Parliamentarians in Benin have voted to legalise abortion in the West African country, where it was already authorised under restricted conditions.
Under the new law passed late on Wednesday women can terminate a pregnancy within the first three months if it is likely to “aggravate or cause material, educational, professional or moral distress, incompatible with the woman or the unborn child’s interest”.
Previously, abortion was authorised if pursing the pregnancy “threatened the life of the mother”, was “the result of a rape or incest” or when “the unborn child has a particularly severe affection”.
After a heated debate in parliament, with some lawmakers strongly opposed to legalising abortion further, the amendment finally passed.
In the freshwater swamp forest of Hlanzoun in southern Benin, majestic trees hum with chirping birds and playful monkeys.
Home to once-bustling flora and fauna, experts now warn that the fragile environment, one of the last of its kind in the West African country and accessible only by canoe, is at risk of disappearing.
The 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of forest, which takes its name from the river Hlan, is home to 241 plant and 160 animal species including the rare red-bellied monkey, the marsh mongoose and the sitatunga, a swamp-dwelling antelope.
Perched at the top of a gigantic tree squawks a hornbill — a big bird known for its long, down-curved and colourful bill, similar to toucans.
“Hornbills feed on insects and fruits. They like to follow monkeys around because they force insects to come out when they move around, making it easier for hornbills to catch,” explained Vincent Romera, a French ornithologist and photographer.
With his binoculars, Romera admires a family of monkeys jumping from tree to tree, while keeping a clear distance.
“The animals here have become fearful,” he says. He’s considering using camera traps to try to photograph them, but also to count the forest’s animal population.
“The numbers are in free-fall,” he says.
Sometimes, the forest’s noisy concert is interrupted by gun shots, he says, probably from poachers.
– Logging – Communities living around the forest “need money, so those who can shoot go and kill animals,” explained Roger Hounkanrin, a local tourist guide.
Despite steady economic growth in recent years, poverty is widespread in Benin, especially in rural areas, and 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line according to World Bank data.
On the side of the road that lines Hlanzoun forest, lizards, crocodiles and snakes killed by hunters are sold and bought. Monkeys, too, are sometimes sold for meat.
But even more than poaching, excessive logging threatens the forest.
Between 2005 and 2015, Benin’s forest cover was slashed by more than 20 percent according to the World Bank, and the deforestation rate continues to be high at 2.2 percent annually.
Trees are cut down for firewood, and the fermented sap of palm trees is used to make a local alcohol, sodabi.
The damaging practice of slash-and burn agriculture has also become more prevalent, warned Josea Dossou Bodjrenou, director of Nature Tropicale, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that works on environmental issues in Benin.
The destruction of the forest habitat reduces areas where animals can thrive, forcing them towards farms to find food and exposing them to poachers.
“This is a location that is at risk of disappearing,” said local agricultural economist Judicael Alladatin.
“It’s a poor area and we can’t blame people for wanting to feed themselves,” Alladatin said, urging authorities “to create conditions for alternative sources of income.”
The government does not officially recognise Hlanzoun forest despite lobbying efforts of several NGOs and scientific papers on the forest since 2000.
But it has started to recognise the importance of safeguarding forests in general, according to the World Bank, with recently updated forest policy and tax systems.
In Hlanzoun, the state “must act quickly” said Bodjrenou, and “support forest communities so that they can continue to make profit… but in a different way” by developing agriculture, trade and sustainable tourism.
Yoruba Nation campaigner Sunday Igboho was on Monday scheduled to appear in a Republic of Benin court to face “likely extradition charges to be brought against him by the Nigerian Government.”
This is according to Yoruba group, the Ilana Omo Oodua Worldwide.
Mr Igboho has been declared wanted by the Department of State Services for threatening national security.
Before fleeing Nigeria for Benin after his house in Ibadan was raided by DSS officials, Mr Igboho had been vocal about the creation of a Yoruba state due to the Nigerian government’s inability to curb herdsmen violence.
