Nigeria Postpones Elections, Citing Boko Haram Violence

02/07/2015 05:42 pm ET | Updated Feb 09, 2015
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Nigeria's election commission on Saturday postponed presidential and legislative elections for six weeks due to security concerns.

The vote was scheduled to take place on Feb. 14, amid concerns that millions of voters would be disenfranchised by Boko Haram's brutal insurgency, as well as delays in distributing voter ID cards.

Election commission chairman Attahiru Jega said Saturday that the vote would be rescheduled for March 28 because security agencies were unable to guarantee safe elections while they focus on battling Boko Haram militants.

"We wish to call on all Nigerians to accept this in good faith to deepen democracy in our country Nigeria," he said.

Earlier Saturday, civil rights groups opposed to postponing elections protested in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, the Associated Press reported.

The vote comes at a critical moment for Nigeria. Boko Haram has stepped up its brutal campaign to establish an Islamic caliphate in the country's northeast. More than one million Nigerians have fled their homes amid the slaughter.

The conflict has increasingly spilled over into neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, and this week the African Union pledged thousands of troops for a joint force to battle the Islamists.

nigeria

A protestor holds a banner as Nigerian security forces look on during a protest in Abuja, Feb. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi)

Officials in President Goodluck Jonathan's administration had been calling for the postponement. Any delay was opposed by Jonathan's chief rival, former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari and his opposition coalition, even though the opposition is expected to take the most votes in the northeast.

The United States has been urging Nigeria to press ahead with the voting. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria two weeks ago and said that "one of the best ways to fight back against Boko Haram" was by holding credible and peaceful elections, on time.

"It's imperative that these elections happen on time as scheduled," Kerry said.

The elections had been called early. Elections in 2011 were postponed until April. May 29 is the deadline for a new government to be installed.

Supporters of both sides are threatening violence if their candidate does not win. Some 800 people were killed in riots in the mainly Muslim north after Buhari, a Muslim, lost the 2011 elections to Jonathan, a Christian from the south.

Analysts say the vote is too close to call in what is likely to be the most tightly contested election since decades of military dictatorship ended in 1999.

Jonathan's party has won every election since then but the failure of the military to curb the 5-year Islamic uprising, growing corruption and an economy hit by slumping oil prices have hurt the president of Africa's biggest oil producer and most populous nation of about 170 million.

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