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Election delay in Nigeria ‘a national embarrassment’

18 February 2019


Worshippers at a church service on Sunday, after the presidential election was postponed

Worshippers at a church service on Sunday, after the presidential election was postponed

THE President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Revd Dr Samson Ayokunle, has described the postponement of the country’s presidential election as a “national embarrassment”.

The election, scheduled for last Saturday (News, 15 February), was postponed just before 3 a.m. on that date. In a statement, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, gave several reasons for the delay, including three suspicious fires at government offices, which destroyed ballot papers and voter records; poor weather, which prevented the delivery of election materials to outlying areas; and legal wrangles over candidates. (The commission reports that 40 court cases are still outstanding.)

The commission first thought to postpone the election to the next day, Sunday, but acknowledged that it would have interfered with worship. The front-runners in the election — the sitting President, Muhammadu Buhari, and a former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar — are both Muslims, although both have Christian running mates. It is not clear which way the majority of Christians will vote. The new date set is tomorrow.

PAElection poster showing the opposition leader Atiku Abubakar

Professor Yakubu said: “As chairman of INEC, and on behalf of the commission, we take full responsibility for what happened, and we regret any inconvenience our decision might have caused. I want to appeal to Nigerians and all other stakeholders for their understanding in what has been a very difficult decision for the commission. But we believe that, ultimately this is for the good of our democracy and country.”

CAN has contributed 1000 observers to the monitoring process. Speaking during a service in Ibadan, Oyo state, on Sunday, Dr Ayokunle urged supporters to spend the week in prayer. In particular, he called for prayer against “people who think they are powerful” who sought to sabotage the election.

“People who think they are powerful and want to cause problems for us: God himself will give them problems and bind them. God will take power from them.”

Charles Usie, Christian Aid country manager in Nigeria, spoke on Monday of “fears that this could lead to a higher level of voter apathy than would have happened if the election had taken place on Saturday. This is because many people had to travel to locations where they are registered to vote and might be discouraged from travelling long distances again.”

But, “we have seen over the years that Nigerians are a resilient people,” he said. “This might just be the push that is needed for citizens to go out en masse to vote. Nevertheless, there is still a very real risk that the outcome of the polls could trigger post-election violence, especially in already volatile areas.”

Christian Aid is working with Tearfund to raise a ‘START Fund’ alert “to mitigate collaboratively against this potential violence”. 

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