Last-minute Nigeria poll delay disappoints voters

Nigerian soldiers ride in a truck during a patrol of Aba, a city in southern eastern Nigeria and a stronghold for pro-biafran separatists, during a military patrol, Friday. — AFP

ABUJA — Nigerians hoping to cast their ballots in elections set for Saturday were instead turned away from polling stations after the electoral commission’s snap decision to delay the vote by a week.

The move “deeply disappointed” President Muhammadu Buhari, who issued a statement calling for calm.

“I, therefore, appeal to all Nigerians to refrain from all civil disorder and remain peaceful, patriotic and united to ensure that no force or conspiracy derail our democratic development,” he said.

Many voters were caught unawares by the early morning announcement and arrived at polling places to find the doors barred and staff absent.

“Why didn’t they announce the delay earlier? Why make the announcement in the middle of the night?” asked Chidi Nwakuna, a businessman who showed up early to vote in the southern city of Port Harcourt.

Voting had been due to start at nearly 120,000 polling stations in Africa’s most populous nation at 0700 GMT, with a record 73 candidates on the ballot.

Buhari, 76, was set to seek a second term of office against a stiff challenge from the main opposition candidate, former vice president Atiku Abubakar, 72.

But rumors began circulating late on Friday about a possible postponement after widespread reports of problems with the delivery of election materials, including ballot papers.

Members of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) held an emergency session in Abuja and after examining the logistics plans concluded the timetable was “no longer feasible”, commission chairman Mahmood Yakubu said.

Presidential and parliamentary elections are now set for Feb. 23, and governorship and state assembly elections have been pushed back to March 9, Yakubu said.

“This was a difficult decision for the commission to take but necessary for the successful delivery of elections and the consolidation of our democracy,” he added.

The two main political parties swiftly condemned the move and accused each other of orchestrating the delay as a way of manipulating the vote, sentiments echoed by voters.

“I see this postponement of the election as a... ploy to rig,” said Oyi Adamezie, a voter in the city of Warri.

For his part, Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) blamed the Buhari government for “instigating the postponement” but called on supporters to remain calm.

“We will overcome this. You can postpone an election but you cannot postpone destiny,” he added in a statement.

Nigeria has postponed voting before: in 2015, INEC announced a six-week delay just one week before the election, citing security concerns linked to the Boko Haram insurgency. — AFP