Weeks after he had passed on, Ghanaians in Nigeria who perhaps could not go to Ghana to show their affection for their late president, Prof. Ata Mills, gathered at the headquarters of Foursquare Gospel Church on September 2 to thank God for his life and reflect on his government.
The gathering was well cut out. Songs, eulogies, and kind words seeped through the air as participants took turn to pay tribute to the late president. The question that keeps ringing through was: Why did Nigerians fail to celebrate their presidents when they died in office? The answer may not be far fetched. But it seems obvious that Ghanaians in Nigeria loved their late president indeed.
John Ata Mills who was the third elected president of Ghana died on July 24 2012 at the 37 Military Hospitals in Ghana after a short illness. His death according to the National Association of Ghanaian Communities in Nigeria “is something that cannot be comprehended”. He was described as a man who left a legacy of peace in the face of thorny political divisions in the country.
At the ceremony the patron of the Ghanaian Christians in Nigeria, Rev Bisi Orebayo who is also the person God used to plant Foursquare Church in Ghana reflected on his days in Ghana recalling that he always longed to be in Ghana. “I can say Ghana is also my home” he said, recalling how he frequented Ghana and eventually started the FoursquareChurch in the country. He described Ghanaians as peace loving people and a people who have a heart for God.”
In his message at the event which spanned three hours, Rev. Joseph Lamidi, a senior Pastor in Foursquare Gospel Church also shared his experiences relating with Ghanaians. He said he was overwhelmed by the praises for the late president. While disclosing that he sees himself as a Ghanaian, he said, “When I heard the gospel in 1976, the testimony of Rev. Orebayo who started the Foursquare Church in Ghana inspired me. This was a man who had to leave a plum job to take up missionary work in Ghana where he had to live by faith. God used him to infuse the love of Ghana in us. I recall that our camp meetings were not complete without Ghana Choir.”
While noting that the late president of Ghana was a gift to the country, he prayed that the Holy Spirit will lead Ghana to make the right choice in December as they elect another president. He said further, “the sense in what is being done is to look for a new beginning. We need to purge ourselves from the things that will not make us get to the kingdom. As we look to the past and celebrate, let us give thanks to God and trust God for a brighter future. The president did his best. He served his generation.”
Shortly after the event that Sunday afternoon, Church Times spoke with Mrs. Mercy Jackson, a Ghanaian who married a Nigerian and who has been living in Nigeria for over 30 years. Jackson who runs a school and also practices law described Mills as
“a selfless person who made a lot of impact when he was alive.
“That is why we are celebrating him. He did not pay attention to criticism. He was focused. He had a mission and that made him to stand out. Words are very cheap but actions are strong. He did not talk carelessly and he was ready to carry people along.”
She said she had the opportunity to meet the late president in church when she went to Ghana for holiday. “He came for thanksgiving with his family. He was a devoted Christian and he praised God in a way that was incredible. I admired his family and his simplicity.” She recalled adding that “the best immortalization is to write your name in the palms of men this is what he has done”
Jackson described Nigeria as a great country noting that “despite all the challenges, it fascinates me the way Nigerians make joke out of the situation they find themselves. The average Nigerian is thinking of a second job and they are so enterprising. Ghana is trying to catch up with that spirit because of this interaction with Nigerians.”
She recalled the Ghana Must Go days. These were the days the then ruling head of State, Muhammadu Buhari gave an order that Ghanaians in Nigeria must leave for their country. Jackson reflects, “It was a sad time for me. I had to help a lot of people to relocate. I was married then. I got married to my husband in the UK before we both came to Nigeria. I don’t believe that era will repeat itself again. We do forgive Nigeria for that but I don’t want Ghana to do the same because there are a lot of Nigerians in Ghana now. I don’t believe we should behave like that.”
President of Ghanaian Christian Community in Nigeria, James Lartey-Lartey says the event was put together to give opportunity for many Ghanaians in Nigeria who could not go to Ghana during the burial ceremony of Mills to honour him. “This is official and the Ghanaian government is aware of the programme.”
On the statement credited to Ata Mills published in the programme booklet which reads, “I came to serve. I have finished my time here on earth and have moved on to everlasting rest and celestial duties with my heavenly father…” he said, we don’t know when he wrote it. But from what he wrote, it appears he knew his time had come. He had a premonition he was going to die.”
Lartey-Lartey said further, “he impacted me so much. I met him once at a congress in Ghana. In the course of going round, I was introduced to him and he gave me a hug and parted my back and told me to continue the good work I was doing. He probably had heard about me.”
On what is unique about Mills, he said, “He is a man of peace. He is not interested in fight. When he lost the election in 2001, he congratulated the then president who won. When he lost again, he went again to congratulate him. At the right time he was elected. When he finished his assignment here on earth God called him home. He was a man of honesty, peace and integrity. That is why we are celebrating him.”
The Ghanaian Christians’ leader said he came to Nigeria in January in 1981. Reflecting on Ghana Must Go, he said, “Whatever is done to a people God has a reason. In 1982 Ghana was in such a trouble that it was importing corn. Then came the Ghana must go in 1984 and the second one was in 1985. A year after the Ghana must go, Ghana started exporting corn. If we had not gone back to our country we would not have joined the workforce back at home to make Ghana great again.”
Despite the pressure on Ghana to leave Nigeria then, Lartey-Lartey who is a school proprietor said he did not go back to Ghana then because “Nigerians were enjoying my teaching. They did not want me to go back. People saw me as a peace loving person. I was contributing my quota to the people. I was building human capacity in Nigeria”