President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf yesterday bestowed national distinctions on some of the nation’s dedicated public servants for their invaluable contributions to the reconstruction of the country.
They included the president of the University of Liberia, Dr. Emmet Dennis; Minister of National Defense, Brownie Samukai; and, posthumously, former Minister of Internal Affairs, the late Ambullai Johnson.
Speaking at an investiture ceremony at the Cecil Dennis Memorial Auditorium at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, President Sirleaf told a jammed packed hall that the men deserved their honors because they answered the calls of national duty in their respective assigned tasks.
Such an occasion is normally held on July 26, but the president clarified that it was meant to ensure that the wife of the late Internal Minister, who is currently in the country, formed part of the ceremony.
The honor of former Minister Johnson, who died recently in the United States and was buried there, was received by his wife. “We want to thank these men for their contributions to our nation. They have done excellently well,” she said in a brief remark.
Dr. Dennis, appointed in 2008, has completed his tenure at the state owned University of Liberia, and was honored for a job well done.
She also noted that it was recommended for her to honor Minister Samukai at the last Armed Forces Day along with others, but she chose to do it at a particular time in an effort to make it more relevant.
All the honorees were admitted into the Humane Order of African Redemption, but Dr. Dennis and the late Minister Johnson were given the Grade of Knight Grand Commanders, while Minister Samukai was graded Knight Grand Band.
President Sirleaf said there was no better way to bid Dr. Emmet Dennis, a befitting farewell, than bestowing upon him one of the nation’s highest distinctions for his invaluable and dedicated services to that institution and the Liberian state.
He was appointed on November 11, 2008, after being endorsed by the university’s Board of Trustees.
With that appointment, Dr. Dennis found himself back in the country that he fled in 1980, after the bloody coup.
Though comfortably perched as a full professor of cellular biology and neuroscience as well as vice president for student affairs at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Dr. Dennis accepted to return home.
Dr. Dennis noted that being president of UL, the oldest degree granting university in West Africa has been “extremely challenging, very difficult, but deeply gratifying. To be honest, I would not have changed it for anything,” he said on numerous occasions.
His biggest challenge upon his appointment was restoring and building an institution that, like everything here, was devastated by the civil war. Academic standards had fallen, the school’s infrastructure was left in ruins, the faculty was demoralized and the students agitated. But in Dennis’s time there, the university has a new US$21 million campus — built by the Chinese Government — in Fendall. Academic standards have risen and the school has made steady gains in attracting some high-profile department heads.
The institution, since Dennis took over, has produced 179 medical doctors down from a little over 20. Students’ enrollment has increased to 36 percent from a mere 21 percent.
“Madam President, I’m honored to have served this country,” Dr. Dennis said. He also envisaged the establishment of a Military Science Department. This, he said, would be done in collaboration with the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL).
Minister Samukai is the only surviving member of the President’s initial cabinet in 2006, still comfortably seated in his original position. The President said he was being honored for his immense contribution to the security sector and for serving the country for the last 11 years.
“Minister Samukai is our longest serving minister under my administration, therefore, we organized this program to recognize his efforts and contribution to the country,” she said.
She, however, clarified with a sense of humor that the honoring of Minister Samukai does not in any way mean that he is now going out of government.
Minister Samukai meanwhile lauded the president for trusting him all these years though he is short of perfection.
“Thank you for trusting me, Madam President; even though I am not perfect I’m honored and privileged to receive this award,” he said.
The program brought together several dignitaries both officials of government, Dean and members of the Diplomatic Corps, officers of the AFL, families, among many others.