Update: statements from APC and PDP added.
ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria’s presidential election, which was due to be held on Saturday, has been postponed by a week, the chairman of the country’s electoral commission said hours before polls were due to open.
Addressing journalists in the early hours of Saturday, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman Mahmood Yakubu said the delay was needed to hold a free and fair election.
“The commission came to the conclusion that proceeding with the election as scheduled is no longer feasible. Consequently the commissioners decided to reschedule the presidential and national assembly elections to Saturday 23 February 2019,” he said.
President Muhammadu Buhari faces a tight election contest in Africa’s largest economy, top oil producer and most populous nation against the main opposition candidate, businessman and former vice president Atiku Abubakar.
The country’s presidential elections in 2011 and 2015 were also delayed over logistics and security issues.
The decision to delay this year’s vote was criticised by the chairman of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Uche Secondus said the move was an action that was “dangerous to our democracy and unacceptable”, adding that it was part of an attempt by Buhari to “cling on to power even when it’s obvious to him that Nigerians want him out”.
Atiku Abubkar, Presidential Candidate of the People’s Democratic Party & Vice President of Nigeria, 1999-2007, issued the following statement :
Dear citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,
As you know, the Independent National Electoral Commission has announced a postponement of the elections until 23 February and 9 March respectively. The Buhari administration has had more than enough time and money to prepare for these elections and the Nigerian people were poised and ready to perform their civic responsibility by voting in the elections earlier scheduled for Saturday, 16 February, 2019. This postponement is obviously a case of the hand of Esau but the voice of Jacob. By instigating this postponement, the Buhari administration hopes to disenfranchise the Nigerian electorate in order to ensure that turn out is low on the rescheduled date. Nigerians must frustrate their plans by coming out in even greater numbers on Saturday, 23 February and Saturday, 9 March respectively. Knowing that the Nigerian people are determined to reject them, they are desperate and will do anything in their power to avoid their rejection by the Nigerian people. Their plan is to provoke the public, hoping for a negative reaction, and then use that as an excuse for further anti-democratic acts. As such, I call on all Nigerians to be patient. We have tolerated the maladministration of this government for four years. We can extend our tolerance a few more days and give them our verdict via our votes. Maintain the peace and be law abiding. Do not react to this provocation with anger, violence or any action that might be exploited by those who do not want this election to hold. Remain calm. We will overcome this. You can postpone an election, but you cannot postpone destiny. Please come out to vote on Saturday, 23 February and Saturday, 9 March respectively. Frustrate those who do not want this election to hold by coming out in very large numbers. That is the best antidote to their plans. May God bless you and may God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
And the president’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party criticised the electoral commission for the delay.
Festus Keyamo, San, Fciarb (UK), Director, Strategic Communications, APC, Presidential Campaign Council, Official Spokesperson, issued the following on the postponement:
We have just received with great disappointment and disillusionment the announcement by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of its decision to postpone the Presidential/National Assembly and Gubernatorial/House of Assembly Elections to Saturday, February 23, 2019 and Saturday, March 9, 2019, respectively.
We condemn and deprecate this tardiness of the electoral umpire in the strongest terms possible. President Muhammadu Buhari had since cooperated fully with INEC by ensuring EVERYTHING it demanded to conduct free and fair elections were promptly made available to it. This news is therefore a huge disappointment to us and to our teeming supporters nationwide and around the world, many of whom have come into the country to exercise their franchise.
We do hope that INEC will remain neutral and impartial in this process as the rumor mill is agog with the suggestion that this postponement has been orchestrated in collusion with the main opposition, the PDP, that was NEVER ready for this election. We note that all the major credible demographic projections have predicted a defeat of the PDP and it seriously needed this breather to orchestrate more devious strategies to try and halt President Buhari’s momentum. It did the same as the ruling Party in 2015, when it realized the game was up, by orchestrating the postponement of the 2015 elections by six weeks. Now, it may be up to its old trick again.
We have earlier raised the alarm that the PDP is bent on discrediting this process the moment it realized it cannot make up the numbers to win this election. We are only urging INEC not collude with the PDP on this. We are truly worried because as early as Friday morning, some known PDP Social Media influencers unwittingly announced this postponement, but quickly deleted the message and apologized to the public that it was fake news. We do not want to be forced to a situation of announcing our total loss of confidence in INEC, because we know where that would leave our democracy.
It is in the light of the above that we wish to appeal to Nigerians and our supporters to be patient, calm and resolute despite this temporary setback. Let us not give anyone, especially the PDP, the opportunity to plunge this nation into a crises, which is what they earnestly desire. Its imminent defeat is just a few days away.
Lastly, we wish to draw the attention of INEC and the world to observe that the PDP has clearly and openly said it plans to announce parallel results through some funny device it has procured or developed. We wish to re-iterate that it is ONLY INEC that is legally and constitutionally empowered to declare results and it constitutes an offence for anyone to do so. We urge INEC to SPEAK UP NOW and warn the PDP to desist from this ignoble act that is capable of plunging the nation into a crises of immeasurable proportions.
Prior to the announcement there were statements commenting on concerns over the election.
An INEC official told Reuters that “some result sheets and some ballot papers are reportedly missing. We want to track every (piece of) sensitive material, take inventory of what we have and what is missing”.
And a government official said, “The legitimacy of the entire process will be questioned and the winner could lack the moral authority to superintend the affairs of the state.”
One Western diplomat said: “Sensitive materials (ballot papers and results sheets) have been delayed in being distributed.”
Nigeria is also dealing with pockets of instability. Throughout the day, authorities bolstered security in much of the country on the eve of the vote in Africa’s largest democracy where past elections have been marred by violence, voter intimidation and ballot rigging.
Dozens of combat policemen and other security forces were deployed from police headquarters in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state on the country’s northeast frontier that has been worst hit by Boko Haram and its offshoot, Islamic State in West Africa Province.
INEC said voting to elect the country’s powerful state governors were also to be delayed by a week, to Mar. 9.
Additional reporting by Paul Carsten, Ardo Hazzad, Lanre Ola, Aaron Ross, Garba Muhammad, Nneka Chile, Percy Dabang and Abraham Achirga; writing by James Macharia and Alexis Akwagyiram; editing by Frances Kerry, G Crosse, Leslie Adler and Diane Craft