Remembering Three Initiatives of Zekpehgee as a Student Leader: A Tribute to Rev. J. Emmanuel Z. Bowier

By Al-Hassan Conteh, Ph.D

J. Emmanuel Z. Bowier

The history of the 1970s student and social movements of the University of Liberia (UL) would be incomplete without recognizing the role in some of their formulation of the late Rev. J. Emmanuel Z. Bowier, Liberia’s former information Minister.  

As a student leader, he founded certain social movements and delivered motivational speeches and manifestos to guide them.  These dialogues have had a lasting impact on the ethos of the 1970s student cohort of the UL.  His friends fondly called him Zekpehgee (his middle name) or Zep for short, his favorite moniker which I use in this tribute. 

The post 1971 era of the UL was a period of exciting opportunities for Liberian youths provided by Liberia’s President William R. Tolbert.  As the Visitor of the UL, President Tolbert expected Liberian adolescents (his “precious jewels”) to be “good citizens, imaginative, creative, productive, and useful to themselves as well as to their country.[1] 

Three ways Zep and his comrades actualized that vision included the formation of the All-Student Allied Party (ASAP), the Metro Beach Declaration (named after the seaside resort in Monrovia that hosted the ASAP Convention) and the Mano River Union Students Association (MRUSA).    

Zep and companions, including Ounzuba Cooper (now Ounzuba Kemeh-Gama), Weade Kobbah (now Prof. Weade Kobbah-Boley), D. Karn Carlor, Oscar Benson-Ede (a Nigerian student leader), Morgan F. Sithole (a South African student leader), Ian Yhap, among others, established ASAP as a political alternative to the Student Unification Party (SUP), which was led at the time by the late Joseph D.Z. Korto, Conmany B. Wesseh, Alhaji G.V. Kromah and others.  

Despite their contrasting Pan African and progressive ideologies, the two parties peacefully coexisted as a model of a collaborative student union government. This synthesis flourished to such a favorable extent that Zep and other ASAP stalwarts often participated in the activities of SUP, which was the ruling party.  Consequently, the Administrations of UL Presidents Dr. J. Bernard Blamo (1975-78), and especially his successor, Dr. Mary Antoinette Grimes-Brown Sherman (1978-84), and her highly qualified and activist faculty, were able to galvanize a matured and diverse student community in nationally promulgating the ideals of the University.  This contributed to the idea of the “the University as a microcosm of society.” 

The philosophy of ASAP was grounded in the Metro Beach Declaration drafted by Zep and others.  It proclaimed that college students ought to be a fraternity of persons (males and females) from all social and economic classes of Liberia, the African Diaspora, and the rest of the world, integrated by the universal values of liberty, freedom, justice for a prosperous future. This ASAP worldview attracted me and others to become active student leaders and fraternal associates of Zep and other contemporaries.

Zep in collaboration with me, the late David A.B. Jallah, Weade Kobbah, Stanslinius Mohammed Sheriff (now Dr. S. Mohammed Sheriff), and others, founded the Mano River Union Student Association (MRUSA) in 1975 on the UL Campus.  The objective of MRUSA was to unite the students of the Mano River subregion behind the vision of Presidents William R. Tolbert, Siaka P. Stevens, and later Ahmed Sekou Touré, to achieve subregional stability and economic development. 

MRUSA students held a landmark Symposium on the “Role of University Students in the Development and Prosperity of the Mano River Union” at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, in 1976.  MRUSA leaders collaborated with their Fourah Bay counterparts, including Student Union, President Hindolo S. Trye, and a prominent student leader and journalist, Kwame Fitzohn.   The Symposium forged a lasting sense of Pan African consciousness, friendship, and camaraderie between the students of Fourah Bay College and the University of Liberia.

In accounting for the 1970s UL student movement therefore, the All-Student Allied Party (ASAP), the Metro Beach Declaration, and the Mano River Union University Student Association (MRUSA), propounded by Zep and his buddies, were three small prints in the sands of time of university students.  They were three giant leaps in the consciousness of students who experienced them. Ultimately, they contributed to making that generation of scholars good and productive citizens, pan Africanists, and patriotic citizens of our one world. 

For his strategic role in founding these and other social movements that contributed to good citizenship, may the soul of the late Rev. J. Emmanuel Z. Bowier, fondly known as Zekpehgee or Zep for short, live in perfect peace. And May God Almighty grant him Bliss. 

[1] Republic of Liberia.  1974.  Presidential Papers: Documents, Diary, and Record of Activities of the Chief Executive.  Monrovia: The Executive Mansion, Press Division, P.196.

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