Democracy under threat in Benin Republic, letter to African Union, ECOWAS says

A Nigerian law firm has sent a letter to the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, and to the Nigerian leader Muhammadu Buhari, warning about threats to democracy in Benin Republic .

The letter said President Patrice Talon was violating the constitution and undermining democracy with his continued ‘persecution’ of Sebastien Germain Ajavon, contrary to the ruling of the African court on peoples and human rights.

Read the full letter below written by the Festus Keyamo Chamber to President Muhammadu Buhari, the African Union and ECOWAS.

THE TRUNCATION OF THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS OF THE REPUBLIC OF BENIN BY MR. PATRICE TALON’S REFUSAL TO OBEY THE JUDGMENT OF THE AFRICAN COURT ON HUMAN AND PEOPLES’ RIGHTS WITH RESPECT TO HIS CONTINUED PERSECUTION OF SEBASTIEN GERMAIN AJAVON IN  VIOLATION OF THE AFRICAN CHARTER.

We bring you felicitous compliments of the yuletide and best wishes in the New Year.

The purpose of this letter is to respectfully bring to your attention the fact that our professional services have been retained by Sebastien Germain Ajavon (hereinafter referred to as ‘our client’) for the purposes of seeking and obtaining redress for him on account of the continued contravention of the clear orders of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (hereinafter referred to as ‘ACHPR’) by The President of the Republic of Benin (Mr. Patrice Talon) and the Government of the Republic of Benin.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Our client is a businessman, political leader and a citizen of the Republic of Benin. At the last presidential elections in 2016, our client was the candidate of the opposition party and scored the third highest number of votes cast in the keenly contested election. Our client scored a total of 23% of the votes cast while Mr. Patrice Talon scored 24% of the votes.

Upon seeing the widespread acceptance of our client to the electorate during the Presidential elections, the President of the Republic of Benin began to deploy state apparatus to harass, intimidate and discredit our client. The President of the Republic of Benin targeted our client for these treatments primarily because our client was the rallying point of the political opposition which would participate in the local and municipal elections in June, 2020 and it looked increasingly likely that our client would contest the presidential elections in March, 2021.

Sometimes in October, 2016, after the Presidential elections, the Gendarmerie (the Benin paramilitary force) purportedly acting on a tip from the office of the President of the Republic of Benin ‘found’ about 18 kilograms of cocaine in a container of frozen goods imported by Comptoir Mondial de Negoce (COMON SA) of which our client is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

After the media blitz against our Client spearheaded by Mr. Talon, our client along with some of his employees were eventually arraigned for trafficking in cocaine before the Cotonou First Class Court of First Instance. On the 4th of November, 2016, the court discharged and acquitted our client after a full blown trial. The futility of an appeal also prevented the Government of the Republic of Benin from challenging the judgment of the First Class Court acquitting our client.

Mr. Talon was dissatisfied with this outcome as it did not fit into his agenda. Two weeks after the above judgment was delivered, Mr. Talon deployed the agencies of government against our client and his business concerns in a bid to whittle down the economic powers of the opposition. The Government suspended the license of the container terminal of the Societe de Courtage de Transit et de Consignation (SOCOTRAC) owned by our client. Additionally on the 28th November, 2016, the Government cut the signals of the radio station SOLEIL FM and those of the TV Channel SIKKA TV belonging to our client.

Our client viewed the actions of the Talon-led government as a witch-hunt, an attempt to illegally deploy state resources to harass and intimidate him in violation of his rights. Our client equally noted the unwillingness and inefficiency of the judiciary in the Republic of Benin to accommodate those who seek redress against the Talon-led Government. In the circumstances, our client had no option than to approach the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights which was set up for that purpose vide an application dated 27th February, 2017 for an enforcement of his rights.

While the case was still pending and in a desperate bid to secure a conviction of our client at all costs, Mr. Talon established the Anti-Economic Crimes and Terrorism Court (hereinafter referred to as ‘CRIET’) and filed fresh charges against our client for trafficking in narcotics which was the basis of the previous case.

On 15th October, 2018, our client applied to the ACHPR to order the Talon-led government of Benin to suspend his trial before the CRIET. On 18th October, 2018 and before the ACHPR could make the sought order of stay of trial, the CRIET hurriedly rendered its judgment against our client.

