Nigerian "Medicine" for Sierra Leone
By Tom Kamara
November 18, 2000
Some camaraderie with ominous regional implications is emerging amongst the Nigerian military establishment, Sierra Leone's ruthless RUF rebels, and their Liberian kingpin Charles Taylor against Britain's firm involvement in ending the decade old Sierra Leone war.
Whatever the perceived benefits in courting a handicapped mistress, it seems Sierra Leone is being torn between two jealous suitors---Nigeria and Liberia on the one hand, and former colonial power Britain on the other. The Nigerians believe Tony Blair is determined to rob them of much needed glory in Sierra Leone, the kind of glory they constantly beat their chest for in yet chaotic Liberia. Charles Taylor and his RUF rebels want British "mercenaries" out of their fiefdom. Let us beseech the Almighty for the Nigerian solution in Liberia not to be contemplated in Sierra Leone, for it will mean the end of what is left of "civilization" in the region.
Lagos sees 'fresh problems" after the ceasefire, and fears a setback in the peace process. Why? Lets listen to a correspondent for the Pan African News Agency, Segun Adeyemi, in Nigeria:
"After a seven-month break caused by rebel recalcitrance, Sierra Leone's peace process is set to resume following a renewed cease-fire agreement last week between the parties to the nine-year civil war.
"But a crisis of confidence between Nigeria, a major power in the West African sub-region, and Britain, Sierra Leone's former colonial master, poses a threat to the peace process, just as the resistance of the rebel Revolutionary United Front or RUF to the reinforced presence of British troops in Freetown".
Now the correspondent quotes a Nigerian officer, Lt. Col. Chris Olukolade, who served with the sub-regional intervention force ECOMOG in Sierra Leone:
"Humiliated in its treacherous desertion when the going was rough and Sierra Leone needed assistance of true friends, the British have since their shameless return embarked on all sorts of diplomatic gimmicks, palliative assistance and recently a deceptive but much-publicised military intervention.
"These steps were all aimed at saving the face of the
United Kingdom to facilitate the continuation of its mischievous
neo- colonial agenda in that West Africa country."
Further on the offensive, Olukolade accused "the Sierra Leonean Army of being willing tools in the hands of British officials in their bid to scheme Nigeria out of the peace process.
"Most of these SLA soldiers and their politician counterparts are now part of Kabbah's government and working closely with the British Military Adviser who has succeeded in scheming out the Nigerian government's earlier offer and arrangement to help train the Sierra Leone military," the aggrieved Nigerian officer said.
Although the journalist quoted military officials as saying the officer was expressing his personal view, he added that:
"Sources close to the Nigerian military, however, said they believed Britain's decision to intervene in the Sierra Leonean crisis now was aimed at taking the shine off the efforts of the sub-regional power, whose troops led the coalition that ended the war in Liberia and restored Kabbah to power after he was ousted in a military coup".
Segun Adeyeme then draws his conclusions:
"Coming at a time the peace process was set to resume, and with the determination of Britain to play a more active role in its former colony, the bad blood between the major players can only spell doom for efforts to restore peace in Sierra Leone. In addition to 400 troops training the Sierra Leone Army, Britain has deployed 500 crack marine commandos in the country 'to provide rapid-response capability' to UNAMSIL.
"The deployment was a major issue at the Abuja talks, with the rebels describing the British move as an impediment to the peace process and calling the deployed soldiers 'mercenaries.'"
To strengthen the anti-British argument, the BBC reported that the Nigerian Commander of UN troops in Sierra Leone, Gen. Mohammed Gaba, has criticized Britain's recent military maneuvers aimed at testing the swiftness of British troops in emergencies. Gen. Gaba believes the maneuvers send dangerous signals to the killer rebels that London has an aggressive agenda against their killing orgies which have lasted for about a decade despite Nigerian military presence in the troubled country.
