Sawyer’s Sterling Traits Unveiled -Devout Assistant of 12 Years Adores His Virile Mentor

In no small measure, the passing of one Liberia’s consummate intellectuals and statesmen, Dr. Professor Amos Claudius Sawyer, attracted, as ever seen in many decades, the most enthralling and sublime expression of grief and exaltations. Mourners, particularly from the community of scholars, have been clamoring to be heard in their own unique style and wit, telling the wider public what they had known of Dr. Sawyer. After the litany of colored lamentations of the last two years adoring the Liberian educator, here comes someone who, for a dozen years, came so very close to the former Liberian head of state and gulped copiously from his foundation of wisdom in close range. A Liberian young scholar and tactician, Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei, sums of Dr. Sawyer’s major traits that made him a true ‘man of the people’. He shared his tribute with The Analyst.

Everyone can say just what they have known about someone else, particularly if the subject of discussion is or was a legend whose name and contributions spread far and wide. But it only takes those who have spent more time and shared more notes with the subject to tell more intently and intimately the real story, even the unsaid ones.

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei fits this role almost perfectly when it comes to Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer for whom he play trusted and close discipleship for 12 long years.

Ibrahim Nyei was research and personal assistant to Professor Sawyer from 2010 to February 16, 2022.

He joined many other close confidants, colleagues, admirers and associates of the fallen Liberian academic and theoretician to tender a tribute accentuating few of the major values and traits that Dr. Sawyer lived for

See page below for catchy tribute Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei dedicated to the memory of his mentor of 12 years.


What I learned from Prof. Amos C. Sawyer: A reflection

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

On February 16, 2022, the renowned Liberian public intellectual and African statesman, Prof Amos Claudius Sawyer, made a peaceful transition to paradise. Following that fateful event of February 16, people from all walks of life have written about his life, and his remarkable contributions to the development of Africa and Liberia in particular, with emphasis on his contribution to the search for peace, good governance and advancement of scholarship. They have established the foundation for the rest of us to say what we know about his life. Here I want to reveal what I learned from him during the 12 years of being his personal assistant and confidante on many fronts. He taught me more than he realized, and I would be remiss not to share those lessons with the rest of the world, particularly with members of my generation, who barely knew of him and his struggle for the democracy we inherited. By his actions and public statements, and through private conversations, I learned so much but can share the few that stand out most.

Value of a common humanity

Prof Sawyer believed in the oneness of humanity: that everyone deserves equal treatment and all opportunities available in the society. This value drove his quest for political and social change in Liberia. This also made him very accessible, and at all times, willing to meet with people regardless of their station in life. He would have lunch and dinner with his security guard, janitor, and support staff.

Consensus building

He was a leader and adroit negotiator from whom I learned the benefits of building consensus on crucial, and at times very controversial, issues. I do not recall him ever taking an important decision without consulting with people he would consider knowledgeable or of concern regarding a particular issue. He was an excellent listener who paid keen attention during meetings and public events. He would allow others to speak more, even when he chaired meetings. During meetings on very tense subjects, he would listen closely to all the counter views while taking copious notes. His input in the end would be a synthesis of all views expressed and where they intersected – that everyone would eventually realize that their position was understood and accepted.

Humility in leadership

Prof Sawyer’s humility was beyond understanding. Leadership and public authority, he maintained, were privileged assets meant to serve the public. In serving, he sought the advice of people at all levels. Despite his superior academic achievements, he never published a paper or delivered a speech without seeking the views of others on the content of his arguments and propositions. Similarly, he was so humble that he barely made a public decision without seeking counsel, and sometimes he would put a few of us in a room to discuss his proposals and views before attending some crucial meetings.

