Beninese opposition leaders and masses determined to stop Patrice Talon

Former President Nicephore, left, is hosted by President Patrice Talon at the presidential palace this week.

Former President Nicephore, left, is hosted by President Patrice Talon at the presidential palace this week.

BY JIBRIL TURE

Despite the tanks deployed on the streets of major cities across Benin, the leaders of the opposition parties that are barred from taking part in the 28 April legislative elections are adamant there will be no elections without them.

The most recent demonstration of the leaders and their followers’ resolve took place yesterday Wednesday in the context of a high-profile meeting held at the headquarters of the Renaissance du Benin political party of which former President Nicephore Soglo is the honorary chairman. The former president, flanked by his spouse Rosine Vieyra Soglo (the most senior lawmaker in the country who actually founded the party back in 1992) was the main speaker at the meeting attended by key members of the opposition.

Sign of the heightened tension: upon arriving at the venue of the gathering, the former president, who is highly regarded in the country, including by President Talon who owes his business success to Soglo, was stopped at the gate by uniformed law-enforcement officers who attempted to stop him from entering the building. The apparent leader of the law-enforcement team politely told the former president:

“Wherever you go, you drag a crowd. For that reason, we cannot let you proceed, because that will create a problem for us,”

to which the former president replied:

“I did not come here to create a problem for you. I came here because I must talk to all the segments of the population, the civilians, the military, the farmers, artisans, everyone.”

The ensuing civil conversation culminated in Soglo entering the building.

In much-applauded, long remarks to an audience composed primarily of young men, Soglo proved very hostile to the incumbent president, at some points literally ridiculing him.

“It’s unthinkable, in the land of Behanzin, Bio Guera, and Kaba who resisted foreign invasion [a reference to the country’s resistance to colonial conquest] that today we are not free to go in and out of our homes. We will never let that stand. We say ‘no’ to dictatorship and tyranny.”

Soglo said this is the time to prepare the future for the youth. Reminding the audience how, as a result of a voodoo spell, he took the oath of office back in 1991 in a virtual coma (after being hospitalized in France, unable to stand or even to say the oath if it wasn’t for his spouse), and referring to his spouse having lost her vision during the couple’s political fight, the former president said: 

“I am telling Talon: there will be no elections unless everybody takes part in them.”

The former president also said “Talon is only an instrument,” and a dangerous one, he stressed.

Soglo, referring to the book written by a judge, then elaborated on how Talon (while in exile in France in 2012), attempted to kill then-President Yayi Boni. Soglo provided many details about the plot, including Talon’s payment of the equivalent of $2 million each to Yayi’s butler and his personal doctor to carry out the assassination plot. Then Soglo stated, in French and in Fon (the language most-widely spoken in Benin), drawing huge ovations:

“This man cannot teach this people a lesson […] Talon, think again. It’s time to do so. Or you’ll be judged by the CRIET (Court for the Repression of Economic and Terrorism Crimes) that you have created.”

“This is the Easter season,” President Soglo also said, then asked rhetorically: “Or are you the embodiment of Satan?” 

Other key leaders of the opposition spoke after the president to convey the same message: 

Eric Houndete, an influential opposition leader, said:

“This combat for our democracy is for all of us. We have no choice but to carry it out. We do so today and we die if necessary, or we don’t do it and we perish anyway.”

In the end, the headquarters of the Renaissance du Benin party was named “The headquarters of the resistance to safeguard the democratic gains,” with an excited crowd chanting some slogans followed by a resistance song.

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