Apprehension in Benin Republic over Continued Incarceration of Opposition Leader Madougou

Michael Olugbode with Agency Report

Apprehension has grown over the threat to democracy in another West African country as leading opposition leader in Benin Republic, Reckya Madougou, remain incarcerated.

Leaders in the West African sub-region have complained that with recent military coup d’etats in Mali and Guinea, the political situation in the region may become unstable and with the situation in neighbouring Benin Republic the threat to democracy seems alive.

Benin Republic caught the attention of the world on December 10 when Reckya Madougou, the leading opposition figure in the country was awarded a 20-year jail term by a a special Beninese court after spending nine months in detention.

She was proclaimed guilty of plotting to assassinate “several political figures.”

Madougou, a former justice minister in the country, travail seems connected to her declaration of interest to run for the presidency of the country, which made her emerged the leading opposition figure to dislodge incumbent president, Patrice Talon.

She was subsequently arrested on March 15, less than one month to the presidential election which held on April 11.

Talon faced only two opponents in the election, Alassane Soumanou and Corentin Kohoue, who got 11.29 and 2.25 percent of the votes respectively, with Talon coasting home to re-election with 86 percent of the votes.

The momentum of Madougou, who could have been Talon’s political bloody nose, was halted in March when security agents arrested her on charges related to financing terrorism. Media reports said a judge on her case fled to France while condemning the charges as “phony,” “tragic” and “entirely politically motivated.”

Despite maintaining her innocence and pleading not guilty to the charges, the court reportedly found her guilty. Her French lawyer, Antoine Vey, who could not stand the sham trial, in a statement alleged that the court convicted his client “Without witnesses, without documents, without evidence.” He said her crime was “Embodying a democratic alternative to the regime… We dreaded it: There is no justice in Benin.”

As to be expected, the media echoed his sentiments with the lejournaldelafrique quoting the lawyer in its headline: Reckya Madougou case: “There is no justice in Benin.” The Washington Post also heralded the news with an even more damning headline: “She could have been Benin’s first female president. She was just sentenced to 20 years in prison.”

Three days before Madougou’s sentencing, another opponent figure, Joël Aïvo, had been sentenced to ten years in prison for “endangering the security of the State.”

Madougou’s conviction was the climax of a travesty that began since March 15 when she was arrested and detained in a high-security cell without access to phone or fresh air, according to her lawyers.

The Benin government had told journalists after her arrest that some suspected criminals had confessed that Reckya Madougou was their sponsor. But a judge in the case who later fled to France for asylum, Essowe Batamoussi, said in an interview. “We received an empty file and a threat: If we did not put her in jail, we were in danger.”

Talon pressured the judicial system to knock out threats to his rule, Batamoussi told the Washington Post that Talon pressured the judiciary to eliminate all opposition to his rule. “I couldn’t take it anymore,” the judge said. “We were supposed to be independent, but the opposite was true. The president did not tolerate serious candidates, and Reckya was one of them.”

Patrice Talon, the 63-year old Benin leader, has acquired a reputation for brooding no opposition since taking over power in 2016. Most of the opposition figures are either in jail or on exile, and analysts believe the country is witnessing the systematic exclusion of all opposition political forces from the electoral process.

Madougou, 47, is the leader of Benin’s largest opposition party who had become a rising star in the political firmament of the country. Her political activism began in 2004 after she founded a civil society campaign—“Don’t touch my constitution.” It was a rallying cry against the African malaise of leaders seeking to extend their reign under the guise of constitutional reform. The campaign resonated across West Africa.

She was the minister of microfinance, youth and women’s empowerment for her country under the tenure of Talon’s predecessor. She later became the minister of justice. She also worked as a special adviser to neighboring Togo’s government before returning to her native country and declaring interest in Talon’s job.

Her political activism and experience in government at the highest levels made her a formidable challenge for the incumbent president who had no answers to the rapidly rising profile of Madougou. The country’s opposition was solidly behind her. It was a momentum that could have swept Talon out of office, but was stopped due to her arrest and eventually jailing.

But what more disturbing is the studied silence of West African leaders to the assault on democracy in Benin. None of the leaders has made any open intervention to halt the descent to dictatorship in that country, including Faure Gnassingbé—the Togolese leader who worked with Madougou. The silence of these leaders in the face of such brutal repression of opposition portends danger to democracy in the sub-region

But citizens across the sub-region are taking the initiatives from their leaders. They are mobilizing on social networks with the hashtag #FreeReckya.

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