Nigerians yesterday awakened to find the presidential election delayed a week until Saturday next week because of what the electoral commission called unspecified “challenges.”
The postponement was announced a mere five hours before the polls were to open.
The top two political parties in Africa’s largest democracy condemned the last-minute rescheduling.
Some bitter voters in the capital, Abuja, and elsewhere who traveled home to cast their ballots said they could not afford to wait another seven days.
They warned that election apathy could follow.
The party backing top opposition challenger, Atiku Abubakar, accused Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration of “instigating this postponement” with the aim of ensuring a low turnout at the polls.
“Their plan is to provoke the public, hoping for a negative reaction, and then use that as an excuse for further anti-democratic acts,” the party said in a statement.
It urged Nigerians to remain calm and turn out in greater numbers a week from now.
A party spokesman in Delta State in the restive south said the electoral commission “has destroyed the soul of Nigeria with this act.”
The ruling party’s presidential campaign council called the election delay a “huge disappointment” and said it hoped the electoral commission would remain neutral.
“We do not want to be forced into a situation of announcing our total loss of confidence in [the commission] because we know where that would leave our democracy,” the statement said.
A ruling party campaign director in Delta State, Goodnews Agbi, told reporters that it was better to give the commission time to conduct a credible vote instead of rushing into a sham vote “that the whole world will criticize later.”
“This was a difficult decision to take, but necessary for successful delivery of the elections and the consolidation of our democracy,” commission chairman Mahmood Yakubu told reporters.
Frustrated voters gathered in the capital.
“I came all the way from my home to cast my vote this morning and get into this polling unit and then I got informed that the election has been canceled, so that is the reason why I am not happy and I’m very, very angry,” Yusuf Ibrahim said.
Nigeria also postponed the previous presidential election in 2015 because of deadly insecurity in the northeast, which remains under threat from extremists.
More than 84 million voters in this country of about 190 million had been expected to head to the polls in what is seen as a close and heated race between 76-year-old Buhari and Abubakar, a billionaire former vice president.
Both have pledged to work for a peaceful election even as their supporters, including high-level officials, have caused alarm with vivid warnings against foreign interference and allegations of rigging.
When Buhari came to power in 2015 he made history with the first defeat of an incumbent president in an election hailed as one of the most transparent and untroubled ever in Nigeria, which has seen deadly post-vote violence in the past.
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