• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

As Taylor is cut to size

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Sallimichegani

For those who have always bemoaned the ethical vacuum in which political power is exercised across postcolonial Africa, the sight of Charles Ghankay Taylor, the former Liberian warlord, testifying before the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, must be particularly gratifying. The former dictator is accused of murder, rape, conscription of child soldiers, and masterminding the brutal civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone, among other sinister atrocities. For me personally, it matters very little how the case pans out, though I earnestly desire that Mr Taylor cop a lengthy sentence. It is the moral of his trial that is especially pleasing- that an African big man can be brought to book for crimes committed against his own people, and those of a neighbouring country. Mr Taylor, for the record, is the first ever African leader to be brought to trial at The Hague, but one fervently hopes that he has merely blazed a trail, and that his prosecution proves to be the first among many.
Prior to his exit from office in August 2003, followed by a stint in exile here in Nigeria, it was difficult to imagine that Taylor would one day stand face to face with his accusers and victims. Such, for one, was his personal aura, and the terror that the mere invocation of his name inspired. You just could not entertain the possibility that a man writ such boldly in the imagination would one day be subject to the common indecency of a court appearance. It always sounded too good to be true. Besides, the necessary precedents hardly existed. Yormie Johnson had subjected Samuel Doe to a painfully graphic ordeal, extracting evidence one gold-coated tooth at a time, but then, that was hardly a trial.

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Arguably, it is in fact because of the rarity of such precedents that Taylor and his lieutenants behaved the way they did- with scant regard for law, justice, or humanity, let alone common decency. After launching a successful rebellion in December 1989, Taylor had seized power from the then President Samuel Doe, who himself had upstaged William Tolbert a decade earlier. Although he literally rode into power on the back of the horse of the apocalypse, bequeathing a long trail of blood that stretched from Gbarnga to Monrovia, many Liberians had hoped (and what else do you do in their situation other than hope?) that Taylor would bring relative sanity after the staggering incompetence and persistent bloodletting of the Doe era.
But this hope was quashed even before it had taken root in ordinary Liberians’ breasts. Taylor had his own plans, his own demons, and too many scores to settle. Besides, he was an inalienable part of the sad history of the Liberia that he strived to reconstruct. He was, you might recall, the one in charge of the General Services Agency under Doe, a position he evacuated only after accusations of helping himself, too generously, one imagines, to the public till. All quite familiar, you will say. His accession to power therefore was never going to deliver the clean slate that Liberians desperately wanted, and in due course, and in a process that has become painfully familiar to acute students of postcolonial Africa’s history, he was soon consumed by the same dragons that had consumed his predecessors, and that he himself had done a whole lot in creating.
Watching him desperately, and incredulously, defend himself against multiple allegations of rape, murder, et al, in the past week, I could not help but recall the astonishing stories of personal debauchery that have since been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Taylor, secure in the assurance of arms, and history’s lesson (postcolonial African history anyway) that you can get away with murder, mounted an orgiastic theatre of consumption, evisceration, and plunder that has since gone down in the annals in a continent not exactly lacking in incontinent rulers.
One can only hope that those in that league are also watching, and more important, that they are peeing in their pants as they do. I said earlier that one reason I find the ongoing trial so gratifying is the message it sends out that power can be held accountable. So, imagine the thrill, just imagine it, the sight of Ibrahim Babangida Badamasi (should have been the other way round, but I really don’t care) in the dock. There will be no shortage of charges. The Liar of Minna surely left enough for us to work with. And to think that such a trial will have no chance of degenerating into the kind of old boys’ farce that the Oputa panel eventually became. Imagine, fellow Nigerians, the opportunity to finally nail that mendacious man for spending N40billion on an election and then abrogating it on a whim; imagine the opportunity to rigorously cross examine him on what became of the Gulf War oil windfall; imagine, just imagine, an opportunity to ask him how he came about such stupendous wealth, in a country where the average man can barely muster a morsel; how he practically sacrificed the destiny of a whole generation of Nigerians on the altar of a transition to nowhere. Imagine the possibilities are endless.
And if we can get Babangida, why stop there? We can move on to Obasanjo, who, by some accounts, should still have some of the fraudulently acquired money for a so-called presidential library in his personal accounts. We can also ask him questions about Odi, where soldiers acting upon his personal order raped, maimed, and killed innocent Nigerians.
As you can see, it’s a mightily pleasing thing that Taylor is being cut to size. If there is any justice in this world, Babangida will one day follow in his footsteps, and they will spend their last days together in the dingy cell of a nondescript jailhouse, with OBJ in the adjoining cell.