Pico Tyler, writing in the Time Magazine of July 1986 about what he termed the Philippines Mid-summer Night’s Dream described the same as a Shakespearean drama, which is both tragic and comic because the storms and calamities that shake the sublunary globe are reflections of turmoil in the hearts of men.
What Charles Taylor – the disgraced former president of Liberia has done to his country and people may truly reflect the turmoil of his mind, they can hardly be termed a drama. If they were, then the reality of the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives is cheapened because those killed cannot rise and go home as if they were playing dead on a film set. They are Liberia’s calamities.
Death as constant as the northern star and cold in its visitation is attendant in the way Mr. Taylor’s government snuffed lives out his people; hardly could his atrocities be deemed comical. They are tragic. The destruction of economic infrastructure that reduced the rich to the wretched, the burgeoning bourgeoisies to blooming beggars and bandits to butchers hacking down fellow citizens with impunity are storms that cannot disappear from the horizon in the name of peace at all costs.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney – the Beatles pop singers and songwriters’ – ‘Give Peace A Chance‘ lyrics may be a requirement in Liberia. If Justice were ignored, peace would dry like haze in the scourging Sunrise of renewed violence.
For the above reasons, Nigeria must resist not only the symbolism of harbouring Mr. Taylor in exile. As a nation, it is time to show leaders like him that not a single country would grant respite to them. By granting Asylum to the former Liberian President, we are encouraging another Charles Taylor in Africa.
The loss of his presidency, which is a gain for the people of Liberia, will accord the man some home truths. Even, in the comfort of backslapping of Mr. Donald Duke, he would soon realise that he is not a guest of Nigeria but of Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo. Sooner, the assurances of the Mr. Duke, who strives to gain as much national and international recognition from an accident of fate, will turn out to be as hollow as it is entertaining. Mr. Taylor is to learn that State Governors in this country are not as important as many of them believe of their stations. What is the business of Mr. Duke in the asylum policy of the nation as it relates to Mr. Taylor and his entourage? These are matters for the Federal Government.
Some of our public officials need to be schooled in fundamentals of public administration. Take the Chairman of the ruling party as another example. If you want to know of soon to be announced policies of this government: listen to the Chairman of its Party, who is not in its cabinet. Mr. Ogbeh carelessly revealed that Mr. Taylor is not granted Asylum in Nigeria before Mr. Fani-Kayode proffered the same information. In fact Mr. Ogbeh is reported to have elaborated farther than the cautious presidential foot runner. The indication is that Mr. Taylor may find himself in UN backed Court that he has avoided so far. If Mr. Fani-Kayode has not volunteered that much, Mr. Ogbeh does not believe in caution.
Could it be true that Mr. Taylor was brought to the country as a stop-gap to his final host country? The ploy that he was granted asylum serves to present future difficulties for this government. As a requisite of asylum, an applicant fleeing his nation is required to seek asylum in the first country destination and not subsequent ones. In this case Nigeria is the Taylors’ first port of call; and the interpretation affords the man who at a time was contemptuous of his host nation to apply for asylum in this country. Could our government be fooling us that this is a stop-gap? Is this another ‘Maradona’ government like the last one and its attempt at constitutional amendment?
The former Liberian President is accordingly advised not to plan a permanent exile in this country. For here, future Heads of States do not abide by promises made by their predecessors. Even incumbents change their minds as if lives are not affected by their decisions. The incumbent is Lord of all he surveys and can do what he likes when in office. When out of office, the story is different. If his successor is decent, the predecessor may be ignored. In most instances, that is what obtains. His policies, if he had any, jettisoned. If he refuses to keep in line or behave to the script of his successor, he becomes an irritant and forced on a lame charge to be jailed. On other accounts, he is barred from returning to the country. Mr. Obasanjo knows what I mean and so does Mr. Yakubu Gowon. At least, unlike Liberia, Ghana and Ethopia, none of our past Heads of States has been shot yet. This emphasis is not for effect. Anything can happen in our country.
