A Trip Down Memory Lane: What’s cooking in Abuja again?

By Wellington Geevon-Smith

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 4, 2004

As a daily routine in the evening before leaving office, I browsed all the websites that focus on news from Liberia on Wednesday and came across this headline on two of the websites: “ECOWAS KEEN ON LIBERIA’S ELECTIONS - Invites NEC Chairman to Abuja”. Two words mentioned in the headline; ‘NEC’ and ‘Abuja’ took me down memory lane.

Liberia’s contemporary history cannot be written and completed, especially since 1990, without mentioning names of countries like Nigeria and Ghana. They were when nobody was and Liberians hold their efforts in high esteem.

Equally, for historical purpose, enlightened Liberians would always place the outcome of their efforts before public opinion to determine where misjudgments occurred and how to correct them for the future. It is against this backdrop that the role Abuja played in the Special Elections held in Liberia in 1997, in which rebel leader Charles Taylor was ‘declared’ winner, should be scrutinized to avoid another outcome of the 2005 elections as was in the case of the 1997 fiasco.

By 1997 Nigeria was the leading power-broker in Liberia. This was contingent on the country’s both financial and military contributions in the effort of the regional body [ECOWAS] to bring peace to Liberia. Nigeria contributed the highest number of soldiers and spent an estimated four billion dollars on Liberia in the 1990s.

While playing the leading role in the regional initiative in Liberia, Nigeria’s military dictator, General Sani Abacha was being demonized for his gluttonous appetite of his country’s treasury. The international community including Nigerians
themselves wanted Abacha out of office at all cost. General Abacha, on the other hand, did all he could to settle scores with his opponents and Liberia was sacrificed. He knew that the West had seen the true color of Mr. Taylor and would not want him to be President.

Abacha’s first move was to threaten withdrawal of his troops from Liberia if elections were not held in mid 1997 when his military experts on the ground knew that Liberia was not secured and prepared for elections. Gen. Abacha’s desire carried the day because [at that time] no powerful nation was willing to rescue

Economic interest was another factor. Credible diplomatic sources revealed that Abacha had allegedly concluded with Taylor for the oil refinery and his Foreign Minister Tom Ikemi was to take the contract to renovate the Roberts International Airport. It can be recalled that on the day of voting on July 19, 1997, Ikemi personally held Taylor’s hand and escorted him to cast his vote. As a major player in the resolution of the conflict, Ikemi’s presence with Taylor was an
indication that this was the man Nigeria wanted.

During the entire exercise, G. Henry Andrews, Chairman of the 1997 Elections Commission [May peace be to his ashes] and his officials were constantly ‘invited’ to Abuja for consultations. There was no official press briefing from the numerous Abuja consultations.

Developments that unfolded during the electoral process gave the signal that what Liberians called election was to legalize what Abuja had decided. One key issue was about the ballots printed. The amount of ballots printed for the elections was never made known to the people of Liberia. After the elections, Commission Andrews kept announcing the votes cast for Mr. Taylor until the figure was becoming suspicious and he had to stop.

On the whole, 2005 cannot be compared with 1997 in totality. The whole world is fully present in Liberia and there are some limitations to Nigeria’s manipulating power. But the uncompromising position of President Obasanjo that he would not surrender Taylor to face justice unless a request is made by “an elected government” in Liberia is a point of concern.

It is no secret that Nigeria and Ghana do not want Taylor to face justice. President John Kufuor of Ghana and Chairman of ECOWAS was the first to call on the United Nations to lift the indictment on Taylor. They know that this is not a case between Taylor and the Republic of Liberia. The UN wants Taylor to account for his involvement in the war in Sierra Leone, which he said was informed by “national security interest.”

Consultations in Abuja have been disastrous to our election politics and when they are ref-surfacing, we should not slumber. The Executive Secretary of ECOWAS, Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambers who “invited” the NEC officials by now should be known by Liberians. He virtually became an alleged de facto foreign minister for the Taylor regime during its dying days. His suspected chequered role in the Liberian peace initiative, at one point, compelled the main rebel group-LURD to accuse him of not mediating in good faith. Don’t forget this.

The best Abuja can do now is to sponsor a politician who would win elections in Liberia and never make such request for Taylor to be surrendered. That would not be a hard task since all politicians in Liberia want to be president. The lust for power in some of our politicians is so strong that a marriage with even a devil would be a pleasant thing to do.
Perhaps our only hope lies in the character of some personalities on the Elections Commission. Some of them are well-respected and have proven over the years that something called ‘conscience’ does exists. Besides, the UN mission has repeatedly assured Liberians that the international body will conduct and supervise the election to bring credibility to the results. Notwithstanding that should not be the cause for us to sleep with our two eyes closed.

About the Author: Mr. Wellington Geevon-Smith can be contacted at: cestosriver@yahoo.com