Nigeria’s electoral commission decided only hours before polls opened on Saturday to postpone the country’s presidential election by a week. This move has many concerned about the possibility of low voter turnout because Nigeria lacks an absentee ballot system and many citizens cannot afford to return to their polling locations on the new election date. Teams of international observers from the European Union, African Union, and several international watchdog NGOs have also struggled with logistical concerns as they have been forced to reschedule travel plans. Tensions continue to mount across Nigeria as citizens now suspect the electoral commission may be trying to influence the outcome.
The two leading candidates, incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and his main rival Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), have both condemned the delay. Each candidate claims that moving the election will skew the results and unfairly advantage their opponent. As reported by the New York Times, President Buhari released that said Abubakar’s party had always been “bent on discrediting this process the moment [they] realized [they] could not make up the numbers to win this election.” In response, Abubakar released his own statement that alleged the president facilitated the delay “to provoke the public, hoping for a negative reaction” to use as an excuse for “further anti-democratic acts.” Despite their quarrels, however, both sides – along with the EU, African Union, and the UN – are urging Nigerians to remain patient and calm.
This is not the first instance of election delays in Nigeria; the country postponed presidential elections in 2011 and 2015. However, as Nigeria has become the largest economy in Africa, there are now concerns that the delay could cost millions in lost revenues. This narrative of the delay could prove particularly devastating to President Buhari as critics have raised concerns that he has been largely ineffective in his campaigns to strengthen the economy. There have numerous allegations of corruption against the president as well, with many claiming that he used his anti-corruption campaign as a way to root out his enemies within the government. Additionally, the country continues to struggle in the fight against terrorist organizations like Boko Haram, which have been fomenting religious violence in the northeast.
Regardless of public and international backlash, Nigerian elections commissioner Mahmood Yakubu has remained steadfast in expressing his concerns about the country being ready for new election date this week. He claims that all 180,000 high-tech smart card readers will now need to be reprogrammed and voting materials must finish being distributed to the 120,000 polling stations. While Yakubu had considered only postponing for a single day, he thought that religious tensions would be exacerbated if the Christian population was forced to go to the polls on a Sunday.
Since the campaigns have been closely fought, it is difficult to predict which administration will prevail next weekend. However, regardless of the final result, Nigeria will still have many issues to face with regards to its religious divides, economic difficulties, and corruption scandals. Therefore, it is essential that international organizations continue to work alongside the new regime to advocate for the equal application of Nigeria’s anti-corruption laws against all sides of the political spectrum and combat terrorism in more isolated regions of the country.
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