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Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo Backs Bashir On Darfur War Charges

Published on Tuesday 29th June 2010

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo has come out strongly in defence of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir against allegations of war crimes in Darfur by the International Criminal Court.

In an exclusive interview with The EastAfrican, Mr Obasanjo, who left power in 2007, said it was unfair to accuse al-Bashir of committing atrocities in Darfur without providing evidence of their actual planning and execution.

He, however, said President al-Bashir had told him he had been forced to employ the services of Janjaweed militia in the early stages of the rebellion in Darfur in 2003.

This was allegedly because he did not have the capacity to deal with the rebellion that was started by the Justice for Equality Movement (JEM).

In March 2009, the ICC issued a warrant of arrest against al-Bashir for crimes against humanity in Darfur.

But the African Union (AU) opposed this, saying its execution would lead to more violence in Darfur and destroy prospects of a peaceful solution.

As a former AU chairman, Mr Obasanjo, apart from insisting that a sitting president cannot be directly responsible for atrocities committed by rogue soldiers in a state of civil war, said it would be unfair for the world to ask al-Bashir to disown the Janjaweed after it helped save Sudan from disintegration.

Mr Obasanjo maintained that unless there is proof that President al-Bashir gave a written order for the atrocities, then he should not be accountable.

He said the charges against al-Bashir were mainly because he refused to hand over the Janjaweed to the ICC, so they decided that he must be brought to book.

The former Nigerian leader was responding to accusations that the decision by African leaders to rally behind the Sudanese president was proof that the African leaders were reneging on their promise to embrace good governance and accountability as part of the African Renaissance.

Mr Obasanjo gave the example of the Nigerian civil war of 1967 to 1970, where despite the presence of foreign observers, some rogue soldiers committed rape and other atrocities.

However, the president sitting in Lagos could not be directly blamed for these crimes.

"There are American soldiers who committed atrocities in Iraq or Afghanistan, can you hold former President George Bush responsible, or current President Barack Obama, for these?" he asked.

Mr Obasanjo, too, is in the spotlight, having been president of Nigeria during the change-over of the former Organisation of African Union to AU.

At the time, the leaders promised a new beginning where the policy of non-interference in internal affairs of member countries was replaced with the concept of accountability under peer supervision.

He was in Kenya recently to deliver a keynote speech at a convention on governance, leadership and management held at the coastal city of Mombasa.

Having led the AU for two nascent years after the change-over, Mr Obasanjo was expected to give an account of the African Renaissance: Ten Years After the Dream.

The former president had no apologies to make.

He said like other outgoing African presidents, he influenced his succession in 2007 by ensuring that the late Umaru Yar'Adua succeeded him.

He said any outgoing president has the right to influence his succession.

"I would be a total fool to have run the affairs of Nigeria for eight years, taken the country from a pariah state to a state that is respected by the world community, and not be interested in what happens after I leave. I wanted somebody from my party to succeed me, " he said.

Mr Obasanjo denied suggestions that Nigeria could be on the brink of a break-up, owing to events that preceded the death of Mr Yar'Adua -- the perennial Muslim-Christian clashes and the historical north-south divide.

According to him, many people in the world don't know Nigeria well enough.

The so-called northerners or southerners are not monolith, he said.

He added that Nigeria underwent a bloody 30-month civil war, experienced the longest period of military rule (over 15 years), including the ruthless military dictatorship of Sani Abacha, but still did not disintegrate.

"Recently we had a small crisis of a president being sick and things not being clear for about six months... is that enough to break us up."

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