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Professor John Evans Atta Mills was a good man! – says John Mahama 

Remarks by former President John Dramani Mahama before he unveiled the logo to launch the John Evans Atta (JEA) Mills Memorial Heritage 


Thank you, Mr. Alex Segbefia, as Chairman of the John Evans Atta Mills Memorial Heritage, for the invitation on behalf of the Board of Directors to unveil and launch the John Evans Atta Mills Memorial Heritage. 

Appropriately, the Heritage seeks to inspire humanity for a better society, a virtue President Atta Mills lived and died for. 

Professor John Evans Atta Mills was a good man! It therefore gladdens the hearts of the many millions of people who loved him, that this decision was taken to launch the Atta Mills Heritage here on the campus of the University of Ghana. 

This is because it was right here; on this very university’s grounds –  the “Hill of knowledge, and the nation’s hope and glory” –  where we are taught to proceed in integrity and in truth, that Professor John Evans Atta Mills honed his distinct values and also laid the foundation for the ultimate mantle of leadership that God placed on him in the latter stages of his life. 

He earned his enviable reputation on this very campus even before his call to higher office. Prof. left a lasting legacy here through his teaching, mentoring, rigorous, intellectual endeavour and physical activity through sports. 

As a matter of course, Prof. became an organic part of our alma mater’s history. He lived by the ethos of integrity that the University advocates when he eventually entered national politics as Vice President and ultimately as President of the Republic of Ghana. 

Unfortunately, this ‘Philosopher King’ and Servant Leader of a President did not live with us as long as we would have wished. On that dull and hazy day of 24th July 2012, death unexpectedly snatched him from us, leaving a shocked nation in deep sorrow, anguish and in tears. 

And the following reminiscences are the 1st time I am talking publicly of this sad event. That fateful day, I had been alerted that I would be asked to act because Prof. was likely to travel to Nigeria. I was informed by his Secretary Sir Bebaako-Mensah that he had requested specifically that I stand in for him at the official launch of the Brand Ghana project at the International Conference Centre. I attended the function with the Chief of Staff Mr. John Martey Newman. 

Upon my return to the Castle, which was then the seat of Government, as I proceeded to my office, I asked the Chief of Staff to inform Prof that I was going to come over and see him to discuss a few important issues after meeting with a former President who was waiting in my office. 

Moments after our return, the Chief of Staff called me frantically and said Prof has been rushed to 37 Military hospital in an emergency. I wrapped up my meeting and prepared my staff to rush to the hospital. It was then Sir Bebaako-Mensah entered my office and delivered the devastating news. 

Prof dead? 
How can Prof die? 

The world came to a standstill! Nothing in my political life and experience had prepared me for a moment like this. The shelter of working under Prof had been a wonderful experience. His death left me in trepidation of stepping up to the plate, realizing the huge responsibility one was stepping into and that the buck stopped with me and not someone else. 

The swearing-in ceremony was a blur and I struggled to complete my acceptance speech without breaking down in front of the whole nation. When I left the podium, I missed my way and sat back in my Vice Presidential seat until the uproar from the MP’s reminded me that I had sworn the Presidential oath and should move to the Ceremonial Presidential seat. The rest is history to be narrated at another time.

Professor Mills was my boss, my comrade, my mentor and my friend. He was tolerant, kind, fair, but firm. I am proud to have honed my political skills at his feet. I know there are many who also revere Professor Mills as their teacher and mentor. He taught for over 25 years and contributed to producing many astute legal practitioners from the Faculty of Law; and also, fine business minds from the then School of Administration, now University of Ghana Business School (UGBS). 

Celebrating President John Evans Atta Mills 

Our gathering here today to celebrate, once again, a man who sacrificed his very life for humanity, for academia, for his country and Jesus Christ, proper and befitting. 

I believe the launch of the Atta Mills Heritage, which is anchored on his values and principles, and is aimed at inspiring humanity – including the youth of Africa for a better society – will further emphasise his legacy.

Already, Prof’s name is befittingly assigned to a significant number of national infrastructure across the country.  They include the John Evans Atta Mills High Street in Accra, and the FPSO John Evans Atta Mills, which extracts oil from the TEN fields, which are both named after him. Similarly, the Community Day Senior High School at Otuam – the first of the E-Block initiatives to be completed, which I commissioned as President – was also named after him. 

Here at the University of Ghana, the School of Law’s modern building is named after both Professor Akua Kuenyehia and Professor Mills in appreciation of their collaborative effort in the construction of the edifice and their remarkable contribution to law practice. 

Unprecedented Economic Growth 

While I was serving as Prof’s Vice President and Head of the Economic Management Team, President Mills grew Ghana’s economy to a level that remains unprecedented (borrowing his own word) in 2011. That year, Ghana’s economy grew by over 14%, with both non-oil and oil growth contributing equitably to this feat. Typical of him even before this growth would be realised, the gracious Prof. had earlier paid homage to his predecessors in his first State of the Nation’s Address to parliament in February 2009. 

