Nigerians Uneasy About Decision to Shelter Former Liberian Leader

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - The Nigerian government is under fire for its decision to give shelter to former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who resigned and went into exile early this week.

Critics of the move say the notorious former warlord may use their country as the base to initiate conflicts in Nigeria and the broader region, as he is accused of doing while he held power in Liberia.

In a bid to end a civil war in Liberia that has had an enormous humanitarian impact, Nigeria offered Taylor asylum in the southeastern city of Calabar.

President Bush, who had been urging Taylor to resign, welcomed his departure.

Two rebel groups tried to overthrow Taylor, who has been indicted by a U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal for his alleged role in fomenting a long and bloody civil war in Sierra Leone, a country that borders Liberia.

Nigerian lawmakers, journalists and human rights activists are now calling on Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo's administration to hand over the former president to the tribunal.

Nigerian journalists have filed a lawsuit, challenging the asylum offer and accusing Taylor of complicity in the 1990 killing of two Nigerian journalists in Liberia by forces loyal to the then warlord.

Opposition has also come from a parliamentary committee responsible for security, which issued summonses to the heads of the government's security and immigration departments to explain the arrangement being made for Taylor's stay.

The lawmaker who heads the committee, West Idahosa, said the National Assembly wanted the government to erase the impression that Taylor was to be allowed to stay in Nigeria "unconditionally."

Nigeria's National Human Rights Commission is another critic of the asylum offer. It said Abuja had violated U.N. and Africa Union human rights charters by agreeing to host Taylor.

"Taylor had his hand in every pie in the various conflicts in the Manu River region, from Liberia to Sierra Leone to Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea and he is likely to be further indicted for war crimes and impunity in respect of these various conflicts," the commission said in a statement.

Members of another human rights group, the Civil Liberties Organization, staged a peaceful protest in Calabar.

The group's head, Bassey Archibong, told reporters Obasanjo should arrest Taylor. He also condemned the use of public funds to accommodate Taylor in a nation where almost 60 per cent of the population lives of less then $1 per day.

With the largest population of any country in Africa, oil-rich Nigeria is West Africa's economic and military powerhouse, but one that is frequently affected by deadly religious and tribal conflicts.

Nigeria is already hosting two other former Liberian warlords, Prince Johnson and Roosevelt Johnson, who live in exile in the cities of Lagos and Jos respectively.

Obasanjo said last month that his government would "not be harassed by [any] person, organization or country for showing this humanitarian gesture" of offering asylum to Taylor.

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