LAGOS (AFP) – Nigerians had been due to elect a new president on Saturday until the electoral commission delayed the vote by six weeks, citing fears about security and the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency.
The country will now go to the polls for presidential and parliamentary elections on March 28, with gubernatorial and state house assembly polls two weeks later on April 11.
The delay has triggered widespread debate about what happens next, particularly if no significant progress is made in tackling the insurgency raging in the north and there is a further postponement. Amid fears of widespread violence, the coming weeks are seen as among the most important since civilian rule was restored in 1999.
“The next six weeks are laden with difficult struggles to protect Nigeria’s hard-won democracy,” the International Crisis Group’s Nigeria researcher Nnamdi Obasi wrote.
Much of the discussion in the last week has centred on the Independent National Electoral Commission’s acceptance of advice from the country’s security chief and its impact on the political campaign.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate Muhammadu Buhari were seen as mounting the first serious opposition challenge to President Goodluck Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The result was even predicted to be close to call, with the prospect of the PDP being dumped out of power for the first time in 16 years.
Buhari, a former military ruler, called the election delay “a crude and fraudulent attempt to subvert the electoral process”, while the APC has alleged that the PDP used the military for political ends.
Jonathan’s campaign spokesman Femi Fani-Kayode described the APC as having “paranoid delusions” and “far-fetched and childish conspiracy theories” about the date shift.
The distribution of voter identity cards, which is not yet complete, and the ability to ensure security were “legitimate and genuine concerns” for a free, fair and credible election, the spokesman said.
Should elections go ahead on March 28, they would be within the timeframe under electoral laws that stipulate voting cannot be held later than 30 days before the handover of power.
Jonathan, whose term of office expires on April 30, has twice described the May 29 date for the transfer of power as “sacrosanct”.