Shortly after the BBC interview, a couple of text messages poured in from across the continent with the majority emerging from Liberia. Over 90% of the opinions expressed called for justice although one Nigeria text-in and pleaded with Liberians to let by-gone be by-gone apparently in the name of reconciliation and peace. Importantly, Liberians are not the ones demanding justice in this instance but the people of Sierra Leone. The sentiments contained in the texts to the BBC may not be as scientific and/or of empirical basis in the mindset of divided opinions but clearly epitomize an expression of a collective concern that in the eyes of the law, no one is above the law as such.
Senator Howard-Taylor noted her disappointment at the decision of a letter to the Nigerians about Taylor’s extradition and pointed out that the letter and spirit of the communication was a total contradiction of a commitment she received from President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Senator Taylor intimated that when she put the issue of the exiled president’s extradition to candidate Johnson-Sirleaf prior to the run-off elections, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf assured her that since the matter was a negotiated truce, all stakeholders would be consulted to determine Mr. Taylor’s fate. Senator Howard-Taylor further told the BBC that such a sensitive issue should have been brought to the Liberian people through their able representatives as well as regional and international interlocutors.
Regarding Mrs. Jewel Howard-Taylor’s disappointment, it is fundamentally crucial to systematically deal with this issue in context, with reference to the specifics, its implications for any responsible government, the entering into a pre-run-off undocumented understanding, the role of justice systems versus human rights violation, and impunity over systematic abuse, torture and heinous crimes.
It is no secret in Liberia that former First Lady Jewel-Howard-Taylor provided her unqualified support to the candidature of candidate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf during the November run-off elections in which football legend George Weah suffered a traumatic political thrashing at the hands of his rival. Irrespective of what the close-door bickering might have been, on account of principle, Mrs. Howard-Taylor supported Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf in the collective interest of our body polity, which could have stood the risk of further retrogression and disintegration. If the former First Lady’s support for Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf was simply to overturn a purported decision pursuant to her exiled husband’s extradition, she was unquestionable treading a dangerous terrain.
What appeared trickery and manipulative venture was one entered into by the former First Lady in making serious political overtures about Liberia most notorious warlord turned civilian president. Firstly, it is the UN-backed Special Court in Sierra Leone that has ordered Charles Taylor’s arrest on 17-count of crimes against humanity. As a member state of the United Nations, Liberia is under obligation to respect and adhere to international law. Secondly, the tenets of globalization and its attendant consequences cannot excuse Liberia. Imperatively, we need not loose sight of the fact that our socio-economic survival continues to play in the hands of some western capitals. Barely 72 hours after President Johnson-Sirleaf’s inauguration, a powerful strategic development partner, the EU, conditioned economic aid to Liberia on Charles Taylor’s extradition to Sierra Leone.
As a democratically elected leader, the president owes it to the entire citizenry. Charles Taylor as a factor if expressed over the constituency called Liberia should and must not be allowed to hold a whole country to ransom. Liberia needs enormous foreign capital inflow to resuscitate a nation Taylor used thugs to destroy with absolutely no recourse and a sense of civility. The EU does not have any personal scores to settle with Taylor but is determined to ensure that acts of atrocities and wanton human rights abuses carried out at the behest of Taylor vis-à-vis his Sierra Leonean subterfuge cannot be allowed to go unnoticed. That is the crux of the matter.
Critically worth noting, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf like any politician in her situation would be prepared to stretch her arms to as many willing to pledge their support to increase her leverage over her rival in such a nail-biting run-off. The compromises would be multiple; some genuine while others merely intended for the periphery or as it were superficial. The bottom-line was of course the capture of state power. Once power is won what had originally formed the basis of bargains, house-trading and political centers of convergence could on the account of obtaining permutations be of no relevance any longer.
Assuredly, Mrs. Jewel Howard-Taylor pledged her unqualified support to president Johnson-Sirleaf as a result of her competence and because she is well placed to appreciate the issues appertaining the big office as against Mr. Weah who lack even a rudimentary understanding of the underpinnings of the presidency. Therefore, senator Howard-Taylor’s support for candidate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf must be seen beyond the any partisan, elitist or parochial lens. Senator Howard-Taylor’s support was above every individual consideration and proved realistically patriotic. There should be no reasons or iota of speculation about the decision being a miscalculation. The Bong County senator action was justified and the right step in the right direction.
Moreover, the electorate had a choice to make irrespective of the input or better still influence of senator Howard-Taylor as to whom to vote for in the run-off. Every qualified voter went to the polls unaccompanied or without any form of coercion whatever and had the right to choose either Ellen or George although we cannot negate the role of Mrs. Howard-Taylor as an influential factor.
Momentarily, the search for justice should not be compromised when deep reflections are to assist us recount the horrors, agony, faceless barbarism and misery visited on innocent and defenseless Sierra Leonean men, women and children who witnessed the vicious mutilation of their limbs by mainly a marooning band of rag-tagged, drug-infested child-soldiers.
The testimonies from victims gruesomely victimized in Sierra Leone’s tragic experience are harrowing and emotionally humiliating. This is an opportunity for Mr. Taylor to answer his day in court and prove his innocence. Along the landscape of due process, no one is pronounced guilty unless proven to beyond all reasonable doubts based on circumstantial evidence.
Interestingly in spite of senator Howard-Taylor’s firm belief in her husband’s confession, the Liberian government has refuted the claims made by the Bong County senator. Ironically, the quick reaction of the government of Liberia became twisted when President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf acknowledged a letter to the effect was submitted to the Nigerians.
Now that the president has let out of the bag what appeared a jinx, it behooves interested parties to reckon the matter from the perspective a pursuit of justice. This is not the case of summary execution as administered by Taylor’s NPFL rebel army during the reign of terror. The former president shall be entitled to appropriate legal counsel during the period of litigation and shall exercise the right to state his innocence without fear or favor. Let justice be done to all of humankind.
It can be recalled that few weeks ago President Obasanjo had a private meeting with Charles Taylor at the presidential lounge at the Muttala Mohammed’s Airport. Details of the meeting remained sketchy to date. Similarly, the outcome of President Johnson-Sirleaf recent visit to Abuja seemed closed to the chests to the two West African leaders. Despite the behind the scene maneuvers, one thing will remain clear; “Whatever travels by night will one day see the light of day”.