No immigration charges
In the Monday statement signed by spokesperson Maxwell Adeleye, the Yoruba group said security operatives in Benin have removed leg-chain and hand-cuff from Igboho since Saturday evening.
The statement also noted that Igboho’s wife, who was arrested with him in Benin but later released, has now been granted access to meet her husband three times daily.
The Benin authorities have also allowed “medical Personnel provided by our legal team” to examine Igboho, the group said.
Meanwhile, the statement stressed that Igboho is not in court to face “any immigration-related probe in Benin Republic” but “likely extradition charges to be brought against him by the Nigerian Government.”
“We urge supporters from Nigeria not to bother coming to the court premises in Bénin,” the statement added.
“Kindly stay in Nigeria and support with prayers and whatever you can do within the ambit of the law.
“We are confident that Chief Igboho shall be set free.”
Yoruba Nation agitator, Sunday Adeyemo, also known as Sunday Igboho, has been arrested in Cotonou, Benin Republic.
Although security agents in the country are yet to confirm the arrest, renowned historian and leader of the Umbrella Body of Yoruba Self-Determination Groups, Professor Banji Akintoye, in a statement on Monday, confirmed the incident.
“I received last night the troubling information that Chief Sunday Adeyemo fondly called Igboho had been arrested at the Cotonou Airport,” Akintoye said.
According to The Punch, Igboho was arrested at an airport in Cotonou on Monday night by the security forces in Benin Republic while trying to flee to Germany.
“He was arrested in Cotonou while he tried to travel out on Monday night. His destination was Germany. The security forces in Benin Republic should repatriate him to Nigeria on Tuesday,” the source said.
A renowned historian and leader of the Umbrella Body of Yoruba Self-Determination Groups, Emeritus Professor Banji Akintoye, has confirmed the arrest of Yoruba Nation Agitator, Sunday Adeyemo, popularly called Sunday Igboho in Benin Republic.
Akintoye, however, said he, alongside others are currently working to provide legal assistance for Ighoho to prevent his extradition into Nigeria, saying “Benin Republic is a land that respect the rules of law.”
This was disclosed in a statement signed on Tuesday by Akintoye.
“I received last night the troubling information that Chief Sunday Adeyemo fondly called Igboho had been arrested at the Cotonou Airport.
“I and other Yoruba Patriots who are immediately available are now working to provide the assistance necessary to ensure that nobody will be able to do to him anything unlawful or primitive and to prevent him from being extradited into Nigeria which is strongly possible.
“Fortunately, Benin Republic is reliably a land of law where the authorities responsibly obey the law,” the statement read in part.
He added that a “leading and highly respected lawyer,” has been hired in defence of Igboho.
He urged Yoruba citizens to stand strong and ensure that “neither Sunday Igboho nor any other Yoruba person will henceforth be subjected to inhuman or dehumanizing treatment of any kind.”
“We must all see to it now that Sunday Ighoho will get his freedom back so as to be able to move and operate as a free person. We all know he has committed no crime.
“We know that some people are trying to suppress or even eliminate him only because he stood up to defend his kinsmen, women and children who are being massively killed and raped in their ancestral home Land; who are having their assets and means of livelihood destroyed, and who are facing ethnic cleansing and even genocide without having the benefit of protection by the rulers of their country,” the statement read in part.
The popular historian called on all Yoruba citizens within and beyond the shores of Nigeria to ensure that their ancestral land is not defeated by invaders.
The Senate has condemned the unlawful encroachment and arrest of Nigerians by the authorities of the Republic of Benin.
This stance by the upper chamber followed a motion by Senator Tolu Odebiyi during the plenary on Tuesday.
The lawmaker drew the attention of lawmakers to reports of encroachments into Nigeria’s territory by authorities of the Republic of Benin.
He quoted a report from Channels Television dated July 2nd, 2021 where it was reported that gendarmes from the Republic of Benin crossed illegally into Nigeria to arrest one Pastor Kunle Garb and Benjamin Amosu his interpreter who are residents of Igbokofi village in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State for demanding the reversal of the land encryption by the government of the Republic of Benin.
