Oh! So I won't see Prof again?
8/9/2012 5:01:58 PM -
By Emmanuel Akli, Associate Editor
One of the famous Ghanaian musicians, Kwabena Owusu, popularly known as 'AsebuAmenfi,' once composed a song to the effect that he had lost a great one who had been laid in state, and that he was finding it difficult to look at him (the corpse). As I sat in my sofa at home watching the casket containing the mortal remains of President John Fiifi Atta Mills being offloaded from the hearse enroute to the Banquet Hall, State House, where he is currently lying in state, AsebuAmenfi's song began to reverberate in mind.
As I watch the body lying in state, it dawned on me that the man who carried the accolade, 'King of Peace' was indeed gone and gone forever. I was compelled to switch off my television when I saw some ladies crying uncontrollably, because I could not withstand it. Yes, I am aware that the man had passed on, but I did not feel it, especially when the television stations have persistently been playing his voice on a daily basis. But, I satisfied myself yesterday that 'Prof' had actually completed the assignment given him by his Maker on earth.
As a journalist, I had the opportunity to meet this great man of our land of birth once, and I would forever remember the way he interacted with me. I did cover him when I was the Western Regional Correspondent of The Chronicle during one of his campaign tours in the region, where he interacted with the press, but that was not at the personal level.
His interaction with me started when the paper carried a story concerning his wife, Naadu Mills, over an alleged altercation she had with one of the prominent woman in the country abroad. At the time the story was published, the late president was on a state visit to Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean. After apparently reading the story on the internet, he felt the need to react. Whilst in the office editing stories a day after the publication in question, Mr. BismarkBebli, one of our political reporters then, and close friend of the president, rushed into my office holding a cell phone.
He stretched out his hand and asked me to take the phone he was holding, and that somebody wanted to talk to me. 'How can you hand over a phone to me when I do not know the person on the line,' I asked Bismark. 'Mr. Akli, take the phone la; do you know who is on the line,' he responded. This time I decided to give in to the argument, and took the phone from him. 'Hello,' I said. Then a voice at the other end responded, 'Hello Mr. Akli, my name is Atta Mills, why are you refusing to talk to me?'
Apparently, he had heard the argument between me and Bismark, so I quickly responded, 'Your Excellency, this is a surprise call; I was actually arguing with Bismark as to who was on the phone,' I told him. The late president then told me that he was out of the country, but he had read a story we had done about his wife, and felt the need to set the records straight. 'Mr. Akli, you know I am President of Ghana. I know stories of this nature will be published against me. I cannot stop you from carrying out your constitutional responsibilities, but what I demand from you is the truth. There is no truth in the story you have written against my wife today,' he said.
'Your Excellency, I do not think we have any personal vendetta against you, but you know by the nature of our work, we step on so many toes. With regards to your protest, I think we had our story from a credible source, which we have no cause to doubt. Your Excellency, all is not lost, kindly ask your wife to put in a rejoinder, which we are obliged to publish,' I told him. After explaining in detail his side of the story, he felt there was no need to put in a rejoinder, but I told him that even if his wife would not put in any rejoinder, I would, based on the evidence he had given me to write a story, which I did.
He did not object to my suggestion, but before hanging up, he asked me to visit him one day at the Castle. 'Castle,' I asked politely. 'Why, the place is not for Atta Mills, but for all Ghanaians,' he jokingly told me before finally hanging up.
A few months after this telephone interaction, The Chronicle again wrote a story that raised certain issues with his health. After reading the story, the 'Asomdweehene' was again not happy, so he called his friend, BismarkBebli, who in turn handed over the phone to me. 'Hello,' I said. 'Oh, Mr. Akli, I did not know that you have all of the sudden become a medical doctor who has examined me and realised that I was suffering from the disease you have attributed to me in your today's publication,' he said in a low voice.
He then said something which I am not prepared to disclose in this tribute, and asked me why I failed to visit him when he asked me to do so the last time he spoke to me from Trinidad. 'Your Excellency, I thought it was a mere joke, I did not know that you meant it,' I responded. 'No, no, no, please find time to come and visit me,' he said to me once again. Unfortunately, I could not pay the visit as requested, so whilst going round to greet editors and senior journalists during one of his interactions with them, BismarkBebli, who was standing by me, told him, 'Your Excellency, this is Emmanuel Akli.' 'Ei!How are you,' he enquired. 'I am fine thank you,' I responded.
It was a short interaction, but a few days later, BismarkBebli again, told me that the Old man still wanted to see me. This time I had no excuse to give, so I went to the Castle one Sunday afternoon to meet him. After going through the normal security checks, we were ushered into his modest apartment at the Castle. When we finally met him, we had a long chat about his way of governance and his vision for the country. In fact,Bismarkand I were the first people to hear that the regional hospitals in Cape Coast and Ho were going to be turned into teaching hospitals. In the course of the discussion, President Mills just got up and beckoned me to follow him, to which I obliged.
I, however, realised that he was heading towards his bedroom, so I stopped and pretended as if I was watching the beautiful ocean behind the Castle. 'Mr. Akli, please come,' he told me. When I realised that BismarkBebli was also following, I mustered the courage to enter the room, which was a modestly furnished one. Pointing his fingers to two tread mills in the room, the President said, 'You people say Atta Mills is dying, you see my machines; I wake up at dawn and do my exercises everyday.' I became disturbed, because I realised that he was indirectly talking about the story we did which concerned his health.
When we came out of the room, I was no more feeling comfortable with our conversation, but he quickly realised that and told to me to have it easy, and that he was not annoyed with me. He recognised the fact that the media have a crucial role to play in the nurturing of our democracy, but his concerns were always the truth. In fact, our conversation took such a long time that occasionally his security detail would come in to find out whether he was safe. When he finally decided to say good bye to us, he led us all the way to the entrance of the apartment, which, according to the people around him, was unusual of him. One of his aides jokingly told us that we would sleep in heaven that day.
Whilst descending the stairs to board our cars back to the office, I asked BismarkBebli what might have motivated the President to lead us to his bedroom, which is uncommon in Africa and Ghana in particular. I however realised that the man was really an honest person who did not want to hide anything from the public. He wanted to prove to us that the story we put out about him was not true.
Even though we wrote a story about him, overwhich he was not happy, he still showed fatherly love to me. He is one president who showed concern about the work of journalists in the country, and whether you criticise him or not, he would not harbour any ill feelings towards you, but was always prepared to talk to you. My information is that I was not the only journalist he had called on phone. In fact, he had called most of the senior journalists in the country anytime they published something either about him or his government. He was really a great father who was concerned about the welfare of his children, and I am going to miss him dearly.
Looking at his demeanour towards the press, which he was always prepared to work with, President Mills should have received less criticism from the media, but some of the people surrounding him did not allow this to happen. They were so belligerent that some of the journalists wondered whether they were really working for the peace loving man. Ghana has really lost a great man, lawyer, democrat, and a humble man who has contributed his quota towards the nurturing of democracy in this country.
Professor Mills achieved a lot in the academic field, but was always prepared to humble himself before the ordinary man. That indeed, is the mark of the King of Peace. It is unfortunate that I am now going to miss his usual 'menuanom' salutation anytime he addresses the public. May his soul rest in Perfect Peace! 'Prof', sleep well until we meet again in the next world.