Nigeria and Iran have come to have one thing in common and that is, both countries have held controversial presidential election on the same date June 12. Am sure a closer examination of these two countries will bring out more similarities. An example is that both countries have Moslems in large numbers etc. For the purpose of this article I will look into the two presidential elections held on the particular date of the month of June (June 12). Coincidentally there are many common factors in these two elections and many lessons to be learnt from them.
Starting with Nigeria, her best presidential elections since independence was held on June 12 1993. It was the freest and fairest presidential elections in Nigeria. There was no single case of rigging, violence, or any form of electoral malpractices. Both local and international observers acknowledged that it was free and fair. It was different from the previous ones. Late Chief MKO Abiola contested under the Social Democratic Party (SDP) with Bashir Tofa who contested under the National Republican Convention (NRC). Late MKO Abiola won the presidential election but the military president of that time (General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida) annulled it.
Iran held their presidential election on June 12 2009. Like in Nigeria (June 12 1993), the two main contestants in the Iranian election were Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hossein Mousavi. The authorities in Iran declared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner with a land slide margin. Let’s remember that the election that brought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power in 2005 was marred with controversy. This time the electorate and the opposition leader suspected electoral malpractices, and this sparked off serious public demonstrations and riots. The police were called in and they used live bullets. As at the time of writing this article, more then ten people have been reported dead in Iran. The Iranian authorities moved with increased force to clamp down the protest.
Similar incident happened when the June 12 1993 presidential election was cancelled in Nigeria. Many people protested the cancellation by demonstrating on the streets, but the military president (IBB) ordered the solders to shoot innocent people on the street. The death toll was too high. The country was plunged into a deep political crisis never witnessed in Nigeria. The truth is that Nigeria is yet to recover fully from the cancelled June 12 1993 presidential election. It changed Nigeria and was largely responsible for the end of General Babangida’s regime. June 12 2009 will change Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran has never witnessed a demonstration of this type since the 1979 revolution. The government of Iran is facing serious crisis of authority never seen in ages. Nigeria’s economy almost collapsed as a result of the political crisis caused by the cancellation of June 12 1993 presidential election. The Iranian economy will obviously suffer from this crisis.
The annulled June 12 1993 election generated massive tension in Nigeria. The June 12 2009 election in Iran is generating too much tension and will continue to do so in future. The writer is a strong advocate for the re-establishment of the electoral methods (Option A4) that made June 12 1993 election a possibility in Nigeria.
Iranian authorities imposed strict press censorship during this period. Western media operating from Iran were barred from reporting news. Getting information out of Iran became a big problem. Iranian authorities expelled some western journalists. However the Iranian government did not succeed in restricting information due to information technology, for example people used mobile phones which have camera and video capabilities to send out messages. Internet facilities helped as well. In the Nigerian case, Babangida clamped down on various media houses before the June 12 1993 elections. It was his habit to clamp down on perceived opposition press. Nigerian state security services were always arresting and harassing journalists. One thing various dictatorships all over the world hate so much is free press. Free press is always where dictators meet their waterloo (downfall).
Iran has accused the western countries of interference in her internal politics, specifically calling Britain her enemy. Iranian President (Mahmoud Ahmedinejad) said “western states, particularly the US and Britain must change their policies of intervening in Iran’s domestic affairs”. The British foreign secretary denied Britain or other foreign countries were manipulating events in Iran, but criticized the violent repression of protesters and killing of people in Tehran. Iran also accused Israeli media of being responsible for the disturbances. The Israeli president (Shimon Peres) praised the Iranian demonstrators. He called on them to raise their voices of freedom. Saudi Arabia was also accused by Iran as partly responsible for the protesters in Tehran
As a follow up to the accusation on the British government, the Iranian authorities expelled two British diplomats. Britain retaliated by expelling two Iranian diplomats as well. Tension is rising between these two countries. The American President, Barack Obama condemned the violent suppression of the protesters in Iran. The western countries did condemn the then Nigerian military president when he annulled the June 12 1993 presidential election.
A lot of lessons can be learnt from the experiences of both countries. These lessons will be beneficial to most developing countries and Nigeria in particular. First lesson is the need to have transparent elections. In the absence of 1992/1993 elections in Nigeria were Option A4 method was used, I doubt if there has been any free and fair elections in the country. It has caused Nigeria so much pain. Unfortunately Nigerian leaders appear not to learn from the past. Electoral troubles have killed so many innocent Nigerians in the past. We are very lucky in Nigeria because elections not properly conducted can lead to war. An example is Algeria, Kenya, etc.
The Nigerian leaders should conduct free and fair elections come 2011 and save Nigeria any trouble. Option A4 will prevent rigging and hence ensure transparency. Option A4 methods will bring credibility to our electoral system. Another lesson to learn from Iran is the need to respect people’s right to demonstrate. Government needs to be sensitive and also listen to the masses. It is also more applicable to the Nigerian authorities. The opinions of the opposition parties must always be respected. Repression must be resisted by government officials. Repression of people is never a part of democracy.
Governments need to be sincere in their dealings with people. Am sure that Iranian authorities knew very well that all was not proper with the elections. There is no smoke without fire. People cannot be protesting when there is no rigging. Nigerian leaders need to learn a big lesson here especially with 2011 elections around the corner. Nigeria has had enough electoral troubles. We need transparent elections everywhere. May God bless Nigeria.
Chinedu Vincent Akuta
An activist and leader of “Support Option A4 Group” Leicester-UK