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Nigeria postpones presidential election

February 16, 2019

Nigeria's president says he is "deeply disappointed" by the last-minute delay of Saturday's presidential and parliamentary elections. The electoral commission cited "unspecified challenges" for the postponement.

An election helper holding empty voting boxes
Image: Getty Images/AFP/Y. Chiba

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.

Read more: 2019 Nigeria election — What you need to know

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

The two major parties — the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) — blamed each other for orchestrating the delay as a way of manipulating the vote.

President Muhammadu Buhari said he was "deeply disappointed" by the postponement. In a statement, he said the electoral commission had "given assurances, day after day and almost hour after hour that they are in complete readiness for the elections. We and all our citizens believed them."

While Buhari appealed for calm, his campaign spokesman Festus Keyamo accused the PDP of being "bent on discrediting this process the moment it realized it cannot make up the numbers to win this election."

PDP candidate Atiku Abubakar, meanwhile, 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. He told DW he had been taken by surprise by the decision to postpone the vote: "We did not expect that," he said on Saturday. "You don't move a vote a few hours before it is due to start. If you want to postpone a vote, you do it a week before, not a few hours!"

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 allegations of graft at the hands of Goodluck Jonathan's administration.

Nigerian election poster
Buhari took office in 2015, but many believe he did not keep the promises he madeImage: picture-alliance/dpa/AP/B. Curtis

Read more: Opinion: Nigeria's Buhari has failed to deliver

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 re-election 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 PDP ticket, having previously been a member of the APC 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 between two 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.

Other voters told DW's correspondents of their frustration at the delayed vote.

"I'm sad, I'm angry, I'm annoyed, I'm disappointed — that's how I'm feeling today. Because you wake up excited about going to vote and then you go into your social media and see it has been postponed," one woman told DW's Adrian Kriesch.

Nana Nwachukwu, a 32-year-old resident of Abuja, told DW's Fanny Facsar: "I think they should clarify what logistics means. Were you not able to get equipment to locations on time, did you not have materials, security? Be specific. Nigeria's democracy cannot be said to be pure until we trust the process."

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. The two parties have accused each other of attempting to buy votes.

mm,im, law/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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