President Sirleaf Joins Thousands of Mourners to Pay Final Respect to Late Ghanaian President, Prof. John Atta Mills, at Befitting Funeral Service in Accra
By Mr. Jerolinmek Matthew Piah
(MONROVIA, LIBERIA – Friday, August 10, 2012) President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is back in the country after attending the funeral of the late Ghanaian President John Evans Atta Mills.
President Sirleaf left the country Thursday evening at the head of a high-powered Liberian delegation to attend the funeral rites of the late Ghanaian President.
Upon her arrival in Accra, President Sirleaf said she had come, on behalf of the Government and people of Liberia, to show solidarity with the Government and people of Ghana during their period of sorrow and to express condolences. She was also there to show solidarity with President John Dramani Mahama. The Liberian leader later viewed the remains of the late President Mills at the banquet hall at the Parliament Building and deposited a wreath on behalf of her Government and people.
At the funeral on Friday, the final day of the three-day planned activities, there was an unprecedented outpouring of public sympathy, with thousands of mourners dressed in black and red cloth, the traditional Ghanaian mourning colors. Holding miniature Ghanaian flags, the mourners descended on Independence Square while several thousands more lined the streets to bid farewell to their late President. Even buildings, fences and tree trunks around the city were draped in the mourning colors.
The funeral cortege was led into Black Star [Independence] Square on a gun carriage flanked by an Honor Guard on horseback accompanied by the Military Band. The late President’s casket was draped in the Ghanaian flag of red, gold and green, with a black star.
Ghana’s new President, John Dramani Mahama, lit the perpetual flame on behalf of the nation, in memory of Dr. Mills, to begin the funeral rites.
The Ghana Armed Forces shepherded the activities of the service, officiated by the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church, the Most Rev. Professor Emmanuel K. Asante, with the National Chief Imam, His Eminence Dr. Sheikh Osmanu Nuhu Sharubutu, playing a role to signify the nationalistic nature of the funeral.
President Sirleaf was among 67 foreign delegations from all over the world that filed past the remains of the late Ghanaian leader before the official funeral rites commenced at the Square on Friday morning.
African Presidents who attended the solemn occasion came from Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Liberia, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Togo. Vice Presidents represented Kenya, Mali and South Africa; and Speakers of Parliament represented the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Gabon.
Other dignitaries included the United States Secretary of State and a Special Envoy of the People’s Republic of China; while Ministers and other Special Envoys represented another 53 nations across the globe.
Tributes were paid by the family, including his widow, former First Lady Ernestina Naadu Mills. In the tribute, read on her behalf by Ms. Gifty Lamptey, she said the late President was a blessing to her, Ghana, Africa and the world. “Thank you, rest peacefully in the Lord,” she said. She thanked the late Ghanaian leader for loving her and his family, for being her friend and supporter in their marriage. She extolled her late husband’s virtues of selflessness, humility, and as a man who placed God first and saw, in political power, an opportunity to serve his people who, in turn, honored him by the turnout at the funeral service.
In his tribute, President Mahama eulogized the late Ghanaian President as humble, honest, and peace-loving. He described him as a great statesman, a unifier and possessor of diverse virtues. “Today, a dark cloud hangs over Ghana, over Africa and the entire world. President Mills was the very embodiment of what had been missing from our politics – civility, humility, honesty and service,” he said.
He called on all Ghanaians to bury their differences and be more united, as a departing gift for the late President Mills, pointing out that he would not be happy in his grave if Ghanaians continued to create social and political divisions. “He is, indeed, a father for all. I am in no doubt that the unifier and the man of peace that our late President was, in passing on to glory, will be a catalyst for our country to consolidate the peace and forge ahead in unity,” President Mahama said.
The new President cautioned Ghanaians against political antagonism, which he said could deepen the polarization of the country. He termed the late President as a man of God who despised political antagonism, and said that Ghanaians would do him much good if they avoid divisive tendencies in their political activities. He also called for tolerance and asked Ghanaians to place priority on the saying that “Unity Is Strength,” to move the country forward in terms of growth and development.
The Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church, the Most Reverend Professor Emmanuel K. Asante who delivered the sermon, stated that, like King Solomon, President Mills understood life. “He was authentic in his relationship with his friends and God. He had a genuine quest to serve mother Ghana,” Rev. Asante said, adding that at the center of his peaceful demeanor lay the principle of love. “He sought to bring together power and service.”
Rev. Asante observed that President Mills brought together head and heart, intelligence and goodness, pointing out that the tragedy of life is the fact that life is transient and very fleeting. “What does the human gain from all his labor without God?” he wondered, warning, “Life without God is mere existence. Life is not measured by material wealth but our closeness with God.”
Following the funeral service, the military took over the casket, placed it on a gun carriage, as the late Commander-in-Chief was given a burial with full military honors. As the gun carriage moved slowly out of Independence Square, and drove onto the High Street and through some principal streets of Accra, tens of thousands of people, who thronged the Square and lined the streets, waved miniature flags while others drummed and sang. Some mourners wailed uncontrollably.
About 100 pigeons were also released in the air as a sign of peace for President Mills who was called the “King of Peace.”
As the cortege went on a state drive, thousands marched along, with traditional musical groups playing and walking alongside the casket. A white helicopter hovered overhead. When the cortege finally returned to its final resting place, military personnel, in full ceremonial garb, lined both sides of Castle Drive, with reversed arms to give the departed leader his last honors.
At the Geese Park, where he was interred, pallbearers lowered the casket from the gun carriage and placed it on the grave, where military buglers sounded the Last Post amidst the boom of a 21-gun salute by a detachment of personnel of the 66 Artillery Regiment of the Ghana Armed Forces.
Simultaneously, there was a fly-past by three Ghana Air Force jets ejecting long plumes of smoke in the national colors of red, gold and green, with Ghana Navy ships also performing ceremonial maneuvers on the shoreline behind Independence Square.
After final prayers, the body of the late President Mills was lowered into the grave to start his journey to the great beyond.
Ghana has buried its first President to die in office – a man admired for his simplicity, humility and his constant advocacy for peace. His send-off was befitting. However, most Ghanaians will always remember one of his most famous quotes: “I have always said that I will be President of all Ghanaians whether they voted for me or not, and without consideration for which part of the country they come from. It will be my duty as President to heal the wounds and unite our dear nation. I intend to pursue relentlessly all avenues for entrenching peace and unity in all parts of the country as I am enjoined by the constitution to do.”