Liberia’s Taylor Begins Exile in Nigeria

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and other senior government officials greeted Taylor, his family and associates on their arrival to Nigeria’s capital of Abuja late Monday.

Upon Taylor’s arrival, Obasanjo said, “We will endeavor to be good hosts while he is in Nigeria.”

“No problem. I am OK,” was the brief comment Taylor gave to journalists.

Taylor and his family later traveled to their new home in Calabar, the capital of Nigeria’s southeastern Cross River State, where local authorities have been preparing for the former warlord’s arrival since he accepted the asylum offer July 6. A corps of Nigerian police reportedly guards the compound of three hilltop villas.

His new residence is next to the home where Obasanjo often stays when he is in the region, according to the BBC.

Cross River State Governor Donald Duke refuted concerns raised by human rights organizations about Taylor’s asylum during a press conference.

“The reception of Taylor in Calabar is not subject to public opinion but a decision taken in the interest of humanity,” Duke said, according to Reuters.

Patrick Edobor, an engineer in Calabar, told South Africa’s News24: “How does his presence bother me? Since the government has decided to grant him asylum and since I was not consulted in the matter, I do not lose any sleep over it.”

Taylor is not the first former Liberian warlord to seek refuge in Nigeria. Exiled warlord Yormie “Prince” Johnson, known for his role in the brutal, videotaped slaying of former Liberian president Samuel Doe, lives in the busy port city of Lagos.

Roosevelt Johnson, another former Liberian warlord and bitter rival of Taylor’s, fled to the central city of Jos after fighting between forces loyal to the two men in the mid-1990s left thousands dead in the Liberian capital of Monrovia.

Obasanjo’s offer of asylum is indicative of the key role Nigeria has played in the efforts to defuse the Liberia crisis. Nigerian peacekeepers make up almost all of the West African force now attempting to secure key portions of the country and allow humanitarian and other aid into Monrovia.

In addition, former Nigerian leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar played a pivotal role in negotiations between Liberian rebel and government groups during recent peace talks in Accra, Ghana.

But Obasanjo may face strong international pressure to hand Taylor over to a special U.N.-backed war crimes court. The court has charged him with “bearing the greatest responsibility” for war crimes, crimes against humanity and violations of international humanitarian law during Sierra Leone’s brutal 10-year civil war.

Taylor is charged with arming the Revolutionary United Front, a paramilitary rebel group allegedly behind the killing, kidnapping, rape and mutilation of tens of thousands of civilians during the fight for control of the country and its lucrative diamond mines.

Obasanjo has said he should not be criticized for offering Taylor refuge after weeks of intense diplomatic wrangling to remove the former warlord from his country — a non-negotiable condition of Liberian rebel groups during recent peace talks.

Obasanjo said his administration should “not be harassed by anyone for inviting Taylor … not by any organization or country for showing this humanitarian gesture.”

Nigeria has no extradition laws and appears to have no legal obligations that would require the government to hand over Taylor.

President Bush, asked by reporters on Wednesday whether Nigeria should turn the former Liberian leader over to the war crimes tribunal, said, “They [the Nigerians] can work that out… how they deal with Taylor.”

A prosecutor for the war crimes court joined international human rights groups Tuesday in calling on regional leaders to bring Taylor to justice for his alleged crimes.

“There can be no true peace while he remains at large,” a spokesman for the court’s prosecutor said in a statement. “There can be no deals for indicted war criminals such as Charles Taylor. We hope that African leaders, particularly from Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa, will continue to show their leadership in ensuring that Mister Taylor faces justice.”

Other regional observers argue that Taylor’s asylum was the only way to stop the violence in his country, which could have triggered other outbursts of violence in the fragile web of West African nations.

“The argument can be made that … he should be surrendered for trial. But the question remains: Will his trial bring peace in this region?” Bola Akinterinwa of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs told the Associated Press.