Like the perfect dramatist, characteristic of the man who held a whole continent hostage for over 10 years, Charles Taylor appeared before the Sierra Leone International war crimes tribunal today standing tall and giving nothing away by way of nerves , though he could well be Public Enemy No.1 in Sierra Leone .
In sharp contrast to the almost weeping man brought in handcuffed last week after he was captured near the Nigeria/Cameroon border after a brief escape from his exile home in Calabar, Nigeria, Taylor was a picture of confidence, calmness and frills when he made his first appearance before the court which indicted him in 2003 for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
According to our reporters, Taylor entered the court ebbuliently , amidst very tough security , after arriving in an armoured van. His face did not give away the stress and anxiety expected from a man who underwent an extremely difficult period during the past few weeks starting with the day his Nigerian mentor, President Olusegun Obasanjo , delivered him the unbelievable news that he had changed his mind and decided to hand him over to his country,( following its return to democratic governance ) and culminating in his dramatic escape last Monday and arrest at the Nigeria/Cameroon border before he was brought to Freetown in handcuffs, via Liberia.
He exposed no passion when the 11-count charges were being read to him , but he started giving the sssion a touch of drama when he was asked to take a plea. Taylor refused, arguing that the court had no jurisdiction over him. He spoke confidently : There is an issue here regarding this court , its right to exercise its jurisdiction over me , as the 21st President of the Republic of Liberia. ”
Presiding Judge, Richard Lussick, took his time to make it clear to Taylor that the issue of jurisdiction had already been dealt with by the Appeals Chamber and found to have no legal merit.
Eventually, Taylor rescinded but he did not take a direct , normal plea . He simply told the court with levity : “Most definitely , your honor, I did not and could not have committed these acts against the sister Republic of Sierra Leone. ”
Taylor then surprised everybody when he told the court that he preferred to be tried in Sierra Leone than the Hague. Was Taylor, the dramatist, opting for the color and drama his trial would create in an African city than in far away Netherlands ? For a man who is much despised in Sierra Leone , it is unthinkable that he would choose an environment that even his own countrymen have conceded would be most hostile for his trial.
Taylor , before being taken away at the end of the session , blew kisses and gestured to his family and lawyers. He probably still may not have contended with the seriousness of the charges against him.Or like the typical dramatist he is , he was just playacting . However , whether he was just being dramatic or not, Taylor has set the continent talking and his face will continue to adorn the pages of newspapers for a long time to come.