The ignominy extended to past Heads of States include replacement or destruction of furniture used by them because prophets or spiritual consultants of successors consider such items as bad omen. In other nations such assets are protected for posterity and history. Our leaders do not encourage such preservation as antiquity. There is a prevalent culture to use and discard. This culture animates itself in our political dealings, economy and social interactions. The use and discard treatment will most certainly visit Mr. Taylor.
Aside, it would be foolhardiness to rely on an incumbent of Aso Rock. It is claimed that if the place is not being sanctified by holy water, live animals were buried in its grounds to ward off evil spirits. For Mr. Taylor, the reliance on the promise of exile from the guidance of an oracle may well prove fatal. The Oracles of our leaders only dispense what serves their man and are prone to prevarications.
What choice has the man got? But, it is not about options between returning to Liberia and staying in Nigeria. This is long settled, even if the drama is not at the stage of its epilogue. The grandstanding that the Will of God, would in future return him to that country is an empty boast of a Lion deprived of her claws and teeth. Even, with ferocious strength, the animal cannot wound nor kill. Mr. Taylor’s teeth and claws have been removed and in Liberia, he is history.
The other option is where hence from here. The man, who believes in the forthrightness of his cause, would never avoid accountability of what happened under his charge. Be it, the sponsorship of unrest in neighbouring countries or destruction in his; he would not be cowardly to face the accusations and music of his accusers.
It is not whether the former Liberian President goes to a war tribunal that is crucial. The supply and suppliers of armoury to impoverished African States should not avoid scrutiny. Perhaps, Mr. Taylor and other African leaders, who utilised their national treasuries in procuring arms to destroy their people and nation, can be relied upon to expose the often double-dealings of Arms traders and their governments in the Western Hemisphere and Russia. It is fundamental that without the supply from these companies and governments who by extension may be guilty of not acting on available intelligence to stamp out a trade that blights peace in Africa; trivial that characterises our disputes would not tear our people and land as we experience. This is the option that needs our attention.
The handing over and sentencing of Mr. Taylor would still in monetary terms cost Nigeria the same to keep most, if not all of his entourage in the splendour that they are accustomed. After all, these members of his entourage have not been indicted for atrocities and as such they cannot be handed over to any criminal courts. So, where does this leave our government with the welfare and safety of these people that cannot be engaged in an economic enterprise? And, could our government renege on a charge that honour demands?
Whether, our nation is divided on this issue or not, the multiplex intricacies in the question of asylum or no asylum intertwined with Mr. Obasanjo emergence as the leader of African presidents has its own problems and it is for this singular reason, I concede the position of our government. Nonetheless, it does not mean that its position is not confusing, where clarity is required.
What lesson can be drawn from the present position? There are two immediate ones to be addressed. Mr. Duke must be prevailed upon to stop the celebrity status that he is according Mr. Taylor. The celebrity treatment of a man that presided over a country and left the same in such a state as Liberia finds itself is criminal and unacceptable. Whatever the former president denies about the war in Liberia is of no immediate comfort to us in Nigeria. The pain has its hold on his people. They cannot abound in sorrow, while he, the principal actor abounds in grace of a foreign government. It is wrong and despicable.
The other lesson is this: there is a government ministry charged with Immigration and Asylum matters. The matters relating to this asylum is a matter for them. It is neither for Mr. Ogbeh nor Mr. Duke to inform us of a decision still to be made by that department. The External Affairs Minister, Ambassador Adeniji explaining the position of the government to us, after the arrival of Mr. Taylor is like the Health Minster playing the role of the Defence Minister. Is there not a Minister in charge, whose ministry is to inform citizens about homeland issues?
In closing, such a decision to accept the former Liberia may be well intended. But, too many hands are controlling how much the citizen ought to know and they are not only failing at making the case – conflicting reasons are being provided. The average man on the street still does not know the reason for Mr. Taylor’s presence in a country, he derided in the past. It is time for the appropriate government department to steer the ship from the deck. Preferably, steering the man to Sierra Leone. And, others in power should be checked for incoherent pronouncements.