By Innocent Anaba & DAPO AKINREFON
The question of whether Nigeria should arrest and hand over President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan, who arrived Nigeria on Sunday for an African Union, AU, Summit on HIV/AIDS, has sharply divided Nigerians, with Professor Itse Sagay (SAN) and Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), disagreeing on what the Nigerian government should do.
Irked by the presence of Al-Bashir in Nigeria, rights groups, including Coalition on the International Criminal Court, NCICC and Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, have insisted on his being arrested and handed over to International Criminal Court, ICC in The Hague, over his indictment for alleged crimes in Darfur.
Al-Bashir is accused of masterminding genocide and other atrocities during the Darfur conflict, a charge he had repeatedly denied.
Similarly, United Kingdom’s Minister for Africa, Mr. Mark Simmonds, expressed disappointment over Nigeria’s decision “to host the Sudanese President, despite ICC arrest warrant on him,” noting that Nigeria’s action undermined the work of ICC.
However, Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr. Olugbenga Ashiru, said Monday that Nigeria shunned ICC’s arrest warrant on Al-Bashir because of its commitment to AU’s position on the issue.
Meanwhile, NCICC has dragged the Nigerian government before a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, praying the court to compel Federal Government to hand over Al-Bashir to ICC.
Speaking on the development, Sagay lampooned Federal Government for allowing Al-Bashir to visit the country.
Sagay, in a telephone interview with Vanguard, said: “I am very disappointed to hear that he (Al-Bashir) was invited to this country because he has a record of being brutal, despotic and very murderous.
“He has committed a lot of crimes against humanity. I don’t see why such a person should be our guest when we do not belong to his group of people. Obviously this will rob off on our image, which will be soiled in the world and we will make enemies of civilised nations.”
However, former President of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Agbakoba, disagreed, saying “ICC has no jurisdiction over Nigeria.
“While I may not like the man Al-Bashir, I don’t believe or agree that Nigeria has any obligation to any body to hand him over to ICC over an outstanding warrant for his arrest. I don’t support that.
“The United States which seems to be in the forefront for the enforcement of rights refused to sign the ICC Rome Statute, which we all know is deliberate because if it does, its activities in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas will be more scrutinised and jeopardise its foreign policy.
“Even though Nigeria is a signatory to the ICC Statutes, I believe this is the time to repudiate and follow the Chinese example.
“This is the right time for Nigeria to pursue a foreign policy that meets its need and not merely enforcing policies that promote Western and American interests. My position is purely as an African.”
SERAP, on its part, said it had sent urgent request to the Prosecutor of ICC, Ms Fatou Bensouda, requesting her to use her good offices and position to urgently refer the Nigerian government to the UN Security Council for failing to arrest Al-Bashir and surrender him to the ICC to face fair trial on the charges against him.
UK Minister for Africa, Mr. Mark Simmonds, expressed disappointment over Nigeria’s decision “to host” President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan, in spite of ICC’s arrest warrant on him.
A statement by the Foreign Office Minister for Africa, yesterday, said Nigeria’s action undermined the work of the Court.
Simmonds said: “The UK has a strong and abiding bilateral relationship with Nigeria. I am, therefore, disappointed that Nigeria has chosen to host President Al-Bashir of Sudan at an African Union event, despite ICC’s arrest warrants against him for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”