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Bekeh Utietiang Headshot

A Day Nigerians And Iranians Would Never Forget

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It was June 12, 1993. Millions of Nigerians went to the polls to cast their votes in an election that to this date has been judged to be the freest and fairest election that has ever taken place in Nigeria. I was only 15 at the time but I was engaged in the political process. After many years of military dictatorships with failed promises, Nigerians were ready for a change. We were all excited about the change that was coming with the election of a democratic president. In my lifetime, I had seen the prosperity that I had enjoyed as a child being robbed from me by notorious military dictators. Through the years of military rule, my family had moved from upper middle class to lower middle class and there were reasonable chances that we were going to slip into poverty if the tide of corruption and inflation was not halted. While the two candidates representing the two national parties were not saints, there was reasonable hope that either of them would halt the depression and put the country back in the path of progress. We looked forward to June 12 so much that we named our cat, "June 12," the last cat I would ever love.

All our hopes were lost and our dreams shattered when that election was annulled without any reason shortly after June 12. Given the intense pressure from both the international community and citizens, the then military dictator General Ibrahim Babangida stepped down and handed power to a transitional government which was overthrown within 100 days by General Sani Abacha, one of Babangida's military cronies. That coup set democracy in Nigeria back another five years. On the 29th of May, 1999, Nigerians went to the polls to elect a democratic President after the mysterious death of General Abacha. Last month was the 10th anniversary of this new democratic experiment in Nigeria. While there are still fundamental problems in the Nigerian polity, the bleeding has stopped and the country is gradually heading the right direction. What is required of all Nigerians is patience.

The people of Iran on June 12, 2009 went to the polls to elect a president. The deteriorating economy together with the further isolation of Iran from the international community propelled millions of people to go to the polls and demand for change. Unfortunately, the Iranian establishment had their own anointed candidate. In the last few days, we have seen the streets of Iran filled with hundreds of thousands of protesters who are demanding that their votes be counted. Many of these people stood in lines for hours to cast their votes. In their peaceful demand for what is fair and just, they have been harassed, bruised and some even killed by the government that is suppose to look after their interests.

The problem in Iran is the problem of people everywhere in the world. We share not only a common citizenship, "citizens of the world," but we are all created in the image and likeness of one God. While the US government needs to walk a delicate path, lest the Iranian leaders accuse them of being behind the crisis, the citizens must stand in solidarity with the peaceful marchers in the streets. If the millions of people in Iraq marching know that the rest of the world is behind them, they will continue peaceful demonstrations until their voices are heard. This is our opportunity to help the people of Iran build an effective democracy. Sending solidarity tweets would go a long way to encouraging them in their demand for true democracy.