Late Monday, it was announced from the Federal Republic of Nigeria that fugitive former Liberian President, Charles Ghankay Taylor has disappeared from his residence in the state of Calabar, north of the country amid all the security that was mustered around the residence for three years.
This mysterious disappearance, an apparent affront to justice, sparked huge doubts on the integrity of the Nigerian government especially President Obasanjo, whose big-brotherly role in the peace and stability of the West Africa sub region, is acclaimed by his African colleagues as well as those of the west and the United Nations. This was however put under strain with the developments surrounding the escape of Mr. Taylor.
President Obasanjo by all indications was diplomatically averse to the Special Court’s indictment of Charles Taylor in the first instance, as was depicted by his outburst in Ghana when a warrant of arrest was issued by the Special Court through the International Police (INTERPOL) when he the President Taylor was attending a summit of ECOWAS Heads of State in Accra.
Although it was then the sole responsibility of the Ghanaian government to have honoured the warrant, this did not materialise because at the time, it was considered an affront to the respect of they the leaders to over see the arrest of a colleague Head of State on an official function on behalf of his country. It was widely believed at the time that President Obasanjo influenced that no decision, ultimately endorsed by the other Heads of State and as a result, Mr. Taylor was allowed an unhindered return to Liberia.
The position of President Obasanjo and a few other West African leaders at that time was based on the maintaining of the dignity and respect of the African leader in lieu of their held notion of Pan Africanism. It was believed within that circle that it was disrespectful to the African leadership for a sitting President to be indicted by a ‘not well recognized court and would be prosecuted by a ‘junior legal luminary’ referring then to the then American Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court, David M. Crane, whose earlier remarks at the on set of the court were considered as ‘derogatory to the integrity of the African’. This position, in my candid opinion was what that had lived with President Obasanjo up to when he mediated the exit of Taylor out of Liberia and was granted asylum in Nigeria.
This was a move indeed endorsed by ECOWAS, the AU and certainly, the UN. It was a move that was to ensure the democratization of Liberia, considering the adamance of Mr. Taylor on the presidency and the potential threat posed by the Liberians United for Development (LURD) rebels, which could have resulted in further loss of lives and the destruction of properties in that belligerent state. The agreement however conditioned the Nigerians to subject Mr. Taylor to the strict conditions of political asylum, conditions which included; refraining himself from the politics of Liberia directly or indirectly and to hand over Mr. Taylor any time on the request of any democratically elected President of Liberia.
However, indications were that the Nigerian government of President Obasanjo did not heed any of these conditionalities, as Mr. Taylor was reported to be engaged in direct contacts with politicians and other senior Liberian stake holders during the democratization process and this was confirmed by the massive campaigns mounted by people reported as being under his influence and financial support, who actually gained votes to the Liberian legislature. This was a mis en place tactic by Mr Taylor and his cohorts to obstruct any legislative ratification of his extradition to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The other reported infringement of the agreement was the nonchalance by the Nigerian government over the transfer of money by the war crimes indicted criminal. He was reported to having visitors from all over the world including his former NPFL War Commanders in Liberia, with whom he planned and strategised. Charles Taylor when he Calaba was treated like a Diplomat. He had his fleet of vehicles with diplomatic registration numbers on them, which gave him the immunity to do what ever he liked outside his asylum conditions, such as his so-called self regulated escape.
I was not therefore in any way convinced with what ever explanation that was given by the Presidential Spokesman, Mr. Kayode in his attempt to exonerate the Nigerian government from blame over the then escape. Had it not been that the United States government and indeed the wider international community was firmly behind the issue of addressing impunity as far as the Sierra Leone situation was concerned, President Obasanjo would have had his objective attained much to the chagrin of the thousands of war victims in Sierra Leone. Because he simply would not like seeing Mr. Taylor stand trial, he subjected himself to ignorance of the possibilities of Taylor escaping, a move which Human Right Organisations in and out of Nigeria itself had since signalled about. But again, just to ensure that things work they way it happened on last Monday, 24 hours after the Nigerian government had announced its willingness to handover Mr. Taylor, President Obasanjo left the country for the United States in order for the escapade to go on its planned course. Could the Nigerians not have placed Taylor under control immediately they had communicated their consent to hand him over if they were not prepared for the swift criticisms and of course embarrassments from the international community?
However, after making the run and provoking the diplomatic uproar for two days, which perhaps was against the escape plan of the Nigerian authorities, Taylor was apprehended yesterday morning on the north-eastern border of Nigeria almost entering into Cameroon. Indications were that he was heading for Libya, the country of his godfather through Chad.
Why I have strong reservation over the Nigerian government’s so-called ignorance of the Taylor escape is that, firstly, he was arrested immediately by the Nigerian police President Obasanjo ordered so, after he had been squeezed diplomatically especially by President George W. Bush and, secondly, he was caught driven in an "ash-colour range rover with a diplomatic registration number’, which was an indirect order to all security forces concerned within Nigeria, not to have obstructed his escape. But because Taylor and perhaps those ordered to over see the exercise had not worked according to schedule, they were caught off target. Taylor was reported caught with large quantities of United States Dollars at his point of arrest. With these, I stand strongly to submit that the Nigerian authorities, especially President Obasanjo had full knowledge of the escape and perhaps the intended point of call.
Now, the same pressure that necessitated the orchestrated arrest of Taylor is the same pressure that has forced President Obasanjo to this time round waste no time to order the immediate repatriation of the fugitive to Liberia. May be this time round, the Nigerians will not be requesting for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to go and collect Taylor, it will be done at their free will as a way of cleaning their hands like Pontius Pilate did in the case of Jesus Christ when he handed the Prophet to the Pharisees.
This was what was expected of big brother Nigeria long since. They have played a very crucial role in the restoration of civilization in the lives of the Liberian people and as well helped the return of that country among the community of civilized nations. What Nigeria was about to fail in doing however, was the setting of a precedence in the condemnation of impunity, especially by African Leaders against their people, be it directly or indirectly.
It was my hope that Nigeria had learnt enough from the experience in Rwanda and the addressing of impunity by the UN Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania. It was my hope that Nigeria had learnt from the experience of the cooperation of other African states in their handing over of people who had been indicted by that Tribunal to face trial. It was my hope that Nigeria, considering the huge financial, material and human loss it experienced in Sierra Leone as a result of the war which was sponsored by Charles Taylor would have joined the 5million people in Sierra Leone, including the thousands of amputees, war wounded, victims of rape and so on, to say ‘No more to impunity!’ This however has not been the case. Big brother Nigeria was bent on providing protection to an individual that had in fact sponsored the summary amputation and killing of thousands of its own citizens.
I will not refer to this entire episode of the escape and arrest of Charles Taylor as a typical Wild West style of protectionism, rather I will refer to it as a typical West African 419 style of protectionism, which in essence could not match the whims and caprices of the West.
That mysterious escape and dramatic arrest of Taylor has a thick dark cloud over it, but as already indicated, we are suspiciously awaiting the outcome of the commission ordered by ‘Mr. President’ of Nigeria that will be looking into the circumstances of Taylor’s escape. Already the security officers detailed on his security are said to have been arrested. If there is no under hand at play in this whole business, May the Truth and Nothing but the Truth come up. Then, Nigeria would have proved to the entire world that it is not hypocritical about its big brotherly role in this western angle of Africa.