Abuja, Nigeria – Hours before Nigerians were due to head to the polls to choose their next president and parliamentary representatives, the country’s electoral commission pulled the plug, announcing a one-week delay.
At a press conference on Saturday morning, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, announced that the vote would be delayed until February 23 to resolve all logistics problems.
The move has left opposition supporters and members of civil society disillusioned.
“INEC’s shocking announcement has far-reaching consequences on the integrity of the elections, the confidence of citizens on its abilities and could potentially dampen the enthusiasm of millions of Nigerians who have eagerly waited and prepared to participate in today’s elections,” the civil society group, Election Network, said.
“Many Nigerians have travelled to their voting centres to participate in the elections. There is now an open question on whether they would be willing to return to their bases only to make the trip again in a few days in order to exercise their civic duties,” the group added.
One voter, Chioma Agwuegbo, is disappointed by the INEC’s late decision to postpone the vote.
“The elections were postponed at 2.40am on election day. Come on! Did they just find out about the logistics issues on Friday night? It’s a disgrace and totally disrespectful to Nigerians. It appears we have not learned any lessons from 2015,” Agwuegbo told Al Jazeera.
Angry members of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gathered outside its headquarters in the capital, Abuja, on Saturday, awaiting a briefing by their leaders.
Sulaiman Usman, a member of PDP, is worried that the rescheduled polls might be manipulated.
“They know our candidate Atiku Abubakar will win the election. That is why I feel they decided to give the ruling party more time to campaign. I am confident, my party will win even if they postpone the elections again. We won’t allow them to rig [the vote].”
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is also not happy.
“We condemn and deprecate this tardiness of the electoral umpire in strongest terms possible,” President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign council spokesman Festus Keyamo said.
A total of 73 candidates are competing for the country’s top seat.
Voters have two main candidates to choose from on February 23 in what is expected to be the most competitive presidential election since the return to civil rule in 1999.
The main presidential contenders, incumbent Buhari and PDP’s Abubakar, took to social media to express their disappointment.
Buhari, for his part, urged “all political stakeholders & Nigerians to continue to rally round INEC at this trying national moment in our democratic journey”.
I am deeply disappointed that despite the long notice given and our preparations both locally and internationally, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) postponed the Presidential and National Assembly elections within hours of its commencement.
— Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) February 16, 2019
Abubakar, meanwhile, called 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,” he said.
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.
— Atiku Abubakar (@atiku) February 16, 2019
Campaign finance stretched
Governorship and local elections, previously scheduled for March 2, will now be held on March 9.
Kyrian Ibe, the governorship candidate of the Democratic People’s Congress (DPC) in southern Imo state viewed the news of delayed polls with mixed feelings.
“While on one hand our campaign finance is being stretched beyond budget, on the other hand the postponement affords more time for campaign opportunities,” Ibe told Al Jazeera.
“It is obvious that this postponement was more of politically induced act by the current government in power,” he added.