He was unjustly sentenced to a term of twenty years imprisonment. The judgment of the CRIET was rendered without affording our client an opportunity to be heard and curiously, the judgment of the CRIET is final and cannot be appealed against. On 26th October, 2018, our client informed the ACHPR of this development and on 7th December, 2018, the ACHPR issued an order directing the Government to stay the execution of the CRIET Judgment pending the final determination of the case filed by our client before the ACHPR. In consonance with its recalcitrant posture, the Talon-led government of Benin refused to obey the said order of the ACHPR and proceeded to proscribe the opposition party led by our client.

The ACHPR eventually proceeded to deliver its final judgment on 29th March, 2019. The ACHPR held that the persecutorial steps taken by Mr. Talon against our client amounted to a violation of our client’s rights under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The ACHPR vehemently condemned the actions of Mr. Patrice Talon and the Government of the Republic of Benin and found at least eleven (11) violations of our client’s rights. The ACHPR then made remedial and restitutorial orders against the Government of Benin and in favour of our client.

RELIEFS SOUGHT

Your Excellency, the choice of democracy as the most accepted form of government is closely connected with the desire of all people to choose their own leaders without let or hindrance. This accounts for the spread of democracy throughout Africa across economic, tribal and religious divides. Unfortunately, some African leaders in a bid to cling to power and prevent the electorate from exercising their free choice, manipulate the democratic process by stifling any form of opposition and imposing a one-party state or one-candidate option on the electorate. This led to the creation of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights by the African Union for the purpose of reining in recalcitrant governments who abuse public power for personal gains in violation of the rights of the citizens.

Your Excellency, despite the reprieve granted to our client by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ rights, the Talon-led government of Benin has refused to comply with that order. Our client’s business interests in Benin Republic are still being targeted, our client’s political party is still proscribed and our client is still being threatened with arrest and imprisonment when he returns to the Republic of Benin. Our client has therefore been forced into exile on account of his political orientations and consequently it has been impossible for the opposition party to mobilise support for our client and other candidates in view of the forthcoming 2021 Presidential elections and the Local and Communal elections scheduled for June, 2020.

The purpose of this letter is to bring the foregoing to your attention as well as solicit your support in our quest to entrench true democracy in the Republic of Benin and Africa in general. The role played by the Federal Republic of Nigeria in entrenching democracy both in the ECOWAS sub region and in Africa cannot be overemphasized. In the circumstances, we hereby respectfully urge you to exercise your good offices in helping to restore representative democracy in the Republic of Benin by:

1.   Prevailing on the Government of the Republic of Benin through diplomatic channels to respect the decision of the ACHPR, comply with same and allow our client free, unrestricted and unhindered movement into and within the Republic of Benin.

2.   Prevailing on the African Union, through its relevant organs to apply pressure on the Republic of Benin to respect the processes and the orders of the ACHPR (an institution of the African Union) and allow free, fair and credible elections to be conducted in the Republic of Benin with the full and unhindered participation of all political orientations.

3.   Soliciting the support of other countries in the West Africa sub-region and the African continent to put together a package of sanctions against the Republic of Benin led by Mr Talon for violating the specific provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right by engaging in acts capable of endangering the security of the sub region and the continent.

CONCLUSION

Your Excellency, the struggle for the entrenchment of true democracy in Benin Republic is in the interest of the peace and stability of the West African sub region. We repose confidence in the efficacy of the support and assistance of the Federal Republic of Nigeria towards the ultimate victory of democracy in the Republic of Benin.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

For: Festus Keyamo Chambers,

FESTUS UKPE, ESQ                              JOHN AINETOR, ESQ

      Counsel                                               Assistant Head of Chambers

CC:

1.           H.E. President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi

The Chairperson of the African Union

African Union Secretariat,

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

2.           H.E. President Issoufou Mahamadou

The Chairman,

Economic Community of West Africa States

ECOWAS Secretariat, Abuja.

3.           H.E Geoffrey Onyeama

Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs

Federal Secretariat, Abuja.

Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Based in Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, Simon leads a brilliant team of reporters, freelance journalists, analysts, researchers and contributors from around the world to run TODAY NEWS AFRICA as editor-in-chief. Simon Ateba's journalistic experience spans over 10 years and covers many beats, including business and investment, information technology, politics, diplomacy, human rights, science reporting and much more. Write him: simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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