent, but it will be the best tribute ever to Prof. JEA Mills, whose humility, selflessness and quest for peace as a president, has been matchless.
God bless our homeland Ghana and make our nation great and strong.
Savannah View is a weekly column published in the Tuesday edition of The Finder newspaper/Ghana. Writer’s email: azureachebe2@yahoo.com

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