Abiding search for knowledge and truth

For Prof Sawyer, the search for knowledge was a lifelong vocation. Despite his academic achievements, experience and public profile, he did not limit his search for understanding of the social world to reading but made efforts at times to take courses even after decades of providing instruction. I recall when in 2015 he shared a web link among Governance Commission staff members about an online course in sustainable development and climate change. He personally informed me that he was registering for the course because he wanted to understand the new theories around development and climate change as he had repeatedly heard the phrases ‘climate change’ and ‘sustainable development’ which by then had become currencies in development discourses. He would read every paper that came his way and advised us strongly never to attend a meeting or seminar without reading prospectus and other documents associated with such meeting.

Tolerance and inclusivity

Prof Sawyer was a Liberian whose level of tolerance was unmatched among Liberians of his status. Many could not believe that he would often invite his own critics to meetings and hear them out, including partnering with them on national issues. He was a man without a boundary on many fronts. For him, one’s capability and decency were the primary criteria for inclusion and engagement, not religious or tribal affiliation, not age or educational achievement. On Fridays he would attend Mosque ceremonies to which he was invited, and on Sundays attend regular mass at his church. I recall his keynote speech at the formal opening of the grand Mosque in Bopolu, where he informed the audience that Bopolu was a center for Islamic scholarship before its integration into Liberia and expressed hope that Islamic leaders of today would re-establish that tradition of scholarship. This speech was delivered at a time Liberians were sharply divided on a controversial constitutional reform proposal that called for Liberia to be identified as a ‘Christian state’. He was vocal against this proposal and advised that it was against everything Liberians have fought for over the years in establishing a pluralistic and inclusive society.

Patriotism and productive citizenship

Prof Sawyer believed in Liberia and was hopeful of the promises Liberia holds for its people. However, he recognized that the country’s potentials and dreams of the people for prosperity and social progress could not be achieved without establishing democratic institutions that promote an inclusive and progressive society. For him, establishing democracy in Liberia became his lifelong vocation. Many years before I was born, he challenged the one-party dominant system with the aim of replacing it with a multiparty and pluralistic democracy. Despite baits and inducements from the establishment he chose to fight alongside the people rather than being co-opted by the elites of the day who were largely preoccupied with crass materialism. His struggle with successive governments and his contributions to post-conflict governance reform at the Governance Commission are well known, but his last effort at working toward a culture of productive citizenship was not well publicized.

Concerned that the new generation of Liberians were not fully aware of their rights and responsibilities as citizens in a democracy, he initiated a project to develop curricula and textbooks on civics. By the time his ailment began to diminish his capacity, the complete set of civics textbooks were written for grades one through six and approved by the Ministry of Education for instruction in Liberian schools. This was so dear to his heart that when I last spoke with him while on his hospital bed, I recall, this was one of the key things he asked about, among several other projects he had hoped to complete ‘before time runs out on me’ as he wrote to me in a text message.

To Prof Sawyer, being a productive citizen was to make contributions to your community and that could either be by observing its laws or by making meaningful contributions to its progress. The new generation of primary school students in Liberia will hopefully get to learn about citizenship values through what may be considered as the final contribution of Prof Sawyer to the country he loved so deeply that he sacrificed so much for, personally.

Conclusion: He was a moral outlier

For me, it was a rare privilege to work so closely with Prof Sawyer and learned so much from him. The values he lived with defined his character and made him a moral outlier, and for many of us who were so close to him, our lives have been remarkably influenced and shaped by him in many ways. We can never wear his shoes, neither can any of us so uniquely represent the combination of all those virtues as he did. He was a man in a class of his own —a distinct embodiment of a scholar, activist, and a political, but highly moral, leader. Therefore, in the midst of the sorrow and grief, I find solace in Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life” which informs that the

“Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time. “

Indeed, as many have testified, Prof Sawyer was “a hero in the strife”. A hero we will never get to see again, but his life is placed in his thoughts and writings, the virtues he taught us and the invaluable contributions he made to human progress and freedom. These will forever live with us; and fortunately, they can never be effaced from the sands of time.

Ibrahim Nyei was research and personal assistant to Professor Sawyer from 2010 to February 16, 2022.

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