FEMI FANI-KAYODE: CHARLES TAYLOR, A MAN BETRAYED
In many respects Mr Yele Odofin-Belo is absolutely right. This was the betrayal of the century and, in my view, those that should have known better panicked at the last minute and broke ranks. But I do not believe that Obasanjo was amongst those that betrayed anybody. To be fair to President Olusegun Obasanjo he was infact the last man standing and he resisted the pressure until it all came to a head during a state visit to America when George W. Bush refused to see him until Taylor was produced. Ironically the real traitor was not Obasanjo but rather President Sirlief-Johnson of Liberia. The agreement with Taylor was put in place before she was elected but she was fully aware of it it's terms from day one. She was actually the American and Nigerian candidate for that election and she worked very closely indeed with the Americans, Obansanjo and Nigeria before she was elected to power. She was always at the Villa in Abuja in those days and I think that she was one of those people that used to work for the World Bank before she came home for the elections. The deal was simple and clear and the terms were as follows. Taylor would be persuaded to step down as President of Liberia by the ECOWAS leaders and the African Union and he was to be given a safe-haven in Nigeria after doing so. He would not be harassed, he would not face prosecution in Liberia, Sierra Leonne or at the International Court at the Hague andNigeria would not be pressured or harassed by anyone to extradite him anywhere. On his part Taylor was expected to live quietly in Calabar with his relatives, under the direct supervision and care of Donald Duke, the then Governor of Cross Rivers state and he was to stay out of Liberian politics and not in anyway interfere with what was going on over there. All went according to plan and once the African Union endorsed the whole thing no less than around 7 African Heads of State, including Kuffour of Ghana and Obasanjo himself, went to Liberia and physically accompanied Taylor back to Nigeria and to what was to be his new home and final point of destination for many years and possibly the rest of his life. As a consequence of this concession and sacrifice which was made by Taylor the civil war in Liberia came to an immediate end, peace returned to the land and eventually a free and fair election was conducted in which Mrs. Johnson Sirlief emerged as the new President as had been planned all along. However after the lady came to power everything changed. She ditched Obansanjo and Nigeria, turned her back on the ECOWAS leaders and the African Union and she became even closer to Bush and the Americans.
This was a great irony because Nigerian troops were dying in Liberia for many years in an attempt to bring peace to that country whilst the American soldiers were watching the fighting from their ships just off the Liberian coast. I know this because I went there and visited our soldiers with President Obasanjo during the course of the bitter fighting. Anyway Johnson Sirlief forgot all that and she started to talk only to the Americans. And of course the Americans wanted Taylor's blood and his head on a plate. At the end of it
all, and as is usually the case with such matters, everything boiled down to money. Johnson needed financial support, aid, grants, loans and funding from the international monetary institutions and from theUnited States directly for her small country and obviously she needed American support to get this. The Americans gave her one condition before any help could come her way.....She was to formally ask for Charles Taylor to be returned to Liberia by Nigeria in order to face allegations of genocide and funding the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone at the International Criminal Court at the Hague. Yes the Americans did a complete u-turn, broke their word, violated the previous agreement and sought to turn all the African leaders that had guaranteed it, including Nigeria, into a bunch of unreliable and spineless liars. And sadly the lady called President Johnson Sirlief, played along with the Americans, capitulated and did precisely what they wanted to the utter shock and chagrin of virtually every African leader of that day and in total violation of the agreement and understanding that had been originally entered into by all the parties concerned and by all the major players including the Americans. After the formal request was made to Nigeria by Liberia, America now picked up the gauntlet and turned on Obasanjo compelling and threatening us in initially very subtle and eventually very direct tones and ways. The message was simple and clear. We were to release Taylor and send him back to Liberia or Nigeria was to be brought to her knees. President Obasanjo stood firm and resisted their threats for a very long time and took the matter to the other ECOWAS leaders and the AU who of course supported us wholeheartedly because they had been privy to and were indeed part of the original agreement and understanding that had been established between all the relevant parties and stakeholders.
