It now appears very likely that Nigeria will, after all, hand over Liberian fugitive leader Charles Taylor (currently in exile in Nigeria) to the Freetown-based UN court investigating war crimes in conflicts in and around Sierra Leone. Thanks to the insistence of the US government, the Obasanjo regime is about to send Taylor to the Freetown court despite its long-held position to the contrary. The regime has until recently argued that it was against its “national honour” (whatever that means) to respond positively to the court’s request to extradite Taylor to face trial for overseeing the slaughter of 1.3 million Africans in the west central states of Liberia, Sierra Leone and southern Guinea while he was president of Liberia.
The irony is of course not lost on any keen observer of this development. Whatever may be the US’s strategic interests on this subject (possible Taylor links with al-Qaida, possible Taylor involvement in millions of dollars worth of money laundering, possible Taylor complicity in the January 2005 attempted coup in Conakry to remove the pro-American Guinean president), it has taken the intervention of a non-African power to force a disreputable African leadership to hand over the head of a fellow murderous African leadership to face trial for the murder of 1.3 million Africans -- not 1.3 million non-Africans. African democrats are surely unencumbered by this irony. African leaderships have murdered 15 million Africans across the continent in the past 40 years in appalling spates of genocide. Even if the devil itself were to lecture African leaderships to stop murdering their peoples and, in the process, help prevent just one more African being annihilated by their depraved overlords, that would be readily welcome. African populations are under siege by brutal regimes replete across Africa. The peoples require unremitting support for their right to safeguard their lives and progress from wherever in the world. Not less.
If indeed the US administration has threatened to block Nigeria’s current so-called “bid” for a permanent seat on a possibly enlarged UN Security Council, if it continues to keep Taylor away from facing justice, as some press reports indicate, Washington has done very well. But the Americans shouldn’t lift their threat yet, even if Nigeria dispatches Taylor to Freetown. It is breathtakingly obscene for Nigeria to wish to be considered for a permanent seat at the Security Council given the ghastly human rights records of successive Nigerian regimes in the past 40 years including the current one where statecraft at best is run as some medieval baronial fiefdom. The US and the rest of the world should reject this “bid” out of hand. Not to do that would be to send the wrong signal to Africa -- by rewarding a band of genocidist operatives who have the blood of Africans on their hands, and who have in tandem pillaged an economy whose resources alone could easily have transformed the entire continent.
It mustn’t be forgotten that Nigeria inaugurated the current African “Age of Pestilence” when its leadership in 1966 embarked on the premeditated massacres of its Igbo population during a stretch of five months. One hundred thousand Igbo were killed during what emerged as the first phase of this genocide. The following year, the leadership expanded the territorial reach of this campaign into Igboland itself for the second phase. Three million Igbo, or one-quarter of the nation’s population then, were annihilated within 30 months. Most of Africa stood by and watched, hardly critical or condemnatory of this wanton destruction of human lives and the sacking and plundering of community after community. As the perpetrators appeared to have got off free from any forms of sanctions from Africa (and the rest of the world) for what were clearly crimes against humanity, several leaderships elsewhere in Africa were “convinced” of the lessons that they had drawn from the escapades of their Nigerian counterpart: “We can murder our peoples at will. There will be no sanctions from abroad.” As a result, the killing fields of the age stretched inexorably beyond the Nigerian frontiers: Liberia, Sierra Leone, southern Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zaïre/Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan.
In the past 40 years, Nigeria has been run by a succession of genocidist generals and other operatives (military and civilian alike) who planned, executed and sustained the Igbo genocide. The current head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, commanded a notorious division in southern Igboland that committed indescribable atrocities as it overran cities, towns and villages. Neither he (who has been head of state for a total of nine years during the period) nor any of his colleagues (most of whom are still alive) has apologized or shown remorse for their crimes against humanity. On the contrary. In fact Yakubu Gowon, who was head of state and grand overseer of the genocide, only recently told the press in Enugu (political and cultural capital of Igboland) that he had “nothing to apologize” to the Igbo. Before he shot himself in a Berlin bunker in 1945, few would have expected Adolf Hitler to apologize or show remorse for his organized genocide of six million Jews across Europe during the Second World War. Hardly anyone, though, would wish to contemplate a Hitler traveling to Jerusalem today to address a press conference in which he would insist categorically: “I have nothing to apologize for the six million Jews my forces annihilated between 1939 and 1945. What I did was right.” That would be unimaginable monstrosity. But this was precisely what Gowon did at Enugu a fortnight ago.
Nigeria’s “bid” to join the Security Council could not have provided the world with a better opportunity to deal with the crux of contemporary Africa’s malaise: the non-accountability of African leaderships who employ genocide and mass murder as a twin-track instrument of power. No country in Africa is more appropriate for the world to enforce this accountability than where the disease emerged in the first place on the continent -- Nigeria, the quintessentially failed and genocide-state.
Now is the time for the US and the world to insist that each and every member of the Nigerian leaderships who participated in the murder of three million Africans 40 years ago, and who in effect triggered off the chain of mass killings of 12 million others elsewhere in the continent must be made to account for their action. Besides, if Nigeria is ultimately forced to hand over Taylor to face trial for the murder of 1.3 million Africans in the 1980s-1990s, then his current hosts (Obasanjo, Abubakar, Babangida, Buhari, Gowon, Danjuma and many many others) must also be apprehended for the murder of 3 million Africans in the 1960s-1970s.
Professor Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is a leading scholar on conflicts and change in contemporary Africa. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
Other Articles by Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe