PROJECT TOPIC- UNITED STATES OF AMERICA-NIGERIA RELATIONS AND THE POLITICS OF CHARLES TAYLOR’S ASYLUM
Little effort has been made to understand the nexus between the U.S. government’s support for asylum granted to Charles Taylor by the Nigerian government and her relations with Nigeria. More fundamentally, the impact of the asylum granted to Charles Taylor on international law of
asylum has not been properly investigated. This study, therefore, focused on United States- Nigeria relations and the politics of Charles Taylor’s asylum. The specific objectives were to: (i) ascertain if there was any relationship between United States government-driven peace process
in Liberia and Charles Taylor’s asylum in Nigeria, (ii) determine whether United States government’s pressure on Nigeria influenced the Nigerian government handover of Charles Taylor for prosecution for war crimes (iii) determine whether the asylum granted to Charles Taylor by the Nigerian government violated the principles of international law of asylum. The study anchored analysis on the Centre-periphery theory and employed qualitative method and ex-post-facto research design. Data for the study were sourced from official documents, books, journals, magazines and newspapers. The data were analyzed using descriptive analysis, logical induction, and content analysis. The study revealed as follows: one, the U.S.A. government championed the Yamossoukro Accord and the Cotonou Accord of June 1991 and June 1993 respectively, in which the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of August, 2003 was reached. The most immediate consequence of the CPA was Taylor’s resignation and subsequent asylum in Nigeria in August, 2003. Two, the U.S. Congress voted $2 million as compensation for Taylor’s capture while on asylum in Nigeria; the U.S. Congress passed the Public Law 108- 199 urging that war crimes indictees like Charles Taylor should face trial while on asylum in
Nigeria. Finally, the asylum granted to Charles Taylor, by the Nigerian government violated Paragraph 7(d) of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Statute; violated the 1946 Constitution of the International Refugee Organization and Article 1F(a) of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
1.1 Background to the Study
Between 1989 and 2003, Liberia went through two phases of fratricidal rebel wars that left the country utterly devastated. Many scholarly literature such as Ellis (1995; 1998); Ellis and Gerrie, (2004); Reno, (1998) and journalistic accounts exist on the cause(s) of the war in Liberia, the reasons that it became protracted, and the resolution process as Charles Taylor’s involvement in the Liberian crisis started in December 1989, when, as the leader of the guerrilla National Patriotic Front of Liberia, NPFL, he was successful in overthrowing Doe’s government (Odiaka, 2003; Aremu and Johnson, 2007).
However, two factions later emerged out of the NPFL headed by Samuel Johnson and Charles Taylor which led to a bloody civil war in Liberia in which an estimate of 250,000 lives were lost (Aremu and Johnson, 2007). After the first civil war, Taylor became President of Liberia in 1997 through a general election. Unfortunately, Taylor’s presidency became a continuation of the war. Thus, in the year 2000, there was an internal insurrection against his government. Expectedly, his government’s clampdown on the internal insurrection claimed about 2000 lives (Aremu and Johnson, 2007). The period 1999 to 2003, can be seen as the second phase of the civil war.
As President, it was reported that Taylor sold arms and other military equipments to the brutal Revolutionary United Front, RUF, based in Sierra Leone in exchange for Sierra Leone’s diamond during the country’s civil war from 1991-2001, in which an estimate of 200,000 people died (Semenitari, 2004; Nzeakah, 2003; Aremu and Johnson, 2007).
As a result of these and other alleged humanitarian crimes, the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), in June 2003, preferred a 17-count charge against Taylor for war crimes and issued warrant of arrest for him.
It must be noted that Taylor was convicted for “aiding and abetting” war crimes and crimes against humanity, but this threshold is not a high one. This same standard could potentially be applied to other heads of states that might be culpable of aiding and abetting crimes within their territory or elsewhere. That might include, for example, Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, who is alleged to support the Union of Congolese Patriots, UPC, which committed crimes in Eastern Congo’s Ituri province, or Rwandan President Paul Kagame for his support of the National Congress for the Defence of the People and its crimes in Congo’s Kivu region.
These two central African rulers supported crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Museveni and Kagame both heavily supported the UPC. Yet the International Criminal Court (ICC) which is separate from the Special Court for Sierra Leone, has not indicted Museveni or Kagame (Chris, 2012).
Faced with local insurrection and international pressure to resign his presidency as a result of the SCSL charges, Taylor’s, his supporters’ and oppositions’ claims and counter-claims to power resulted to more internal crisis that gave rise to more humanitarian crises for Liberia. As noted by Nwosu and Obayuwana (2003) and Kolawole (2004), Nigeria, motivated largely by concerns for Liberia’s humanitarian crisis and the hope that Taylor’s departure would speed up an end to the war in Liberia, the former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, offered Taylor political asylum after wide consultations with African and world leaders.
The word “asylum” is the Latin counterpart of the Greek word “asylon”, which means freedom from seizure. Historically, asylum has been regarded as a place of refuge, where one could be free from the reach of a pursuer. Sacred places first provided such a refuge, and scholars are of the view that the practice of asylum is as old as humanity itself (Roman, 1994). According to Morgenstern (1949), the right of a state to grant asylum is
well established in international law.
It follows from the principle that every sovereign state is deemed to have exclusive control over its territory and hence over persons present in its territory. One of the implications of this generally recognized rule is that every sovereign state has the right to grant or deny asylum to persons located within its boundaries. Traditionally, thus, in international law, the right of asylum has been viewed as the right of a state, rather than the right of an individual (Guy, 1983; David, 1990; Paul, 1953).
The right of states to grant political asylum to individuals is supported by international and regional instruments as well as state practices. First, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides in Article 14(1) inter alia the right of each individual to “enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 14(1), G.A. Res. 217A (III), U.N. GAOR, 3d Session at 71, U.N. Doc. A/810, 1948). Second, the Declaration on Territorial Asylum adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1967 provides in Article 1(1) that, “asylum granted by a State, in the exercise of its sovereignty, to persons entitled to invoke Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights… shall be respected by all other States” (Declaration on Territorial Asylum, Art. 1(1), G.A. Res. 2312, U.N. GAOR, 22d Session).
Further, Article 1(3) of this Declaration vests the state of asylum with the authority “to evaluate the grounds for the grant of asylum”. Again, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (‘1951 Convention’), which was later amended by the 1967 Protocol clearly spelt out the right of individuals for political asylum.
In the same vein, the defunct Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa provides, in Article II(1), that member states of the organization of African Unity “shall use their best endeavors consistent with their respective legislations to receive refugees” (OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, September10, 1969, art.
Similarly, the Convention on Territorial Asylum adopted by the Organization of American States in 1954, stipulates in Article 1 that, “(e)very State has the right, in the exercise of its sovereignty, to admit into its territory such persons as it deems advisable, without, through the exercise of this right, giving rise to complaint by any other State.” (Convention on Territorial Asylum, March. 28, 1954, OEA/Ser.X/1, art. 1). The Asian-
African Legal Consultative Committee in 1966 adopted Principles Concerning Treatment of Refugees; Article III(1) of which states that, “(a) State has the sovereign right to grant or refuse asylum in its territory to a refugee”(Principles Concerning Treatment of Refugees, 1966, Art. 111(1).
Again, in 1977 “the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a Declaration on Territorial Asylum that in Article 2 reaffirms the right of states to grant asylum” (Roman, 1994:5).
In line with international law and best practices, Nigeria in 1989 promulgated an Act to establish the National Commission for Refugees for safeguarding the interest and treatment of persons who are seeking to become refugees in Nigeria or persons seeking political asylum in Nigeria and other matters incidental thereto. This is popularly known as National Commission for Refugees Act 1989. In the light of this background on the right to asylum, it is not surprising that Nigeria accepted to grant Taylor asylum in 2003. Subsequently, on August 7, 2003, Taylor formally resigned from office, handing over power to Moses Blah, his Vice President. By 11th August, 2003, he arrived at Abuja, Nigeria on asylum as endorsed by the Nigerian Senate and the National Council of State (Odiaka, 2003) and the support of African and world leaders. Taylor, his wife, family and aides lived in Calabar during the period of the asylum.
The asylum also had the approval of United States. In fact, former US President, George Bush, remarked that: “The asylum is timely and best solution to the crisis-torn Liberia”. (Newswatch, July 28, 2003:69). Relatedly, former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Howard Jeter, noted that the asylum has “our full knowledge and concurrence” (Tell, August 16, 2004:18). From the foregoing, it is obvious that America supported the
asylum to Taylor with assurances that Taylor should not be hunted after abdicating power. It must be noted that asylum, especially one brokered by the international community automatically translates to pardon. This study has been designed to examine United States-Nigeria relations and
politics of Charles Taylor’s asylum granted by the Nigerian government in August, 2003 as a case study.
