By John Ikani
President of Benin Republic, Patrice Talon has pardoned 499 prisoners in a decree made public of Friday.
However, two major opposition leaders remain behind bars, a development which critics say is a hallmark of steady democratic decline in the West African nation under Talon, a former cotton magnate first elected in 2016.
In December, opposition leader Joel Aivo was jailed for 10 years for “plotting against the state”. Days later Reckya Madougou, a former Justice Minister, received 20 years for “terrorism”.
Both Aivo and Madougou were barred from running in an election last April in which Talon won a second term with 86 per cent of the vote.
Government spokesman Wilfried Houngbedji told reporters this week that both Madougou and Aivo “could benefit from a presidential pardon under certain conditions.”
But neither were pardoned in Talon’s decree which was signed last week. Most of those released were convicted of petty crimes.
The decree stated that “people sentenced for murder, conspiracy against state security, money laundering” were excluded.
“We were hoping for a presidential pardon in the case of Madougou and Aivo, but unfortunately we were wrong,” said one of Aivo’s close associate, Victor Houssou.