Put It To A Referendum - The Taylor Issue


By Gbe Sneh


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
December 10, 2005


The world indicts Taylor. The world grants Taylor asylum through Nigeria. The world claims Taylor is a fugitive from justice. The world wants the just-elected Government of Liberia to expedite Taylor’s extradition from Nigeria to face trial in a UN court in Sierra Leone. If there are other correct statements beyond these in the Taylor saga, then those statements are hidden from the public, and only known to the political heavyweights who were directly involved in what turns up to be a mess pinned on Liberia to clean up.

Pair any two of the statements above, and you have a contradiction: e.g. How is one indicted and granted political asylum both in the same vein? Ordinary citizens the world over remain perplexed, not to mention specifically, Liberians who are now playing the guessing game as to where all this leads. All we know is that, at the crucial moment to broker an asylum deal to avert further loss of lives, the African Union was present, and so was ECOWAS. It is also reported that the United States was involved in the deal. A look at the entangling web of contradictory shape downs prompts these questions: Was the deal unanimously upheld? Or could the day have been taken by those who made the arrangement to whisk Taylor away to the chagrin of others at the conference table? Could it be that some participants had preferred remitting Taylor to the courts rather than granting him asylum? We are indeed baffled; we have only questions; we are looking for answers.

Just what are the terms of the asylum? Barring Taylor from meddling in Liberian politics is the only peek we got into the “genie bottle”. It simply wouldn’t make sense for the United States, posturing as she has, to have agreed to these mysterious terms, unless perhaps the terms were of a temporary nature. What was decided for Liberia in connection to the terms of the asylum, since in all likelihood, she was not represented at these talks? If any statements were hammered in for Liberia, the time is now to unveil them for her consideration, rather than bringing an unnecessary burden to bear on a newly born!

It seems every body around the globe - Human Rights advocates, ECOWAS, EU, UN, USA- is deciding what should be done about the Taylor saga. Their views dominate the media. The only body whose apparently designated, but yet to be defined role in the matter, the Liberian People, have yet to have their views aired. Yes, the Liberian people who are now facing the distraction amid the massive reconstruction work they have ahead of them. It is an untimely and unnecessary burden to shoulder, without any stakes in the issue as it currently stands, shrouded in mystery.

Quite frankly, the Taylor issue, as it currently stands, has no Liberian connection. Charles Taylor has been indicted by a UN established criminal court. This court is mandated by the UN to bring to justice individuals accused of crimes in the Sierra Leonean Civil Wars. In the discharge of its duties, the court finds Taylor as a perpetrator of crimes against humanity - it must be emphasized here, IN THE SIERRA LEONEAN civil war, hence his indictment on 17 counts. Where is the Liberian connection, other than Liberia is a member of the UN, and Taylor is a Liberian?

Charles Taylor, while under indictment, sought and was granted asylum in Nigeria. So it seems. With international pressure mounting for Taylor to be handed over for trial, Mr. Obasanjo of Nigeria claims he would release him only, upon request (key phrase), to an elected government of Liberia.

Now we have an elected government in Liberia. The question then is: Do we want Taylor turned over to us? But then on what grounds? Enter the key phrase, “upon request”. Our nation has yet to charge Taylor with a single crime in any court! Taylor KILLED. Taylor PLUNDERED our revenues along with our resources. So, are we being goaded to do that now? That is, indict Taylor at home, and then seek his extradition from Nigeria. This brings us to a campaign time comment by President-Elect Johnson-Sirleaf. When confronted with what would be done about Taylor under her administration, she said, and here paraphrased, she would put it to a referendum, by letting the Liberian people decide.

While regional solidarity captioned the First Tour, we saw a tour, nonetheless, dominated by coverage of the Taylor saga. We heard from Madam Sirleaf, several comments balancing UN dogma and sub regional “sensitivity” regarding this issue. Though we did not hear it as one of her comments, we do hope that she placed somewhere on the table, the thought of a referendum. A well worded referendum would zero in and put this issue to rest: e.g. Do We Want Charles Taylor Handed To Us By Nigeria (maybe correct is, by Mr. Obasanjo), And Then Transited To Sierra Leon? Let the people decide. If NO carries the vote, well, so be it. If YES wins, then we would proceed with the indictment and the subsequent extradition request. When that should take place is up for debate.

This is not an issue for just the president to decide. The president does not know what the consensus (Liberian) is on this issue, neither does a Congress that is yet to know what the constituents think about the matter. Some local media houses have been throwing around the phrase, “many Liberians think/say”, about this issue. How many is “many Liberians”? Do we equate that to a consensus? If so, let them name the polling source (s). Beating around the bush, that is exactly what is going on - playing the guessing game! Let’s put the issue to a referendum as Madam Sirleaf wisely suggested. We do need some time to prepare. If ours is to be a Government Of The People, and having a Legislature that is not seated yet, what other means do we have than a referendum to put to rest the Taylor saga?

In connection to this issue, those who are injecting scare tactics into the fray, those who are saying that Taylor’s extradition would destabilize the sub region ought to be aware of disenfranchising the entire Liberian nation. Name a country that has had the opportunity to have its former tyrannical president extradited and has refused the chance. Precisely, how is the destabilization going to occur while Taylor is facing justice? From where is it easier for Taylor to plan any undermining of national and sub regional peace and security - from a prison cell or the palatial comforts in Calaba, Nigeria? No rag-tag army of any so-called warlord should be holding us hostage. If our laws should find anyone guilty of any crimes committed, we need not look at his or her war-waging prowess to deter us from bringing her or him to justice. How can we be firm against impunity if we are selective as to whom to charge and whom not to? UN security forces are under red alert to arrest and take Taylor to Freetown should he land on Liberian soil. Why shouldn’t we count on it to handle any eventualities? Just who would want to die for Taylor now? That Liberia has suffered enough is the very reason why the issue of impunity needs to be tackled head on. This, by no means, is a hawkish advocacy. The alternative dovish stance would defeat our purpose; it would keep us in a hostage mode. We want to be free!

If the Liberian people are afraid of Taylor along with other warlords, and so choose to allow his shadow to lurk over their peace and security, then let them be the ones to make that known. Schedule the REFERENDUM.