TFF logoFORUMS Power Columns

TFF Home | About us


Iraq Forum

Features by others

Links to all issues

New stuff

Other associate articles

Burundi Forum

Publications on-line

Paul McCartney

Nyt på nordisk

Jonathan Power

EU conflict-handling

The 100 best books

Annual Reports

TFF Associates


Reconciliation project

Øbergs Kalejdoskop

Support TFF on-line

Activities right now

Gandhi & India

Teaching & training

Oberg's photos

Support TFF off-line

PressInfos - Analyses

Macedonia Forum

Lærestof på dansk

TFF News Navigator


Obasanjo's reservations on handing
Charles Taylor over



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991
Comments to

March 26, 2006

LONDON - "Charles Taylor came to Nigeria on his own free will," President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria explained to me on the phone yesterday. "He was not arrested and he has not been detained". Thus what on Saturday - the imminent deportation of Taylor to the newly democratic Liberia and from there on to the UN-backed War Crimes Court in Sierra Leone - had seemed very clear has become rather cloudy. But whoever said arraigning war criminals - in this case one who in his time as a rebel leader in Liberia and then president was responsible for some of the worse and most savage mass killings ever witnessed by mankind - was easy?

In Yugoslavia, it took years before Serbian politics shifted through enough gears that it was able to send Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague for trial, and even today Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the two evil forces who decimated Bosnia are still on the run despite the best efforts of Nato troops on the ground. Besides, for many years the Western powers preferred the bloodstained Milosevic to stay in power so that the Dayton Agreement could be implemented, even though his war crimes were common knowledge.

With Obasanjo and Taylor the understandings are just as complex. The civil war in Liberia- and the adjacent one in Sierra Leone- ended when Obasanjo, after long personal negotiations, persuaded Taylor that for his own good he should leave Liberia. Obasanjo convinced him that the roof was falling in around him, that if he stayed he would be killed, and that in Nigeria he could live out his years in peace and comfort.

At the same time as he flew Taylor out in his personal jet Obasanjo arranged for ECOWAS to deploy Nigerian and Ghanaian peacekeeping troops. Backed up by U.S. troops, mainly offshore but some on the ground, Liberia finally escaped its two decades of bloodbath and set out on the road that led to last year's elections and the election of Africa's first woman president, the feisty and experienced Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. When I talked to her just before the election it was clear that she wasn't going to shy away from biting the Taylor bullet, despite the residue of support that still exists for him inside Liberia, and recently she formally asked the Nigerian authorities to hand him over.

But Obansanjo is caught on a dilemna of his own making. He didn't arrest Taylor. As he says, he gave him his word that he could live unmolested in exile in Nigeria. He told me at the time this was the only way that Taylor could be removed without further massive bloodshed and the world community applauded the deal. "Yes, I keep one man alive", he said, "But how many thousands of lives did I save?"

In yesterday's phone conversation Obasanjo told me that he had consulted with his colleagues at the African Union and ECOWAS and everyone agrees with him that Taylor should go to trial. The only doubts were on the timing. Was there sufficient peace in Liberia for this to go forward without destabilizing the country once again? "I told them that is for Ellen's judgment not ours. I have no choice but to agree with her."

Would you be reading this now,
if it wasn't useful to you?
Get more quality articles in the future

But Obasanjo is still obviously troubled that he gave Taylor his word. Obasanjo became a born again Christian when he spent two difficult years in prison at the time of the military dictatorship of Sani Abacha. Since then he has given up alcohol, multiple wives, fornication and all the other "sins" of his pre-Christian days. He has become an African Jimmy Carter who prays every day, fasts during Lent and wrestles with his conscience.

So when I asked Obasanjo if Taylor might run away, he answered, "He is a free man". When I remonstrated with him he got testy and in the end put the phone down on me.

I understand the value of giving one's word and living by it. Yet as Christ said, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's". Christ lived in a law-abiding society where both Jewish and Roman law governed much of everyday life. Although Christ introduced a set of principals that demanded much of his followers, he never sought to abolish the law only to complete it.

We now have the Rome Treaty of 1998 and the creation of the International Criminal Court. War crimes are not only outlawed they are punishable. Nigeria has ratified this treaty. Its head of state has no alternative but to honor the demands of it and its sister court in Sierre Leone. He has to arrest Taylor and hand him over.


Copyright © 2006 By JONATHAN POWER


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Get free articles & updates


Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the

40th Anniversary of Amnesty International

"Like Water on Stone - The Story of Amnesty International"




Här kan du läsa om - och köpa - Jonathan Powers bok på svenska

"Som Droppen Urholkar Stenen"



Tell a friend about this article

Send to:


Message and your name






S P E C I A L S & F O R U M S

Iraq Forum

Gandhi & India

Burundi Forum

Photo galleries

Nonviolence Forum

TFF News Navigator

Become a TFF Friend

TFF Online Bookstore

Reconciliation project

EU conflict-management

Make an online donation

Foundation update and more

TFF Peace Training Network

Make a donation via bank or postal giro

Basic menu below












The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone + 46 - 46 - 145909     Fax + 46 - 46 - 144512

© TFF 1997 till today