After this there was a long stalemate and eventually the whole matter turned a little nasty and became the subject of a loud and acrimonious spat between our government and the administration of President George W. Bush. And of course I was deeply involved in that public spat as Presidential spokesperson. Things eventually came to a head when Obasanjo went on a state visit to America and a final demand was made for Taylor. President Obasanjo's argument, and it was a good one, was that no-one or no country would ever believe, trust or take Nigeria seriously again if we breached our word to Taylor and that this is not a Nigerian position but rather it is an African Union position. The old man fought the matter out long and hard and I assure you he did his very best. When the pressure got too much and President Johnson-Sirlief made a final and public demand for Taylor to be returned to Liberia by Nigeria, Obasanjo ordered that he should be dropped at some border post and allowed to go wherever he wanted rather than for us to formally hand him over to anyone. He was on a state visit in America at the time and when it was announced to the world that Taylor had suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth and was no longer with the Nigerians all hell broke loose and everyone panicked. It was at that point that George W.Bush pointblank refused to see Obasanjo whilst he remained in Washington unless and until Taylor was traced, found and handed over to the Liberians. Now I believe that this is where President Obasanjo may have made a mistake.
In my view he should have stood his ground, left America immediately and told them all, including George W. Bush, to go to hell especially since at that point and by that time we were engaged in a full-scale verbal war on the international airwaves with the White House and the American government over this issue. Our hand was quite strong then because virtually the whole of Africa was fully behind us with, of course, the exception of President Johnson-Sirlief who in my humble opinion was nothing but an ingrate and an American puppet. Anyway all of a sudden, and very mysteriously, Taylor resurfaced, was arrested and was handed over to the Liberians who I believe flew him to either Liberia or Sierra Leone, from where he was promptly and immediately flown to the International Court of Criminal Justice at The Hague in the Netherlands to face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. The greatest irony of all of this is that the nation of America herself, who fought for and orchestrated all of this, is NOT a signatory to that Court and therefore no former or serving American President, leader, citizen or even soldier can ever be brought before it to face any charges of crimes against humanity. That tells you just how unfair and ridiculous the whole world system is. My position is that if you want to try the likes of President Charles Taylor for committing atrocities that is fine and by all means go ahead. However it is only right and proper for you to then do the same to all the living American and western leaders who have also done the same thing in various parts of the world. This is especially so given the fact that they, more than any other set of leaders in the history of mankind, have been responsible for the most barbarous crimes against humanity that have ever been committed. The law is surely no respecter of persons. After all it was not an African leader that dropped nuclear bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, with its attendant and horrific consequences, after the Second World War. It was not an African leader that committed terrible atrocities in Iraq by slaughtering hundreds of thousands of defenceless Iraqi women and children when bombing Baghdad, all in the name of regime change and the prosecution of an illegal and barbarous war. It was not an African leader that killed the defenceless Arab women and children of Sabra and Chatilla in Southern Lebanon just a couple of decades ago. It was not an African leader that enslaved a whole continent and pillaged it's resources and sold it's people into slavery for hundreds of years. I could go on and on. I have said this earlier and I repeat it here today, unless and until I see Tony Blair and George W. Bush being prosecuted by that same court at the Hague for their own undeniable and irrefutable acts of genocide and crimes against humanity, I cannot in any way be impressed with what they are doing to Charles Taylor or anyone else there.
And to make matters worse such is their utter desperation that they have now dragged super- model Naomi Campbell into the whole fray in a rather futile and childish attempt to confirm their sordid perceptions of the classical and stereotypical African dictator and warlord who they allege gave "blood diamonds" to a beautiful British model that he couldn't resist at President Mandela's dinner. This is indeed the stuff of which bestsellers and blockbuster films are made. Now the whole thing has backfired on them and blown up in their faces because Naomi Campbell, quite rightly and courageously, has not allowed herself to be used for such a sordid venture and exercise. She has refused to play the game according to their script. For that, I thank God. I watched Charles Taylor closely in the dock and I wondered if he would ever get the chance to tell his story to the world. I thought perhaps he shouldn't even bother with presenting a defence for himself against these terrible charges that have been made against him in court. I thought perhaps he should just spend his last few years in solitary confinement writing a book for posterity and tell the world his own version of events. I say this because the outcome of this so-called "trial" has already been determined by international public opinion and the world powers that be, who of course see themselves as being above that same law. In my candid view Charles Taylor will definitely be convicted for crimes against humanity and his powerful enemies will have their pound of flesh. But that may not be the end of the story. As a matter of fact it may just be the beginning. He was looking dejected, lonely, old and grey in that Court on yesterday (Thursday 5th of August, 2010) and as I looked at him the only words that came to my mind and spirit were: "There sits a man betrayed ". My view? A pox on all their houses, for we live in a truly treacherous world.
Chief Femi Fani-Kayode was the spokesperson to President Olusegun Obasanjo; he subsequently became Minister of Tourism & Culture & later served as Aviation Minister for Federal Republic of Nigeria.