He is Jatau Alexander; a Brigadier General, now retired, of the Nigeria Army. On 29 March 2006, he was a Lieutenant Colonel and Commanding Officer of 202 Tank Battalion stationed in Borno State. Nigeria was in the eye of the storm. The country had incurred widespread odium for granting asylum to former President of Liberia, Charles Ghankay Taylor. Taylor, a former rebel leader who shot his way to power, was responsible for years of bloodletting and fratricidal wars in two countries – Liberia and Sierra Leone – characterized by mass atrocities, child soldiers, cannibalism, the chopping off of limbs of women and children and a string of other evil inventions. At the height of his terror in 1990, Charles Taylor beheaded three Nigerian journalists, hanging their heads on a post. In August 2003, fugitive Taylor ironically was granted asylum by the same Nigeria. Indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone created by the United Nations and followed by an extradition request, Taylor suddenly escaped from his luxury home in Calabar, Cross River State.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, on a visit to the US in March 2006, was being snubbed by President George Bush. Insinuations were that Nigeria was complicit in Charles Taylor’s escape. It was with elation that Obasanjo received the news of Taylor’s capture. Thirteen years after, the Army officer who made it possible speaks to SATELLITE TIMES, in an exclusive interview.
Manhunt for Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor leads rebels in a march on Monrovia in 1990
Charles Taylor was captured on 29 March 2006. This took place at the Gamboru-Ngala border crossing point, in Gamboru-Ngala Local Government Area of Borno State, Nigeria. He was captured by soldiers of 202 Tank Battalion, Bama on security patrol duties between Nigeria-Cameroun borders at G/Ngala Custom House crossing/checking point. I was the Commanding Officer of 202 Tank Battalion charged with fortnightly patrols, against bandits, codenamed Operation FLUSHOUT. About a week earlier, the electronic and print media were agog with news of escape from Calabar with calls for his arrest if seen. There was a directive by the Federal Government of Nigeria, that if seen he, Taylor, should be apprehended and brought to the nearest police or any law enforcement office. The international community, particularly the US, did not find the development in Nigeria amusing. Convinced that Nigeria, which had demonstrated unwillingness to hand Taylor over to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), had orchestrated his escape, President George Bush was unwilling to receive a visiting President Olusegun Obasanjo at the White House. The call for Taylor’s arrest was, therefore, a call to save Nigeria from a national embarrassment. I put my soldiers on their toes to be on the lookout for Charles Taylor.
Taylor disguised as a rap musician
There was an early morning incident at a law enforcement officials check building, popularly referred to as Custom House at the border at Gamboru-Ngala. The office building was called Custom House because it was the Nigeria Customs Service that first began to use this place as a makeshift shelter to conduct checks and documentation of goods crossing to or from Cameroon. After a permanent structure was erected by the government, other para-military agencies were stationed there. The Nigerian Army used that building as office block and staging point for their patrol activities. There were enough offices to contain all the security agencies. This building was where people crossing the border to Fotocol Cameroun and Gamboru-Ngala Nigeria must go for documentation. Therefore, most of the law enforcement agencies had representatives or offices at the building.
About 6.30a.m., an ash coloured Range Rover approached the final roadblock to a bridge over the river that bordered Nigeria-Cameroun, just before crossing to Fotocol. The vehicle attempted to cross the border to the Republic of Cameroun. There was virtually nobody in the Custom House. However, a Nigerian Immigration Service officer was at the crossing point near the bridge that separated Nigeria and Cameroun. The Immigration officer was trying to see who was inside the Range Rover because the vehicle had dark tinted glasses. An argument ensued between the Immigration officer and occupants of the Range Rover. The commotion attracted the attention of my soldiers who were just coming in from night patrol.
The Immigration officer didn’t know Charles Taylor. Two things would have happened. He would have waved them on, seeing the occupants as some of the respectable travellers that go and come between the two countries on a daily basis. Either that or Taylor’s escort team would have overpowered him. However, soldiers of 202 Tank Battalion recognised Taylor who was wearing on his neck a big rap artiste gangster chain that had a crucifix. My soldiers were thoroughly briefed before going to Gamboru-Ngala on patrol duties, besides the 202 Tank Battalion served in Banga in Liberia during ECOMOG Operation for three years. Banga was
Charles Taylor’s headquarters, as a warlord, during Liberia’s rebel war and ECOMOG Operation Liberty. Therefore, most of the 202 Tank Battalion officers and soldiers knew Taylor. That was why when the patrol team heard the commotion at the Custom House crossing point and went to check, instantly seeing him one of the soldiers shouted “Charles Taylor! Charles Taylor!”, then they seized him.
Jatau Alexander and his men of 202 Tank Batallion
Immediately, after ascertaining it was really Charles Taylor the wanted fugitive, my soldiers called me and informed me. As my soldiers were arresting Charles Taylor, it was then that other security agencies came to the scene and claimed that they were the ones that captured him.
Indeed, none of them was in the office then, because it was very early in the morning. They were in their beds.
