Magazine article New African

Nigeria/Liberia Taylor in, but Not Welcome: Charles Taylor, the Former Liberian President, Arrived in Nigeria on 12 August to Begin His Life in Exile. Pini Jason and Tom Mbakwe Explain Why the People of Nigeria Opposed His Presence in the Country

Magazine article New African

Nigeria/Liberia Taylor in, but Not Welcome: Charles Taylor, the Former Liberian President, Arrived in Nigeria on 12 August to Begin His Life in Exile. Pini Jason and Tom Mbakwe Explain Why the People of Nigeria Opposed His Presence in the Country

Article excerpt

In all his previous visits to Nigeria, Charles Taylor enjoyed the full protocol befitting a president. But when he arrived in Nigeria on 12 August to begin his life in exile: in scenic Calabar, no drums were rolled out for him.

He was escorted to Nigeria by Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, John Kufuor of Ghana and Joachim Chissano of Mozambique, yet Nigerians could not care. Their own president, Olusegun Obasanjo, proyoked the country's civil activists to anger when he offered asylum to the embattled Liberian president.

Many Nigerians are ordinarily proud of Nigeria's "Big Brother" role in brokering peace in the West African sub-region. For example, Nigeria, according to Obasanjo, has spent over US$12 billion on Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Even Obasanjo's critics applauded him when last July he barked orders from Lagos and subdued the mutineers in Sao Tome and initiated diplomatic moves that restored President Fredique de Menezez to power. But asylum for Charles Taylor proved controversial, even when many agreed that Nigeria should intervene to stem the carnage in Liberia.

"We are saying, Charles Taylor, now or in the future, will be a bad influence on Nigeria," said the president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Wole Olanipekun. "The NBA condemns it. There is a limit to compassion which our leaders profess to show to every Dick, Tom and Harry."

Three things particularly riled the critics in Nigeria. It was wrongheaded, they argued, to allow Taylor into Nigeria after his indictment by the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone. They believed that asylum for Taylor was a defiance of the international community.

Some diplomats argued that since Taylor was indicted by the UN, Nigeria could not unilaterally offer him immunity. Others were unhappy that the United States which is notorious for defying the international community, and does not subscribe to the ICC nor recognise the jurisdiction of the international Court of Justice, encouraged Nigeria to take Taylor in even when Liberia was, and still is, the primary responsibility of the US.

But other political commentators argued that what the critics had all missed was the least-talked-about fact that Taylor's indictment was "politically motivated" or part of the "grand plan" to get him out as president of Liberia.

According to the indictment read to the press in Freetown on 4 June by David M. Crane, the American chief prosecutor for the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone: "Taylor bears the greatest responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of international humanitarian Law within the territory, of Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996."

Taylor is accused of having supported the RUF rebels of Sierra Leone and handled "conflict diamonds" on their behalf: If this makes him bear "the greatest responsibility for war crimes", what about the presidents in the Great Lakes Region who have been mentioned time and again in UN Expert Panel reports to have committed similar crimes in Congo where 4.7 million people (almost the whole population of Sierra Leone) are estimated to have died since 1998 from the war? But no leader of the countries who supported the Congolese rebels who committed those atrocities, or who sent their own troops to fight in Congo, has been indicted by the UN. The fact that David Crane find it necessary to add a disclaimer when announcing the indictment: "I want to make it clear that in reaching my decision to make the indictment public, I have" not consulted with any state. …

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