The British have dismissed the Nigerians' wailing and clarified that their military exercises were cleared by the very UN military which Gaba heads, and even if the Nigerians, their Liberian comrades and RUF operatives are crying over British presence, Sierra Leoneans are overjoyed. Says Parliamentarian Ibrahim Sesay following a motion endorsing the British and thanking them:
"Your military demonstration in the capital recently clearly demonstrates professionalism and also sends a signal to the RUF that they should not attempt to disrupt the Abuja ceasefire but to comply and be ready to work towards peace."
But here is the Nigerians' Liberian solution all over, with signs too clear to miss. When one's head is burnt, asking about the bears is redundant. One must fear for Sierra Leone. Now we are convinced why the Indians pulled out after charging Nigerian military and civilian politicians in Sierra Leone of conniving with the rebels in the name of diamonds. India was the bad guy then. Britain has taken India's place as the bad guy, the unwanted bully against psychopaths. And the use of outdated, inapplicable rhetoric of "neocolonialism" in such a shameless manner poses no problem of conscience. This, in no doubt, is an attempt to push a disastrous, disgraceful African solution on a people struggling to regain their dignity and humanity. The truth is, no one deserves any credit until Sierra Leone is free and does not become another Liberia.
Perhaps it is "neocolonialist" for one to suggest that Nigeria needs all the backing and muscle from its former colonial power Britain because evidence has abundantly shown that Lagos is incapable of defeating the rebels alone. In 1999, the rebels marched from the Liberian border, accompanied by their Liberian mercenaries, South African neo-Nazi and Ukrainians trainers, unto helpless, defenseless Freetown where Nigerian troops were concentrated. They left over 6000 innocent souls dead. Freetown was reduced to rubbles. It took more deaths and destruction to repel the rebels, who simply regrouped in Liberia, launched new offensives, and now control over half of the country to embolden in making new demands. Is it selling out to the white man in saying that with the British around, such mayhem is unlikely to be repeated?
The Nigerians and UN troops have been dancing and partying
with the drunken gang of misfits called the "Westside Boys".
Had it not been of the British, these gangsters would have sat
at the "ceasefire conference" in Nigeria to push their
own endless and absurd demands. Prior to their annihilation, they
had begun demanding a new government in which they wished to be
included. The British, not the Nigerians, removed this contagious
The similarity between Liberia's President Charles Taylor's demands and nonsensical rhetoric, and the positions of the Nigerian military establishment is disturbing. The Nigerian's charge of "neocolonialism" is an endorsement of Taylor's position. Says the acknowledged Prince behind the ruthless rebels:
"The war in Sierra Leone is a war over diamonds, but not because Liberia wants diamonds. This war is happening because the British want the diamonds. There are British officials who own diamond mines in Sierra Leone through companies with shares based in Vancouver (Canada)The British have managed to stop European aid to Liberia. But I am a Christian and God has sent floods to Britain. God has punished Britain"
Like the Nigerians, Taylor too, wants the British out of Sierra Leone. He says his concern for peace in Sierra Leone surpasses that of London because his grandfather came from Sierra Leone. Only those doubting the insanity of a man claiming a hotline to "god" and yet leads the amputation of children's limbs can endorse his positions.
But for modesty's sake, let the Nigerians cease using Liberia as their example of peacekeeping and achievement. While many Liberians alive remain grateful for Nigeria's (and other countries') role in the Liberian crisis from the onset, Lagos should stop using Liberia as an unblemished example of its peacekeeping nobility. Since the Nigerian imposed "peace", Liberia's machinations in the region have created an ocean of refugees, with the World Food Programme now begging for $65m to feed men and women who would have fed themselves had Nigeria not seen logic in backing men of horror. There are over 126,000 Liberian refugees in Guinea, 40,000 in Ghana, over 10,000 in America with more struggling to leave by the hour. If this is Nigeria's conception of democracy, and no doubt it is, then spare Sierra Leone this plague.
Facts tied to the Abacha Peace Plan for Liberia are emerging. Lagos left Liberia with a ruthless warlord who has exported his destructive designs within the region, with Nigeria now pledging to station a patrol between Liberia and Guinea for an indefinite time. The OAU has pledged $300,000 for this laughable military operation, and just how long Obasanjo intends to keep his boys in the dense forest of Liberia and Guinea to ensure his version of regional "security" is anyone's guess. From experience, such troops will simply be Taylor's extended Army, thanks to his knack for cooption with looted millions. The last chief of Military Intelligence within ECOMOG in Liberia, a Nigerian, was rumoured to have been on Taylor's personal payroll.
