He was our President. However, for his entire life, we came to associate him with peace so much that we agreed to name the place where he was buried as ‘Asomdwee (Peace) Park’.
Ten (10) years on, his anniversary has become a graphic metaphor for the acrimony in our body politics. Nothing has changed since his death.
I am convinced this nation missed the perfect opportunity to craft bipartisan legislation on the burial places of our departed heads of state and vice-presidents.
For a long time, nothing had united the nation more than something. Perhaps the two things that united us were the Black Stars and Ghana@50 celebrations. But the death of President John Evans Atta Mills united all of us in grief. I remember how President Akufo-Addo told tales of his friendship with Mills and his teammate. Former Senior Minister-Yaw Osafo Marfo paid a glowing tribute to their days at Achimota. A great man had gone, and his death had united us.
Ghana spent resources and constructed an automated burial place for the late Mills, although we had the Military Cemetary at Osu. Eight (8) more graves(tombs) were dug for those yet to die. The intention, as was made known in public in 2012, was that the place was to serve as a burial place for presidents and vice-presidents.
Since 2012, no other head of state or vice-president has been buried there. President Jerry John Rawlings and Vice-President Paa Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur died.
A new military cemetery has been constructed since then at Burma Camp. We are told the one in Osu is full. In these military cemeteries, special places are specially built to house former presidents, vice-presidents, and very, very important national heroes.
The expectation of many was that Mr. Rawlings and Mr. Amissah-Arthur were going to be buried at Asomdwee Park since we had already prepared their burial sites there. But they were not. At the taxpayers’ expense, we prepared a new place at the new military cemetery.
All this time, the Asomdwee park had “been there”. Literally forgotten and left to the vagaries of the weather until I am told four-three years ago when Mr. Koku Anyidoho was prepping up for the 10th Anniversary of the late Mills. Today it looks beautiful after the state spent resources on it.
It is true that in some countries like America, only two U.S. presidents, William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy, are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. As we know in the US, national cemeteries are governed by legislation (Arlington National Cemetery Burial Eligibility Act). There are also provisions in the US code on the burials of leaders.
However, the laws of America allow presidents to choose where to be buried together with their families, and the records show most have chosen to be buried in their home states. This explains why America does not have a single place for the burial of former leaders.
Back here, we do not have any such laws except that precedent and customary law explain that the corpse belongs to the family of the deceased– check out Neequaye & Another v Okoe [1993-94] 1 GLR 538 and In Re Larbi (decd.); Larbi and Another V. Larbi (1977) (CA).
Even our Anatomy Act, 965 (Act 280) does not allow dealing with the body unless the surviving husband or wife, or in the absence of such husband or wife, any known relative of the deceased individual, permits it.
Section 17 of the Armed Forces Regulations, 1970 (CI 12) does not also codify the burial place for late heads of state and vice-presidents. So, if the intention was to create one burial site for departing presidents and vice-presidents, then we could have passed legislation at the time of Mills’ death when Ghanaians were united in grief. In our legislation, we could emphasize the importance of the contribution of the family of the leaders.
The legislation will also determine who should be in charge of the cemetery and its renovation. Is it the Ghana Armed Forces, Ministry of National Security, National Museum of Ghana, State Protocol Department or an expansion of the President’s Office with a secretariat to manage it?
All of these could have been fleshed out. The confusion and shouting and fighting over the renovation of Asomdwee park would have been needless. Alternatively, it would not have hurt if Koku Anyidoho had been directed by the presidency to have worked this thing out with the family of the late Mills before the commencement of renovation. After all, the body belongs to the family, and anything about the burial place will be of concern to them.
In the absence of this, we are back to ground zero, where the state is and has spent sacred resources on two cemeteries with Atta Mills alone at the Asomdwee park. Maybe, since he was peaceful, it’s better he rests there alone, but let’s not snatch conflict from the jaws of peace.
The author, Sammy Darko, has training in law, security and intelligence studies and journalism
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