Just hours before polls were slated to open, the government of Nigeria decided to delay the proceedings, prompting outrage in the country. Opposition candidates have accused the current President, Muhammadu Buhari, of disenfranchising voters, according to Reuters. Five hours before what was set to be the largest African election in history, officials from the Independent National Election Commission declared it necessary to delay the vote for a week, citing unspecified challenges to democracy as their reason.
The delay has caused outrage from the populace. Many Nigerians had traveled hundreds of miles to vote in their home regions are angered by the decision. It is not necessarily unusual for elections to be delayed. Talking to the Wall Street Journal, Asabe Anwar expressed his frustrations over the announcement. “People have come from across the country, outside the country even from the U.S.” The country has no absentee voting system, forcing many, like another voter, Musa Abubakar, to travel 342 miles from Abuja to travel long distances and expend a significant amount of money to participate in the country’s election. In an interview with BBC, Abuja also expressed disbelief at what had happened.
The Election Commission has provided little reason behind waiting until 2:30am to announce the delay, only claiming logistical issues as a cause. According to NPR, voting materials had not been delivered to some of the more remote parts of the country and a series of fires have destroyed smart card readers and voting cards.
More than 84 million people are registered to vote in the election. The main contenders are Nigeria’s current president Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Party, and the People’s Democratic Party candidate Atiku Abubakar. While both candidates have criticized the commission, they’ve also accused the other of benefitting from the delay. President Buhari, who had travelled back to his hometown to vote expressed disappointment over the delay, but urging Nigerians to “refrain from all civil disorder and remain peaceful,” but he has also accused Atiku’s PDP of undermining the electoral commission. On his part, Atiku has strongly suggested the current administration is behind these delays, although has offered no evidence to base these claims.
While the commission has tried to reassure foreign observers by claiming the delay had “nothing to do with security, nothing to do with political influence”, many have pointed to it as further evidence the country is unable to hold free and fair elections. In the past, the country has been repeatedly dogged by violence, intimidation, ballot rigging, and postponement due to security concerns. Some organizations like the Situation Room, which is a coalition of more than 70 groups, has warned the postponement had harmed the credibility of the electoral commission and created needless confusion. The lack of information surrounding the announcement has created an informational vacuum, being quickly filled with rumors and conspiracy theories. No actual protests have broken out as a result, largely due to the candidates urging citizens to stay calm, but it has increased the tensions in a country with a history of fraud and corruption within its electoral system. The vote has now been moved to February 23, and both the Nigerian and international communities are worried at the country’s ability to hold itself accountable. Being a top oil producer in the region and still ravaged by terrorism from groups like Boko Haram, these elections have significant consequences for peace and security in the region. In regions in which Boko Haram has operated, it has warned citizens not to vote. With such threats, and its poor record of transparency in government, a lot is at stake in the country’s elections.
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