By Brendan Umoren
President Muhammadu Buhari has again in his capacity as the Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Authority of Heads of State and Government, dispatched the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, as special envoy to the Republic of Benin.
The development, according to Sarah Sanda, media aide to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, was in a bid to resolve the political disagreement in Benin Republic which is prompting the opposition to threaten a boycott of the parliamentary elections scheduled for April 28.
The visit to Benin Republic yesterday by Onyeama came close to two weeks after President Buhari dispatched Onyeama as special envoy to Guinuea Bissau ahead of the March 10, legislative election in the country.
“ECOWAS Chairman, President Muhammadu Buhari has dispatched his Special Envoy – Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama to meet with President Patrice Tallon.
“Benin Republic has been undergoing political reforms aimed at strengthening democracy. The reforms include 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 have been successful both at the Ministry of Interior and the National Electoral Commission (CEMA). With barely a month to the parliamentary elections scheduled for April 28th, the opposition have complained about being deliberately shut out of the process by the government. They have staged demonstrations and cried out to the Economic Community of West African Sates (ECOWAS) to intervene or they would boycott the elections entirely,” Sanda said.
Sanda added that after the initial engagements in Benin and reports from delegations from the ECOWAS Commission who visited the country, President Muhammadu Buhari decided to send a special envoy to Cotonou to meet with President Patrice Tallon.
“The Envoy in company of the ECOWAS Commission President, Jean Claude Brou, arrived Cotonou on Thursday morning and were received by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aurelien Agbenonci and the Nigerian Ambassador to Benin Republic, Emmanuel Oguntuase. They thereafter proceeded to the Presidential Palace to meet with President Patrice Tallon behind closed doors where they delivered the message of the ECOWAS Chairman, President Muhammadu Buhari.
“After the meeting, they briefed the media where the Envoy, Geoffrey Onyeama, said ‘President Muhammadu Buhari remains concerned about 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 further said ‘President Buhari asked that the rule of law and dialogue should prevail in the country, especially as the parliamentary elections are approaching.’
“He also called on the opposition to embrace dialogue and discuss their grievances rather than resorting to boycott of the entire process. The Beninoise Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aurelien Agbenonchi, also told journalists that there is no political crisis in Benin Republic as the main bone of contention is the government’s desire for reform in line with the rule of law.
“He said ‘President Tallon is open minded and willing to carry all political actors along, including the opposition.’
“He said the Parliament would look at the laws again and see areas that can be addressed in line with the concerns of the stakeholders. The Minister further disclosed that President Tallon also used the opportunity of the visit to again congratulate President Muhammadu Buhari on his re-election, noting that ‘Nigeria continues to set the example for the sub region and Africa in terms of consolidating democracy,’” Sanda added.