PROJECT TOPIC- UNITED STATES OF AMERICA-NIGERIA RELATIONS AND THE POLITICS OF CHARLES TAYLOR’S ASYLUM
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The Nigerian government in August, 2003 granted Charles Taylor political asylum as it was widely believed that Taylor’s abdication of power as Liberian president and non-resident in Liberia would help to stem the tide of humanitarian crisis occasioned by 14 years war in Liberia. Hence, on August 11, 2003, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria in company of former president of Ghana and the then ECOWAS Chairman, John Kuffuor; former president of South Africa and the then outgoing Chairman of AU, Thambo Mbeki; and President Joachim Chissano of Mozambique, the then incoming Chairman of AU received Charles Taylor in Nigeria.
The presence of all these African leaders was seen as an outcome of a “deal” between the AU, ECOWAS and the international community with a caveat that Nigeria would not be asked to surrender Charles Taylor to the Special Court of Sierra Leone as a result of the 17-count charge preferred against Taylor for war crimes (see Ayodele, 2007; Obafemi, 2003). In fact, former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Howard Jeter acknowledged that the asylum has “our full knowledge and concurrence” (Jeter, cited in Tell, August 16, 2004: 18).
The Nigerian government told United States and other members of the international community and insisted in the first instance, that it was committed to upholding the conditionalities for the asylum deal; otherwise its credibility would be impacted. Secondly, Nigeria argued that “turning Charles Taylor over would have a destabilizing effect in Liberia” (Ayodele, 2007:105). The question is-first, why did United States government support the granting of asylum to an accused person? Second, why did Nigeria turn over Charles Taylor that it repeatedly told US and the international community that it would not handover? And third, did Nigeria’s asylum to Charles Taylor violate the principles of international law of asylum?.
Hence, many scholars, NGOs and commentators, such as Isa (2003); Ibim (2004); Semenitari (2004); Akinyemi (2004); Amnesty International (2004), among others have tried to explain the reasons United States government supported Nigeria’s political asylum to Charles Taylor; the manner Nigeria handed over Taylor for trials, and the impact of the asylum on international law of asylum. The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (2003) noted that the asylum was granted by Nigeria because of the support Nigeria received from the international community.
Series of consultations were held between the ECOWAS Chairman, John Kufuor of Ghana, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, Thabo Mbeki, the then African Union Chairman, Howard Jetter, former American Ambassador to Nigeria, and the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Philip Thomas. It is as a result of this that Ojiabor (2003:69) noted that, “France initiated the choice of Nigeria for Taylor’s political asylum, with the support of the United States of America, Britain and the United Nations.”
According to Yemin Akinseye-George, who was the Special Assistant to the then Attorney General of Nigeria in 2003, the asylum was granted based on the need to stabilize Liberia (Semenitari, 2004). Similarly, Iyobhebhe noted that there was a common understanding that Taylor needed a
soft landing somewhere to allow peace to reign. There was no major international objection to granting asylum to Taylor in Nigeria. In fact, Obasanjo and the South African President were hailed for their successful diplomacy in getting Taylor out and reducing humanitarian crisis
(http://www.gamji.com/article4000/NEWS4625.htm). It would be recalled that apart from the estimated 250,000 people killed in the 14 years civil war in Liberia (Nwosu and Obayuwana, 2003; Kolawole, 2004; Odiaka, 2003), a United Nations report on Liberia also indicated that about 450,000 people were displaced while another 1.3 million were exposed to serious risk of disease (Nwosu and Obayuwana, 2003). Isa (2003:69) noted that “the lives of Liberians are almost ruined as a result of war.
As such, Nigeria would not succeed in its peaceful co-existence with all African countries if it denied Taylor the opportunity. Ibim (2004:16) remarked that: Perhaps, what encouraged Obasanjo even more to grant Taylor asylum was the fact that it would not be the first time Nigeria would be intervening to quell crises in the sub-region by granting asylum to former heads of states. Former rebel leader of ULIMO, one of the factions in the Liberian crisis, Roosevelt Johnson, was given asylum by Nigeria along with three of his cohorts at the request of the United States. Also, Prince Yormie Johnson, leader of the INPLF, a break-away faction of Taylor’s NPLF, was also taken in by Nigeria and still remains a guest of the Nigerian government today.