Odebiyi noted that the arrest of these Nigerians is based on the allegation that they are resisting encroachment into Nigerian land through Igbokofi village in Yewa North LGA of Ogun State.
The Senate consequently asked its committees on Foreign Affairs and Justice to engage with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Justice, and National border commission to investigate the incident and find solutions to the problem.
Abduction Of An Activist
The arrested person, Pastor Garb, is an activist, who has consistently campaigned against the incessant harassment of Nigerians by the Beninese in attempts to forcefully annex the Nigerian territory.
He was taken away in a Gestapo manner by the armed security agents from the neighbouring country.
He was allegedly charged to a court and remanded under inhuman conditions in the Benin Republic and prevented from having access to his lawyers, doctors, and members of his family.
Ballot counting was underway in Benin on Monday after an election with little suspense as President Patrice Talon looked set to win a second term following a tense campaign.
The vote itself was largely peaceful in the West African nation once praised as a vibrant democracy, but critics have accused Talon of rigging Sunday’s ballot by sidelining opposition leaders.
The cotton tycoon first elected in 2016 faced just two other rivals, little-known Alassane Soumanou and Corentin Kohoue, as most opposition figures were either disqualified by electoral reforms or were in exile.
In the economic capital Cotonou, residents went about their daily lives Monday morning, with little doubt over the election results scheduled to be announced by late Tuesday.
“We are relieved because the vote was peaceful, there was no violence like we had during the campaign. We were afraid, but in the end, everything went well,” said one 64-year-old voter who asked to be identified only as Guy.
“Now we are waiting for results, even though there is no doubt that President Talon will get re-elected.”
“Most likely, we will have a KO victory (first-round win),” said another voter, Marc Adrien Sedjame, who was “preparing to celebrate”.
Opposition leaders had called for a boycott, urging supporters not to accept the election they say is fixed — a claim Talon’s backers deny.
“At most polling stations, the vote was calm and peaceful,” Emmanuel Tiando, president of the country’s electoral commission CENA, said Sunday evening.
“There were no major incidents,” Tiando said while noting that voting could not take place in 16 of the country’s 546 boroughs.
Those included several opposition strongholds, in the centre and north of the country, where two protesters were killed and five were injured days ahead of the vote after troops fired tear gas and live rounds in the air to break up a demonstration.
Protesters had blocked roads to the north last week, causing delays in the dispatch of electoral material.
The turnout is not yet known but is expected to be low. At several polling stations in Cotonou, an AFP journalist observed that participation did not exceed 30 percent.
The electoral commission said it had already received ballots from 400 boroughs.
An association of civil society groups, who deployed more than 1,400 election observers, said in its preliminary statement Sunday that “attempts to pressurise, intimidate, threaten, corrupt or harass voters were observed across the entire country.”
The government however said it was “satisfied” with the vote, in which more than 4.9 million people were eligible to participate.
Super Eagles Technical Adviser, Gernot Rohr has included Captain Ahmed Musa, deputy captain William Ekong, goalkeeper Francis Uzoho, midfielder Wilfred Ndidi and forward Victor Osimhen in a 24-man list for this month’s 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying battles with the Benin Republic and Lesotho.
Nigeria, top of the Group E table with eight points (one ahead of Benin Republic and five more than third-placed Sierra Leone), tackle the Squirrels away at the Stade Charles de Gaulle in Porto Novo on Saturday, 27th March.
The Super Eagles will lock horns with the Crocodiles of Lesotho at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos three days later. Both are the concluding games of the qualifying series.
Also included are Enyimba FC goalkeeper John Noble, defenders Leon Balogun, Kenneth Omeruo and Olaoluwa Aina, midfielders Oghenekaro Etebo and Joseph Ayodele-Aribo, and forwards Alex Iwobi, Moses Simon, and Samuel Chukwueze.
The versatile Abdullahi Shehu is listed as a midfielder this time and there is a first senior call for Spain –based forward Sadiq Umar.
