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Last Updated: Monday, 11 August, 2003, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Taylor's new Nigerian home
By Elizabeth Blunt
BBC, Calabar, Nigeria

Old Residency in Calabar
A British governor once ruled all southern Nigeria from Calabar

Liberia's President Charles Taylor - who stepped down and handed power to his vice-president on Monday - has been offered asylum by the Nigerian Government.

And now the authorities in Calabar, in the far south-east of the country, have been told to prepare for a distinguished guest.

Perched on the edge of Diamond Hill - in Calabar's historic government quarter - is an elegant grey villa, with slim pillars decorating its facade.

Just up the hill is the Old Residency, a wood and cast iron creation from which a British governor once ruled the whole of southern Nigeria, and next to that the lodge where Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo stays when he is in town.

The villa may not be as imposing as Liberia's executive mansion, but it has fine views out over the wide Cross River and the roofs of Old Creek town.

If you half close your eyes and look out through the curtain of rain, you could almost be in Monrovia.

Fears of disturbances

Work has been going on day and night for the past three weeks to renovate the villa for President Taylor and the block of suites across the road for his retinue.

President Charles Taylor
1989: Launched rebellion
1997: Won elections
June 2003: Indicted for war crimes
August 2003: Resigned

Local residents have watched as sofas, beds, carpets, and television sets are delivered and a new, more powerful generator installed.

Not surprisingly, it has been the talk of Calabar.

No-one knows why President Obasanjo picked their city to offer Mr Taylor hospitality, but the general consensus is that they rather wish he had not.

Even businessmen, who might benefit from the comings and goings of a presidential entourage, are worrying that it might disturb the tranquillity of one of the most laid-back places in Nigeria.

The one group of residents who do want President Taylor to come is the city's resident Liberian community.

'Just like home'

The biggest single group are Liberian women married to local men, either Nigerian traders who went to Monrovia on business before the war, or Nigerian soldiers who served in the peacekeeping force there in the early 1990s.

Reverend Bob-John Moleyeazeh
Rev Bob-John Moleyeazeh said he would be happy to meet Mr Taylor...
They have settled in happily and say it is actually very like home.

Ophelia Oku - born Ophelia Moore - told me the rainy weather was just like Monrovia, so was the style of the buildings, and she could get potato greens, cassava leaves, everything she needed to cook the Liberian style of food.

A Baptist pastor, the Reverend Bob-John Moleyeazeh, said they were hoping and praying for him to come to Nigeria just so that Liberia could have peace and he would be happy to meet him and talk with him if he came.

But Ophelia and her friend Rebecca Lucky-Ben, formerly Rebecca Doe, were not so sure.

News of Monrovia

They blame him for many of Liberia's troubles, the corruption of the nation's youth, the hundreds of thousands of people chased from their homes.

Ophelia Oku [left] with her friend Rebecca Lucky-Ben
... but these expat Liberian women say they are not so sure
Rebecca said she wanted him to leave Liberia and was praying for him that he would change for the better, just as another Liberian warlord, Prince Johnson, had reformed his life after coming to Nigeria.

Only God, she said, could condemn.

The one thing they are all looking forward to is the chance to get first-hand news of Monrovia from the new arrivals.

They are desperately worried about their families there; at the moment they have no way of knowing if they are alive or dead.


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