A Red Carpet For A Bloodied Warrior

by Osita Okoroafor

Abuja the Nigerian Capital literally stood still the night of Monday, August 11, 2003 when ex-warlord and former Liberian President Charles Taylor flew into Nigeria on exile. His escorts included the current AU Chairman, President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, President Kuffour of Ghana, former Nigerian Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and ECOWAS Secretary General Mohammed Ibn Chambas. It was this glorious company that ushered Mr. Taylor into the waiting arms of President Obasanjo and a coterie of his ministers and aides. With Mr. Taylor’s forced exile in Nigeria, the saga of one of West Africa’s Bad Boys turned a page: We Welcome Mr. Taylor’ to a Safe Refuge in Nigeria.

Mr. Charles Taylor as a disgruntled former minister in the Late Doe’s administration in Liberia, trained as a rebel in Libya, and together with comrade-in-arms Moses Blah (his erstwhile VeePee to whom he handed over as President last Monday) launched a rebellion against Samuel Doe (his former boss) from neighbouring Cote d’ Ivoire in 1989, which claimed over 200,000 lives. His singular action against the ignoble government of Doe’s precipitated the civil war, which has ravaged Liberia for 14 years; as warlords and rebel factions sprang up like mushrooms to terrorize the hapless citizens of Liberia.

Despite the fact that Mr. Taylor and his faction were the chief tormentors of the Nigerian led ECOMOG peacekeeping force, and a widow-making machine for Nigerian soldiers. Despite the fact that he was accused of slaying two Nigerian journalists Krees Imodibe and Taiwo Awotunsin, ECOMOG handed him the reins of power in Liberia, and he continued a merciless persecution of Nigerians.

Mr. Taylor was equally accused of aiding rebellion in several West African Countries like Guinea, Cote d’ ivoire, and in Sierra Leone for his alleged interest in “blood Diamonds.” Little wonder then that he picked the exclusive Diamond Hill suburb of Calabar, Nigeria as his sanctuary.

I have gone the way of history because I believe that Mr. Taylor’s place in its broad halls should not be in the safe ensconce of a villa perched on Diamond hill, overlooking the scenic beauty of Calabar. No! He should be elsewhere, preferably in the dock before the International War Crimes Tribunal. Mr. Charles Taylor has been indicted on seventeen counts for crimes against humanity, yet President Obasanjo and his Ministers welcomed him into Nigeria like a conquistador- like a Roman General just back from expanding the frontiers of The Empire.

Mr. Charles Taylor is no conqueror to be crowned with a wreath moreso by a country he has shown much disdain. The only empires he created were of darkness and sorrow in the hearts of Liberians in particular and West Africans in general. He desecrated the altars of hope, and defiled the shrines of dreams of many Liberians. What does Abuja hope to gain by their curious diplomacy in shielding Mr. Taylor from the IWCT? To rid Liberia of Mr. Taylor? Maybe, but now that Mr. Taylor’s yoke has been lifted off Liberia’s sagging neck, has she found freedom?

Maybe President Obasanjo’s aim is to bring peace to a country torn apart by internecine warfare? I concur that getting Mr. Taylor out of the way is intrinsic to peace in Liberia but the ultimate goal in the liberty of a nation freed from the bondage of Mr. Taylor’s grip on power is justice. Liberians must be granted justice for Mr. Taylor’s crimes against them and their posterity; this is the ultimate step in their long walk to freedom and peace. Amongst the lot cavorting for Mr. Taylor’s vacated throne are the usual suspects- ‘the gung ho’ type shooting their way to power; the man who presently occupies the throne is a Taylor crony. An example must be made of Mr. Taylor as a warning to anyone who might occupy his throne in future- He must be brought to book and if found guilty, then must atone for his crimes.

The truth be told, Mr. Taylor was a drowning man before he abdicated his bloody throne; he had been indicted on crimes against humanity, the US was breathing down his neck, and given the example made of Sadaam Hussein, Mr. Taylor knew his time was up. It was a simple case of vamoose or be consigned to the waste bin of used up despots. He had nowhere to go except Nigeria, where criminals go unpunished; where the wronged get no justice.

I simply cannot understand President Obasanjo’s decision to grant asylum to a man who has been indicted for heinous crimes against humanity- not that Baba bothered to explain his decisions to anybody; he simply carried on as if it was one of those things. In case you are one of those who still struggle to make sense out of the strange decisions and actions of the Federal Government, save yourself the headache; we have just witnessed another chapter to that already burgeoning epic titled: ‘Why Crimes Go Unpunished’ written by Abuja- providing refuge for an embattled Mr. Charles Taylor is ‘tailored’ to the seams of the strange trial of a certain Iyiola Omisore, to the reluctance to try a certain Chris Uba and his gang; these characters are all cut from the same cloth and the tailors… authors of that epic were at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja salivating over an ‘Executive Refugee,’ who had himself initiated a march of a million refugees all over West Africa.

It was simply a sad tale last Monday night and the brotherhood of African leaders, which served as the cordon that shielded Taylor from his fate, appeared awed by the fact that one of them actually gave up power (resigned from power), which is almost unimaginable in the circles of African leadership save for Mr. Nelson Mandela (who must be getting lonely on his lofty perch). Let’s face facts if Mr.Taylor had as much control over his fate, as he would have loved, he would never had given up power even if it meant drinking the last drop of blood in Liberia.

Mr. Taylor’s hand over and farewell speech was a potpourri of self praise and stomach churning sanctimonious hogwash about his mighty sacrifice for his beloved Liberia. Can you imagine? The man likened himself to Jesus Christ- he called himself ‘a sacrificial lamb for Liberia’s peace’. Mr. Taylor’s posturing as a messenger of peace is the hypocrisy that is African leadership and therein lies our tragedy as Africans: it is high time we learn to demand responsible leadership, and even more importantly learn to exact a toll for failure to deliver as a leader.

Thus far it does seem Mr. Taylor will not be made to account for his bloody misrule. I also believe Taylor was at his humorous best when he referred to Nigeria as ‘the true African Super Power’- simply, I guessed, for her role in shielding him from justice. Well if such is what is needed to earn our justified commendation as a peacekeeper amongst fellow African brethren, then Taylor should keep his praise; the price is too high.

It is trite that Nigeria often deludes herself as a Big Brother to other African Nations and has strived to live up to this role. Big Brother Nigeria has employed billions of Dollars, blood, and the lives of its soldiers and citizens to bring stability to its war torn neighbours. Her gestures have been received with glee, when needed, and spurned with equal gusto when no longer marketable. Our sojourn in Liberia in the days of Samuel Doe earned us the ire of Liberians, who accused us of pillaging their country. In the event of our return to that war torn enclave, such talk has dominated foreign airwaves; no one remembers the sacrifice and bravery of Nigerian soldiers who died in that campaign. Ditto our foray into Sierra Leone to return President Tejan Kabbah to power; till date Britain has staked its claim as being responsible for restoring stability to that part of Africa, yet the price was our money, blood and sacrifice.

We have returned to Liberia and have been welcomed with open arms by Liberians, but for how long before accusations become rife? Are all these sacrifices in human and material resources made just so the likes of Mr. Charles Taylor can sample Edika-ikong and ultimately the equally delicious Calabar damsels?

It is painfully comical that the thrust of our foreign policy has mutated to providing safe havens for deposed African despots and wanted renegades; Prince Yormie Johnson (now a Reverend, maybe he could hear Mr. Taylor’s confessions and offer him absolutions) resides in Abuja, Corporal Foday Sankoh (now deceased) was formerly our guest, though in a more ignominious circumstance, before we released him to unleash another round of ordeal on his hapless countrymen, and now Mr. Taylor is on his merry way to Calabar. May I suggest while we are at it, to construct a new estate for the rest of them like Blaise Campaore, Yayyeh Jammeh and Gnassingbe Eyadema (whenever their countries gets rid of them).

The present administration is setting up commissions each day to fight one crime after another, yet we can afford to foot the bill for Mr. Taylor’s flight from justice?

The Governments of Nigeria, both past and present, seem lost in the woods on how to direct our foreign policies, and since our leaders have settled on becoming local champions instead of making a name on the world stage in their quest to become patch-patch world leaders, they create foreign policies which often oscillates between the farcical and the hilarious, or do you not wonder why SA rather than Nigeria is seen as the more serious player on the world stage where Africa is concerned, despite the latter’s shenanigans; committed human and material resources et al. it is this same preposterous policy that brought Mr. Taylor to Nigeria in the name of bequeathing peace to beleaguered Liberia. If at all we are the real African Big Brother, Taylor would not have besieged the shores of Liberia’s dreams, given our contributions to his emergence as that nation’s president.

On the other hand, how involved were Nigerian construction companies in post war reconstruction contracts in Liberia, in Sierra Leone or in any of the countries we have invested sorrow, tears and blood? Zilch. (Are there any 100% Nigerian construction companies of note sef?) Did our efforts and pains then buy our citizenry immunity from harm and harassment from our African brothers whom we are dying to protect? for the answer to that one, I shall direct you to the latest batch of repatriated Nigerians, who were sent away with nothing but the clothes on their back from ‘suffering’ countries we have died to save- for a more passionate answer, please check out a bereaved relative or an amputee whose sole crime is that he/she had a Nigerian relation or is Nigerian.

I am not against helping our ‘less fortunate’ brethren. No! But there ought to be a purpose- there has to be some gain in our foreign policies for Nigerians at home and abroad, or else we are not Big Brother, but a Father Christmas, and like Santa Claus will only be relevant for one season only- in this case the season of strife. Our foreign policies must graduate from the peripatetic to the purposeful and the gradient should not be the personal whims of the incumbent, nor should our resources be deployed to bale out embattled personal friends in power.

More importantly the asylum granted Mr. Charles Taylor raises serious moral questions in view of the fact that the man was accused of crimes against Nigerians, and in particular for the death of the above mentioned two Nigerian journalists. Does the Nigerian Government not owe the families of the slain citizens the moral responsibility of at least trying the accused, or is the balance of responsibility of the Nigerian Federal Government tipped in favour of Charles Taylor against Nigerians, dead or alive?

Whatever the case maybe, in my opinion, Mr. Charles Taylor is not welcome; we have enough of his ilk with us already. President Obasanjo’s decision to grant sanctuary to Mr. Taylor is an aberration that must be corrected- it baffles reality and starves fiction that the antagonist should not get his comeuppance. I believe it is in order that if at all Mr. Taylor must walk the path of freedom, his route should not be cushioned with a red carpet, but the bare cobbled floors of a court room, so that the world can judge his bloodied footprints.

Be that as it may, the reality is that Mr. Taylor is already with us, and is hugging all the headlines. I humbly urge the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism to add his new abode to the long list of tourist sites in Cross River State (the sight of a relaxed Taylor walking his dog while the plight of his long suffering countrymen make international headlines would make for a good tourist attraction, won’t you agree?), and perchance he might run into one of the hundreds of thousands of refuges displaced and bereaved by his mad lust for power (now wouldn’t that be just the ultimate twist in his epic?).

For the authors of our fate in Abuja I wish to suggest a title to the concluding chapter of their base epic “Why Crimes Go Unpunished” and that is: ‘Return him to the court of law- the only refuge for an accused.’

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