Seven players, including long–time goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi, are on standby.
Rohr, who has steered Nigeria to qualify for two major tournaments (2018 FIFA World Cup and 2019 Africa Cup of Nations), with a game to spare, countenance even better accomplishment this time, as the Eagles could earn a ticket to the finals in Cameroon before kick-off in Porto Novo, should Lesotho and Sierra Leone end their encounter in Maseru in a stalemate. The result would be known before kick-off in Porto Novo.
THE FULL LIST
Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (APOEL Nicosia, Cyprus); John Noble (Enyimba FC); Maduka Okoye (Sparta Rotterdam, The Netherlands)
Midfielders: Oghenekaro Etebo (Galatasaray FC, Turkey); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Abdullahi Shehu (Omonia Nicosa, Cyprus); Joseph Ayodele-Aribo (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); Oluwasemilogo Ajayi (West Bromwich Albion, England)
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Unattached); Alex Iwobi (Everton FC, England); Sadiq Umar (Almeria FC, Spain); Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal FC, Spain); Victor Osimhen (Napoli FC, Italy); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England); Samuel Kalu (FC Girondins Bordeaux, France); Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France)
Standby: Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa); Henry Onyekuru (Galatasaray FC, Turkey); Peter Olayinka (Slavia Praha, Czech Republic); Terem Moffi (FC Lorient, France); Paul Onuachu (KRC Genk, Belgium); Michael Olise (Reading FC, England); Adekunle Adeleke (Abia Warriors)
A Benin presidential candidate was wounded after gunfire hit his car soon after he formally filed his papers for a presidential election in April against incumbent Patrick Talon, family members and the government said on Saturday.
Ganiou Soglo, a former minister and son of ex-president Nicephore Soglo, was wounded on Friday on the way to his farm in Zinvie, 35 km (22 miles) from the country’s commercial capital Cotonou.
He was one of 19 politicians who filed papers for the April 11 ballot.
“He was shot in the shoulder, but his prognosis is not guaranteed,” a Soglo family member said from the hospital where he was being treated.
Many Benin opposition figures are either in exile or are barred from running in the election, prompting criticism the former French colony once seen as a model of democracy has veered into authoritarianism under Talon.
Police have opened an investigation but have yet to issue a statement.
Benin government spokesman Alain Orounla condemned the attack and said security forces would apprehend the assailants.
“The government will ensure the diligence of investigations promptly undertaken by the Republican Police services,” he said.
The opposition says the election is already fixed in favour of Talon, especially after a new provision of the electoral law requiring each candidate to be formally sponsored by 16 mayors or members of parliament.
Critics accuse Talon of leading a country once praised for multi-party democracy down an authoritarian road and say he is behind a crackdown that drove key rivals into exile.
During parliamentary elections in April 2019, no opposition parties were allowed to present lists of candidates for the vote.
A year later, only six opposition challengers to sitting mayors won in municipal elections that were boycotted by some opponents.
“Running in a presidential election in Benin today is a nightmare. From shameful exclusionary moves to assassination attempts to threats,” opposition candidate Reckya Madougou said before visiting the hospital.
Some opposition leaders have formed a coalition backing little-known academic Joel Aivo as a single candidate against Talon despite fears the incumbent faces little challenge in the election.
“With this restriction order, movement in and out of the state is thus, banned as a further measure to contain the coronavirus pandemic,” the statement read.
According to the governor’s aide, the state is constrained to effect border closure in order to stem and flatten the curve of the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, not only in the state but in the country and in the West African sub-region.
“The position of Ogun State is peculiar. It not only shares an international border with the Republic of Benin, it does so with all other states in the South-West (except Ekiti), including Lagos State, which has understandably recorded the highest number of infections in the country largely because it hosts the busiest air and seaports and it is the nation’s economic capital.
“The border closure will not only be beneficial to Ogun State but the national efforts to curtail and contain the virus. Lessons from other climes strongly indicate that closure of borders has the potential to drastically flatten the curve of spread whilst unrestricted movement portends grave dangers,” the statement added.
