A few days after celebrating his 68th birthday, the President of Ghana, John Evans Atta Mills, died Tuesday at a military hospital in Ghana, the country’s Minister of Information, Fritz Baffour, announced.
Atta Mills, who vied thrice for the presidency before he was elected in the keenest contest in the country’s history, died in the afternoon, according to Baffour, who declined to give further details on the circumstances that led to the president’s death.
“Yes, I can confirm (his death), but I can’t say more,” he told the Associated Press.
Following his demise, the country’s Vice-President, John Dramani Mahama, was sworn in last night.
According to the country’s constitution, Mahama will complete Atta Mills’ term that was due to end with elections in December.
Expectedly, his death elicited a wave of condolences from President Goodluck Jonathan, the Senate and former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
The late president’s Chief of Staff, John Henry Martey Newman, in an address to the nation on the state-run television stations, GTV and TV3, said Atta Mills died yesterday at the 37th Military Hospital in Accra. Newman also gave no details about the cause of Atta Mills’ death.
Atta Mills had travelled to the United States in March and met for a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House.
He also travelled to the US in April, as rumours about his health began to circulate in Ghana.
Atta Mills was elected in a 2008 run-off vote and was to run for a second term in December.
He campaigned on a platform of change, arguing that the West African country’s growth had not been felt in people’s wallets.
“People are complaining. They’re saying that their standard of living has deteriorated these past eight years,” he said. “So if Ghana is a model of growth, it’s not translating into something people can feel.”
Atta Mills even put up posters of himself standing next to a doctored cutout picture of Obama in an effort to emphasise that the Ghanaian stood for change.
Jonathan, in a statement by his spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, said he was shocked by the news of the sudden death of Atta Mills.
“On behalf of himself, the government and people of Nigeria, President Jonathan extends sincere condolences to late President Mill’s family as well as the government and people of Ghana,” the statement said.
The president assured the people of Ghana of the sympathy and solidarity of Nigerians as they mourn Atta Mills who, according to him, did his best during his tenure to carry forward the process of democratic consolidation and socio-economic development in Ghana.
The statement expressed Jonathan’s hope and expectations that the excellent relationship which existed between Nigeria and Ghana during Atta Mills’ tenure would continue to be strengthened under the new leadership in Ghana in the mutual interest of both countries.
The Senate also described the death of Atta Mills as a colossal loss that would shake Africa.
A statement by Senate spokesman, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, Tuesday said Atta Mills was a quintessential African statesman who will be sorely missed.
He said his victory in Ghana’s presidential election coming from an opposition political party catapulted that country to the enviable height of one of the stable and mature democracies.
Tinubu, in his condolences to the government and people of Ghana, described the late president as “a good man. A patriotic man, highly committed to the progress of his country and its people.”
He said in his lifetime, Atta Mills was dedicated to the ideals of democracy and the development of his country.
The former Nigerian ambassador to Ghana, Musiliu Obanikoro, also described Atta Mills as a man of peace whose style of governance was collegiate.
According to Obanikoro, his stay in Ghana made him understand the late president as someone who had a great vision for the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) sub-region.
Amongst other things, Obanikoro told THISDAY that Atta Mills was transparent in his style of government and abhorred corruption.
When THISDAY visited the Embassy of Ghana in Abuja yesterday, the flags were not yet flying at half-mast, though the security men on duty said they were aware of the death but had not received any instructions to lower them.
Attempts to reach the country’s top diplomats proved abortive as calls were not picked but the Ghanaian Director of Political Affairs at ECOWAS, Dr. Abdel Fatau Musah, said there was a feeling of shock and sadness within the country’s community on hearing the news.
According to him, Atta Mills had a history of medical problems that had compelled him to go for regular check-ups.
“Though his values are entrenched, Ghana’s democracy has built democratic institutions that are beyond any single individual,” he added, ruling out any major upheaval as a result of his death.
The 2008 election was the third time that Atta Mills had run for the presidency.
He spent much of his career teaching at the University of Ghana, having earned a doctorate from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies before becoming a Fulbright scholar at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
He was the third president of the Fourth Republic of Ghana. He was inaugurated on January 7, 2009, after defeating the ruling party’s candidate Nana Akufo-Addo in the 2008 election.
He was vice-president from 1997 to 2001 under President Jerry Rawlings, and stood unsuccessfully in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections as the candidate of the National Democratic Congress (NDC).