Reporting Mr President to Nigerians By ’Tunji Ajibade
One should not even think that President Goodluck Jonathan said it. He didn’t say in the course of his recent visit to Kenya that high-profiled people in Africa can slaughter their citizens, and once they become presidents, the matter should be forgotten. He didn’t stand in the Kenyan parliament to say that one of that country’s citizens who had encouraged blood-letting is now a saint just because he’s become president. One should be baffled if President Jonathan did. It’s better imagined he only wanted to make those Kenyan lawmakers smile and clap when he spoke in their chamber; his rhetoric that time concerning the effort of the International Criminal Court to prosecute cases of crime against humanity in Africa must mean only that. In the event, the President deserves a medal for this ability to make citizens of other nations hear him and clap whenever he goes visiting, the same way he had gone to South Africa and had said the point is not which African nation occupies a permanent seat at the Security Council of the United Nations, that getting a slot for Africa is what matters first, and had in that clever manner got South African lawmakers clapping for him. Officials that had inserted both comments in the President’s speeches are clever, too, except that this writer takes the South African version seriously to the extent that Nigerian government officials haven’t always cajoled foreign diplomats to support Nigeria’s bid for both the permanent and non-permanent seats in the UN Security Council.
Now, Nigerians should read what the President had said in Kenya: “I believe that any law whether local or international as well as Treaties and Conventions should be seen to solve human problems and not to compound them”. Anchors on the network news of the Nigerian Television Authority had promptly said that statement was an apparent reference to the effort of the ICC to prosecute President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto. And so it was. The ICC said both men played roles in the killing of over 1,000 Kenyans in the post-2007 election violence. Contesting the right of President Jonathan to express his view as he did in Kenya is not the focus here. And the focus is not about the African Union leaders who have all banded together at the last AU summit to rain abuses on the ICC over African leaders that the Court had decided to hold accountable for their actions. Rather, the focus is in asking the question: Should anyone, anyone at all, get humans wasted in ways that breach all known rules, and get away with it? This question is a reason reporting the President’s rhetoric to his citizens becomes important.
It’s important to note this: While President Jonathan was talking in the Kenyan parliament, he didn’t mention how the former Liberian rebel leader and later president, Charles Taylor, was picked up and sent to 50 years in jail for acts of murder, rape and torture in Sierra Leone where he had grabbed blood diamond. He didn’t say the verdict the ICC passed on Taylor, which serves as an example to others, compounded problems in Sierra Leone rather than solved them. Incidentally, Nigeria had let Taylor loose from asylum after which he had been bundled to The Hague. Jonathan didn’t also say how efforts to prosecute ousted Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire for abuses compounded the problems of Cote d’Ivoire. And of the case whereby a court in The Hague pronounced Shell guilty of environmental degradation in the Niger Delta and ordered the oil company to pay compensation to victims and to clean up, the President also didn’t argue that the court is external to Nigeria and has compounded the Niger Delta problem. Instead, the cases that compound problems, as he has agreed with other AU leaders, are those involving sitting presidents such as Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Kenyatta of Kenya. It’s good to look at these two cases more closely.
Al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC to stand trial for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in the Sudanese region of Darfur. 300,000 people have died since 2003 due to fighting between rebel groups and government forces and their allied militiamen called Janjaweed. Even at the moment, killings continue in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Satellite images are currently documenting the state’s actions that match the Geneva Convention’s definition of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Yet, the AU leaders are quiet about the ongoing horror in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. But they talk when external voices draw attention to atrocities, the same way about a million people had been killed in Rwanda and the AU leaders had looked on until external forces rallied support for action. The other spots that the ICC currently watches – not the AU – include northern Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Libya, Mali and Côte d’Ivoire.
In the case of Kenya, Kenyatta had initially promised to cooperate with the ICC. But he turned around asking that the case be terminated. His government wrote to the UN Security Council calling on members to terminate charges of crimes against humanity against him and his deputy. Later, when Kenya challenged the ICC’s jurisdiction, the Court said a “case is only inadmissible before the Court if the same suspects are being investigated by Kenya for substantially the same conduct.” Kenya isn’t doing anything of such to Kenyatta and Ruto. Of course, the ICC’s Rome Statute gives the Court jurisdiction over individuals who commit the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, and while the UN Security Council has power under Article 16 of the Rome Statute to defer cases before the ICC, the Statute does not indicate that the Council has power to terminate an ongoing trial. So lately, Ruto voluntarily went to The Hague to face charges in the same court his country’s says lacks jurisdiction, while his principal continues to fume in Nairobi.
While the Kenyan government did all it could to frustrate the ICC, the AU leaders urged the country on, and had backed al-Bashir of Sudan, too. But one must leave the AU alone and return to Nigeria. For it seems that President Jonathan preaches one thing at home while he supports another on the continent, a thing Nigerians need to take note of. One, when al-Bashir had come to Abuja in July and Nigeria had failed to arrest him as the ICC had requested, Nigeria eventually had to go and defend its action before the ICC in The Hague. Question: Why did the President say international treaties (one of them being the Rome Statute that established the ICC) should not compound problems for the Kenyans when in a related matter of al-Bashir’s, Nigeria had been so worried it went to The Hague to defend its failure to make an arrest as the Rome statute obligates it to do? Something doesn’t sound synchronised in the view the President had expressed in Kenya and Nigeria’s eagerness to avoid sanctions by the ICC. Why did Nigeria make a statement such as it did in Kenya in a matter that, when the chips were down, it couldn’t call the ICC’s bluff?
More so, in a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the ICC cleared Nigeria of any wrongdoing over its failure to arrest al-Bashir, it was stated that Nigeria hadn’t any intention to shirk its international obligations as a signatory to the ICC statutes. In fact, the nation had taken its own defence so serious that it’s representation to the ICC in the Sudan matter “was made by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke.”
And there’s this other reason President Jonathan’s comment in Kenya is not in alignment with what Nigerians know of him: Even at the height of insurgency when Nigerians were killed in hundreds, the President had insisted that as a father, he would like Boko Haram elements to be made to see reason. He had called them “our children.” Not once did he make inflammatory calls to the military to break known rules of engagement as trying as the Boko Haram saga was. In any crisis, he had never descended low to a level that shouldn’t be heard of a leader as have been the cases in the Sudan and Kenyan, and especially Kenya where ethnic biases had contributed significantly to the crimes for which the ICC wants to prosecute Kenyatta. One should think that the disposition President Jonathan has towards any Nigerian in the nation’s trying moments should be the kind he should preach to fellow leaders on the continent, rather than comments such as that one made in the Kenyan parliament that can make leaders who throw off all decency imagine they have the right to escape punishment because they are in power. Jonathan must steer clear of this kind of comment which gives the impression that Nigeria supports leaders who go far below the line as the al-Bashir and Kenyatta episodes show. After all, Nigeria is not a rogue state, or is it?
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