In the Chair was the Rt. Hon.  Joyce Bamford Addo, Ghana’s first and so far, only female Speaker of Parliament nominated by President Mills in his quest for gender parity. And I quote him here: “Madam Speaker, Kwame Nkrumah laid the foundation for oil and gas exploitation in Ghana. Jerry John Rawlings created the institutional framework for its exploration and exploitation. The oil and gas was struck in commercial quantities in the period of John Agyekum Kufuor. Actual commercial exploitation is beginning in the period of John Evans Atta Mills. In between, others have played their part…” 

Nana Chair, this is the man we celebrate today: magnanimous, gender-sensitive, a unifier, peaceful and God-fearing. 

As a Pan Africanist, he never hid his distress over historical and contemporary exploitation, of Africa, which propelled the growth of Europe and America leaving Africans in poverty.  Therefore, as President, he was determined to utilise Oil and Gas revenue for the greater benefit of Ghana and all Ghanaians, irrespective of background. 

This is why he passed the Petroleum Revenue Management Act (PRMA) through which the ABFA, Heritage and Stabilization Funds were created. These have helped us immensely in managing our oil revenues and even only recently during COVID, money accumulated during my administration in the Stabilization was used to provide funds for financing Government’s initial response to the pandemic. 

Investing in People 

As a Social Democrat who believed in social justice, he laid a robust foundation for the socio-economic advancement of Ghana. President Mills purposefully invested in Ghana’s greatest assets – the citizens, particularly the youth. 

Seeing great potential in Ghana’s future through education, he encouraged the study of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) through the Mathematics, Science and Technology Scholarship Scheme (MASTESS) for secondary and tertiary students.

He also actively involved eminent scientists in his quest for science education, research and development and innovation for national development. His partners in this endeavour included Professor Emeritus Francis Nkrumah, son of the Founder and first President of Ghana; Professor EwuramaAddy, the first Ghanaian female Professor of natural science, and Professor Francis Kofi Ampenyin Allotey.

As President, Professor Mills increased the Capitation grant introduced by President Kufour by 50%, enhanced the School Feeding Programme, and embarked on an ambitious construction of infrastructure in secondary schools. 

Under his leadership, the University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS) in the Volta Region and the University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR) in the then Brong-Ahafo Region were started. 

In the health sector, President Atta Mills also equipped our national emergency response system with 160 new ambulances and initiated numerous health infrastructure projects. They include the 100- bed hospital with a Malaria Research Centre at Teshie; the rehabilitation of the Tamale Teaching Hospital, the Adenta Community Hospital, several Polyclinics and Health Centres. 

President Atta Mills and Humour

Prof. was also witty. He could provide on the spur of the moment intelligent answers that could make you smile or laugh. 

Do you recall ‘many ways of killing a cat’? A journalist asked President Atta Mills at a press conference about it and his savvy and witty response was, “Look at me, come closer… do I look like a cat hunter?” He believed in the genuine and true independence of the judiciary and was ready and willing to protect the judiciary and the justice delivery system. 

Do you also recall “Dzi wo fie asԑm” during the Ivorian crisis? That was also pregnant with humour, but most importantly, it is a statement that requires interdisciplinary research into the origins and nuanced meaning of the rich Fanti proverb, ‘Dzi wo fie asԑm.’ 

Prof detested comrades undermining each other. He had a practice of detaining the person who had come to make a negative report about a colleague to him. He quickly had the colleague about whom the report had been made brought to his office quickly. He then asked the one who had made the report to repeat what he had just told him…. Come and see stammering. 


Nana Chairman, my brothers and sisters, these and many more recollections of this inspirational son of the land are the reasons Prof was and is still loved so much by many. 

For those familiar with the anthem of this great University, where President Atta Mills studied and worked, you will realise the earlier part of my speech drew on our motto, “Integri Procedamus.” To wit, proceeding in integrity. Integrity sounded loudly and was defined Prof. in all he did. 

As I conclude, I call on each one of us – Ghanaians – to uphold truth and integrity and the peaceful nature of Prof. Let us stay united even in the face of adversity. Yes, we must endeavour to proceed in unity and in truth. We must also strive to defend the cause of freedom. And we must fervently uphold the public cause to protect our democracy. 

This is why Legon, the hallowed ground upon which we stand today, always calls on her products and all Ghanaians to arise and arise and arise to defend the cause of freedom and proceed in truth and integrity to make our nation proud. 

Refreshingly, these attributes of the University of Ghana intersect harmoniously with President Mills’ personal values – his quest was for peace (Asomdwehene), excellence and integrity, transparency and accountability, commitment to the well-being of all Ghanaians and inclusivity. I am glad the Heritage seeks to build on from where he left off in a non-partisan manner.

Above all, these values are what made President Mills a true Ghanaian. He embodied that ideal Ghanaian we yearn for to collectively transform our country.  

Let his values lead us! Professor Mills was such a moral and political colossus and there can be no limit put on the vehicles and instruments that eulogize and ingrain his memory and history in the hearts and minds of Ghanaians 

The Unveiling of Logo and Launch of the JEA Mills Memorial Heritage

On this note; on this auspicious day; and on this hallowed grounds – the University of Ghana, Legon, where Prof., our teacher, our mentor and our President taught for over 25 years after attaining his Ph.D. at age 27 – I unveil the logo of the John Evans Atta Mills Memorial Heritage – And I declare this noble and dignifying Heritage, “The John Evans Atta Mills Memorial Heritage” duly launched. 

Thank you very much. 

God bless us all.

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