Benin Republic, a country with a population of 11 million people is reputed to be one of the most stable nations in the West African region. However, recent political development in the country has elicited some worries, as Nigeria shares 800 kilometer land border with it. Omonu Nelson reports that any breakdown of law and order in the former Dahomey Republic could complicate Nigeria’s over stretched humanitarian situation.
The peace that has eluded Benin Republic in recent months may soon come to an end, following ECOWAS and the United Nations intervention.
In search of peace, President Muhammadu Buhari, who is the ECOWAS Chairman, dispatched the Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama to intervene in the political crisis in Benin.
The minister in company of the ECOWAS Commission President, Jean Claude Brou, met with President Patrice Tallon of Benin in Cotonou. The visit of the envoy was to resolve the political disagreement which prompted the opposition to boycott the parliamentary elections held on April 28.
It would be recall that Benin Republic has been undergoing political reforms.
According to the government, the reforms are designed to deepening democratic practice in the nation. The reforms includes the registration of political parties with a view to having parties with national spread based on a new legislation that stipulates conditions for registration.
However, out of the many parties that applied for registration, only a few were successful both at the Ministry of Interior and the National Electoral Commission (CEMA).
The opposition complained about being deliberately shut out of the process by the government. The opposition then staged demonstrations and cried out to the ECOWAS to intervene or they will boycott the elections entirely.
Following the initial engagements and reports from delegations from the ECOWAS Commission who visited the country, President Buhari who is the ECOWAS Chairman sent a Special envoy to meet with Cotonou President, Tallon. The envoy was received by Beninoise Minister of Foreign Affairs Aurelien Agbenonchi and the Nigerian Ambassador to Benin Republic, Emmanuel Oguntuase.
The envoy held meeting with President Tallon behind closed door to deliver the message of the ECOWAS Chairman. President Buhari according to the spokesperson to Onyeama, Sarah Sanda, expressed concern over the crisis stressing that it could threaten the growth of democracy in the sub region.
“Hence his message to President Patrice Tallon to ensure that all politicians and political parties in Benin Republic are given a level playing ground to participate in the democratic process,” he said.
He added that Buhari stressed the need for the rule of law and dialogue to prevail in the country.
Also concerned about the political development in Benin Republic, the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has sued for peaceful resolution of the ongoing post-election crisis in the Republic of Benin.
Speaking through his spokesman, at a media briefing in New York on Thursday, Guterres expressed concern over the development and urged maximum restraint by all stakeholders.
“We are closely following the unfolding developments in the republic of Benin in the aftermath of the April 28 legislative elections in which opposition parties were barred from participating.
“We note with concern the ongoing tensions and unrest resulting in the destruction of property and high handed response from the security forces.
“We call on all Beninese stakeholders to exercise maximum restraint and to seek solutions to their differences through dialogue,” he said.
Hundreds of protesters have been staging violent demonstrations against the polls held without a single opposition candidate.
The demonstrators are said to have burned down shops, vandalised government buildings and clashed with security forces amid slogans against President Patrice Talon.
Casualties have been reported, including a woman who allegedly died on Thursday having been wounded in the demonstrations on Wednesday.
Dujarric said the Secretary General’s Special Representative from West Africa and the Sahel, Mr Mohamed Ibn Chambas, was making moves in search of solution to the impasse.
Chambas, according to him, is in contact with his colleagues in the Economic Community of West African States and Beninese stakeholders to “encourage a consensual and peaceful solution to the situation”.
There are fears that the current political development in Benin, if not nip in the bud may snow ball into full blown crisis that may ignite the already over stretched Nigeria’s Internally Displaced Persons situation. This view is predicted on the fact that Nigeria shares 800 kilometer land border with Benin republic.
They also believe that trade and other economic activities between the two neighbouring countries will be jeopardised.
In retrospect, Benin formerly known as Dahomey, is one of Africa’s most stable democracies.
Benin’s shore includes what used to be known as the Slave Coast, the departure point for captives to be shipped across the Atlantic.
Elements of the culture and religion brought by slaves from the area are still present in the Americas, including voodoo – which has made a comeback in Benin and is even celebrated at the country’s annual Voodoo Day.
On the economic side, however, the picture is less bright – Benin is severely underdeveloped, and corruption is rife.
While the country has experienced economic growth over the past few years and is one of Africa’s largest cotton producers, it ranks among the world’s poorest countries.
Businessman Patrice Talon, known as the “king of cotton”, won the 2016 presidential election in a run-off vote in March.
He beat Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou, the candidate of the ruling party, who had the backing of outgoing President Boni Yayi.
Mr Talon was formerly a close ally of the outgoing president, and financed his campaigns for the 2006 and 2011 elections.
He fled to France after being accused of involvement in a plot to poison Mr Boni Yayi in 2012 – an allegation he strongly denies.
Mr Talon received a presidential pardon in May 2014 and returned from exile in October 2015.
On taking up his post in April 2016, he pledged to make tackling terrorism and cross-border crime a priority area, and to strive to promote national unity.
His proposal to limit the presidential mandate to a single five-year term was subsequently defeated in parliament.
His plans for free-market reforms have met resistance, including a series of public sector strikes.
The International Press Institute (IPI) says Benin has one of the region’s “most vibrant media landscapes”.
According to US-based NGO Freedom House, “a pluralistic and frequently-politicised press publishes articles that are highly critical of government and opposition party leaders.”
Harsh libel laws have been used against journalists. The authorities have suspended newspapers over material deemed to be offensive.
Poverty, poor infrastructure and a small advertising market translate into patchy newsgathering and inadequate newspaper distribution, especially in the countryside
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