Nigeria: An Unwelcome Visitor

Charles Taylor at the President Moses Blah's swearing in ceremony
Charles Taylor at President Moses Blah's swearing in ceremony in Monrovia, Aug. 11, 2003 (Photo: Georges Gobet/AFP-Getty Images).

Nigerians had mixed feelings about the arrival of former Liberian President Charles Taylor in their midst on Aug. 11. While Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo was praised for helping end major conflict in Liberia by sending Nigerian peacekeeping troops to the war-torn nation, his offer of asylum to the disgraced Taylor was judged by many commentators to be beyond the pale.

“You are welcome to Nigeria, Saint Charles Taylor. We have been expecting you for quite some time,” began a scathing opinion piece by Adebola Owolola and Lagos Abeokuta in This Day (Aug. 24). In a satirical vein, the article went on to describe “Saint” Taylor’s achievements: “Over 10 years ago, he had a vision that one day, he would be liberating his people from the hands of the local tyrants….Today, he has liberated the Liberian people. At least, over 200,000 of them have been liberated to the great beyond.”

Paul Odili, writing in Vanguard (Aug. 21), was offended that Taylor had been flown to Nigeria in Obasanjo’s presidential jet in the company of the presidents of Mozambique and Ghana. The jet flew to Abuja, where Taylor was met by Obasanjo and South African President Thabo Mbeki. “What could have turned out to be a brilliant foreign policy thrust has since become a circus, a comedy of blunders by [Obasanjo] and his brother African heads of state,” Odili wrote. But Isaac Sagay, writing in the same paper on Aug. 31, disagreed, calling the removal of Taylor “a diplomatic tour de force” whose “end clearly justified the means.”

The renovation of a luxury mansion complex for Taylor and his entourage in Calabar, Cross River state, also raised eyebrows. The cost of the renovation “runs into a few millions: enough to pay one month’s salary of all workers in the 18 local government councils in the state,” noted George Onah in Vanguard (Aug. 9).

As Taylor settled in at his new lodgings, pressure mounted on Obasanjo to extradite the former warlord to Sierra Leone, where he has been indicted of war crimes by the United Nations Special Court. On Aug. 20, the Nigeria Coalition on International Criminal Court issued an ultimatum to the federal government, giving it 14 days to send Taylor to Sierra Leone. “The group said failure on the part of government to heed the directive would leave the coalition with no option but to launch a national and global campaign to bring Taylor to justice,” reported This Day (Aug. 21). On Aug. 25, Amnesty International added its voice, asking Obasanjo to extradite Taylor to Sierra Leone or try him in Nigeria. “If Nigeria fails to arrest Taylor, it will be in breach of its obligation under international law,” the organization’s letter read.

At press time, Obasanjo had not heeded the requests, and it seems unlikely that he will do so in the future. As the president’s special assistant on public affairs, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, explained to reporters on Aug. 24, “The price we had to pay for [peace in Liberia] was to bring this man [Taylor] out, and to bring him to Nigeria and keep him here. It was a small price to pay. It has worked, and everybody is thanking us.”