Somorin explained that the only exceptions to the inter-state restrictions were vehicles conveying personnel involved in essential services such as security agencies, health workers, as well as food, medical items, and petroleum products.
He urged the residents to cooperate with the security agencies who have been fully briefed and directed to effect the closure.
The governor’s aide noted that at a period of a global pandemic and national emergency, all hands must be on deck to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
He, however, assured residents that the border closure and other measures would be reviewed from time to time, in response to developments as they unfold.
Benin Republic sentenced an investigative journalist to 18 months in prison on Tuesday for comments he posted on social media, his lawyer told AFP.
Ignace Sossou quoted on his Facebook and Twitter pages comments made by Benin’s public prosecutor Mario Metonou at a media event to discuss fake news on December 17.
The comments made by the official appeared to criticise the government’s attitude towards freedom of expression.
“The internet outage on (legislative) polling day on April 28 is an admission of weakness on the part of those in power,” the prosecutor reportedly said.
Sossou “has been convicted of harassment through electronic communications”, his lawyer, Prisca Ogoubi told AFP.
The former French colony has typically been seen as among West Africa’s most stable democracies. But Benin has been facing a political crisis since controversial parliamentary elections in April sparked mass protests.
President Patrice Talon, a former business magnate who came to power in 2016, has been accused of becoming increasingly authoritarian and has carried out a concerted crackdown on his opponents that has driven key rivals into exile.
Last week, Benin’s media regulatory authority suspended the radio station of Sebastien Ajavon, a Beninese businessman and opponent in exile.
Sossou works for the online news website Benin web TV and collaborates with several news organisations such as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and the 3i Network.
He had already been sentenced to a suspended prison sentence on a separate charge of “publishing fake news” after he reported on offshore accounts and front companies targeting Beninese and French businessmen.
In a statement on Tuesday, the 3i Network called for Sossou’s immediate release, stating that his conviction was “completely contrary to the… spirit of respect for press freedom”.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Benin 96th in its press freedom index this year.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF), has picked Senegalese official Issa Sy as referee for next week’s 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match between Nigeria and the Benin Republic in Uyo.
Sy will be assisted by compatriots Nouha Bangoura (assistant referee 1), El Hadji Abdoul Aziz Gueye (assistant referee 2) and Fatou Thioune (fourth official) at the encounter scheduled for the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, from 5 pm.
The Day 1 clash in the qualifying series will also see Munkaila Nassam Adam from Ghana as a match commissioner while Kria Samir Bouzareah from Algeria will play the role of referee assessor.
Nigeria will welcome back skipper Ahmed Musa from injury, with defenders Kenneth Omeruo, Abdullahi Shehu and Bryan Idowu, as well as midfielder Mikel Agu and forward Samuel Kalu also returning.
The Super Eagles, bronze medallists at the 32nd AFCON finals in Egypt this year summer, will then fly to Maseru on Friday, 15th November for the Day 2 clash with the Crocodiles of Lesotho, billed for the artificial turf of the Maseru-Setsoto Stadium as from 6pm Lesotho time (5pm Nigeria time) on Sunday, 17th November.
23 EAGLES TO BATTLE BENIN REPUBLIC & LESOTHO
Goalkeepers: Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa); Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Heartland FC); Maduka Okoye (Fortuna Dusseldorf, Germany)
Midfielders: Alexander Iwobi (Everton FC, England); Mikel Agu (Vitoria Guimaraes, Portugal); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Joseph Ayodele-Aribo (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); Ramon Azeez (Granada FC, Spain)
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Al Nassr, Saudi Arabia); Victor Osimhen (Lille OSC, France); Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France); Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal FC, Spain); Paul Onuachu (KRC Genk, Belgium); Emmanuel Dennis (Club Brugge, Belgium); Samuel Kalu (Girondins Bordeaux, France);
Standby: Leon Balogun (Brighton & Hove Albion, England); Peter Olayinka (SK Slavia Prague, Czech Republic); Oghenekaro Etebo (Stoke City, England)