As far as Nigeria goes — it has been a very busy month. There was the issue of whether Nigerians, in large number, was going to obey Buhari’s call for mass civil protest/disobedience. That was quickly followed by the Labor Union strike, and President Bush’s visit to Nigeria. And then there was the civilian coup d’etat in Anambra State against Governor Chris Nwabueze Ngige. Between the call for mass protest, labor strike, Bush’s visit and the coup was the issue of President Charles Taylor of Liberia.
In the days and weeks ahead, Nigerians, at home and abroad, would have plenty to say about the coup. For much of last week however, it was the appropriateness of President Obasanjo granting President Charles Taylor a safe-haven in Nigeria that has vexed a lot of commentator, essayist, politicians and some of my friends. To say the least – it provoked a lot of “thunder, fire and brimstone”. By my unscientific poll, ninety-five percent of Nigerians (on the World Wide Web) are vehemently against granting Taylor a safe-haven in Nigeria. The reasons they proffered are without a doubt, compelling and reasonable and has basis in law, morality and common sense.
I am in the minority. I favor granting Taylor refuge in Nigeria. This, in spite of the fact I have always asserted criminals be brought to justice. On this matter however, I am of the opinion that there are times when it is necessary to allow misfits off the hook especially if such an act will serve a greater or common good. In the case of Charles Taylor, it will!
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, Hissene Habre, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Alfredo Stroessner, and Idi Amin.
The idea that a man who killed, maimed, and caused his country and indeed his sub-region to go to ruin would be shielded from international justice is galling my fellow Nigerians. That a man who caused millions of people untold sorrow and hardship, who abridged his people’s right, who found joy in the sorrow and sufferings of his people and neighbors, would be allowed to walk free — does not sit well with millions of people.
Allowing war criminals or those who commit international crimes to walk free and without any repercussion is unconscionable and appalling. Such actions on the part of governments and other constituted authorities offend human sensibilities; it is a stab on our conscience, and on our sense of right and wrong. Although Charles Taylor’s situation is not exactly like others before him, still, consider the following models, which I believe President Obasanjo alluded to when he said there is a precedent for his impending action:
- 1. District Attorneys (DA’s) and government prosecutors in the United States regularly make deals with murders and crooks in other to get at the “big-fishes”. For example, Sammy “the Bull” Gravano, was spared by the US Department of Justice — and even allowed into the witness protection program — in other to successfully prosecute John Gotti of the Gambino family.
- 2. The United States is littered with political offenders, miscreants, war criminals, and dictators from South America. For reasons best known to the US government, these people are usually never prosecuted for their crimes against humanity
- 3. There is an “understanding” within the international community that there are times when you “let the sleeping dog lie”, as was the case with Henry Kissinger, Ariel Sharon, and Augusto Pinochet.
- 4. Saudi Arabia granted Idi Amin political asylum. Here was a man who was said to be responsible for over 300,000 political killings. France allowed “Baby Doc” into their country even though they knew “Baby Doc” and “Papa Doc” was responsible for over 150,000 political deaths.
- 5. The US allowed Raoul Cedras to vacate his post in Haiti and head abroad; and Wojciech Jaruselzski was quietly rehabilitated in Poland. And if Kim Jong II of North Korea agrees to abdicate his throne, I am sure some five or more countries — including the US — would agree to take him in.
- 6. Days before the United States invaded Iraq; President Bush agreed to allow Saddam Hussein to go into exile. The US and some of its Arab allies embarked on a quiet effort nudging Saddam Hussein to leave for Qatar or any Arab country. Wasn’t he accused of using chemical weapons on his own people? Wasn’t he accused of killing his political enemies just for the fun of it? Why offer such a bad fellow a way out?
Well, what would happen to Liberia should Charles Taylor and his savage lieutenants refuse to leave power? What would happen to Liberia if Taylor and his cronies emulate Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and go underground? Instead of pushing Mr. Taylor into the bushes which will invariably lead to more loss of life and destruction of property, we should encourage him to give up power and go into exile. Allow him to go to Nigeria…who knows….extra-judicial justice just might take its course! Funny and unexplainable things do happen in Nigeria, you know! So, allow Mr. Taylor to leave the stage so that normalcy can return to Liberia again.
When Taylor is taken out of the equation, and normalcy returns to Liberia and to the neighboring countries, the world will thank, and be indebted to Obasanjo and to Nigeria. As the preeminent power in that part of the world, it behooves Nigeria to promote law and order. We are not alone in this matter. Obasanjo couldn’t have unilateral decided on a matter of such international ramification without the nod, consent, or tacit approval of the US and Britain. Simply put: Bush and Blair have too much on their plates to want to get personally and directly engage in another palaver. They have Afghanistan, North Korea, Iraq, their respective economies, and the Israeli-Palestinian mess to tackle. The sooner we Africans solve this mess the better it would be for them, and for the world.
If Abacha or Babangida had left and gone into exile, I am sure millions of Nigerians would have spent 30 days and 30 nights on the streets of Port Harcourt, Ilorin, Lagos, Aba, Jos, and Lagos dancing and rejoicing. That never happened. And because of that, we went through years of poor economic, social, political, environmental and cultural degradation. We had our own wars, and thousands died, and thousands more went into forced or voluntary exile. Thousands more refused to go back home. One way or another, we as a people and as a nation-state suffered. Collectively, we breathe a little easier, and the sun shined a little brighter on us when Babangida left and Abacha died. Same thing will happen to Liberia once Taylor departs — although, it is quite possible to have another Liberian in the mode of Charles Taylor. Fela Anikulapo Kuti was the one who said, “Soldier go soldier come”. Another tyrant just might replace Taylor. You never know with us Africans!
What we need today is to spare Liberia and Liberians more deaths, more destruction, more agony and internal displacement. Therefore, I wholeheartedly agree with the position and decision of President Obasanjo and his government on this matter: Charles Taylor should be granted a safe-haven In Nigeria.