“It bothers me, but at this point in time, I think this is probably the right step to take” Princeton Lyman, 2003.
Dictators, war criminals, and malevolent and maleficent presidents and leaders come in all shapes and form. As Africans, we know this very well. We are endowed with human and abundant natural resources; yet, we bequeath the world some of the most fascinating and ruthless cowards. Abacha comes to mind. In the same league are brutes like the late Idi Amin, Mengistu Haile Mariam, and Hissene Habre. In the Western hemisphere, we had men like Jean-Claude Duvalier, Alfredo Stroessner, Raoul Cedras, and a host of others. However, some presidents, and members of some ruling houses in the Middle East are in a league of their own.
In recorded human history, Conradin Von Hohenstafen was perhaps the first, in 1268, to be prosecuted and put to death for initiating an unjust war; and the first international prosecution for war crimes was against Peter Von Hagenbach in 1474. Ever since, we have had cases of men and women who commit crime against peace, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. In the modern era, the world has had to deal with men like Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Joachim Ribbentrop, and Rudolf Hess. Today, we add Ghankay Charles MacArthur Dapkana Taylor to this ignominious list.
The world watched as Charles Taylor went from being an irritant to an alleged defalcator and fugitive, then a dictator and then graduated to the level of a war criminal. But then, not everybody sees him the way his victims and critics see him. To some, Taylor was the man who helped bring down Samuel Doe; he was the man who held Liberia together when the country was about to fall to pieces. A hero and a nationalist, this man Charles. And to some, he is the savior and a child of God fighting for the values, beliefs and all those things Conservative Christians in America hold dear; therefore, the indictments against him, in the words of Pat Robertson, “is nonsense and should be quashed.” Lucifer, Judas, and the “evil genius” in Nigeria had/have their supporters — why not Charles Taylor?
I said this a while ago: it is impossible to read, or hear about the track-records of Mr. Taylor and feel any sympathy or empathy toward, or for him. And if the allegations against him are true, he belongs in the deepest valley of a raging fire. But how do we know he is guilty of all that has been leveled against him? Well, only the courts can tell us. But as it is, Mr. Taylor does not want to go to court to face his alleged victims; he does not want to stand before the international community and defend himself; he does not want the Manuel Noriega or Slobodan Milosevic’s treatment. He wants the same treatment that was accorded Siad Barre, Mengistu Mariam, and Idi Amin.
President Obasanjo has granted Charles Taylor refuge in Calabar. He has fulfilled Taylor’s wishes; and it will remain so, so long as Taylor does not “participate in the politics of his country from Nigerian, and will remain quiet”. It is this soft-landing, this idea of a shelter, and protection from trial that has peeved, and is vexing my fellow Nigerians; that he would be allowed to bask and live comfortably “in the safe ensconce of a villa perched on Diamond hill, overlooking the scenic beauty of Calabar” instead of the halls and dock and gallows of the International War Crimes Tribunal.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: I am in full support of the president’s action in granting Taylor safe haven. It makes sense.
And now, let us be clear about these: I am not under any kind off illusion as to the manner of man Charles Taylor is. And I must concede that the arguments and positions taken and presented by my fellow Nigerians are cogent and coherent and has basis in law, common sense, morality and justice.
Nevertheless, I still maintain that there are times when it is necessary to allow wicked and malicious leaders off the hook — if it will serve a greater or common good. In this case, and as Obasanjo has allowed, this was done “in the interest of stability in the war-torn Liberia”. With time, the world will come to agree with Obasanjo’s wisdom on this matter; that this was a credible and sensible decision on the part of the president.
However, Obasanjo’s stance is not sitting well with Osita Okoroafor, Chukwudi Nwokoye, Babs Ajayi, Gani Fawehinmin, Reuben Abati, Dozie Ikem Ezeife, and a host of other Nigerians, at home and abroad, who have all voiced their opposition to Obasanjo’s magnanimous behavior vis-à-vis Mr. Taylor. It does not sit well with me, either. It doesn’t. But, Obasanjo’s offer of safe-haven has precedent in local laws, international law and politics. Examples of such precedents can be found in an earlier writing at: https://www.inigerian.com/articles.php?articleId=321
In public and in private, Dr. Tonye David-West, has perhaps been the most forceful, arguing against granting Taylor safe passage. Tonye maintains a regular column at Nigeriaworld, where most of his opinions and commentaries on social, political, cultural and economic matters can be found. In a private missive, however, he argued:
- “Should Taylor be relieved of his criminal responsibilities because Idi Amin got away? Because ‘Baby Doc” got away? …You will find in history precedence for every act, but that does not mean that we will have to continue in our inhumane track… If we do not hold Taylor accountable, then I am afraid the message of probity is amply lost and who is to say that the Ghanaian leader or the Togolese leader, etc, would not turn into a Taylor down the line with no consequences coming their way. Where is the deterrence for this type of behavior? I agree that we must save the Liberian people. We can accomplish this task by forcefully removing Taylor and bringing him to justice. That much we owe the Liberian people. We must be very careful of what we say in this regard. Africa is filled with dictators and potential dictators and if we do not begin to send the message that they will be held responsible for their crimes against humanity, we, as a continent stand to lose a great deal. You have seen what happened in Uganda with Amin, in CAR with Bokassa, in Zaire with Mobutu and the list goes on. Need we continue to look the other way because of politics?”
