Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Sawyer - framer of constitution

By a correspondent

Amos Sawyer, more than any other individual, personifies Liberia's recent quest for constitutional rule. Is this what has earned him the wrath of military strongman Samuel Doe?

From April 1981 to April 1983, Sawyer chaired the commission to draft a new Constitution for Liberia. After some modifications, that Constitution was adopted by referendum on July 3, 1984. Sawyer's appointment stemmed, in large measure, from his long record of defence of constitutionality.

Since the early 1970s, Sawyer has played a leading role in the drive to democratize Liberia. Among the groups he helped found were SUSUKUU, a private anti-poverty program, and the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), a support group for southern African liberation. These organisations were proscribed by the current military government when it seized power in 1980.

From August 1979 to April 1980, Sawyer was an independent candidate for mayor of Monrovia - the country's first independent candidate for 25 years. That campaign pitted Sawyer and his supporters against the True Whig party (TWP) which had ruled for over a century. The mayoral election, scheduled for June 1980, was also aborted by the military take-over.

Sawyer, 39, is the father of two teenage sons. He earned a Ph.D. in political science from Northwestern University in 1973 and immediately returned to teach at the University of Liberia. He was dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities from 1979 until his arrest.

His arrest was ordered by military strongman Samuel Doe who cut short a European visit and returned Sunday morning to Monrovia, the nation's capital. Those arrested were charged on Monday with treason, an offence punishable by death.

Since Doe seized power in 1980, there have been six major treason trials, the most recent ended three months ago. Although the courts have returned guilty verdicts in all these cases, some defendants have received pardons from Doe. In addition to such trials, there have been several executions without trials, including Doe's former vice chairman Thomas Weh Syen.

The timing of the recent arrests threatens a fragile democratic process. A ban on political activities, in effect since the military coup d'etat of 1980, was lifted only a month ago.

Before lifting the ban, Doe had asked Sawyer to serve as his running mate but that offer was flatly rejected, according to the West Africa magazine of July 30. About a week before his arrest, Sawyer had announced plans for a party to oppose Doe in the up- coming elections, but had ruled himself out as a candidate.

Among the detained are four of Doe's closest associates: Col. Larry Borteh, Col. Jeffrey Gbatu, Col. Jerry Jorwoleh and Isaac Nyeplu, former Minister of Justice. In previous treason trials, Doe's associates have usually emerged from among the accused to serve as state witnesses. It is unclear when those arrested will be brought to trial, if indeed they will.

Veteran journalist Rufus Darpoh has been detained without trial since June 17.

Diplomats express concern

The acting head of another political party has been detained in connection with an alleged coup plot for which six prominent Liberians have already been detained.

Mr Dusty Wolokolie, acting chairman of the Liberia People's Party, was accompanied by two church leaders when he gave himself up at the Justice Ministry.

The detention which follows several arrests, was the latest development in a political crisis that has created considerable tension in Liberia and concern among aid donors and trading partners.

A group of Western ambassadors met the acting Foreign Minister, Mr Christopher Minikon, to ask about the clash on August 22 between troops and students at the University of Monrovia.

Diplomatic sources said that Mr Edward Perkins, a US State Depart- ment official concerned with West Africa, was in Liberia for two days of consultations with American Embassy staff immediately after the university clash. The state news agency quoted a Justice Ministry official as saying that Mr Wolokolie was turned over to the National Security Agency, which is holding the other suspects. Mr Wolokolie and Mr Anthony Kesselly, the party secretary, were ordered last week to surrender.

Reported calls for Doe's resignation

Accra radio has reported that a number of politicians in Liberia have called on the country's leader, Mr Samuel Doe, in the name of fairness, to resign following his decision to form a political party to contest next year's elections for a return to civilian rule. They said this is necessary because all other government officials with political ambition have been made to resign.

Meanwhile, the New Democratic Movement of Ghana has condemned what it called the wave of repression of human and democratic rights in Liberia. In a statement issued in Accra by the steering committee, the Movement condemned the arrest and detention of Dr Amos Sawyer, a prominent academic, and other Liberians as an attack on democratic rights.

talking drums 1984-09-03 arrests and tension in Liberia - WAEC's leakage problems