At 7 a.m I had just finished morning physical training exercise at the Colonel Kur Mohammed Barracks Bama when the patrol leader of Gamboru-Ngala called me to say our patrol team had captured Charles Taylor. I immediately informed the Commander 21 Brigade in Maiduguri. He, in turn, informed the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 3 Division headquartered at Rukuba-Jos. That was how the information was transmitted to Army Headquarters, Abuja.
The Commander 21 Brigade then asked me my plan and I told him I was headed to Gamboru-Ngala to take over the escort of Charles Taylor to Headquarters 21 Brigade. Immediately, I informed my patrol team to start coming to Maiduguri with the apprehended former president of Liberia.
Unfortunately, the soldiers’ patrol vehicle was not in good working condition that could carry someone of Charles Taylor’s importance fast and swiftly on the rugged road to Maiduguri. So I directed that the patrol leader should ask the Custom for assistance with their vehicle. The Custom agreed. When I took over the convoy I directed the fugitive to remain in the Custom vehicle with my soldiers as guards.
I left went with two Hilux Toyota vehicles with eight soldiers escorts, fully armed. The distance between Bama and Maiduguri was about 70km and from Maiduguri to Gamboru-Ngala was about 145km. I met the oncoming convoy carrying Charles Taylor between Mafa and Dikwa towns. Instantly, I took over the convoy and directed it to Maiduguri, Headquarters 21 Brigade.
The convoy to Headquarters 21 Brigade reached its destination around 10.15a.m.
I handed over Charles Taylor to the Commander 21 Brigade who directed that I should be in charge of Charles Taylor’s physical security. I organised and deployed soldiers for physical security around Headquarters 21 Brigade. All unauthourised persons and media personnel were not allowed access to Charles Taylor or the building he was placed in. The only outsider allowed to see Charles Taylor was the Borno State Governor, Ali Modu Sheriff.
Taylor was armed and carried a briefcase of dollars
Inside the Range Rover vehicle, Charles Taylor was accompanied by a driver, a bodyguard and a young woman whom Charles Taylor said was his niece. The bodyguard slipped away in the commotion of his master’s arrest. He threw away a loaded 9mm Browning Pistol. The pistol was recovered. A briefcase with money was seized and handed over to the Nigerian government. In addition to the gun were two Nokia cellphones, a wrist-watch, a neck chain with crucifix, two voodoo talisman/amulets and a small amount of cash in US dollars.
Charles Taylor offered us money but we refused to accept feeling our service was to our country first and foremost. Given that he had journeyed all the way from Calabar by road, it was not impossible that he paid money to cross the dozens of police checkpoints on his way to Gamboru-Ngala border post. Had my team accepted the dollars offered to us and allowed Charles Taylor to cross into Cameroon, I don’t know how Nigeria would have washed itself clean before the international community.
Upon receiving the news of Taylor’s arrest, an elated President Obasanjo was quick to speak to CNN about it. About 1 o’clock in the afternoon, a presidential aircraft was dispatched from Abuja to Maiduguri. I was directed by the 21 Brigade Commander to lead the escort of Charles Taylor to Liberia and hand him over to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) representative and the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Liberia and Sierra Leone. The presidential aircraft departed from the Nigerian Airforce Wing Maiduguri Airport and the team left for Liberia. We landed about three hours later at Roberts International Airport, Liberia. But before we did, Taylor tried to pull one last stunt.
Three tense hours aboard a presidential aircraft
About an hour after we were airborne, Taylor requested that I removed the handcuff on him so he could go to the toilet. I perfectly understood I was dealing with a dangerous man. I made it clear to him there was no way I would allow him to stand up from his seat. This was a warlord who had caused the death of hundreds of thousands of people in two countries. He was ready to do anything to crash the presidential aircraft and stop it from taking him to Liberia even if it means him dying in the process. I told him that if he wanted to urinate, I could provide him an empty plastic bottle so he could do that sitting down. I did not take my eyes off him till we landed in Liberia.
On arrival in Liberia with Charles Taylor, we were met by the representative of ICJ, who was a white woman. Others were the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General; Forces Commander of UN troops for peacekeeping in Liberia and Sierra Leone (a Nigerian senior army officer – General Obiakor); Liberia’s Army Chief of Staff ( a Nigerian senior army officer – General LN Yusuf). General Yusuf later became Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff. Also, there were two Liberia’s ministers and the Commanding Officer of the battalion proving security at Roberts International Airport. I handed over Charles Taylor to the ICJ representative. She consequently stated him his rights as an arrested felon and handcuffed him. On handing Charles Taylor over to the ICJ Representative, he was also given back his personal effects confiscated from him before boarding the aircraft to Liberia in Maiduguri. He was then flown to Freetown, Sierra Leone in a UN helicopter with another helicopter used as escort.
I returned to Nigeria with my team. The escort team composed of me, a Lieutenant Colonel and five other-ranked soldiers. We arrived Abuja around 7 p.m and were taken to the Command Guest House to spend the night. In the morning of the next day, a Hiace Toyota bus conveyed us to Maiduguri. At the residence of the 21 Brigade Commander, the escort team of Charles Taylor to Liberia was disbanded and I returned to Bama my unit.