Remembering Honorable Johnson N. Gwaikolo

By Joe Bartuah

BBA, MA, PhD. Former President, United Methodist University and former Member of the House of Representatives, District Nine, Nimba County, a Beloved Father and Husband, a Capable Brother and a Great Son of Yarwin-Mehnsonon District, Nimba County, L I B E R I A.

A little over 33 years ago, I heard an articulate voice of peace, which instantly became a sort of motivational therapy for me. Unfortunately, I shockingly learned through the restless social media on February 19, 2024 that the same eloquent voice of peace, which I had heard on ELBC radio more than three decades ago, has been suddenly silenced by the cruel tentacles of death! That motivational voice of peace, that reassuring voice of reasoning belonged to the late Honorable Johnson N. Gwaikolo, who passed away on February 19, 2024 at the Catholic Hospital in Monrovia, following a brief illness.

The untimely death of Brother Johnson Gwaikolo is a devastating blow, not only to Mrs. Gifty Gwaikolo–his beloved wife, his children, brothers and sisters and other members of his immediate family,  numerous relatives and friends–but also to the people of Nimba County, District Nine in particular, most especially Yarwin-Mehnsonon Statutory District and the Liberian nation in general. Honorable Gwaikolo was such a resourceful, versatile statesman with a serviceable skills set for moving Liberia forward.

In early December, 1990, when Honorable Gwaikolo–at the time Nimba County Representative at the erstwhile Interim Legislative Assembly during the Interim administration of Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer—went on ELBC radio, along with the late Ambassador Gabriel G. Farngalo, to appeal to NPFL fighters to lay down their arms, the first round of the senseless atrocities and pillaging was raging in almost every part of the country. It’s needless to say that the two gentlemen were taking personal risk at the time, because during the heydays of the senseless upheaval, appealing for a ceasefire, or prevailing on fighters to lay down their weapons was perceived by factional leaders and their cohorts as treasonous. However, Brother Gwaikolo and others reasoned at the time that they were making the necessary sacrifice, risking their lives in the best interests of their people.

About four months earlier in August, 1990, when West African leaders, under the aegis of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) were desperately calling on Liberians with the requisite training, technocratic knowhow, relevant orientation, impeccable credibility and formidable commitment to public service, to proceed to Banjul, the Gambian capital, convene a national conference in exile and try to salvage what was pathetically left of our already decimated country, Brother Johnson Gwaikolo was one of the few compatriots who promptly answered that clarion call at a time when the situation on the ground in Liberia was still dreadful, dangerous, traumatizing and literally deadly.

In his capacity then as president of the United Nimba Citizens Council (UNICCO), Brother Gwaikolo and others made the difficult decision to return home, so that the Liberian nation, as we have known it, would not perish from the face of the globe; so that Liberia will not be permanently balkanized into factional domains for egregious reasons and so that hundreds of thousands of compatriots who had been flushed into exiles as refugees, would not permanently remain in squalid conditions in foreign countries. Still in his mid 30s at the time and bubbling with vigor, coupled with a solid academic credential, Johnson could have expediently given tons of excuses, just to remain in the comfort of his Minneapolis, Minnesota home, but to him, public service to his Motherland, especially when the need to serve was absolutely exigent, was paramount and so, he chose to serve.

Because he patriotically opted to serve his country, he, as a result, joined other compatriots—the likes of Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer, Bishop Ronald Diggs, Mr. G. Baccus Matthews, Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr., Dr. S. Byron Tarr, Dr. Peter Naigow, Dr. S. Jabaru Carlon, Dr. Joseph Saye Guannu, Counselor Tiawan Saye Gongloe, Mr. Conmany B. Wesseh, Mr. Brownie J. Samukai and many others—in The Gambia to deliberate on the future of our dear country, Liberia. The initial outcome of those passionate deliberations was the establishment of the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), which served the nation between 1990 and 1994, with Honorable Gwaikolo serving as Nimba Country Representative at the Interim Legislative Assembly. His tenure at the ILA began a distinguished public service career, which intermittently spanned three decades, until Brother Gwaikolo’s shocking death in his 68th year  on February 19, 2024.

Even though he was a humble gentleman, but the riddance of his leadership was irresistible. As a result, besides his legislative career, he ably served the Liberian nation in many other capacities, including Deputy Finance Minister for Revenue; Deputy Minister for Administration at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Deputy Minister of Labor and Deputy Minister of Public Works, among others. His service to the Liberian nation was not limited to government positions. Gwaikolo who obtained his Doctorate degree in Educational Administration from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, was also an illustrious educator. As a classroom teacher and a university professor, he imparted knowledge to countless number of students.

There is no doubt that Brother Gwaikolo was a consummate patriot. He volunteered to return to Liberia when he had reasons to give countless excuses. He went back to Liberia at the height of a senseless war, when thousands of his compatriots were fleeing into exile. Socially, he was an affable gentleman whose sparkling smiles easily disarmed his opponents. As a leader with a large following, he inspired a lot of young people from diverse backgrounds to optimize their potential.

His own life story, being born in Zekepa, one of the remotest parts of an already under-developed country in what was then known as the Central Province in the erstwhile Yarwin-Mehnsonon Chiefdom (now Yarwin-Mensonon Statutory District) on July 25, 1955, Brother Gwaikolo’s courageous strive for excellence was relentless. Whether it was the Ganta Methodist School in Ganta, Nimba County, where his primary education began, Monrovia College during his secondary education, or the University of Liberia where he had a two-year stint prior to his departure for the U.S. in 1979, Brother Johnson Gwaikolo’s determination to make a positive difference was relentless and his appetite for pursuing knowledge was unquenchable.

As a result, even the rigors of resettling in the United States didn’t deter his quest for seeking higher education. It was therefore not surprising that in 1984, he earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the Augsburg University in Minneapolis, Minnesota and followed up with a Master’s in Leadership from the same university in 2005. Brother Gwaikolo was resolute in undergoing the rigors of academia because he was determined to adequately prepare himself for eventual national service in varied capacities at the appropriate time.

The inspirational outcome of his years of training and orientation was that he turned out to be a top-notch technocrat, witty and skillful diplomat, a shrewd administrator, an astute educator, a gregarious politician and a serviceable statesman. Brother Gwaikolo’s exemplary style of leadership was anchored on empowering and inspiring people, especially the youth, who are future leaders of the country. The cruel hands of death suddenly snatched him away from us when he’s most needed in the arduous process of nation-building.

On Saturday, March 30, 2024, a mammoth crowd of mourners from far and near–including family members, relatives, friends, acquaintances, political and academic colleagues as well as throng of ordinary folks–will be converging in Zekepa, the hometown of Honorable Gwaikolo in Yarwin-Mehnsonon District, to memorialize the fallen leader and lay his mortal remains to rest. As per the tradition of funeral rites, many eminent personalities will pay tribute. But from my perspective, the most befitting tribute that we all can pay to Brother Johnson N. Gwaikolo will be carrying on his legacy of embracing everyone, irrespective of one’s background or social status and continuing to work for the peace, stability and ultimate development of Liberia.

With the untimely passing of Honorable Johnson N. Gwaikolo, the people of District Nine in Nimba County and the Liberian nation have lost one of their brilliant sons, the Gwaikolo Family has lost a beloved husband, father, uncle, brother, nephew and son. May the selfless soul of Honorable Dr. Johnson N. Gwaikolo rest in perpetual peace.

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