- Pressure increases on Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo to stop protecting Liberia's ex-Dictator Charles Taylor, who is accused of serious war crimes by a UN-sponsored tribunal in Sierra Leone. It is expected that Liberia's newly elected President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will raise the issue when going to Nigeria tomorrow.
President Obasanjo originally offered thus-President Taylor a safe exile in Nigeria as part of a peace solution, but the offer has been widely criticised. Mr Taylor is said to be the main responsible behind bloody civil wars and numerous deaths and maiming in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
The UN-sponsored war crimes tribunal of Sierra Leone had formally placed war crimes charges against Mr Taylor before he was offered a safe haven in Nigeria, thus obliging President Obasanjo to extradite him to Freetown, according to international law. The Liberian ex-President however still enjoys security in Nigeria, almost three years after the kind exile offer.
Human rights groups world-wide however have not forgotten the former Dictator. Pressure on President Obasanjo to surrender Mr Taylor to the Sierra Leonean special court is being kept high. This weekend, activists hope, may forward their case as Liberia's democratically elected President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf heads for her first official visit to Abuja.
According to the Campaign Against Impunity, a human rights grouping that has put special focus on Mr Taylor's case, President Obasanjo is reported to have had talks with the exiled Liberian ex-Dictator last Sunday. This is seen as a hope. Maybe the Nigerian are starting to prepare Mr Taylor for his extradition?
"President Obasanjo has an opportunity to demonstrate Nigeria’s commitment to the rule of law in West Africa," today said Shina Loremikan of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, a Nigerian organisation that is part of the Campaign Against Impunity. "When he meets with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President Obasanjo should announce he will surrender Taylor to face trial for his alleged crimes," she holds.
The question is whether Liberian President Johnson-Sirleaf will put real pressure on her Nigerian counterpart. A possible surrender of Mr Taylor to a court in neighbouring Sierra Leone could be seen as an unpatriotic act by many Liberians. On the other hand, Ms Johnson-Sirleaf has strong feelings against Mr Taylor, whom she holds personally responsible for the destruction of Liberia. So does the majority of Liberians.
President Johnson-Sirleaf, who was inaugurated on 16 January, has earlier indicated that she will work for the surrender of ex-President Taylor. On 20 January, she stated that she would ask for Mr Taylor's surrender to the Sierra Leonean court, adding that she would ask for the handover "in due course" and in consultation with regional leaders.
The Nigerian President, on the other hand, has thus far been reluctant to surrender the exiled Liberian leader to the Special Court. But he has indicated that he would consider surrendering Mr Taylor upon request from a duly-elected Liberian government. A formal request by Ms Johnson-Sirleaf thus could have an impact.
President Johnson-Sirleaf is due to arrive in Nigeria tomorrow. There, she will have talks with President Obasanjo. She has not publicly indicated whether the case of Mr Taylor is on her agenda.
The human rights activists hope it will be, because they fear that time may be running out. "The Special Court will not be around for much longer," today noted David Anyaele of Amputees Rehabilitation Foundation, a Nigerian organisation that is part of the campaign to surrender Mr Taylor. "This valuable opportunity to bring justice to the victims must not be squandered," he urged.
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