Before this, former Heads of States of Somalia, Chad and Niger had all at one time or the other been beneficiaries of Nigeria’s hospitality during crises in their countries. Indeed, even Foday Sankoh was forcibly detained in Nigeria for a full year before returning to Sierra Leone. In all these, Nigeria’s goal was to end the conflict by removing the key personalities whose continued presence in their countries was only likely to escalate the conflagration and lead to more death and destruction.
Thus, Cook (2006:16) revealed that, when Nigeria, under U.S. and other international pressures, provided him Charles Taylor with refuge it stated that it was doing so to help Liberia and would not countenance later pressure to extradite Taylor.
Emewu (2003) Nigeria granted the asylum because of socio-economic considerations. It was believed that Obasanjo was under pressure to pull out Nigerian troops because the cost of prosecuting the war was enormous. For instance, noted Emewu (2003), over 22 billion naira was spent on ECOMOG by the Babangida administration. Closely related to this is the desire to reduce refugee problem in Nigeria with over 3000 Liberian refugees already hosted in Oru-Ijebu, Ogun state (Kolawole, 2004). The question of refugee was indeed of importance, considering its effect on a given economy. There was also the view that the asylum was granted because of strategic reasons.
According to John Kufuor, the former President of Ghana, the Nigerian gesture demonstrated the efficacy of Africans for handling intra-regional conflicts and was really a success for African initiative for peace (Amnesty International, 2004). After all, the African Union and ECOWAS initiatives for peace in Liberia had justification as stipulated in Article 33 of the UN Charter that disputes likely to endanger international peace and security could be solved by resort to regional agencies or arrangements (Shaw, 1997). In the same vein, Akinbobola and Emewu (2003) opine that the asylum was granted because of the need to play the usual “Big Brother” role of Nigerian in African politics.
Agwu (2004) infers that within the context of Charles Taylor’s asylum, Nigeria must be careful of the long-term consequences of the asylum for Charles Taylor. He notes that in the short-term the asylum may reduce tensions in Liberia and probably enable Liberians to have some peace and even a democratic transition, but in the long term it may encourage a culture of impunity, whilst driving memories of hate and revenge underground, from where they would burst forth in the future in violent conflicts.
Therefore, Nigeria has a duty to allow justice to prevail, particularly in the case of Liberia’s Taylor, by handing him over to the Special Court in Sierra Leone. According to him, this would serve both as a lesson and deterrent to others who may in future seek to destabilize their countries and sub-region, but more importantly help to heal the wounds and pains suffered by victims of West Africa’s most destructive and wicked wars. Following from the above, Ogunlade (2003) observes that Nigeria’s action of granting asylum to Taylor after his indictment may encourage criminal tendencies among world leaders. Similarly, Emewu (2003) further opines that the action depicted Nigeria as a nation that condones human rights abuses in Africa by serving as a den for evil men.
It is obvious that scholars and public commentators have made valuable contributions to understanding the reasons the United States government supported Nigeria’s asylum to Charles Taylor; the reason that Nigeria handed over Taylor, and the impact on international law of asylum. While extant analyses are not necessarily wrong, they are inadequate in understanding the entire reality of the Charles Taylor’s asylum in Nigeria. Hence, extant literature have not satisfactorily conducted an empirical study to examine in detail the sinister motive of the US in using the asylum to fashion a peace process that was in tandem with US interests.
Again, little or no effort has been devoted to unravel the reason(s) why Nigeria handed over Charles Taylor, who it stridently warned it would not surrender for international prosecution for war crimes. More fundamentally, many people in Nigeria and the world at large hailed Nigeria’s asylum to Taylor without looking at the implications of the asylum to the principles of international law of asylum.
Arising from the analysis above, this study seeks to provide answers to the following research questions:
1. Did United States government-driven peace process in Liberia accounted for Charles Taylor’s asylum in Nigeria?
2. Did United States government’s pressures on Nigeria influence Nigerian government’s handover of Charles Taylor for prosecution for war crimes?
3. Did the asylum granted to Charles Taylor by the Nigerian government violate the principles of international law of asylum?
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The broad objective of this study is to critically examine United States-Nigeria relations and the politics of Charles Taylor’s asylum. The specific objectives of the study are as follows:
1. To ascertain if United States government-driven peace process in Liberia accounted for Charles Taylor’s asylum in Nigeria.
2. To determine whether United States government’s pressure on Nigeria influenced the Nigerian government handover of Charles Taylor for prosecution for war crimes.
3. To determine whether the asylum granted to Charles Taylor by the Nigerian government violated the principles of international law of asylum.