From Kiev to Abuja: Two Nations, One Struggle for Electoral Justice

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By Osmund Agbo

In the immediate aftermath of the 2004 presidential election in Ukraine, the nation’s capital of Kiev became the center of a series of civil disobedience campaigns, sit-ins, and general strikes. The protests were sparked by reports of massive corruption, voter intimidation, and electoral fraud from several election monitors, both domestic and foreign. There was also a widespread public perception that the results of the run-off vote of November 21, 2004 between leading candidates Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych were rigged in favor of the latter who was supported by the government in power. Sounds familiar?

The protests continued for three months until 26 December 2004 when Ukraine’s Supreme Court declared the election results invalid due to widespread fraud and ordered a new election to be held. The re-run election resulted in a clear victory for Yushchenko, who received about 52% of the vote compared to Yanukovych’s 45%. Yushchenko was declared the official winner, ending the series of protests and political events dubbed the Orange Revolution that took place in Ukraine from late November 2004 to January 2005.

The Orange Revolution was largely driven by young people who played a significant role in organizing the protests and mobilizing support through social media and other online platforms. It was considered a pivotal moment in Ukrainian history, paving the way for further democratic reforms and a more transparent government in Ukraine.

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Before Ukraine, there was China’s May Fourth Movement of 1919. Thousands of students and young people gathered in Beijing to protest the Treaty of Versailles, which had given Japan control over German concessions in China. The protest quickly spread to other cities, with demands for political and social reforms to modernize China. This marked the emergence of a new generation of leaders and contributed to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

All over the world, there have been several examples of youth-led political movements that focused on changing corrupt political leadership in different countries, just like in Ukraine and China. More recently, other notable examples include the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon in 2005. It called for the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon and demanded political and economic reforms. Another significant example is the Arab Spring in December 2010, which ushered in a wave of regime changes across the Middle East.

In Nigeria, the #EndSARS movement, a youth-led protest movement aimed at ending police brutality, began on October 8, 2020. Despite the government’s high-handedness and concerted effort to suppress the rebellion, the protest movement quickly gained momentum and grew into a nationwide uprising against police brutality, extrajudicial killings, and corruption.

Although the Nigerian government disbanded the notorious SARS unit on October 11, 2020, protests continued as demonstrators demanded broader reforms to the Nigerian police force and better governance. Some of the leaders of the #EndSARS movement later found inspiration in Mr. Peter Obi whom they saw as the avatar of a new Nigeria that would work for all. With that mindset, they  rallied solidly behind him and his presidential ambition, giving birth to what is known today as the Obidient movement.

The Obidients have been described as intemperate, rude, lame, and branded as sheepish followers of a lost cause. Some have also labelled them as misguided youths who are too idealistic to be taken seriously. Of course, Peter Obi himself is no saint and neither are his followers. It will be a great disservice to his person to make him out as one. Obidients for sure, can be loud, unruly, and even unnecessarily aggressive at times. 

But young people everywhere in the world are known to be notoriously inpatient and historically rebellious. It’s not just a Nigerian thing. And contrary to all the calculated attempts to tar this movement with an ethno-religious brush, no other movement in our recent history has been as Pan-Nigerian as the Obidient movement. 

Despite whatever shortcoming we think they have, there are very few among us who can match the zeal, hard work, and dedication of the Obidients to effecting positive changes that Nigeria so desperately needs today. They were the ones that waited out INEC from dawn to dusk on Election Day, rented generators when the lights went out and insisted that results must be uploaded in IREV, armed only with smart phones and watchful eyes. Many of them were hounded, injured and some even got killed in certain parts of the country by goons working for the establishment. What is also true is that passion (which Obidients have in abundance) not guns, is the key to winning a protracted war against elite conspiracy.

The people worked countless hours without pay, still effectively organizing and making significant sacrifices towards creating a better Nigeria. The Obidients receive little or no support from anyone. Instead, those who should provide them with logistics, direction and guidance are busy calling them names while cavorting with the caterpillars of the commonwealth and further dragging the country deeper into the abyss.

Lately we have heared arguments on why the opposition parties should just sheath their swords and accept the outcome of the 2023 presidential election as an act of God. This self-serving narrative is being pushed by the same motley crew of desperados that orchestrated election rigging and their collaborators. They are constantly reminding us about the effect of war in the East African countries of Somalia and Sudan as cautionary tales. After all, by their magnanimity, they quipped, we were allowed to win few slots. We should either take what they willingly offered or else they will make the place worse than the hell we have now.

What they are telling us in simple term is to get used to a few powerful people deciding the fate of over 200 million Nigerians at every election cycle; that no matter how horrible a government is, Nigerians can’t do anything about it. The grave implication of such a toxic mindset to the overall health of the republic, is what these sleazebags do not even pretend to care about. As long as they can foist upon us, whoever will keep their leprous hands perpetually in the cookie jar, they are good to go.

Throughout history, a select group of individuals or organizations with immense power and influence have conspired to maintain or expand their control over society. In Nigeria, this sinister cabal comprises the fantastically corrupt political class and their uber-wealthy cohorts in the business world.

To their benefit, a handpicked few in the media have transformed from mere enablers – shielding these criminals with gossamer-thin veils of innocence – to becoming their fierce foot soldiers. Armed and intimidating, they seek to subjugate and silence the masses. Among these politicians, none has enjoyed more favor from these cheerleaders than Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

Bayo Onanuga and Dele Alake, two veteran journalists, were notable for their roles as pro-democracy activists early in their careers. Dele later became part of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), which demanded the de-annulment of the June 12, 1993 election in Nigeria. Prior to that, both men were hounded, faced death threats and their media outfits were repeatedly targeted by the military junta for their fiery columns critical of both Babangida and Abacha regimes.

Today, the powerful do are Mr. Tinubu’s staunch supporters. They stepped out with guns blazing, pulling no stops and taking no prisoners. Of course, it’s their inalienable right to align with whomever they wish and no one is here to contest that. But it appears that Mr. Onanuga, who served as the Director of Media and Publicity for the Tinubu Presidential Campaign Council, has undergone such a complete make over to the point of becoming indistinguishable from the same demon that he fought early in his 30’s. He now has friends in high places and like the Babangidas and Abachas of those days, it’s his turn (insert emi l’okan) to wield the big stick against his recalcitrant colleagues.

It has been alleged that Mr. Tinubu stood solidly by many journalists during those critical years of June 12 struggle, providing them both financial and moral support. Now, it seems that payback time has arrived, and this may help to explain why a good many activists of yesteryears suddenly lost their mojo in any matter that is remotely connected to a presidential candidate who is as deeply flawed as the sham called the 2023 presidential election. It may also explain why the integrity of a highly venerated figure and a Nobel Prize laureate has been called to question lately. As far as Mr. Tinubu is concerned, they see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. 

Standing on principle can be such an enormous challenge, particularly when doing so conflicts with one’s personal interests or emotions. Consider the unenviable position of a judge who sends every criminal he convicts to the hangman’s noose, only to discover that his own brother – who raised him – is one of the condemned. 

Such a situation would pose an excruciating dilemma, forcing the man to choose between betraying his principles and position to save his brother or upholding the law and justice even if it means sacrificing his own desires and relationships. It’s a difficult situation to be in and we can all empathize in such cases.

But in the end, a truly principled individual recognizes that duty to society and the law outweighs personal feelings and relationships. Upholding values even in the face of difficult challenges, is a testament to one’s integrity and moral fortitude.

Osmund Agbo writes from Houston, Texas. Email: Eagleosmund@yahoo.com

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