Well, Obasanjo’s action is not about politics. It is not about shielding a killer from the full force of the law. It is not about thumbing his nose at international law and conventions. It is not about setting a foul precedent. I am certain (that) the president took into account the pain and suffering the people of Liberia and Liberia’s neighbors has had to endure. I am certain that the president took into account the political reality on the ground: What if Taylor had refused to leave…then what? The US, Britain and their “coalition of the willing” has yet to locate, arrest, and prosecute Mr. Osama Bin Laden; how do we suppose we would have arrested and prosecuted Taylor if he had taken to the bushes?What would have followed would have been years and years of untold pain, sufferings, and political and economic instability, wanton deaths and destruction of property. And through it all, Nigeria would have had to bear most of the cost in terms of refugees, and in terms of holding peace-meetings between Taylor and the oppositions. At the last count, Nigeria has spent about $12 billion. Although, General Victor Malu, the former ECOMOG Commander, is disputing the current figure; still, how much more can we afford to spend in the future on a problem that has been raging and has consume everything that’s in its path?
To minimize the emergence of the psychotic, the maleficent and the eccentrics as leaders, we should readjust our culture and discourage fatalism; promote democracy and democratic institutions; and strengthen our educational system. There is, it appears, something about the African way of life that encourages the materialization of the crazies and the terribles as leaders.
Mr. Osita Okoroafor’s article (A Red Carpet For A Bloodied Warrior), which was published at www.nigeriansinamerica.com, is another brilliant piece. But, I must say that I do not see Obasanjo’s actions as a foreign policy blunder. His actions are in keeping with our national interest (foreign policy plus national security). If we cannot take on the Liberian problems, what then is our national interest, and what are our foreign policy goals? If a state wants to be an influential player on the international arena, then the state must be willing to take actions that are not always popular – but furthers the state’s agenda — both at the international and domestic arena.
It is to Obasanjo, and to Nigeria’s credit that the fire in Sao Tome and Principe was doused. It is to Obasanjo’s credit that he deftly handled the Bakassi and the Seme-border problems. It is also to his credit that he is allowing Taylor a refuge in Nigeria. When it is all said and done, I do not see Obasanjo’s actions as a blot or blemish on Nigeria’s image. It is those ten-percenters, those 419ers, drug dealers and insurance fraudsters, those who loot our treasury, those who perpetrated the coup d’etat in Anambra state, those Nigerian prostitutes in Italy and elsewhere, and all those Nigerians who collude with foreign agents in milking and exploiting our natural and human resources that brings shame and dishonor to our country.
Those university professors who exchange good grade for sex; those “men of God” who sexually exploit the weak and the feeble-hearted; those law enforcement officers and public officials who allow the assassination of Dele Giwa and Bola Ige to go unsolved and unpunished – it is they bring shame and dishonor to our land. Not President Olusegun Obasanjo – at least, not on this Charles Taylor matter!
There are so many constraints to what a nation-state or president can do in pursuit of its foreign policy (or national interest): budgetary constraints; lack of public support; limits sets by the Courts and by the Congress; security, political and ideological alliances; and global trends. The trend, especially since Augusto Pinochet was almost prosecuted has been to go after war criminals and those who commit crimes against humanity. But even so, the global community understand that there are times when you “let the sleeping dog lie”, as was the case with Henry Kissinger, and Ariel Sharon. That is why there is hardly a country in Europe or in North America that is not harboring a scoundrel, a vagabond, a thief, a murderer, a fugitive, a tyrant, a dictator, or a war criminal.
Now, if we want to set up our own courts and precedents (in Africa), well, I am all for it. But it should be understood that we are not an Island and that we do not live in a vacuum. We are part of the global community – a globalizing world. If former president Saddam Hussein had taken the offer of abdication and asylum presented by President George Bush, the world community would not have opposed it, and Saddam would have gone into exile with millions of dollars in his pockets along with a UN or US backed guarantee against future prosecution. Now, Hussein and Taylor…where is the difference between both men?
Before Taylor’s arrival in Nigeria, my position was simply that: (1) if the world can grab Taylor and deliver him to the tribunal in Sierra Leone, well, that would have been fine and dandy. Let him face his accusers and answer to the accusations leveled against him; and (2) since the success rate of such line of action is very low — considering America and Britain’s track record with Osama, Hussein, and the Abu Sayed gang in the Philippines – the best avenue is to allow Taylor leave on his own volition. That way, it will save everyone involve a whole lot of headache and uncertainties.
It is my hope that I am not alone in the belief that President Olusegun Obasanjo made the right, and most sensible call, in granting Charles Taylor sanctuary in Nigeria.
It is also my hope that the people of Calabar will welcome Taylor and his family — even if with some reservation. We are Africans and our culture does not permit us to turn away those in need of a home and a plate of food. We are a welcoming people.
Our next step, now that Taylor and his immediate family members are in Nigeria, is how to find lasting solutions to the never-ending problems of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea; and most of all to Nigeria’s internal problems. In the Niger Delta Region for, instance, the Ijaws and the Itshekiris are busy killing each other because of economic resources, political power and influence. Lives are being lost on a daily basis. Properties are being willfully destroyed. Generation of young and promising lives is being wasted; yet, the rest of the country and the government are acting as though nothing out of the ordinary is taking place. Soon, very soon that part of the region will go up in smoke. And may be then, the rest of the country and the international community will pay attention.
When that part of the country begin to burn, and people begin to run, ha! Liberia will look like a mock war zone…a child’s play. Mr. President, members of Congress, and fellow Nigerians – please pay attention to the Ijaw and Itshekiri problems. Please!