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By NBF News
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President John Atta Evans Mills of Ghana died unexpectedly at a military hospital yesterday in Accra, less than five months to a presidential election holding on December 7. He celebrated his 68th birthday last Saturday.

Mills, who is in the last months of his first term of a four-year presidency, is known to have throat cancer and took ill on Monday night, according to aides. He had returned from medical checks from the United States some weeks ago. He is the first elected Ghanaian president to die in office and the third president of Ghana's Fourth Republic.

The statement that announced his death was signed by his chief of staff, Mr. John Henry Martey Newman. It reads: 'It is with a heavy heart and deep sorrow that we announce the sudden and untimely death of the president of the Republic of Ghana - His Excellency Professor John Evans Atta Mills.

'The death occurred at the 37 Military Hospital this afternoon while receiving medical attention after being taken ill a few hours earlier. The vice president will broadcast to the nation in due course.'

An aide told Reuters that Mills had complained of pains on Monday evening and his condition worsened by yesterday afternoon.

The Ghana News Agency reported that John Dramani Mahama was sworn in as president at about 18:00hrs GMT on Tuesday and would soon address Ghanaians.

Mills had been absent from public functions since he returned from the US for medical checks on June 25. He was last seen in public on June 3 when he toured the crash site of a Nigerian cargo plane that overshot the runway in Accra airport and crashed into a bus. About 10 persons died in that incident. It was reported that he was dragged to the crash site despite his failing health.

A former BBC editor and one-time minister in Mills' cabinet, Elizabeth Ohene, said many Ghanaians expressed disbelief as there had been many false reports about his death.

'For the past three or four years, there's been news he's been unwell and rumours of his death – twice – and he appeared with grim humour to say they were exaggerated, insisting he was well,' she told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

Ghana is set for a presidential election on December 7 and Mills was the candidate of National Democratic Congress (NDC), the party formed by the strongman of Ghana politics and a former president, Jerry Rawlings.

His Life and Times
Born on July 21, 1944, in Ekumfi Otuam in the central region of Ghana, Mills was an exceptionally brilliant student who had his doctorate degree at 27. The man whom Ghanaians loved to call 'The Prof' taught for 25 years as a law lecturer at the University of Ghana, Legon, after schooling in Europe and the United States. A law professor and a tax expert, he was Ghana's vice president from 1996 to 2000. Mills had unsuccessfully run for president in 2000 and 2004 when he lost to National Patriotic Party (NPP) candidate John Kufour before narrowly winning a runoff against Nana Akufo-Addo in 2008.

Though not as charismatic as his mentor, Jerry Rawlings, Mills is credited for restructuring Ghana's tax system and was the brains behind Rawlings' economic achievements that put Ghana on the path of economic success.

With more than a dozen internationally acclaimed publications to his credit, though most of them on taxation, Mills' affable, down-to-earth style disguised an 'exceptional academic brilliance and an incredible athletic prowess,' his brother has said.

He has been a stabilising figure in the West African region wracked by economic and political upheavals but his illness did prevent him from active participation in recent regional and continental engagements. He was absent at the recently concluded 19th African Union summit held in Addis Abba, capital of Ethiopia.

His deep religious side is best captured with his public acknowledgement of Nigeria's Prophet T.B. Joshua of The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations, in Lagos. He was a good friend of T.B Joshua and regularly visited his church. He told the world that T.B. Joshua had prophesied of his victory after three elections in 2008.

However, he had fallen out with Rawlings who accused him of allowing corrupt people in his cabinet and also of being soft on the opposition. Rawlings' wife Nana Konadu had challenged Mills at the last presidential primaries against party convention. She lost and left the party to form the National Democratic Party (NDP), which many believe has the blessing of her husband. His death has altered the dynamics of the forthcoming election which is now hugely in the favour of NPP's Nana-Akufo Addo.

Mills is survived by his wife, Ernestina Naadu, a trained marriage counsellor, and son Sam Kofi Atta Mills, who is in his 20s.

President Goodluck Jonathan has expressed shock over Mills' death. A statement by the special adviser to the president on media and publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, reads: 'On behalf of himself, the government and people of Nigeria, President Jonathan extends sincere condolences to the late President Mill's family as well as the government and people of Ghana.

'The president assures the people of Ghana of the sympathy and solidarity of the people of Nigeria as they mourn the late President Mills who did his best during his tenure to carry forward the process of democratic consolidation and socio-economic development in Ghana.'

Also, the Nigerian Senate has described his death as a colossal loss that would, no doubt, shake the African continent.

Senate spokesman Enyinnaya Abaribe, in a statement, said that Mills was sure and simple, a quintessential African statesman who will be sorely missed.

'He would be remembered mostly for his astuteness on the political turf and he was forthright in entrenching deep democratic culture in Ghana, nay, Africa.

'Senate therefore condoles with the government and people of Ghana on the death of this illustrious African patriot,' he said.

Similarly, the national Leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, said Mills was, 'A good man. A patriotic man, highly committed to the progress of his country and its people. He was dedicated to the ideals of democracy and the development of his country and has left a legacy of hard work, respect for human rights and his people's culture.'

In his tribute, the speaker of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Parliament, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, described the death of President Mills as shocking, grievous and a huge loss to Africa.

He said: 'The West African sub-region and indeed Africa has lost a pan-Africanist and visionary who championed the cause of democracy, good governance, peace, stability, integration, and development in the West African sub-region in particular and Africa in general.'

Ekiti State governor Dr Kayode Fayemi described the death as a sad loss to the African continent and democracy.

He called him a progressive politician, democrat par excellence, a true leader and a pride of Africa who provided Ghana with a purposeful leadership which has made the country a reference point in the comity of nations.

For its part, the House of Representatives said the death is a great loss to Ghana and Africa in general.

'The late president is an embodiment of humility and an honest and transparent leader whose wit and wise counsels on the development of the region would be greatly missed,' it said in a statement.