Thousands of Ghanaians including high-profile personalities could not hold back their tears yesterday at the State House as they paid their last respects to President John Evans Atta Mills, who died two weeks ago.
As early as 6:00am, people had started trooping to the event venue from all walks of life in anticipation of being allowed to enter the forecourt of the State House.
But a police-cum-military team that had been dispatched to the location would not allow them entry in view of the fact that the programme had been designed for members of the public to take turns to view the mortal remains of the late President after midday.
Many, including Ministers of State and parliamentarians who were clad in mourning clothes, could not hold back their tears as they burst into uncontrollable wailing.
Among the people who went to the Banquet Hall of the State House where the body of the late President had been laid in state for public viewing were President John Mahama, his Vice Paa Kwesi Amissah-Arthur, and their wives and former Presidents Jerry John Rawlings and John Agyekum Kufuor with their wives.
Former First Lady and wife of the departed President, Ernestina Naadu Mills, was seen in a sombre mood.
She accompanied President Mahama to the Banquet Hall to pay her last respect to her late lover.
Dressed in a black suit, the fallen President was lying in a closed-glass casket in a garden of flowers in the national colours.
As mourners filed past the body, dirges were sung to herald the final journey of the Ghanaian leader who would be buried on Friday.
A giant portrait of the 68-year-old late President, which had the inscription, ‚ÄėPeace I leave with my Nation‚Äô, was standing by the casket.
Presidential candidates of the various political parties including those of the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and his wife Becky, Hassan Ayariga of the People‚Äôs National Congress (PNC), the Convention People‚Äôs Party (CPP)‚Äôs Dr Abu Sakara, the Progressive People‚Äôs Party (PPP)‚Äôs, Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom and Henry Lartey of the Great Consolidation Popular Party (GCPP) were all there to pay their last respects.
¬†GTV Blackouts Nana Addo
Even though Nana Akufo-Addo was part of the NPP delegation which included his running mate, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia and his wife, Samira and the NPP National Chairman, Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, the state broadcaster, Ghana Television failed to capture the main opposition leader when he paid his last respect to his one-time friend at the University of Ghana, Legon.
According to sources, a member of the NDC communication team allegedly instructed the GTV crew not to capture Nana Addo.
Some family members who went in turns to view the body had to be aided out of the Banquet Hall as they broke down.
One of them had to be rushed into a waiting ambulance after collapsing.
Mills Leaves 37 Military Hospital
Around 6:00am yesterday, the mortal remains of the late President were taken from the 37 Military Hospital to his private residence at the Regimanuel Estates along the Spintex Road for family rituals.
The family of the late President performed some customary rites including the identification of the body after which it was conveyed in a hearse which had the inscription ‚ÄėHis Excellency‚Äô to the Osu Castle.
About 8:45 am, the hearse entered the Castle led by Military bodyguards, followed by the late President’s son, Samuel Atta Mills; Chief of Staff, Henry Martey Newman; Kofi Totobi Quakyi, Chairman of the Funeral Planning Committee and other high profile dignitaries.
Minutes later, the dignitaries gathered around the hearse at the Castle, where Mr Martey Newman and others offered prayers with a recital of ‚Äėthe Lord’s Prayer‚Äô as captured in Psalms 24.
But the gathering went out of control as members of the deceased‚Äôs family, clergy, Ministers of State and other dignitaries jointly sang the hymn ‚ÄėTill we meet again‚Äô amidst sobs, wailing and shouting.
Samuel Atta Mills, spotting a black suit, paid his last respect to his father by touching the casket where his mortal remains lay amidst sobbing.
The casket was draped in the national colours- red, yellow and green.
The security agencies had a tough time controlling the crowd in view of the breach of protocol by both members of the public and organisers of the event.
What surprised most including security men was the fact that President Mahama arrived at the location almost 10 minutes before his Vice, Paa Kwesi Amissah-Arthur, and therefore had to wait for the latter‚Äôs arrival.
Equally mindboggling was the attitude of the General Secretary of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), Johnson Asiedu-Nketia.
In the midst of the stampede and confusion at the entrance of the Banquet Hall, the NDC capo, clad in a black mourning cloth, grabbed the microphone from Nana Ato Dadzie, a member of the Mills Funeral Planning Committee who was coordinating affairs and ordered members of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the NDC to follow him to go and file past the mortal remains of the late President, thereby defying protocol.
Members of Parliament (MP) were equally not left out of the embarrassment, with most of them having to stand in a long queue for almost an hour before being made to go and pay their last respects to the late President.
Some of them were seen complaining bitterly at the treatment they were subjected to.
Naadu Dodges Rawlings
Strangely enough, Mrs. Naadu Mills, the widow, left the Banquet Hall where she was receiving greetings from well wishers when former Presidents Jerry John Rawlings and Kufuor were making their way to console her.
Even before the two could enter the hall, she had been whisked away to an unknown destination.
It was rumoured that it was a deliberate ploy to avoid exchanging any pleasantries with Mr. Rawlings and his wife, Nana Konadu.
Sources said the target cannot be former President Kufuor and his wife Madam Theresa since they had earlier paid her a visit at the Regimanuel residence.
Public viewing of the body would resume today at the Banquet Hall whilst the evening has been reserved for reading of tributes and an all-night prayer service at the forecourt of the State House.
Tomorrow, the family of the late President is expected to perform the final rites after which the military would convey the casket to a final resting place at the Geese Park Garden in between the Marine and Castle drive behind the Independence Square for the burial service.
Prior to that, President Mahama and visiting Heads of State would be made to pay their final respects to the late President with President Mahama also lighting the perpetual flame before the late President is eventually laid to rest.
Geese Park Resting Place
Geese Park, located along the castle drive leading to the Osu Castle in Accra, the burial place of President John Evans Atta Mills, is near completion.
The tomb, cement works and lighting system were expected to be completed by the close of yesterday, according a GNA report.
The tomb, which has been tiled, was designed by the Chinese.
The park, said to have been developed by Lt Colonel Larry Gbevlo-Lartey, National Security Coordinator, was inhabited by geese, peacocks, pigeons, doves and ducks.
The birds live in a clean environment with a well maintained big pond and under tight security.
‚ÄúThe National Security Coordinator did not intend to make this place a tourist site, but rather to serve as a scene or view for those who ply the road,‚ÄĚ Alhaji Baaba Agbah, Caretaker of the Park said.
Security at the Park is tight to prevent intruders from entering the area, which has been fenced.
The mortal remains of the departed president were earlier planned to be interred at the Flagstaff House but there was outcry from a cross section of Ghanaians against the decision.
However, a powerful foreign diplomat in the country, according to DAILY GUIDE sources, prevailed on the Mahama administration before that decision was dropped for the Geese Park.
By Charles Takyi-Boadu