Washington — The Nigerian government was deliberating on actions to be taken regarding the Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir during his visit to Abuja last month where he attended a health summit organized by the African Union (AU), according to formal filing by Abuja released today.
Nigeria at the time defended receiving Bashir who is subject to two arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes and genocide committed in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.
As a member of the Hague-based court, Nigeria was theoretically obligated to apprehend the Sudanese leader during his stay.
But officials in Abuja said that they are adhering to AU resolutions directing member states not to execute the warrants against Bashir.
Later Nigerian newspapers quoted unnamed officials who said that they were caught by surprise as the invitation to Bashir was made by the AU and not by Abuja.
Those officials stressed had they known in advance they would have made efforts to keep him away.
The visit drew the ire of rights groups inside and outside Nigeria who argued that Nigeria was in breach of its international obligations under the Rome Statute.
The Nigeria Coalition on the International Criminal Court (NCICC) filed a motion during Bashir’s short stay with the federal high court in Abuja seeking a domestic arrest warrant for him. .
Observers and AU officials believe this prompted the Sudanese president to abruptly leave Abuja less than 24 hours after arriving and without attending the main event of the summit which he was scheduled to address.
Sudanese diplomats gave different explanations for Bashir’s sudden departure with some saying he had other engagements back home and others saying that leaders do not usually attend the entire events of conferences they are invited to.
Diplomats at the conference said, that during the afternoon session, when Bashir was scheduled to speak, he was called to the podium but could not be found confirming the unexpected nature of his absence even by the organizers of the conference and the host nation.
The Nigeria-based Guardian newspaper quoted AU officials last month as saying that Bashir “hurriedly left the VIP room amidst heavy security while the main conference was going on at the main hall” and apparently headed to the airport.
In a filingmade with ICC judges made public today, the Nigerian government suggested that prior to Bashir’s sudden exit it was in the process of initiating arrest procedures against him.
“President Al-Bashir made a brief appearance at the opening of the AU summit and without delivering any statement, left the country” said the letter signed by Nigeria’s Justice minister Mohammed Bello Adoke who is also the country’s Attorney General.
“The sudden departure of President Al-Bashir prior to the official end of the AU summit occurred at a time that officials of relevant bodies and agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria were considering the necessary steps to be taken in respect of his visit in line with Nigeria’s international obligations” it read in part.
It is not clear if Bashir was tipped off on the thinking of the Nigerian government thus pushing him to rush home.
The Nigerian official stressed his country’s “firm commitment” to the ICC and “readiness for continued cooperation” with the court “to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community”.
Adoke noted Nigeria’s decision to arrest and send back Liberia ex-president Charles Taylor to stand trial in the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).