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Public Opinion and Foreign Policy: Analysing Nigerian Reactions to the Asylum Offered Former President Charles Taylor of Liberia

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Abstract:

On July 5, 2005, exactly two years after the asylum offer to Charles Taylor in Nigeria became public knowledge, President Obasanjo was at the Assembly of the 5th Ordinary Session of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union, in Sirte, Libya, calling for protection against the harassment of Nigeria by some sections of the international community ‘over the country’s refusal to surrender former Liberian President, Mr Charles Taylor, to face trials at the International War Crimes Tribunal’. But from the inception, the Nigerian public had virulently opposed the asylum idea. Still, government received Charles Taylor in Nigeria on August 11, 2003. Why? Why was public opinion unable to reverse the state’s policy? Using the methodological tool of content analysis, this article identifies the bases of public opposition to the asylum offer, which involves principally a general disdain for the person of Charles Taylor, given his antecedents. Regardless, the Nigerian government went ahead and provided asylum to Charles Taylor, putting what it considered Nigeria’s interest first. The government adopted, therefore, a mode of moral judgment that was antagonistic to that of the people whom it is ideally supposed to stand for. The article concludes that the dynamics which characterise the art of statesmanship, in which the primary responsibility is the survival of the nation-state, overpower the potential of public opinion to exert decisive pressure, since the bulk of the public is believed to be largely inarticulate or uninformed.

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