The Nigerians should have known, (or they knew but acted in self-interest of the rulers at the time) that once a ruthless and thieving warlord was installed in Liberia under any kind of arrangement called elections, the region was left in ruins. They knew that with Taylor as President in Liberia, the RUF was assured of continued arms and training. They knew that with this scenario, their troops would be in Sierra Leone indefinitely. They knew this, and yet, they openly backed Taylor's ambitions by conducting laughable elections that can be described as fair only because we are in Africa.
"We exported something we do not have in Nigeria---democratic
elections, while we import what we have in abundance- --oil",
says one Nigerian. And this is precisely the point. Anyone who
beats his chest of an election backed by one of the most ruthless
dictators in Africa, the late Sani Abacha, is simply shameless.
As the contest of who carries credit in Sierra Leone unveils, understanding prevailing Nigerian logic of Britain outshining them is made more difficult. Lagos wants to contribute more troops but only if others are willing to pay. The second in command of the UN troops is a Nigerian, not a Briton. So where is the plot to deny Nigeria its much needed glory a la Liberia? Moreover, and most importantly, the British are in Sierra Leone on a bilateral basis, and to question a bilateral agreement between one state and another is clearly "neocolonialist."
When the RUF threatened to overrun Freetown some time ago, it was the British who helped to stop them. The Nigerians have been in Sierra Leone far longer than the British and yet, it was Britain who erased the menace of the Westside Boys, not Nigeria. Sierra Leone even had a Nigerian commander of her troops, and yet the problem remained. The fundamental question is, what stops Nigeria from overrunning, crushing the RUF to take the credit? Any force that overruns the rebels now to stop the nonsense of meaningless ceasefires and negotiations will carry the credit. Sierra Leoneans want their diamond fields taken away from the thieving Taylor and Nigeria will be hailed forever if it can deny the Liberian Sierra Leone's diamonds.
Unlike the Nigerians and the UN, the British have adopted a
practical approach to the problem. First, as a civilized nation,
they have decided that the RUF rebels are a bunch of primitive
barbarians with whom discussion is a waste of time. Second, in
order to prepare Sierra Leoneans for a long haul, they are training
a Sierra Leonean Army. Why are the Nigerians against an independent
Sierra Leone Army capable of defending the country when the UN
money runs out and everyone packs his/her bags and leaves as was
done in Liberia? Soldiers are more motivated in fighting when
defending their Fatherland. To criticize Britain's training of
another country's Army is more neocolonialist than anything the
British have done or are doing to make Sierra Leoneans dependent
on themselves for their defense.
Nigeria could no longer afford the cost of maintaining troops in Liberia. So they adopted a makeshift peace agreement and so-called elections which men like former US president Jimmy Carter bought only to regret recently. The tragic comedy of the elections was made clear when Nigerian tanks greeted elections workers demanding pay they never received. The Nigerian Commander of ECOMOG in Liberia, Gen. Victor Malu, threatened to "crush" anyone who disputed the results that showed Krahns and Mandingoes (The two tribes that militarily and politically opposed Taylor) voting for Taylor en masse. Blair wants to spare Sierra Leone the Liberian nightmare and he must be congratulated as one of the most decent politicians around.
When children are dying in large numbers or left with amputated limbs, when men who want to rule a country subject their people to unimagined barbarities as the RUF and their Liberian chief have, slogans of neo-colonialism become insane and callous. What would Tony Blair gain politically by television coverage of British boys dying in the forests of West Africa?
If Nigeria really wants to solve Sierra Leone problems, it should not see Britain as an opponent but rather a determined partner in giving Sierra Leone's children and people a chance in this world. Spare Sierra Leone the Liberian solution. It is not something to be proud of. It is a shame, an African shame.