Benin: rumor of a plan to arrest former President Yayi triggers massive violence
BY JIBRIL TURE
The violence triggered in the central and northern regions of Benin by the controversial 28 April’s legislative election from which the opposition parties were all excluded spread today, Wednesday, to Cotonou, the largest city and economic hub, after the fast-spread rumor that former President Yayi Boni was about to be arrested.
It all started around 3 p.m. Benin time after a group of security officers surrounded the resident of former President Yayi Boni. The first witnesses felt the former head of state was going to be arrested, and quickly sounded the alert mouth-to-ear, via cell phone, and by text messages.
In no time, thousands of people converged on the area. The crowd soon grew too big for law enforcement to handle. Before one could tell, tires were set ablaze, then cars went up in flames. The situation grew so intense the police fired real-bullet shots killing two young men. The violence spread to another part of town, especially near the main stadium in Cotonou where several buildings were set ablaze. Protesters marched chanting “Down with Talon!” And this is President Talon’s birthday!
In a news conference held in his office barely an hour after the mayhem started, the minister in charge of security, Saca Lafia, said there was no plan to arrest Yayi Boni. He explained that his office had been informed of former President Yayi’s plan to hold a public meeting in front of his residence, in defiance of a recent government ban on public gatherings. So law enforcement was sent there to prevent the supposed meeting from happening.
In the thick of it all, former President Yayi appeared on the balcony of his residence and waved at the crowd. He allegedly said he dared the authorities to come and arrest him. For sure, Yayi is on record for galvanizing a group of young men on Monday telling them Talon will achieve his objective of “wiping out the gains of our democracy over my dead body.”
Former president Nicephore Soglo and several influential opposition leaders, including Candide Azannai, went to Yayi’s residence to pledge their support.
This surge of violence came just two days after Yayi, Soglo, Azannai and several other leading opposition figures held a meeting on 29 April to denounce the controversial 28 April legislative and gave Talon an ultimatum until yesterday, to annul the election or face dire consequences. The message to President Talon, which was read by former President Soglo, says, among other things:
“There is still time. We are open to forgiveness. Let him [Talon] renew the diologue with the political class to find consensual solutions conducive to a democratic and peaceful election. It can be done.”
In an interview posted on the social media following the violence, President Soglo told a reporter:
“Talon has suffered a humiliating defeat not only in the eyes of the citizens (in another country he would have resigned), but also in the face of the entire sub-region. Buhari (Nigeria’s president) sent his foreign minister. Also, ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) sent a delegation, as did the United Nations Secretary-General.”
Soglo recalled that he personally went over to talk to Talon, and concluded:
“He proved unable to handle the situation, in fact because the suit is too big for him. And he suffered a humiliating defeat before the whole world. So he is lost, he’s embarrassed, which is why he is confused and is behaving unreasonably.”
The former president said Talon must go, and called on the people to stay calm.