16 February 2019

Nigeria Postpones Presidential, Parliamentary Elections

Nigerian election officials said they would postpone presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for Saturday. The head of the electoral commission said the delay was needed to ensure free and fair elections.

Just hours before polls were scheduled to open, Nigeria's electoral commission on Saturday postponed presidential and parliamentary elections for one week.

The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu said, "Proceeding with the election as scheduled is no longer feasible." He added that the commission has decided to reschedule the presidential and National Assembly elections to February 23.

"This was a difficult decision to take but necessary for successful delivery of the elections and the consolidation of our democracy," Mahmood Yakubu said.

Officials met late Friday and in the early hours of Saturday to discuss a lack of voting materials in some communities.

On Friday authorities also found at least 66 bodies in eight towns in Kaduna state.

Nigeria also postponed its previous presidential elections in 2011 and 2015 due to security issues and logistics problems.

Major parties blame each other

Both major parties -- the ruling All Progressives Congress and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party -- blamed the other for orchestrating the delay as a way of manipulating the vote.

President Muhammadu Buhari's campaign spokesman Festus Keyamo for the APC said the news was a "huge disappointment" and hit out at INEC for being unprepared.

Keyamo called on the body to remain impartial "as the rumor mill is agog with the suggestion that this postponement has been orchestrated in collusion with the... PDP".

"We have earlier raised the alarm that the PDP is bent on discrediting this process the moment it realised it cannot make up the numbers to win this election," he added.

PDP candidate Atiku Abubakar blamed the Buhari government for "instigating the postponement" and said it hoped to disenfranchise the electorate to ensure a low turnout.

"Nigerians must frustrate their plans by coming out in even greater numbers on Saturday 23 February" and for governorship and state assembly elections two weeks later, he added.

73 candidates -- two favorites

A total of 73 candidates are in the running for the presidency, but it is almost certain to come down to incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and his main rival, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

Buhari was elected president in 2015 on a wave of optimism after years of graft allegations at the hands of Goodluck Jonathan's administration.

But many Nigerians believe he has failed to live up to his initial campaign promises -- which included cracking down on rampant corruption -- meaning his chances of reelection are far from certain. More recently the 76-year-old has been battling rumors over his prolonged ill-health, with some doubting his capacity to continue in his role.

But Abubakar also has his own share of baggage. This is his fifth attempt at the presidency on the People's Democratic Party (PDP) ticket, having previously been a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party and the Action Congress (AC). The 72-year-old businessman-turned-politician has been implicated in a number of corruption scandals over the years.

Young voters frustrated with lack of choice

Over half of all registered voters are aged between 18 and 55, however, Nigerians are once again facing a choice betweentwo aging candidates who have long been a part of the country's political elite.

"It's about time these old people go," said 23-year-old university graduate Modibbo Sadiq.

Corruption and security key concerns

Buhari has been criticized for failing to stem the Boko Haram insurgency in the country's remote northeast and his anti-corruption efforts have been described as only targeting the opposition.

There are also concerns over potential vote-rigging, which has marred previous elections in Nigeria. Both parties have accused the other of attempting to buy votes.

im, law/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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