For several years Liberia was the playground for politically motivated assassinations, wanton killings and destruction of properties. It was also know for ethnic conflicts, coups and countercoups and regional clashes. And in all those years, much of the world watched, or had their focus and attention elsewhere as the innocents were being slaughtered by despots and warlords. The country was turned into a theater of gore and sorrow. But for the grace of a few African countries, led by Nigeria, Liberia would have been a pile of stones, bones, human ashes and wretched souls. Nigeria bore the brunt, the financial expense and the political price of saving a sister-country. Nigeria did what great powers and great countries do. And because of that, some degree of normalcy is beginning to return to this once beautiful and buoyant country.
To be sure, Liberia is far ahead of most African countries in terms of the number of warlords and despots she has produced. And among these malevolent and despicable human beings, Charles Ghankay Taylor was a legend. He was accused of virtually everything reprehensive. He was accused of virtually all the atrocities known to mankind, except gassing and slavery. Therefore, by all accounts, Taylor was a scum, a rat, a killer. And lately, the Americans, unofficially at least, have inferred that he was a benevolent host to the Al Qaeda network. That he smuggled diamonds to help finance the Jihadists and other terrorists. And so they want him arrested and tried.
They want him arrested for what they knew he did and for what they suspected and imagined he did. When Liberia was raging with fire and death, the Americans couldn’t get to him. They couldn’t persuade him to leave voluntarily either. They threatened fire and brimstone, still he wouldn’t leave. All American could do was to station a couple of Marines off the coast of Liberia in a flimsy show of force. Through it all Charles Taylor refused to budge. As the President of a sovereign nation he enjoyed internationally recognized immunity; and as a “warlord,” he also enjoyed extralegal immunity. And so there was a stalemate.
There was a stalemate and the result was dire: as long as he remained the president, his country would continue to burn and his people will continue to suffer. Neighboring countries also suffered. And even if he was driven from office, but remained in the country, anarchy will continue to reign. There was a standoff. What then was to be done for peace and stability to take hold? Through it all the Americans and the French and the Germans and the Britons and most other countries were busy attending to their internal affairs and or attending to matters of “greater concerns” in countries with oil and gas. The world can do without diamonds, but not without oil. So Taylor and Liberia was just an irritant, a fly, a spec of dust. Liberia was not strategic enough for the US White House to lose sleep over.
But one way or another Charles Taylor had to go in order for peace and stability and nation (re)building to begin. And so it was that he was offered three carrots. He was offered immunity from prosecution. He was offered safe passage out of and into Nigeria. The deal was simply: (1) give up the presidency; (2) leave Liberia for Nigeria and (3) never directly or indirectly interfere with the intermestic policies of Liberia. In exchange, Taylor was offered the followings: (1) safety from arrest and prosecution either by the Liberian government, the Nigerian government or any international court including any court constituted by the United Nations and its agencies and (2) the provision of safe and reasonable accommodation in Nigeria for him and his immediate family for the foreseeable future.
The man behind the agreement was President Olusegun Obasanjo. However, the agreement was witnessed by and consented to by a group of eminent African presidents including Thabo Mbeki of South. Moreover, the African Union and ECOWAS also nodded their concurrence. Still, the arrangement would have failed if the international community had not come onboard. And in fact, the word within the diplomatic community was that Obasanjo’s “decision to grant asylum to Taylor was initiated by the international community, including the U.S., European Union and United Kingdom.” I believe Obasanjo and the international community did the right thing by granting Taylor a safe passage and an internationally recognized immunity from arrest and prosecution.
I thought the agreement was a credible and sensible line of action on the part of Nigeria because it had basis in both domestic and international law. And I still think so. My elementary arguments, back then, can be found here and here.
So, why now does the United States want Charles Taylor arrested and brought to trial? Why and why now? Whatever the reasons behind this dirty and duplicitous move, it must be rejected by Nigeria and the African Union. The president of a sovereign nation, acting in good faith and within the constitution of his country and international conventions, has the right to grant safe passage and political asylum to a person or persons he deem fit — especially if such action will help bring about peace and stability to a country and a region that had fallen victim to years and years of killings and destructions.
My goodness, even if for nothing, a man’s word ought to mean something when given without duress. And Obasanjo and Mbeki were not under duress when they both offered Taylor safety. Nigeria and Obasanjo credibility is at stake here. Mbeki and South Africa’s credibility is at stake here. If they succumb to US’ blackmail, both men will lose face and credibility in international affairs. Trust, we must understand, is a very important and necessary ingredient in international negotiations and international politics.
There are dozens of deposed dictators from the Western Hemisphere and from all over the world living in the US. There are death squad leaders, and war criminals that call the United States of America home. Such men and women have immunity in the US and also enjoy safety from prosecution in US courts even though there are laws that give American Courts jurisdiction to prosecute such transgressions. In addition, there are domestic high-ranking crim
inals who are offered immunity or received very light sentences because they “cooperate with the government.” And just recently, President Fidel Castro and his Venezuelan counterpart asked for the arrest and deportation of a man who is considered a terrorist and a mass murder. From all indications, this man will not be returned to either Cuba or Venezuela because of “national security,” or because of “reasons that are too political and sensitive for the government to get into.”
Or, to save face, he may be returned to a neutral country. What matters here is that America must do what is in her best interest. All countries do what’s in their best interest. With the Charles Taylor case therefore, Nigeria must do what’s in her best interest!
If Charles Taylor has reneged on his own end of the agreement, he would have been roundly condemned and even suffered some consequences. But alas, it is the preeminent power in the world that is asking for protocols to be broken and agreements flushed down the drains. This, Nigeria must not agree to. America’s motives and intentions are not only insidious, they are illegal. This, Nigeria must not be a party to. Obasanjo must be firm and unwavering in this matter. He gave his words. If he breaks his vows, history and posterity will come tumbling down on him. He will be remembered as the man who went to Liberia, and before the global community, wore a mask.
The principle involved in this matter is simple: credibility and ethics in all matters domestic and foreign. This is Obasanjo’s hour to show that, above all else, he is trustworthy. And that he is a reliable partner. If he disappoints today, who else is he going to disappoint tomorrow?
Future Nigerian presidents must not forget that Obasanjo was duly elected and recognized by the international community; therefore all his official acts and pronouncements must be upheld unless of course it is inimical to our national interest. With this matter however, upholding Obasanjo’s official and legal actions will positively further our national security interest.
Liberia was once America’s “colony.” Therefore, the United States should be busy helping the caretaker government of Gyude Bryant with issues relating to democracy, political institutions and the country’s tattered infrastructures. The country and the people would be better off with quality education and health care, extensive road and communication networks and security and many other services. The country needs help with getting back on its feet and with realizing its potentials — not with digging graves and irritating old wounds.